A Simple Guide to the Numbers and Acronyms on Your Lenses

What does the lens name mean?
A really bland stock photo by Jim Harmer

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.

Meaning Nikon Canon Sigma Tamron Sony Tokina
Image Stabilized VR IS OS VC Not in lens None
Silent Wave Motor AF-S or SWM USM HSM USD SSM IF-S
Pro Lens No designation L EX SP G ATX
Low dispersion glass ED ED APO LD ED SD
Full-frame FX EF DG Di Doesn't say DT FX
Crop frame DX EF-S DC Di-II DT DX
Abb. Meaning Nikon Canon Sigma Tamron Sony Tokina

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.

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10 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to the Numbers and Acronyms on Your Lenses”

  1. If the acronym actually stands for something, it would be nice to know what that something is. For example, we know that VR is Nikon’s designation for image stabilization, but what does “VR” stand for? Vibration Reduction. Nikon calls its on-lens focusing motor “silent wave,” but what does Canon’s “USM” stand for? UltraSonic Motor.

  2. Thank you for every other fantastic post. The place else
    may anybody get that type of info in such an ideal manner of writing?
    I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such info.

  3. I have a d3100 . Looking into buying a 24-85 lens to take quality portraits. I am a beginner so what do u recommend

  4. Nikon DOES indicate pro lenses, but not with a specific letter. They use a thin golden ring around the end of the lens.

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