Beginner’s Guide To DSLR Lenses | Understanding All That Is Written On Your Lens.
It’s not just you; we all have been there. Just starting off in photography, trying to learn as much as possible and make great images but the going seems a little tough. Don’t sweat it so much, it gets easier overtime. If you are just starting off in photography it is imperative that you learn its language. Like every other subject, photography has its own set of terminology and abbreviations. Learning them would not only allow you to understand photography better but also help communicate with other photographers easily. And guess what, it may seem very daunting at first but it is easier than it sounds. This is a beginners’ lens guide which explains all that is written on your lens.
If this is the first time you bought a DSLR or a mirrorless camera then chances are that you got the kit lens as well. Before reading any further, I suggest you get that lens and then continue reading. It would help you understand the article better and give you a better perspective of things. I am using a Nikkor 18-55 mm, 3.5-5.6 VR II kit lens here as an example.
Let’s get things rolling then.
Show and tell:
- ED: Extra-Low Dispersion. Nothing fancy, it is just that ED Nikkor lenses have special elements which help reduce dispersion of light when it enters the lens resulting in better sharpness and lower chromatic abberations. In short, it produces better images. Nearly all standard Nikkor lenses come with ED glass elements.
- G: The letter “G” written on any Nikkor lens signifies the fact that the lens does NOT have an aperture ring. If you are wondering what an aperture ring is, it is this ring on the lens that lets you select the aperture of the camera. It was used in older camera lenses and is no longer used since we choose our aperture internally now, on camera and not on lens anymore.
- 3.5-5.6: This is the range of aperture of the lens.; f/3.5 is the largest aperture that the lens is capable of having, when the focal range selected is 18 mm. Similarly, when zoomed all the way in on 55 mm, the largest aperture the lens is capable of is f/5.6. Just remember it this way, the first number f/3.5 is the largest aperture corresponding to the lowest focal length of the lens (18 mm). Similarly, the second number f/5.6 is the largest aperture of the lens corresponding to the largest focal length (55 mm).
- DX: Depending on the size of the sensor inside the camera, DSLRs could be classified under two groups; a) Full Frame (larger sensor) b) Crop Sensor (smaller sensor). Nikon calls its full frame version FX and the crop sensor version DX. DX on the lens hence implies that the lens is designed to be used with DX format cameras.
- Lens Alignment Guide: This is just a simple white dot that helps you align the lens with the camera’s mount while attaching the lens to the camera. There is a similar white mark on the camera and you are supposed to align both of them and then twist to lock.
- 18-55mm: This is the most important thing written on the lens. It is the focal length of the lens. In this case, 18 is the minimum and 55 the maximum focal length the lens possess. What you can also see is that this is a zoom lens, the reason being that the focal length is a range (18 to 55) not a single number. Prime lenses have just a number as their focal length, more on that later.
- AF-S: AutoFocus with Silent Wave Motor. The autofocus of any camera needs a motor for it to run. Generally, older and amateur level cameras (such as Nikon D40, D60, D3x00 and D5x00 series) do not have an autofocus motor built-in in the camera. AF-S lens work with even these cameras since it has an autofocus motor built-in in the lens itself. Silent wave simply is the name of the autofocus motor.
- A/M: Autofocus toggle switch. The ‘A’ stands for autofocus and ‘M’ for manual focus. When using the manual mode, the camera no longer autofocuses and you have to turn the focus ring to get the desired focus. Starting off I suggest you keep your lens on the ‘A’, autofocus mode and concentrate on other aspects of photography such as composition and framing.
- Focus Ring: This is ring that you turn to get the desired focus when using the ‘M’, manual focus mode on the lens.
- Zoom Ring: I guess you already know this, it is the zoom ring that you use to zoom in or zoom out on a subject.
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Just a little more on this lens guide and then we are done. Now turn the lens and look at its face.
Now you know much of it already, just a few more new numbers and abbreviations here:
- VR II: VR stands for Vibration Reduction and is a form of image stabilization; ‘II’ is the version of the Vibration Reduction used in the lens. In essence, VR compensates for your movements and allows you to take photographs or make videos which are free from camera shake; without the need of a tripod. Now take this with a grain of salt; the VR significantly reduces the amount of camera shake in the pictures but even then you should as a photographer take all the precaution to eliminate as much of the movements as possible.
- ∞-0.28m/0.92ft: This is the shortest distance on which the lens can focus. In other words, the lens CAN focus on any subject that is 0.28m (or 28 cm or 0.92 ft) away from it. The lens CANNOT focus on anything nearer than the minimum focusing distance. One very important thing to remember is the focusing distance is calculated from the focal plane of the camera and not from the front of the lens. The focal plane mark of the camera looks something like this.
- Φ52: 52mm is the size of the filter thread of the lens. If you decide to put on a UV (Ultraviolet), ND (Neutral Density) or Polarizing filter on the lens; this is the size of the filter that you require. Also, this is the size of the lens cap that fits on the lens.
I hope this brief lens guide helps you understand and read the information on your lens easily. Never be in the dark, there is nothing as bad as not knowing. If there is still anything that I missed or you would like to know; shoot a question in the comments below and I will be happy to answer them.
Keep shooting amazing.