If I want to buy a new camera, I use its model number to look at review sites and videos, compare photos on photo websites e.g. flickr and search on price comparing websites and market places where I can find the best service/price ratio. I basically do the same as for tv's, power drills etc.

However, when I am looking for a new lens, I can never find a model number. What I can find is a complete description where every single part may be important to uniquely identify the lens, e.g. aperture, focal length(s), image stabilization, ed glass etc. On top of that some properties may be written different on different websites (e.g. /f 1.2 vs 1:1,2). Some websites add properties (like the color) and other just leave out parts of the description (e.g. G). However, if one of the properties is different I may be looking at a completely different lens with different quality, features and prices. To me, it is more logical to use a unique name, e.g. a model number. Since this is not the way the market has developed, there must be some advantage of using descriptions for lenses. However because I do not observe the advantage I am afraid I do not benefit from it.

Can somebody explain me what the difference between lenses and other consumer electronics are?

  • 2
    Gee, there are so many lenses, people hearing a name would say "which lens is that?" It's like car names, people hearing about the "Forester" model would say Which car is that? So what xiota said "the specs are the name". It seems pretty clear that way.
    – WayneF
    Mar 7, 2020 at 21:51
  • 4
    I call mine "Dr. Bob"
    – Alaska Man
    Mar 7, 2020 at 22:11
  • @Johan, turning it around: what (objective) answer would satisfy your question? Could you sketch how that would look? Mar 8, 2020 at 20:20
  • 1
    @Johan it's unfortunate we could not find a way to communicate with you in this community effectively. There should be a delete link in the footer of the question (next to share, edit, etc..). You can delete your whole profile on this stackexchange via this link. Mar 16, 2020 at 15:58
  • 2
    @SaaruLindestøkke I really appreciated the effort you made to help me improve my question. But if just rewrote the question completely and now hueco's answer has to be rewritten as well. If I read remarks like "opinion-based rant based on false assumptions" and "You really can't remember the mount your camera uses?" I realize it is not worth the trouble: I have better understanding now and at this point I have a hard time caring about other community members.
    – Johan
    Mar 16, 2020 at 18:36

2 Answers 2

  1. Am I correct in observing that lenses don't have names, or should I see the description given my the manufacturer as the only correct name, and is any variation on that a misspelling?

A lens is a tool, a part of the camera system. If I ask you to grab me a socket wrench, I’ve given you a useless description of the tool I need. If a ask you to grab me a 3/8” socket wrench, a 12” extension, and a 1/2” socket, then you now know what to grab for me.

Same with a lens. If I say grab me a wide angle, you’re guessing. If I say I want a 16-35mm f/2.8, you now know what I need.

These things don’t need names because they have one: lens. Just like with all tools, we select and communicate about them by their function.

  1. In what regard are lenses and cameras different? Why does one have a clear unique name, and the other one not? My working hypothesis is that one is likely to own multiple lenses and want to differentiate them by their unique characteristics, but in practice I designate them with their purpose/reason I bought it.

See the tool point above. You’ll buy a drill press that has some marketable name to it but every bit you buy will be named after its function.

Have you seen the spec sheet for a camera? There are many, many features - a name that encompasses all would be ridiculous. So, they get model names to market them and compare them.

A lens has two critical pieces of info: focal length and max aperture - that’s it.

Manufacturers ask extra money for a more silent/precise focus motor, ED glass, stabilization etc. so you can’t be serious to claim these are not important.

I never made any such claim. I claimed that focal length and aperture are critical to the shot, while the rest are "nice to have" features in the vast majority of cases.

If I'm going to a daytime soccer match, then I'm going to tell you that I want to have a 70-200 f/4 and a 400 f/5.6 with me. If you offered me a 70-200 f/2.8 or a 400 f/4, I wouldn't say no, of course, but I could work with less.

The fact that these lenses have USM technology or awesome glass is great, but not nearly as critical to my decision making process as focal length and aperture. For example, I'd take a manual focus lens with the right focal length and aperture for my needs over a super new and super cool autofocus lens in the wrong focal range.

So, yea, there are other features of a lens - but the focal length and aperture range govern the bulk of whether or not you can get your intended shot.

  • 2
    "that’s it" - Is it?
    – xiota
    Mar 8, 2020 at 0:30
  • @xiota critical info, yes. There’s a bunch more of course but those two govern the use of the lens.
    – OnBreak.
    Mar 8, 2020 at 0:52
  • 1
    I like knowing the mount. Maybe it's not that important since I see lots of listings that don't mention it, or mention a wrong one.
    – xiota
    Mar 8, 2020 at 1:50
  • 1
    @Johan Have you really thought about the naming scheme you've implied? What if you buy the Elijah lens, but don't realize till months later that you should have gotten the Elisha lens because the focal length and aperture aren't what you need? Or maybe it has upgraded optics and motors you overlooked because it was too much trouble to bother with "every single letter"? (jah vs sha)
    – xiota
    Mar 8, 2020 at 8:55
  • 1
    "focal length and max aperture... and macro" when available... Mar 8, 2020 at 14:12

Am I correct in observing that lenses don't have names...?

No. Lenses do have names, multiple names, like model numbers and FCC IDs. Manufacturers need a way to track what they make and sell. Some manufacturers also give marketing names to their lenses.

Since model numbers often don't convey information consumers need to determine whether they should purchase a lens, the specifications themselves also serve as a (common) name. Most manufacturers have only one current lens model with a given set of specs. Consumers can refer to lenses using abbreviated names, like "Nikon 18-55mm", and there will usually be only one current matching model. More info is needed when looking at used lenses, but it's not that difficult. If you don't remember whether you want the v1 or v2 lens, it probably doesn't matter. If it matters, write it down, or bookmark the review, or ask Google.

... when I am looking for a new lens, I can never find a model number.

Whether you are able to find the model number is a separate issue from whether it exists.  Model numbers for some manufacturers may be internal use only (not well publicized).

A bit of searching on the Nikon website reveals that the model number of a aforementioned Nikon kit lens is: AFS18-55_3.5-5.6GVRII_NT(7C_DL). Note that it is similar to the common name, without spaces and units of measurement. By learning the common name, you are effectively using the model number.

... there must be some advantage of using descriptions for lenses.

Common names (what you refer to as descriptions) are easier to remember than arbitrary model numbers. People are also usually more interested in the specs, which govern how the product will be used. Suppose a company were to introduce Elijah and Elisha lenses. Are you going to buy them based on their names? Wouldn't you be interested in the specs? Someone looking for a 35mm lens can safely skip reviews of 85mm lenses.

I heard lenses used to have names but it got confusing.

Marketing names are confusing. For instance, what are the differences among Pancolar, Planar, Sonnar, Biotar, Biometar, Minitar, Lomogon, Xenon, Xenar, Hexanon, Hexar, Rokkor, Celtic, ... ? What if I told you that these names, more or less, refer to 50mm lenses for different camera systems? If you own only one camera system, just knowing that you want 50/1.8 is enough to get the right one.

Oops, two of those lenses are 32mm... That is the folly of relying on these types of names. You remember the name, but get the wrong lens anyway.

you still need to know either the mount or the aperture to distinguish them.

It is not too much to expect people to know what mount they need for their camera. Most people at least know what camera they are using. Most salespeople can use that information to determine the mount.

Can somebody explain me what the difference between lenses and other consumer electronics are?

Marketing names don't tell people anything about how the product will be used. For products like cars, televisions, and cameras, the use is determined by the product type. But the use of lenses is governed by certain specs. If you need a specific FOV, you need to find lenses with particular focal lengths. If you want to photograph at 1:1 ratios, you need a macro lens. Fancy names don't convey that information.

  • 2
    Noct is the name of the lens line, not any one particular lens. You're free to lookup and use the model number, but very few will have any idea of which lenses you're referring to.
    – xiota
    Mar 8, 2020 at 8:46
  • When it comes to mount, you need a Canon DSLR mount or a Canon mirrorless. There really aren't too many other options unless you're shooting film. That info is in the specs of every lens I've ever looked at. Frankly remembering the general category of my camera body is a lot easier than remembering the specific mount designation.
    – FreeMan
    Mar 16, 2020 at 20:14

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.