A Simple Introduction to Lens Acronyms

Photography lens manufacturers use all sorts of abbreviations and acronyms to explain the features of their lenses. In an effort to educate use, the photography lens manufacturers really just confuse us. Hopefully you’ll understand a bit about the different lens feature abbreviations by reading this post.

I can’t even tell you how many of my photography students have purchased the wrong lens simply because they didn’t understand what the name of the lens really means. For example, I’ve had a number of students come to class proud as anything of their new “macro” lens that really isn’t a macro lens at all.

The confusion comes stems from the fact that each lens manufacturer uses their own special acronyms to describe specific, subjective features of the lens. Hopefully this handy guide will help you to avoid the problems of the photographers who have gone before you into the frightening world of purchasing a new lens.

You’ll want to note that there are many other lens abbreviations which are not used in this list. For example, TS-E, IF, BIM, Conv, etc. There is no limit to all of the abbreviations, but these are some of the most common acronyms to get you started in understanding what lens you are buying.

But What Do Those Features Do?

Image Stabilization: Reduces the camera shake by counter-balancing the natural shake in the photographer’s hands. Most manufacturers put this motor in the lens, but some manufacturers–such as Sony–put this in the camera.

Silent Wave Motor: Uses a high-end motor in the lens to focus more quickly and without creating much noise. A lens with a good Silent Wave Motor is necessary for sports or other situations where the photographer shoots fast-moving subjects.

Pro Lens: Some of the manufacturers have a proprietary marking to designate their pro quality lenses. Nikon doesn’t have a specific designator for this, but the “N” designator is similar (nano-crystal) and the gold ring is also probative. Each of the manufacturers have their own criteria for determining what constitutes a professional lens.

Low-Dispersion Glass: Reduces the chromatic aberration. Chromatic aberration is a weird phenomenon which creates a strange-looking brightly-colored line around the hard edges of objects in a photo. If you use cheaper glass and you zoom in on your photos to the edges of objects in the photo, you’ll see it pretty clearly.

Full Frame and Crop Frame: If you aren’t sure of the differences, you might want to check out this post on the difference between crop and full frame.

Update: Tamron’s latest silent wave motor technology is called PZD (Piezo Drive). (Thanks Silvio!).

About the author: Jim Harmer writes daily photography tips at ImprovePhotography.com, and is the author of five photography instructional books. He is principally a landscape and night photographer, but enjoys a bit of everything.

Image credit: Nikon Lens Closeup by Matthew San Diego