Camera lenses are becoming very popular these days. As there are so many products and manufacturers, the advertisement is becoming more and more complex. You might be asking, “What do the numbers on camera lenses mean?”
Unfortunately, there is no one-sentence answer to that. The measurements are pretty complicated to understand without proper explanation. Yet, it’s very important to get the concept down before you pick a lens and spend your money on it. Getting clear on the numbers will help you choose the best lens for your camera.
To help you with understanding the camera lenses a bit better, let’s go over a detailed explanation that will cover everything you need to know about the numbers and how to camera lenses work.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Key to Numbers
- 2 The Focal Length Range Numbers
- 3 Lens Speed
- 4 Compatibility with Your Camera
- 5 Image Stabilization
- 6 Filter Diameter
- 7 Lens Version
- 8 Other Marketing Abbreviations
- 9 Additional Thoughts
- 10 What Are the 3 Types of Lenses?
- 11 Conclusion
The Key to Numbers
- A-B mm f/C-D, for example, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
- A-B mm f/C, for example, 18-50 mm f/2.8
- An mm f/C, for example, 50 mm f/1.4
Those are not the only methods that are used. But those are certainly used most of the time.
For exception, you might see a shorthand notation that has no units like 50/1.4. Other times, mostly on the older lenses, you might find the numbers in reverse, such as 1.4/50. Also, all of those things can be expressed as 50mm 1:14 or 50mm F1.4.
The first number you saw in there tells the range of focal distance, which was 50mm in that case. And the 2nd number shows the aperture of lens speed, which was f/1.4.
All of these are just a way to write numbers. The measurements and meaning they convey are the same. Once you get the hang of it, there’s nothing complicated actually. That was the basis of numbers in camera lenses. Now, let’s go over a more detailed explanation of each of those individually for an even better understanding.
The Focal Length Range Numbers
The focal range is one of the most important aspects of a camera lens that you need to have a clear idea of. Usually, the first number of the pair tells the focal length range of the lens. From that, you’ll be able to tell how much range is available in millimeters and what angles of view the lens can handle.
The lower the number, the wider the angle is. As you may know, the telephoto starts after the number of 50. So, if you see a well-supplemented gear of 70-300mm’s, you know it’s pure telephoto. Anything greater than that is considered as a super-telephoto lens.
As you can see, it might get a bit complicated as you ask, “How do camera lens work?” The focal length of any lens tells how much that lens an zoom in or out. Anything lower than a maximum of 50mm is considered as a wide-angle lens. Those are great for group photos or even capturing amazing landscapes.
Also, there are lenses that come with more than 50mm at a minimum and a maximum range of 300mm. Those are telephoto lenses. It’s far better than wide-angle lenses for getting the most detailed pictures. These lenses come in a bit more expensive, and typically, they are used for professional uses.
You can also find camera lenses that are higher than 300mm. Those are called super-telephoto lenses. These lenses offer the maximum amount of depth in detail as well as an insanely clear image.
But sometimes you will find camera lenses with only one number. You might find something as 85mm 1.8. This means that a particular lens doesn’t have any kind of zooming ability while shooting and has just one focal length. These lenses provide very high-quality images, and many advanced photographers prefer to use those lenses.
The next number listed after the small “f” and the “/” is the lens speed. It’s also called the f-number or aperture of the lens. That tells you how much light can get through the lens.
Usually, with this particular number, the smaller the number is, the better. For the smaller number, the lens allows more lights to travel through the lenses. That allows you to take bright pictures in darker environments. Also, it has a small depth of field, which will allow for a quicker blur of the background of the picture.
As the number gets higher, the distances get higher, causing the amazing effects to fade. So you might want to go for a lens that has a smaller number in terms of aperture. But if you want to buy this kind of lens remember they comes with speed and they are pricy. Also, those are pretty large and heavy. Looking at a camera lens diagram would definitely help a ton.
If there is a camera lens with a number after the “/”, as an example, 55-200mm f/3.5-5.6 – it simply tells that the aperture of the lens is f/3.5 when the focal length is 55mm. On the other hand, the focal length will become f/5.6 when it’s in 200mm.
A nice thing about those lenses is that the speed smoothly transits throughout these two extreme edges of the aperture.
If you find a lens that says 18-35mm f/1.8, these are the lens that has a speed of f/21.8 throughout the whole focal length range. These types are lenses are a bit pricy.
And if you are trying to compare the lenses among other systems, you’ll need to multiply each lens speed by its crop factor. You need to remember that the aperture of a lens plays a huge role in determining if a lens is good enough for you to buy for your cameras.
Compatibility with Your Camera
It might look very obvious if you look at the title in the first place. But it’s not just about the fit of the lens on your camera. There are a lot of things that play a role in the compatibility of the lens.
There are a lot of manufacturers that create different models of cameras with only 2 or 3 different lens sensor sizes. The highest line for those is definitely the full-frame, and the other ones are somewhat smaller compared to those.
Even with the different sizes used in sensors, manufacturers produce same kind of mount for various cameras of their brand.
That means that it can be attached to many cameras that were not intended to match the original size of the sensor.
Also, if you are aware of this, you can use it for your benefits. It’s very important to pay close attention to the designations as you are spending money to get a lens for your camera.
Some lenses out there are made to cover smaller sensors. Lenses like these are smaller, and thus, they are not usable on full-frame cameras.
But fortunately enough, you’ll be able to find indications of whether or not a lens is made for larger sensors or smaller ones within the individual bayonets and different manufacturers. But if you are someone who owns full-frame cameras, it will let you avoid incompatible lenses.
If you own cameras with a smaller sensor, you won’t have to buy expensive lenses as they are unnecessary for that scenario. But take note that the cameras with smaller sensors can use larger lenses without any issues.
Abbreviation of lens type differs from one manufacture to another. Let’s take a look at the most widespread lens abbreviation used by the manufacturers.
Canon: There are 3 types of the lens in canon. Which are, EF, EF-S, and EF-M. (EF-M lenses are for mirrorless cameras while the other two types are made for DSLRs.
Nikon: There are 3 types of lens found in the Nikon as well. These are FX, DX and 1 Nikon (1 Nikon lenses are made for Nikon mirrorless cameras while the other two types are made for Nikon DSLRs)
Sony A-mount: Sony makes two types of lenses for their E-mount cameras. These are unmarked and DT
Sony E-mount: Sony also makes two types of lens for their E-mount cameras. These are FE and E.
Pentax: Pentax only has two types of lenses for their cameras. These are FA and DA lenses.
Sigma: Sigma one of the most popular brands for lenses. They make quality lenses also for other camera brands. They have DG, DC, and DN types of camera lenses.
Those are pretty much everything you need to know when it comes to the labels used in the lenses. As you saw, those specs vary by manufacturers. So, you should pay attention to the bayonet and various systems.
When it comes to features of a lens, image stabilization is really an important feature to have. As most of the photo shooters experience the annoying shake while they’re trying to capture photos, the stabilization feature helps to eliminate the shaking pretty well. Thus, it’s getting really popular for all the modern lenses to have the image stabilization feature.
The stabilization system allows for shooting tripod-free shots, even in long exposure times. Those are common scenarios if you use telephoto lenses for photo shooting. You’ll find that a lot of cameras have stabilization features built-in into the camera body. So, you don’t need to purchase an individual one for you.
But for those that don’t come with a stabilization built-in, you’ll need to get yourself a lens that comes with the stabilization feature. For that, take a look at the designations of the lens. It can be a bit confusing as the manufacturers use different terminology for advertising the stabilization feature. Let’s have a look at the most renowned manufacturers.
- Canon: Cannon features IS (Image Stabilization) in their lenses
- Nikon: They advertise their stabilization feature as VR (Vibration Reduction)
- Sony: Sony lenses comes with OSS (Optical Steady Shot)
- Sigma: They use OS (Optical Stabilization) in their advertisements
- Tamron: The Tamron lenses features VC (Vibration Compensation)
- Tokina: Tokina uses VCM (Vibration Correction Module) to advertise its stabilization feature
As you can see by now, those are the different names of the same feature. Adding a stabilization can add so much to enrich your photo shooting experience. So, it’s pretty worthwhile to invest in a lens that has image stabilization.
You might find two different variants for one lens. One comes with stabilization, and the other one without it. You can simply decide and pick whether it’s something you want to get or not. It surely will cost you more.
In photography, the filter diameter is very important. It also refers to lens diameter or filter size.
Knowing what your filter size or lens diameter is can helps you screwing different kinds of filters. Filters are very important for photography. If you want to know what your lens diameter is, you will find it under the lens cap. There are varieties of diameters such as Ø 52mm.
Also, take note that 72mm or 82mm is common for more professional lenses. But lenses that are for smaller cameras usually use smaller filters.
The most common lenses out there receive regular updates from the manufacturers. That way, it’s compatible with modern cameras. Adding new versions and improving quality is a very crucial part of the manufacturers. You have to see that if the lens you are willing to get will get upgraded as well.
You’ll see some of the lenses might get a “II” at the end of its tag. A few might reach “III.” That goes to show that the lens is a newer version. Typically, you will not be able to find the old model lenses as they might not be available anymore. But pawn shops or second-hand stores might have the lens with older versions. The gradual update doesn’t happen often. Manufacturers take 5-10 years, usually to update the lens version.
Other Marketing Abbreviations
Those were all the abbreviations that you needed to know on what do the number on camera lenses means. But you’ll find a lot of different ones too when you look at the different manufacturers. Those are marketing tactics. So it’s good to have some knowledge of the extra abbreviations that will help you in understanding the camera lens better.
Let’s take a look at the most used terms in the following section.
Focusing Motor Type
High-quality lenses always come with a supersonic motor rather than the cheaper and simple focusing motors of cheap lenses. This kind of motor is very fast and quiet. Those are very fast as well as quiet. The most renowned manufacturers indicate the focusing supersonic motor as with following designations.
- Sony- SMM
- Canon- USM
- Nikon- SWM
- Sigma- HSM
- Tamron- PZD
- Tokina- -S
As you can see, those can be pretty misleading if you don’t know what it actually means, it might be counterintuitive. For example, the canon’s USM indicates the lower quality Macro USM motor. You might see how it’s designed to be marketing-oriented. So, you should rely more on the reviews of the lens’s real behaviors than anything else.
The word macro has become a term for confusion for most people. The true
It’s better to peer into the specifics of those types of lens that has the maximum zoom level available. The actual macro lenses have a ratio of 1:1 magnification. Sometimes even better such as 2:1 or even 3:1 magnification. Which helps the picture’s subject to be projected into the sensor at a life-size. Sometimes even larger than life-size.
You might also run into lenses that are called differently, such as the Tamron 28-75/2.8 MACRO, despite having a bit underwhelming level of maximum zoom, some manufacturers will offer almost the same level of maximum zoom. They usually don’t cram macro into their lens name, and thus those lenses are at a more reasonable price range.
As you see different manufacturers in the market, they tend to add special materials or even individual lenses inside a camera lens. They also use different abbreviations for marketing purposes such as XR (Extra Refractive), ED (Extra Dispersion), LD (Low Dispersion), and so on. In some cases, they use the description of the lens shape as “Aspherical”.
You should always rely on the reviews of other people and real-world tests before buying this kind of lenses.
But there are obvious exceptions to that scenario. For example, one lens is produced in two versions that have an identical specification, and almost everything matches. But if these two differ only in using a special element, then it’s undoubtedly better to go with the lens that has the special materials.
For example, let’s take the canon 70-300/4.5-6 and canon 75-300/4.5-5.6. These differ only in the Diffractive optics elements inside that are significantly lighter than the regular lenses. But the special materials can affect some of the optical qualities such as the inferior bokeh. Despite that, if you consider everything, you’ll see that these special materials can help you a ton in specific things.
Many manufacturers have this feature of internal focusing. This feature lets you focus without changing the size with the lens making it very easy and comfortable to work with. Many professionals crave internal focusing, and it’s getting pretty popular nowadays.
But that also is a great advertising opportunity for a lot of manufacturers. For example, Tamron tags the IF (Internal Focusing) designation as a “Specialty” of their lenses. But as mentioned earlier, a lot of manufacturers are using this feature on their lenses. That makes Tamron not so special and clearly using the in the lens name for marketing and advertising purposes.
Internal focusing is a great feature to have in your camera lens. It gives you so much ease and accuracy in focus that it’s really a worthwhile investment to make. So, make sure to check out for internal focus on the lens designation you are going to check.
Higher Quality Lenses
You will find different kinds of lenses that are not common. These lenses are custom designed by their manufacturers and different from other lenses of the same manufacturer. You bet as these lenses come with the premium quality they are very much costly but durable.
Some of the special designations of the lens line are:
- Canon- L,
- Sony- G,
- Sigma- A/Art/EX,
- Tamron- SP,
- Tokina- PRO.
Those are pretty much all the designations you need to know in terms of higher quality lines. You might look for Nikon, but they don’t use any of that. Higher quality line products are definitely better than the rest. But you should spend some time understanding the designations of the lens you are going to purchase.
What you went through was all that you needed to know for having an understanding of, “How do camera lenses work?” Most of the time, the basic designations will be just enough to get the job done. But if you are someone who loves to dig deep into a topic, feel free to do so.
Having a better understanding of the camera lenses would definitely help you to buy the best lens for your camera. But it’s recommended to spend some time looking at different products as it takes time to get natural with the process. Once you go through it a couple of times, it is going to become second-nature for you.
What Are the 3 Types of Lenses?
As you can probably tell, there are a lot of types of lenses out in the market. Aside from wide-angle, telephoto lenses, there are three main types of lenses you should definitely know of. Let’s take a look at these three types down below.
Zoom lenses: The first type of lens you need to know about is the zoom lenses. These are widely used nowadays. They do exactly what they have named after. The zoom lenses give you a really good magnification.
Those lenses have a marvelous depth of field compared to the zoom lenses. So, if you are someone who would prefer to go with higher image quality than zooming, you should certainly go for the prime lenses.
These lenses are truly the wonder of modern science. The macro lenses even allow you to see the texture on a fly’s face or a flower’s prone spores. That’s truly helpful for the people to take steps towards understanding the world we live in, in much more detail than we already know.
Those were the three types of most important lenses that you need to know about. You have to remember what is important at the end of the day is your fulfillment of needs. So, identify your needs in the first place, and go for whatever option you feel like it. That is the best way to pick the right gears for your camera, and your.
Now you have everything you need to know on “What do the numbers on camera lenses mean?” As you can probably realize by now that it’s not that complicated at all. But it surely might be a completely foreign concept for some people.