What Does the Number on Camera Lens Mean? [Explained for Dummies]

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What do the numbers on your lens mean

Today we will show you what the many different numbers on your lens actually mean, because these hieroglyphics can be very helpful for you especially when buying a lens. We explain the numbers using the two most common beginner lenses, the Canon EF-S 18-55mm (kit lens that comes with many cameras) and our top recommendation, the Canon 50mm 1.8, which should be in your camera bag. Of course, these explanations are also valid for all other lenses, for example Nikon, Tamron or Sigma.

The number on the camera lens means that the image sensor has been correctly calibrated. However, there are other factors involved that can affect lens performance and result in different numbers. The lens will give a more accurate reading at full aperture and a lower number at wide-open settings.

The smaller the number – the more fits on the picture.
The bigger the number – the less is on the picture and the closer appears the object you want to photograph.

camera lens number

Let’s start with the numbers and letters you can see when you look at your lens from above:

The meaning of these letters is of course clear to everyone. This is the manufacturer.

18-55 mm / 50 mm
The millimeter you can see is the focal length of your lens. 18-55 mm is a zoom lens (Zoom Lense), 50 mm is a fixed focal length (so you can’t zoom).

1:3.5-5.6 / 1:1.8
These numbers indicate the aperture of your lens. Luminous intensity refers to the largest aperture available for the lens in question. The smaller this number is (e.g. 1.8, 1.4, 1.2), the faster the lens is and the more expensive it becomes. As you can see, the speed of a kit lens is not exactly what you want to photograph.

ø 58 mm / ø 52 mm
As the diameter symbol suggests, this is the diameter you need if you want to buy a filter (e.g. gray filter). Or maybe you have lost your lens cap and want to buy a new one, then this is the information you need.

The abbreviation IS means Image Stabilizer and simply shows you if your lens has an Image Stabilizer.

Not only on top of your lens you will find lots of numbers and letters. On the side of your lens you will also find some numbers and here is the explanation:

Macro 0.25 m / Flower 0.45 m
The name Macro or the symbol “Flower” and the corresponding number show you the close-up limit of your lens. With these numbers you can see how close you can get to your object to photograph. If you are closer than e.g. 0.25 m or 0.45 m, your lens can no longer focus.

With this little switch you can decide if you want to use the AF = autofocus or the MF = manual focus to focus. Especially if you’re going to photograph a selfie with the mirror in a window, it will be very difficult for your camera to find a focus point, i.e. a point it can automatically focus on. Here you can briefly switch to MF and focus manually. Please don’t forget to switch back to AF, otherwise all your other photos will be out of focus and this can be quite annoying.

Stabilizer ON/OFF
Here you can decide whether you want to shoot with or without image stabilizer.

Have we thought of everything? We think we’ve shown you the most important numbers.

What the numbers on your lens mean, now you know all the meanings of the numbers, digits and letters on your lenses and, especially when buying a lens, you can pay attention to what your desired lens can do and whether a purchase is really worthwhile for you.


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