Lens Lingo – What do all the letters and numbers on a lens mean?

I am sure that at some point you have looked at your lens and said to yourself  “I wonder what all the numbers and letters mean?”, so I decided to write a little about each letter or number for the most common lens makes.

Nikon

So for example:  AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm 3.5-5.6 G ED

AF-S: Autofocus Silent: Focusing is driven by a “Silent Wave” motor in the lens instead of the focus drive motor in the camera. AF-S lenses focus faster than standard AF-Nikkors and almost completely silently. AF-S lenses with a “II” designation weigh less and are generally smaller than their equivalent predecessors.

18-105 mm is the focal length, you will find a variety of different zooms, for example 18-55,mm or 55.200mm etc.,  there are lenses that are zoom and some are prime lenses, prime lenses will only have one number before the mm, for example 50 mm. This is for all lens makes.


3.5-5.6: this will also depend on the lens, but it refers to aperture, so at 18mm the widest aperture is 3.5 and at 105 mm the widest aperture is 5.6, there are lenses that have a widest aperture of 2.8 throughout the zoom, these are expensive lenses. This is for all lens makes.

G: The lens has no aperture control ring and is designed to be used with cameras that allow setting the aperture from the camera body. G lenses also provide Distance information to the camera.

ED: Extra-Low Dispersion glass: High-quality glass that corrects for chromatic aberration, a type of image and color distortion that occurs when light rays of varying wavelengths pass through optical glass and don’t converge or focus at the same point. Nikkor lenses with ED glass deliver superior sharpness and contrast, even at maximum aperture. Super ED glass is a new type that is used together with ED glass in some lenses to achieve an even higher degree of freedom from chromatic aberration.

VR – “Vibration reduction”

DX: The lens is specifically designed for use on Nikon digital SLR cameras. It produces a smaller image circle for more efficient coverage of the imaging sensor in these cameras, which is smaller than the 35mm film frame.

M/A: A focusing mode on some AF-Nikkor lenses which allows switching from automatic to manual focusing with virtually no lag time by simply turning the focusing ring on the lens.

Canon

Canon IS stands for ‘Image Stabilisation’. Lenses with Image Stabilisation allow you take handheld images at slower shutter speeds without camera shake blurring the image.

A Canon EF-S lens is designed for EOS digital SLRs with an APS-C sized sensor. EF-S lenses are a subset of the Canon EF mount. The S in EF-S stands for ‘short back focus’, referring to the distance between the rear element of the lens and the sensor is shorter. EF-S allows lighter, smaller lens designs that cost less to be produced. EF-S lenses are not suitable for full-frame EOS digital SLRs and mounting the lens may cause serious damage to the camera.

Canon L-series lenses are top-end, professional Canon lenses. L-series lenses are sometimes dubbed ‘Luxury’ lenses. The ‘L’ moniker is reserved for professional Canon lenses, which tend to have extra weather sealing, a constant maximum aperture and superior optical performance. You can spot many L-series lenses thanks to the distinctive red ring around the lens barrel. L-series lenses include a lens hood (to reduce the chance of unwanted flare and protect the front element) and a lens pouch.

The USM label means the lens features an Ultrasonic Motor Drive. Canon USM lenses allow quick, accurate autofocus, which also produces less noise than traditional autofocus systems. There are two types of USM found in Canon lenses: Ring-type USM (premium) and micro-motor USM (value). Ring-type USM has the advantage of full-time manual focus, which allows you to adjust the focus manually without switching between AF and MF modes.

DO stands for diffractive optics, a special glass designed to reduce chromatic aberration and allow a shorter lens design. You can spot a Canon DO lens thanks to the thin green ring around the lens barrel.

Sigma

Sigma DC lenses are designed for digital SLRs with ‘cropped’ sensors. Cropped sensors are smaller than traditional 35mm film or full-frame sensors. Sigma DC lenses are suitable for cameras with APS-C size or cropped sensors that need a smaller image circle to cover the sensor, compared to conventional lenses.

Sigma DG designates the lens is designed for use with digital SLRs but can still be used with 35mm film SLRs. Sigma DG lenses are suitable for cameras with full-frame or cropped sensors.

OS designates the lens has Optical Stabilisation built-in. Sigma OS lenses compensate for camera shake which can blur images at slow shutter speeds or whilst hand-holding telephoto lenses.

HSM stands for Hyper-Sonic Motor, a type of autofocus motor that provides fast, accurate autofocus whilst making less noise than traditional autofocus.

Sigma EX denotes greater optical quality and superior build quality. Sigma EX lenses used to have a distinctive crinkle finish, but this has recently been replaced with a matte black finish.

Tamron

Tamron VC lenses are designed reduce image blur from camera shake. The Tamron Vibration Control (VC) technology corrects for camera shake at 4000 times per second, for a smooth stabilized view in both the viewfinder and your image. The VC system also allows you to pan without changing any settings.

Tamron PZD stands for Piezo Drive, a form of ultrasonic autofocus. Tamron PZD lenses offer you fast but silent autofocus, in a more compact lens size than traditional ultrasonic autofocus motors.

Tamron USD stands for ultrasonic drive, used for fast and smooth autofocus. Tamron USD lenses use deflective traveling waves to drive a rotor, moving elements within the lens to focus your image.

Tamron XR denotes the lens has extra-refractive glass, allowing Tamron to make the lens barrel shorter whilst retaining the same optical quality.

Tamron Di II lenses are designed for digital SLRs with ‘cropped’ sensors. Tamron Di II lenses are specifically designed for cameras with APS-C size sensors, whereas the Tamron Di series (without ‘II’) are compatible with full frame and APC-S digital SLRs.

Shutter Speed – Which to use and when

Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is a setting on your camera which controls the length of time the shutter is open, allowing light through the lens to the sensor inside your camera. Shutter speeds can go from very small fractions of a second, to several seconds long on most cameras.
If you allow the shutter to be open for too long then too much light will get to the sensor. When this happens you end up with pictures that are very pale and almost all white. This is known as being Over Exposed.
If you don´t leave the shutter open enough you would get an Under Exposed image. This is because not enough light got through to the cameras sensor. So in order to compensate against lower levels of light, you would need to keep the shutter open for longer.

Cameras have an inbuilt light meter to help with this. This is also tied in with aperture which we covered earlier. If you have a wide open aperture (small f number) then more light is allowed in, and if you use a small aperture (large f number) then less light is allowed in.
This may seem straight forward enough, but the longer the shutter is open, the more chance there is of ending up with a blurred image. The slightest of movements while the shutter is open will register as a blurred effect. Sometimes this can be the desired effect, but most of the time you want a sharp image. Using a tripod, sitting the camera on a solid object like a wall or the floor or holding the camera against a solid object like a big tree or wall can help reduce the chances of getting blurry images. You can also adjust the ISO to help get longer shutter speeds. This have been covered here.

Shutter Priority is another partly manual mode that most digital cameras will allow you to use. (aperture is the other) Shutter Priority is usually indicated as an S (Nikon) or Tv (canon) on the camera and it allows you to set the shutter speed while the camera will control the aperture setting.

6 secs, ISO 80, f4.5 manual mode. A night time shot of the coliseum in Rome with light trails of a bus. This time I was without a tripod so I placed the camera on a trash can for stability.

1/1000 s
1/500 s
1/250 s
1/125 s
1/60 s
1/30 s
1/15 s
1/8 s
1/4 s
1/2 s
1 s (some cameras, specially the DSLR´s will have faster and shorter shutter speeds.)
B (for bulb) keeps the shutter open as long as the shutter release is held.
Slow Shutter Speed Shutter speed is considered to be “long” or “slow” when it is slower than 1/60th of a second. (Remember, this is marked as 60 on your camera dial or display.) This numbers comes from the fact that most people can only hold a standard lens (between 35mm and 70mm) steady for 1/60th of a second or less. This is different from the commonly used term “long exposure” which usually refers to shutter speeds of over 1 second.

 0.25 secs, ( ¼) f36, manual mode.

Fast Shutter Speed Fast shutter speeds are generally considered to be those shutter speeds faster than 1/500th of a second. These shutter speeds are used to freeze, or stop, motion for a clear image when shooting fast subjects.

1/1250 sec ISO 200 f/9 These are two blue footed boobies fishing at sunset.


1/500 sec, ISO 500 f/5.3 This is a section of the monument to the miner in southern Ecuador.

Rule of Thumb

A good rule of thumb for knowing the slowest shutter speed you can use with a particular lens, without using a tripod, is to use the number of the lens size. For example, a 300 mm lens can be hand held at shutter speeds of 1/300th of a second and faster. Note that the minimum hand held speed should never be below 1/60th of a second without image stabilization assistance from your camera or lens.

Ice Skating
Jumps – 1/250
Open Spins – 1/350
Tight Spins – 1/500
Softball
Pitched Ball Parallel to Photographer – 1/1000 (1/500 for blur)
Pitched Ball Coming at Photographer – 1/500
Players Catching a Ball – 1/350
Running Players – 1/350 (depending on angle to camera)
Players Preparing to Throw a Ball – 1/350
Baseball
Pitched Ball Parallel to Photographer – 1/1000 (1/500 for blur)
Pitched Ball Coming at Photographer – 1/500
Players Catching a Ball – 1/350
Running Players – 1/500 (depending on angle to camera)
Players Preparing to Throw a Ball – 1/350
Football
Players Running Towards Photographer – 1/250
Players Running Parallel to Photographer – 1/500
Cheerleader Being Tossed – 1/250
Kids Running
Towards the Camera – 1/180
Parallel to the Camera – 1/250
People Jumping
Unassisted – 1/350
Trampoline or with Other Assist – 1/500
Golf
Golf Balls Parallel to Photographer – 1/3200
Golf Swing Parallel to Photographer – 1/2500
Water
Waves – 1/350
Splash from Thrown Object – 1/1500
Please remember these are just general guidelines and rules are meant to be broken.
Shutter speed is measured in seconds – or in most cases fractions of seconds. The bigger the denominator the faster the speed (ie 1/1000 is much faster than 1/30).
If you’re using a slow shutter speed (anything slower than 1/60) you will need to either use a tripod or some some type of image stabilization (more and more cameras are coming with this built in).
Motion is not always bad –There are times when motion is good. For example when you’re taking a photo of a waterfall and want to show how fast the water is flowing, or when you’re taking a shot of a racing car and want to give it a feeling of speed, or when you’re taking a shot of a star scape and want to show how the stars move over a longer period of time etc. In all of these instances choosing a longer shutter speed will be the way to go. However in all of these cases you need to use a tripod or you’ll run the risk of ruining the shots by adding camera movement (a different type of blur than motion blur).

 1.25 sec (1/4) f/45 ISO 100 I blurred this shot on purpose, the f/ stop is high to get a slow shutter speed in bright light conditions.

Focal Length and Shutter Speed – another thing to consider when choosing shutter speed is the focal length (the .mm of the zoom) of the lens you’re using. Longer focal lengths will accentuate the amount of camera shake you have and so you’ll need to choose a faster shutter speed (unless you have image stabilization in your lens or camera). The ‘rule’ of thumb to use with focal length in non image stabilized situations) is to choose a shutter speed with a denominator that is larger than the focal length of the lens. For example if you have a lens that is 50mm 1/60th is probably ok but if you have a 200mm lens you’ll probably want to shoot at around 1/250.
Remember that thinking about Shutter Speed in isolation from the other two elements of the Exposure Triangle (aperture and ISO) is not really a good idea. As you change shutter speed you’ll need to change one or both of the other elements to compensate for it.
For example if you speed up your shutter speed one stop (for example from 1/125th to 1/250th) you’re effectively letting half as much light into your camera. To compensate for this you’ll probably need to increase your aperture one stop (for example from f16 to f11). The other alternative would be to choose a faster ISO rating (you might want to move from ISO 100 to ISO 400 for example).

White Balance in Digital Photography

White balance is unique to digital cameras, this was not an issue on film cameras. It is the process of getting rid of the ´weird´ colour cast that we often see after taking the photo. Proper camera white balance has to take into account the ?colour temperature? of a light source, which refers to the relative warmth or coolness of white light. Our eyes are very good at judging what is white under different light sources, but digital cameras often have great difficulty with auto white balance (AWB) — and can create unsightly blue, orange, or even green color casts. Understanding digital white balance can help you avoid these color casts, thereby improving your photos under a wider range of lighting conditions.
– Auto – (AWB) this is where the camera makes a best guess on a shot by shot basis. You‘ll find it works in many situations but it‘s worth venturing out of it for trickier lighting. If you are shooting in RAW you can use this setting all the time and adjust in you favourite editing software. The downside is the time you take in doing so.
– Tungsten- this mode is usually symbolized with a little bulb and is for shooting indoors, especially under tungsten (incandescent) lighting (such as bulb lighting). It generally cools down the colors in photos.
– Fluorescent- this compensates for the ?cool‘ light of fluorescent light and will warm up your shots.
– Direct Sunlight/Daylight- Great for direct sunlight..
– Cloudy- this setting generally warms things up a touch more than ?daylight‘ mode. Used in cloudy situations. I personally like this setting and use it more for outdoor shooting even with sunny days. I t can also be used for shade.
– Flash- the flash of a camera can be quite a cool light so in Flash WB mode you‘ll find it warms up your shots a touch.
– Shade – Use shade white balance in shady area‘s or sunset shots. It will help give a warmer color to your shots.
-Custom. With this setting you must take a picture of something of neutral color, ( a white card of grey car) in the light situation you are currently in. Use the menu setting on your camera (read the manual) you can calibrate the camera to use this setting. Personally I prefer this setting for indoors when you have more control over the light, as when you use it outside the light changes very frequently and therefore the settings need to be changed in camera.

 

 

Fill the Frame.

The Cross – Slight crop to achieve the composition I desired.

One of my favourite techniques is to fill the frame, that doesn´t mean I don´t like other techniques likenegative spacein photography but there is something special about this one. It means using a zoom lens, cropping in post processing or using your feet, your feet??? I have to walk? well yes, but how far depends on your situation with each photo you take, although there are times I recommend using a zoom lens, especially when it comes to wild animals, like lions, see below photo.

Couldn´t resist in leaving this one large. LOL . Believe it or not there is no crop on the lion photo, just a nice long zoom lens.

Filling the frame adds impact to the composition. You need to think more about the details. The sharpness of the photo, the reflections in the eyes, the mood of the photo.

Again, no crop, just used my feet to get in close for this photo.

If you are going to crop in post processing you should also consider what you will be doing with your image, as you won´t be able to print as large as if you have a full size image. So when you are in the process of taking the photo consider the final result.

The Lock – This was taken with a 50mm lens and then cropped

There will be times when a little background is visible, in which case think about it as you would any other composition.

I took this in studio conditions with artificial light and then cropped. The post processing was done in PS.

 

The sheep, I was lying down on the ground for this one, she looked at me attentively for a moment or two, enough to take this. no crop with this photo.