Are primes brighter and sharper than wide open zooms

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by Siddhartha Jain, Sep 28, 2005.

  1. Siddhartha Jain

    Peter Guest

    Peter, Sep 30, 2005
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  2. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    It is. And highly contagious, as we have seen.

    Yes. Words mean things. The meanings should not change willy-nilly, and
    certainly not because some ignorant misusage becomes commonplace.

    That argument has been used for as long as I can remember to justify
    misusages of language.

    No, it is not. "Prime" is used in the sense of "primary," "main," "chief,"
    "original," etc. All are dictionary definitions (though not every dictionary
    carries every one of those) and plainly that is the way the word was and is
    properly used.

    Look under "blue" and you'll probably find no mention of shirts, either. Do
    you take that to mean that "blue shirt" can be taken to mean a red shirt, or
    any other meaning unrelated to the usual meaning of "blue"?

    What do the terms "primary lens," "chief lens," or "original lens" have for
    you? Fixed focal length? I don't think so.

    There is NO dictionary definition for "prime" that means fixed focal length
    or fixed anything else.

    That "decision" was made before I got involved in photography, which was
    over 50 years ago. Since zoom lenses then were unheard of for 35mm cameras
    (at least I don't recall any then), obviously there was no need for a term
    to distinguish non-zooms from zooms.

    That is one of several meanings for "prime," but it isn't how the term is
    being misused. If it were, that would at least reduce the objection to it,
    but would still leave a good deal of confusion. Who is to decide (as you put
    it) which lenses are "high quality" and which are not? You?

    I've been saying the misusage is ignorant. It is. I haven't said that the
    people misusing the term are ignorant. On the contrary, I presume that most
    of them are folks of at least ordinary intelligence who have innocently
    picked the misusage up from Usenet and elsewhere. To be ignorant of some
    particular state of affairs before one has the facts is hardly a shameful
    thing. To try to DEFEND that ignorance after being apprised of the facts,
    however, is stupid. Please note that I am making a careful distinction
    between ignorance and stupidity. The former is often only temporary; the
    latter tends to be lasting.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
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  3. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    I doubt that very much. I suspect that's a false memory, to which people are
    very prone. I don't doubt that you saw "prime lens" used that long ago; I've
    seen it used since the 1950s, when of course there was no need for a term to
    distinguish FFL lenses from zooms. But I've been reading about photo stuff
    extensively since I first got into it in 1951, and it wasn't until the early
    1990s that I ever saw the term misused in this way. Obviously the misusage
    started with someone's misunderstanding the term, and it's possible that you
    did that long ago, though it seems somewhat unlikely.

    People often "remember" things that never were. In another argument on this
    same subject, a user claimed her father remembered using "prime lens" to
    mean FFL lens back in the 1930s. Now why on earth would anyone use a term
    meant to distinguish non-zoom lenses when there were no zooms?

    You're right there. I first saw it misused in this way on the old Fidonet,
    some time before I had access to the Internet per se. That was back in my
    386 days, so probably 1991 or so.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  4. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    Much later than that, I think. I was fairly heavily into photography before
    I saw my first zoom lens, the Voigtlander Zoomar. That was around 1960. I
    bought my first zoom in the late 1960s, and I'm dead certain no one used
    "prime" to mean FFL at that time or for many years after. FFL lenses were
    still the common kind of lens to have, in any focal-length range, and so
    there was no need for a special term to distinguish them. Zooms were just
    not highly trusted. Throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s, most of my
    lenses were FFL. There simply wasn't any need to use a term for something
    that was assumed anyway. It was the *zoom* that was the exception and needed
    a special designation. Now it's the other way around.

    So is "egg," and even quicker to write. If a term must be coined for FFL on
    the basis of quickness and ease, I suggest "egg." It even has a vague
    logical connection to the idea of single focal length, since the egg is sort
    of a symbol for unity. But best of all, it has the overwhelming advantage of
    not being incorrect. No one at present is using "egg lens" for anything
    else, so the likelihood of confusion is practically nil.

    Well, you're partly right there, except that zoom lenses are not just
    variable focal length lenses. A zoom lens, strictly speaking, is a variable
    focal length lens that is parfocal (stays in focus throughout its
    focal-length range).

    Now it is certainly true that not all "zoom" lenses do this, and those that
    don't are properly called varifocal lenses. For example, every "zoom" lens
    I've ever seen on a projector has been a varifocal and not a true zoom. And
    the "zoom" lenses on point-and-shoot cameras are for the most part really

    So yes, sure, if you want to do that, then by all means let's get people
    straightened out on that terminological inexactitude.

    Right after we correct the "prime lens" snafu. First things first.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  5. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    That is true. True zooms are essentially a subset of varifocals, I would

    Mine too, but FFL first. To get rid of that pesky other thing. ;-)

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  6. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    Exactly, and this is what makes my teeth hurt when I see someone mention
    "28mm prime," for example. (As opposed to what, a 28mm zoom?)

    And in fact that is just how camera makers *do* group them, in my
    experience. I have been for 25+ years mostly a Minolta man (until I got into
    digital, anyway) and admittedly I'm less familiar with other manufacturers'
    lens literature, but what I have seen has followed Minolta's practice of
    grouping lenses as wide-angle, standard, telephoto, zoom, etc. I have never
    seen any camera maker's literature use "prime" to mean FFL, and I sure hope
    I never do. (It is almost unthinkable.)

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  7. Siddhartha Jain

    Peter Guest

    Peter wrote:

    I just looked it up and Canon does indeed make real macro lenses
    with the inscription "Canon Macro Photo Lens." If those are
    the lenses under "macro" in the catalogue then I apologize,
    they are _real_ macro lenses.
    Canon uses "macro" on both their real macro lenses and their
    not-quite macro lenses. The words "macro photo lens" seem to
    be reserved for their true macro lenses.

    Peter, Sep 30, 2005
  8. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    "The rest of the world" is defined as the few dozen people who post in a
    couple of newsgroups?

    Camera manufacturers don't use "prime" to mean FFL. They never have. They're
    not part of "the rest of the world," I guess?

    Lens manufacturers do sometimes use "prime," and they use it to mean actual
    prime lenses. Not FFL lenses, necessarily. Zeiss and Schneider, for example,
    have catalogued variable prime lenses. Now can you guess what a variable
    prime lens is? No? It's a prime lens of variable focal length. (Not a zoom,
    because a true zoom has to be parfocal.)

    I'll bet there are a lot more people (and a lot more knowledgeable) in Zeiss
    and Schneider than there are in your "rest of the world" that thinks "prime"
    means fixed focal length.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  9. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    [ . . . ]
    I have never seen "prime" used in that way, but at least it's no more
    incorrect than the way it's mostly being used in these newsgroups. ;-)

    It used to be considered that the proper (or normal) focal length for a
    camera was the diagonal of its negative. Similarly, the length + width of
    the negative was considered a suitable focal length for portraits. I don't
    think anyone has paid much attention to those rules of thumb since we've had
    such a vast range of focal lengths available to us which were undreamt of a
    few decades ago.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  10. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    The problem is, they may not. I do sometimes have occasion to mention "prime
    lens" and I assure you I use it correctly. People who think it means fixed
    focal length will, therefore, not understand what I am saying.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  11. Siddhartha Jain

    Neil Ellwood Guest

    In the UK in the sixties they were called normal lenses.
    The 135mm was often called a long focus lens (which most at that time
    were), the 35mm were often retro-focus lenses but I cannot ever remember
    them being called that.
    Zooms were used on cine cameras quite a while before still.
    Neil Ellwood, Sep 30, 2005
  12. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    That is *NOT* how Canon categorizes them on their web site:

    There, as you can see, they separate EOS lenses into these categories:

    Ultra-Wide Zoom
    Standard Zoom
    Telephoto Zoom
    Standard & Medium Telephoto
    Super Telephoto

    And no mention of "prime" in any way, shape, manner or form.

    But there is no question that the misuse has crept into what *should* be
    responsible and even authoritative areas. In the past couple of years I have
    seen "prime" misused (maybe two or three times) by caption writers in Pop
    Photo, though the mistake was not repeated in the actual editorial content.
    There have been a few other examples too.

    The cases so far have been few and relatively isolated. There's no reason
    the disease cannot be eradicated. We stamped out smallpox, didn't we?

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  13. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    Yes. The unfortunate thing is that some people think this is evolution, when
    in fact it is deterioration. "Accepted meanings of words" now are sometimes
    even the reverse of the actual meanings. For example, many people think "hoi
    polloi" means the wealthy upper class.

    No, English is great. If I didn't care for it so much I wouldn't be trying
    to defend it.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  14. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    Your sources are in error. Anyone can set up a web page which says anything,
    and in this case you have pages repeating misinformation the authors
    presumably obtained from other sources on the Internet, such as the
    newsgroups where this misusage occurs. Doubtless there are web pages about
    kidnappings by flying saucer which are about as reliable as the ones you

    You might want to explain that to lens manufacturers such as Schneider and
    Zeiss, both of whom along with Arri and some others have catalogued variable
    primes (i.e., prime lenses of variable focal length). They've been making
    world-famous lenses for a hundred years or so, but perhaps aren't as
    knowledgeable about proper terminology as you are.

    Here's a current ad from Schneider Kreuznach,

    There are lots of others, but I recommend this one to you because it has
    VARIABLE PRIME in nice, great big letters right at the top of the page.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  15. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    Sure, but where's the "shortening complex expressions" in this misusage? No
    amount of shortening (or even Crisco) will make "prime" out of "fixed focal

    It *is* ignorant to misuse a term which has a proper technical meaning. The
    fact that the misusage is "widely accepted and understood" does not make it
    less ignorant.

    Examples abound. The news media commonly use "bullets" when they mean
    cartridges. It's not an error that any literate shooter would make; you will
    not see cartridges called "bullets" in any respectable shooting publication;
    when such a publication says "bullets" it means bullets.

    Likewise, "prime lens" has a specific meaning, i.e. the camera lens as
    opposed to some other lens or lenticular device used with it. One does not
    necessarily expect accuracy in terminology from the news media, which get a
    lot of things wrong anyway. But shouldn't photographers who've been at it
    for a while be reasonably literate when they talk about equipment?

    Correcting a technical misusage is, I think, a useful thing to add to a
    thread having to do with any sort of technology.

    Well, everyone thinks they do, and some of us actually do. :)

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  16. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    I do!

    I see him every time I shave. :)

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  17. Oh, Hi Neil!

    David Littlewood, Sep 30, 2005
  18. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    As others have already noted, Randall, you're just flat wrong about this.
    And your earlier, more absolute statement,
    "F/2.8 lets the same amount of light through regardless of the lens
    design. F/2.8 is f/2.8"
    is even more absolutely wrong.

    An uncoated f/2.8 lens for example will not let through as much light as a
    coated f/2.8, and a multicoated one will do even a bit better.

    All "f/2.8" says is that the effective aperture is 1/2.8 the focal length.
    It doesn't say anything about actual transmission. T-stops do that, but they
    have rarely been used on still-camera lenses.

    At one time I had Minolta 50mm lenses in f/1.2, f/1.4 and f/1.7. From the
    f-numbers you would suppose the f/1.2 wide open was a full stop faster, and
    the f/1.4 half a stop faster, than the f/1.7 lens. But that simply wasn't
    so. For that matter, I have never seen an f/1.4 lens that was really a full
    stop faster wide open than it was at f/2.

    Someone else mentioned the disparity between mirror and refractor lenses,
    too. I can attest to that! I once had a Minolta 500mm f/8 mirror lens that
    seemed to lose about a full stop (maybe more) compared to what an
    all-refracting lens would have done.

    Nostrobino, Sep 30, 2005
  19. Your entire diatribe about language and word usage is then,
    according to the above, *stupid*.

    Language *is* dynamic. Dictionaries are *not* an authoritative
    source of *correct* word usage, and this abjectly silly
    suggestion that any jargon not found in a dictionary is
    therefore wrong is a demonstration that you are ignorant about
    this topic. Dictionaries are a compilation of current usage,
    and have very little to do with what is or is not "correct".

    Whether it is jargon, which might well be restricted to a small
    enough fraction of all speakers and therefore will never show up
    in any general dictionary, is unimportant. All that counts is
    whether the speaker does in fact convey the desired meaning to
    the target audience.

    The essence of all that has previously been explained in detail
    by others, and continued efforts to "DEFEND that ignorance" is,
    in your own words: stupid.
    Floyd Davidson, Sep 30, 2005
  20. So, along with the correct meaning of words being fixed in time
    by when you first understood them, the Internet didn't exist
    until *you* discovered it too, eh?

    Floyd Davidson, Sep 30, 2005
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