Going through camera peripherals (such as lenses) in specialized stores that typically have technical product names can be intimidating. For example, you have a 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM lens - say what?
It may sound esoteric, but it will help if you familiarize yourself with at least some of the basic lens acronyms that any shutterbug who wants to be serious in his passion should be aware of. In this article, we’ll focus (pun intended) the spotlight on one of the most popular camera lens brands, Sony, which is often associated with Carl Zeiss.
Many are quick to assume that Sony and Carl Zeiss have either merged or formed some sort of alliance in the lens industry. Call it an ex-deal if you will. But the truth is, they are still separate brands which have fortified their reputations by lending one’s strengths to the other and vice-versa. That is why on one hand, you will find Sony-Zeiss lenses while there are still Zeiss lenses on the other. In any case, this licensing arrangement, if it is, seems to have worked both in their favor as they continue with their successful partnership in lens design and manufacture.
Going back to acronyms, let’s get right into it.
Sony Lens Acronyms
According to format
SAL - Sony Autofocus Lens or Sony Alpha Lens
SAL is often used to replace Sony itself on product names. SAL applies to A-mount cameras, which have mirrors that help the lens and the camera body recognize one another. When used, it drops the word Sony from the description, which is more like making the lens sound a little more abstract if you ask me.
SEL - Sony E-mount Lenses
In contrast, SEL is intended for mirrorless camera technology, or E-mount, and stands in for the Sony brand when labeling the lenses, i.e. SELP1650 instead of Sony E 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ SSM.
DT - Digital Technology
Although the term digital technology can be a catchall phrase, DT lenses are used for E-mount cameras with APS-C sensors only. While they skip on the 35mm sensor types, they are well-rounded enough such that they can be mounted on full-frame cameras which can be turned into crop mode as well if need be.
FE - Full E-mount
This type of lens is compatible with 35mm sensors that have full-frame E-mount cameras, which are mirrorless just like the Sony Alpha A7.
E - E-mount
E lenses are those that are designed for E-mount or mirrorless camera systems, i.e. Sony Alpha A6000, which has APS-C sensors.
According to class and technology
G - Gold
Anything that you call gold always means topnotch, and Sony G class lenses are no different. Such professional lenses are some of the most expensive across the board, therefore they are not for the budget-conscious.
ZA - Zeiss Alpha
Somewhat obvious, ZA lenses are products of the Sony-Zeiss collaboration. It is said that such lenses have the Zeiss seal of approval, but not necessarily designed by Carl Zeiss himself. Essentially, it is considered more as a Sony lens than Zeiss lens if that makes sense.
SSM - Super Sonic Motor
Sony has its own version of an ultrasonic ring type monitor which has a wide aperture and allows a silent autofocus operation. Unfortunately, it cannot be used with Minolta A-mount cameras that were released before 2000.
SAM - Smooth Autofocus Motor
Perhaps the poor man’s version of the SSM, its plastic lens is an affordable option that is capable of operating quietly and relatively fast.
OSS - Optical Steady Shot
This is supported by E-mount camera mirrorless systems which have an optical image stabilization feature.
PZ - Power Zoom
The integrated motors drive the optical zoom of these compact lenses that are particularly useful for videos.
ED - Extra low Dispersion
Issues such as chromatic aberrations can be resolved by ED with its use of glass in its lens construction.
According to specialization
TC - Tele Converter
Also used by other lens manufacturers, this simply tells you that the focal length of telephoto lenses is variable as well as its aperture settings.
STF - Smooth Transition Focus
STF lenses cover APD lens groups which gradually darken towards the edges such that they reduce light passing through them. As a result, you achieve these smooth and silky highlights which, however, are out of focus. As such, if you go too crazy with smooth renditions, you are likely to get plastic-y images. Fortunately though, there is an STF type, which is the Sony 135mm f/2.8 (T4.5) STF. Despite the absence of an auto focus, it is still capable of producing high quality imaging.
Other lens terminologies (non-acronyms)
This is a popular type of lens that provides up to 180-degree wide angle views alongside special distortion features. You can have a diagonal fisheye lens which covers a full frame. On the other hand, a circular lens will provide, well, a circular image in the given frame.
Smaller, lightweight and more importantly affordable than regular lenses, this type of lens works with both A-mount and E-mount camera systems. The term refers to its compact size (which is indeed comparable to a pancake) and its fixed focal length.
If you want to get that perfect closeup, you should opt for a macro lens. Sony macro lenses are deemed better in terms of being capable of a 1:1 magnification ratio. This means you can make tiny objects look much bigger with greater detailing that you cannot achieve with a standard lens.
Practical application using an actual product name
Let’s go back to our head-scratching product name earlier, which is the Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM. So what’s with that name?
Based on the acronyms and several lens jargon we have learned thus far, we can tell that this lens has a dynamic focal length from 70mm to 300mm. It is a premium lens with its G indicator. You have the SSM so you can expect its autofocus to be fast yet silent. You will notice however that it does not specify exactly if it’s for A-mount or E-mount. However, you can assume it is for A-mount systems because there’s neither a DT nor FE in its name. And if you refer to its short name of SAL70300G, you know by now that SAL is for A-mount cameras.
You can start practicing your acronym decoding skills as you browse through many Sony lenses, whether you see them in stores or through online shops. You will also realize that many of these acronyms are shared with other brands, otherwise, it can get more confusing than it should be. Thankfully, this will then help you find the appropriate lens on your own should you need to buy one in the future.