The Sony Nomenclature and Symbols

You might have heard that the Sony E-mount system hit the 50 lenses a few days ago with the much anticipated 14mm f2.8 and 50mm f1.4 from Samyang/Rokinon. It might be time now for a Sony guide as it is not simple at first to understand its nomenclature: there are different frames covered, several mounts and several product range. In addition, Sony optical technologies are bristling with sometimes complex acronyms. Do not worry, we will explain everything!

The Mounts A-Mount
Product range : Sony
Sony G
Sony G Master
Sony Zeiss
Nomenclature : Optical coatings and treatments A, AA, ED, Super ED, Nano AR Coating, T*
Auto-focus motors SAM, SSM, DDSSM
Optical stabilization OSS, Active OSS
Characteristics ADI, IF, FHB, FRL, RF, SMO


La grande famille des optiques Sony

The Sony Mounts

Sony has 2 main distinctive mounts:

The A-Mount

A-mount lenses are engineered for Sony’s SLRs or I should say SLTs (Single-Lens Translucent). This means that the mirror that moves in traditional SLRs, is semi-transparent and doesn’t move at all here.

After the acquisition in 2006 of the photo division of Minolta and the output of the first A100, Sony has decided to maintain the same optical frame in order to ensure compatibility and continuity with Minolta lenses already on the market, and continue the production of some of them: they simply underwent a facelift “made by Sony.” All Minolta AF lenses are compatible with Sony SLR A-mount.

Sony A99
The Sony A99 with its A-mount system

The Sony DSLR sensors have different sizes like the APS-C format (eg A68 or A77II) and the full-Frame format (24 x 36mm: eg A99).
Some optics are designed to cover only the APS-C sensor format: they bear the mention DT. (Study between APS-C vs Full frame)
Other cover the format 24 x 36 mm (Full-Frame) and can therefore be used on all SLR models.

A-mount lenses are called SAL for Sony A-mount Lenses.

The Sony DT 16-50mm F2.8 SSM in A-mount can only cover the APS-C format.

The E-Mount

The E-mount is more recent. It has been designed for the first Sony mirrorless cameras in 2010 (NEX-3 and NEX-5). These cameras house APS-C format sensors. They’re now called A5100, A6300.

The E-mount on the NEX-3 camera

At the end of 2013, Sony launched the very first full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market, and still are the only full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market. This is the now very popular Alpa 7 series (A7 series). These cameras still use the E-mount system but the lenses obviously cover a wider area in order the cover the larger sensor format. They’re the FE lenses, compatible with the A7 series.

FE lenses can be used on the APS-C size E-mount sensors but with a x1.5 crop factor. APS-C lenses can also be used on the A7 series but with the same crop factor.

E-mount lenses are called SEL for Sony E-mount Lenses.

Sony FE 35 mm F1.4 ZA.

Sony Adapters

Sony developed several adapters allowing to use A-mount lenses on E-mount cameras. One of them even has the translucent mirror just like on the SLT A-mount cameras enabling the same type of auto-focus as on traditional DSLRs but on mirrorless cameras:

Product range

It’s not that easy to understand the different Sony labels and its lenses. There are basically 4 different levels:

The Sony Lenses

They are the classic, or “basic” Sony lenses made for the A, E/FE mounts. There are prime and zoom lenses.

Sony G Lenses

Sony G lenses (standing for Gold) are entirely designed and manufactured by Sony. They are the current flagship optical brand and the same level of quality as the Sony Zeiss. The different technologies developed for these lenses are the direct legacy of expertise Konica-Minolta in the matter.

As the classic Sony lenses, they are designed for the A and E/FE mounts. You will find Zooms and Primes lenses.

Sony SAL G 500 mm F4 SSM
The Sony SAL G 500 mm F4 SSM.

G Master Lenses

Recently, Sony has introduced a new range, the G Master. The Master G are supposed to be the flagship of tomorrow for Sony lenses. For now, only 3 lenses in FE-mount (so for the Sony A7 series) belong to this range:

Logo de la série Sony G Master

Sony Zeiss Lenses

The partnership between Sony and Zeiss started back in 1995, when the two companies signed their partnership agreement. The German optician enjoyed a solid reputation for quality in the professional fields, but remained relatively unknown to the general public, while the Japanese group had/ has a solid reputation in electronics but it had not acquired its letters of nobility in the field of professional photography.

Gamme Sony Zeiss, ajout du logo Zeiss sur un objectif Sony Zeiss dans une usine Sony
Adding the Zeiss logo on a Sony-Zeiss lens in a Sony factory

The goal was indeed to be able reach to markets they both had no access to. Hence the two manufacturers have decided to share their knowledge. In total, over 185 million Sony products stamped Zeiss have been sold to date.

Sony Zeiss lenses are manufactured at Sony manufacturing plants in various Asian countries. Nevertheless, the German optician indicates monitoring the design and also manufacturing these products, the engineering is carried out jointly by the two companies, the specifications for manufacturing through quality control, with equipment produced by Zeiss .

We find the Sony Zeiss lens mount in A and FE with zoom and prime lenses.

Note: Zeiss also produces his own lenses for Sony camera bodies, but designed, assembled and marketed by it, such as Loxia or the recent Batis.

Sony lenses full list here by Sony Artisan Brian Smith

Symbols and Optical Treatments

Glass Coating types

Some Sony lenses incorporate special elements that improve image quality and/or limit optical phenomena.

We find for example the conventional ED and Super ED elements (Extreme Low Dispersion), with low dispersion, which limit chromatic aberrations. There are also elements with anti-glare treatments, like the Nano AR Coating, which limit the flare and ghosting. Sony obviously uses aspherical lenses A or AA (Advance Aspherical) that improve the sharpness of the edges of the image. Finally, the Sony Zeiss lenses include the T* (T-star) coating developed by Zeiss which limits glare and maximizes light transmission.

See also: Photography Slang Explained

Auto-focus Motors

There are many versions of auto-focus motor in the Sony lenses.

The most classic is the SAM (Smooth Auto-focus Motor): the development of motor is integrated directly into the lens.

There is also the SSM (Super Sonic Wave Motor) based on the use of a piezoelectric motor which ensures a quiet and high speed point with a minimum response time. A variant DDSSM (Direct Drive Super Sonic Wave Motor) also exists. This includes a specific support for the positioning of heavy group.

Optical Stabilization

Some lenses have optical stabilization technology OSS (Optical Stabilization System also called Optical Steady-Shot) that uses gyroscopic sensors to detect the slightest movement of optics and precision motors to compensate them live. There is an Active version of the OSS technology that is optimized for video capture and specific vibrations.

World premiere! The A7II is the first full frame camera with in-body sensor stabilization.

You might hear about the IBIS system (In Body Image Stabilization) which is the stabilization housed by the A7II, A7rII and A7sII cameras. This allows to have the sensor itself to be stabilized and then have any lenses/ Legacy lenses without stabilization to become stabilized thanks to this system. When a Sony lens with OSS system is combined with one of these cameras, both systems work together. In-lens OSS system applies Pitch and Yaw stabilization and the in-camera SteadyShot applies horizontal X-axis and vertical Y-axis shift, plus Z-axis Roll.

Different Specs

All lenses are not designed the same way. Some are, for example, equipped with a circular aperture, which gives a particular rendering of the light points that are out of focus (Evaluating Bokeh): they are no longer shaped as polygons, but circular.

Some of them stand out for their way to get the focus. On the IF Lenses (Internal Focusing), only an internal group of elements moves to get the focus, resulting in a non-moving front element lens allowing easily to use a polarizing filter. In the same idea, the RF lenses (Rear Focusing) use only the rear lens group for focusing.

Some lenses are optimized for video. They are labeled as SMO (Smooth Motion Optics). On these later, the zooming phenomena depending on the focal length used are minimized.

ADI lenses are equipped with a distance encoder that allows, when a compatible flash is used to provide distance information of the subject and improve the settings and accuracy of the speed-light on contrasting compositions.

Finally, some lenses have a distance focusing limiter called FRL (Focus Range Limiter) and a lock button to set amd memorize the focal point FHB (Focus Hold Buton).

If you’ve enjoyed this article, please help us share it on social media. Remember to Like our Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter.