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Old October 3rd 05, 12:24 AM
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Floyd Davidson wrote:
"Peter" wrote:
Floyd Davidson wrote:

It does not necessarily have to be that one grew out of the
other. However, I *don't* see them as totally unrelated.

Ok, I'll bite. What relationship do you see between the term
"prime lens" used to mean the main lens as opposed to a supplementary
lens or attachment, and the term "prime lens" used to mean a
fixed focal length lens?

Clearly that came about because fixed focal lenses are
typically, for any given price better lenses than a similarly
priced zoom lens.

You say "clearly" but the origin of the term really seems to
be pretty murky.

The slang use of "prime lens" for "fixed focal length" appears
to have originated in the professional cine industry. And while
the early pro cine zooms were rather flare-prone they didn't
have anywhere near the performance compromises of the amateur
cine and still-camera zooms of the 1960s.

Other possible hypotheses a

1) Afocal zoom attachments used to be available which would
convert a fixed focal length lens into a zoom. In that case
the base lens would have been a "prime lens" in the more
orthodox terminology and the name could then have stuck.

2) Fixed focal length lenses could have been primary at
one point simply because the studio or production company
owned a lot more of them and thus could be the default
when a zoom lens was not specifically needed.

Prime of course can mean the one which is the
first in quality, or the first in favor, or the first to be
used, or "primitive" as in the least complex.

The explanation that they are less complex and thus
"prime" seems possible. There appear to be many possible
reasons for the name, but so far no one appears to have
provided documentation or a really strong argument to
indicate how it started. The name seems to be in use
because people hear or read others using the term and
it catches on, and not because there is any widespread
agreement about exactly why they are "prime."

And the newer meaning
does not necessarily negate correctness of the older meaning
any more than and older meaning makes a new one incorrect.

Of course. Though having a word with multiple meanings or
an unclear meaning within a technical lexicon could create
problems. That's part of why I think "prime lens" in the
sense of "fixed focal length" while a useful bit of slang until
someone comes up with something better, shouldn't be regarded
as a part of the proper technical vocabulary of photography.

Well, until some other term comes along, you don't have any
choice. The *fact* is that is is here, today. And it probably
won't be going away any time soon either.

I'm not objecting to the slang use of the term. It is convenient.
The convenience alone justifies its use as slang. I do object
to the idea that it has, through use, achieved status as part
of the standard photographic vocabulary.

So? I could probably come up with a single paragraph that used
at least 4 or 5 different meanings for the word "prime".

It would be interesting to see such a paragraph in which
at least four out of the five uses had no obvious connection
to the concept of "first" indicated by the word "prime."
I would like to see you try.

Why would it have to be where four out of five have no
connection to the etymology of the word? The use of the word to
mean "fixed focal length" has it roots in that. Your merely
proposing a ridiculous shift of the goal posts.

I don't think I'm shifting goal posts. I'm not asking for four
uses which have no possible connection to "first," but only for
four uses where the nature of the connection is obscure.

that make the more recently evolved meanings incorrect just
because there is also an older meaning?

No, but creating additional meanings for an existing technical
term could be a problem.

A lot of things "could be a problem". So what?

Ask someone in any other technical field, or even in optics
whether the technical vocabulary of their field should
shift in such a fashion.

*Not* creating some such term would definitely be a problem.

Leaving it understood as a common slang term would seem
to fit our actual needs just fine.

It makes a lot of sense to deprecate
the use of a new meaning for a technical term if it is seen as
beginning to erode the usefulness of the established
technical use of the term.

You are welcome to try, but tilting at windmills, barking at the
moon, and a number of other similar activities would be more

As I mentioned elsewhere in this thread, there have been
cases in the history of photography where a once popular
misuse of a technical term has been corrected. The
example I gave was the common early 20th century tendency
to use "depth of focus" when what was really meant was
"depth of field."

Right, if context is not actually everything, it is a lot of it.
I've got no strong objection to "prime lens" as a handy bit
of slang to refer to fixed focal length lenses, but if it starts
to look as if some people are treating it as if it were a proper
part of the technical lexicon then it may be time to object.

Wrong. That is when it is already far too late to object. All
you get then is someone like me making fun of you for refusing
to accept reality... :-)

There's no point in objecting to slang when it is used as such.
The slowly creaping respectability of the term is a relatively
recent phenomenon. I have dozens of books about photography,
only one, published in 2000, contains "prime lens" in the sense
of "fixed focal length lens." It would be interesting if someone
could dig up the earliest print uses in photography books.

It's a done deal. We might as well get used to it.

I'll grant that if you had asked me 20-30 years ago if I thought
it would be a good idea to use that term in that way, *I* would
have been on your side at that time. But undoing history isn't
something I'm up to. But that happens with a lot of words. For
example, I really really wish that "hacker" was not equated with
"cracker" the way it is today. But it is.

By newspapers, by the general public, but not by the people
who stay up to early morning doing interesting things on
computers for recreation. A hacker knows what the word means
and knows that it's the newspapers and general public who
have it wrong.

And on a more
technical note, we hear about high speed T1 or T3 lines in the
telephone industry all the time... and almost every time you
hear someone say T1 or T3 what they are talking about is a DS1
or a DS3. We live with it though...

I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with the field to comment
much, but based on what you say, it would seem that T1 is sometimes
used as slang when DS1 is the correct designation for that line.
If so, this would seem to be a good example of the difference
between correct terminolgy and slang use.