What Does Candela Mean?

Candela (cd) is a standard unit of measurement defined in the International System of Units (SI) for luminous intensity. Technically since 1979, the candela has been defined by the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) as a luminous intensity in a given direction from a source, which emanates monochromatic radiation frequencies of 540 x 1012 hertz and radiant intensities in the same direction of 1/683 watts per steradian. A steradian is a SI unit of solid angular measure. According to the CGPM definition, a steradian is equal to one candela for measuring luminous intensity.


Candela is defined by the CGPM as the level of an electromagnetic field, in a specified direction, with 1/683 watt (1.46 x 10 -3 W) per steradian and frequency of 540 terahertz.

Techopedia Explains Candela

The luminosity function is the average visual sensitivity of the human eye to diverse wavelengths. It is standardized by the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) and can be used to convert radiant energy into luminous.

The older term for candela is candle, such as foot-candle and candlepower. Prior to 1948, luminous intensity was generally measured by the brightness of the flame from a “standard candle.” These terms are defined as follows:

  • Candlepower: This is used by the English and is the light produced by a spermaceti (wax from a sperm whale) candle weighing one sixth of a pound and burning at a rate of 120 grains per hour. (The Germans, Austrians and Scandinavians used the Hefner lamp with 1.128 hefnerkerze equal to 1.019 candela.)
  • Foot-candle: This is the light level on a surface one foot from a standard candle. One foot-candle is equal to one lumen per square foot.

The frequency chosen in the optical spectrum that is visible to the human eye is near the color green. According to the CIE, the human eye is most sensitive to the green frequency.

To some professionals the CGPM specifications are unclear. The EM-field power level of 1.46 x 10 -3 W is too small. The frequency of 540 THz resembles a wavelength of about 556 nanometers (nm), which is in the middle of the visible-light spectrum.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.