Are primes brighter and sharper than wide open zooms

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

  1. Siddhartha Jain

    Peter Guest


    One of my strongest memories from reading H.G. Wells'
    The Time Machine when I was about 10 or 11 was the
    way he used the word "incredible" it was immediately
    obvious from the context that he really meant it.

    I do not think I had read the word used in its strong
    sense before. It has left me with a conviction that
    words can be rescued. Perhaps the word did not yet
    need to be rescued in 1898 when the book was first
    published, but it certainly did in 1978, and for me
    the word was restored to its proper meaning as soon
    as I read it.

    To my mind, "not-credible" is a weak work-around for
    a word that has lost its former power, and I'd much
    rather read "incredible" from someone capable of
    writing in a way which shows that he really means it.

    Peter.
     
    Peter, Oct 3, 2005
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  2. The origin may be murky, but the reason it caught on and stuck is
    perhaps not.
    None of which is significant. That does *not* explain why it
    became a common usage.
    I can't imagine that either of those was a great influence,
    though both may have had some insignificant but measurable
    effect.
    I think the point, though, is that the meaning of the word
    as it existed at the time made people feel comfortable with
    the extension of it into new ground.
    Exactly. It isn't in common usage because of where it started,
    or because it was obvious or strongly supported by some
    particular lobby (such as marketing). It's just a case of it
    being so close in meaning, so convenient, and sounding good,
    that it "rings true" and people remember it and use it
    themselves. Bingo, a new usage catches on.

    Since the advent of national TV in the late 1950's, this has
    been a fairly common occurrence in common language, but in
    technical fields it had become common even before then, as we
    came into the age of technology.

    My field is communications (and keep in mind that photography is
    in many ways a communications technology), and I've always been
    fascinated by the peripheral effects that basic changes in
    communications technology have had on society. In that respect,
    I saw TV come to the Seattle area when I was a kid, and then I
    saw it again in Alaska when my children were small. And I also
    watched, as a young adult, the effect of things like Direct
    Distance Dialing; and then again later I was part and parcel of
    bringing widespread telecommunications and computer networking
    to much of Alaska.

    Language evolution is one aspect in a much larger topology of
    the evolution of society as the technology of communications has
    advanced.
    Well... a short review of what google turns up suggests that
    objecting is a waste of time. Tilting at windmills... ;-)
    Why though? That *is* the common thread that runs through
    various meanings of prime. I have never claimed, and see no
    point it any attempt to prove, that there are *any* meanings for
    "prime" which are not related to "first".

    That is just trivia, and insignificant.
    Look, I'm a techie geek type of guy, who is retired after
    working for 4 decades in the communications industry. *You* are
    going to tell *me* about shifting technical vocabulary???? If
    you can, then we could compare notes... but if you want to "ask
    someone in any other technical field", rest assured you did.

    I can remember working with a fellow in the mid-1960s who had a
    really good story about that... He was a retired Navy Chief,
    who'd been in Fire Control before WWII, and retired in the mid
    1950's. You wanna talk about shifting technical vocabulary!
    *Everything* to do with Fire Control changed. When he signed
    on, it was all mechanical. When he retired, is was all
    electronics.

    His best joke was about trying to order a "soldering iron" to
    work on electronics in about 1946, and being unable to get
    supply people to realize that he did *not* want a plumber's
    soldering iron. He also said that just about everyone was
    positive that anybody who dealt with the stuff they did was some
    kind of weirdo, with a social disease or something. Highly
    suspect, at a minimum.

    Of course in the 1960's when I worked with that fellow we were
    using vacuum tubes in computers, radios, and particle
    accelerators!

    Virtually the entire vocabulary used today in almost any
    industry using electronics *didn't exist* in 1965, and was
    created between then and 1985. And now has been in place for 20
    years, and people think of it as *old* and carved in stone! But
    pull out a resistor that has colored *dots* to identify it, and
    is 3/4 of an inch long with wire leads that wrap around each
    end, and ask someone if they could solder it into a circuit...
    and you'll 1) have a hard time finding anyone with solder and an
    iron, and even if they do, they will 2) ask you what in
    tarnation that thing is, because 3) they've never seen nor heard
    of such a resistor. Heck, in the 1970's most electronics
    technicians couldn't identify many parts from WWII equipment
    because the technology had changed so fast. Today of course they
    can't identify *most* parts from back then.

    Photography and optics has changed relatively slowly by
    comparison. Perhaps that's why you are uncomfortable with the
    evolution of words, and to me that is just one more fascinating
    aspect of communications.
    That statement doesn't make sense. Just try coming up with
    a clear division of what is "common slang" and what is not.
    Ask 20 people... you'll get 25 different answers?
    One example makes it a pattern of significance??? :)
    Even half a dozen examples, which probably could be scraped up,
    won't indicate any significance.
    Sure. But like I said... try to draw a line between when it is
    and when it isn't, and you *can't*.
    Interesting trivia, but again that just isn't really significant.
    It is ubiquitous. And yes the old definition is still in use
    too! Context is everything...
    I don't think "slang" is even close to what it is. The fact that
    you don't even know what it means, simply because it is a technical
    term from a field outside your range of experience, pretty much
    demonstrates that it isn't "slang".

    It is a very specific technical term, which originally had one
    specific meaning, but which now commonly is used (and some would
    of course say "incorrectly") to mean something slightly
    different too.

    Both uses are ubiquitous in the telecommunications industry. The
    only significance is that it's one of those "trick questions" by
    which you can determine if someone is *really* well versed. If
    they don't realize there are *two* meanings... they be newbies!
    Virtually *everybody* in the industry uses the term in both the
    original, pedantic way, and as a synonym for a DS1. It isn't
    slang.

    (An interesting side note on just how significant "convention"
    is to me in communications... I just ran a spell check on this
    article and found that I had incorrectly spelled
    "communications" virtually every time I used the word. To me, a
    word is just a symbol for a meaning, and symbols are a dime a
    dozen and can change every day.)
     
    Floyd Davidson, Oct 3, 2005
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  3. Siddhartha Jain

    nick c Guest


    "English is the most widely learned and used foreign language in the
    world, and, as such, many linguists believe it is no longer the
    exclusive cultural emblem of "native English speakers," but rather a
    language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it grows in
    use. Others believe that there are limits to how far English can go in
    suiting everyone for communication purposes. "

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language
     
    nick c, Oct 3, 2005
  4. If you mean the very large number 10^100, as used by mathematicians,
    then its name is "googol", not google.

    AIUI, the name google was chosen to resonate with googol - or maybe it
    was some marketer ignorant of the correct spelling. Good thing too, I
    say.

    David
     
    David Littlewood, Oct 3, 2005
  5. Siddhartha Jain

    Chris Brown Guest

    That's most likely because you're from North America, and it's a British
    English word.
    On the contrary, I believe they are entirely happy with the word "hoover"
    having come to be a generic term for vacuum cleaner, and the currency of the
    associated verb. Indeed, AIUI they positively encouraged the use. It's
    probably responsible for a good section of the dwindling market share they
    have left. It used to be the case that everyone hoovered with a Hoover. Now
    everyone hoovers with a Dyson.

    I understand there's a near parallel in American English with "kleenex"
    (although there's no associated verb). In British English, there's no such
    improper noun (they're just "tissues"), only a proper noun.
    I believe it's in the OED.
    If you're thinking of 10^100 then you're wrong, that's a googol. The name of
    the search engine is a pun on that.
     
    Chris Brown, Oct 3, 2005
  6. That is an excellent point. There should perhaps be some
    emphasis on the purpose of language though, which is to
    communicate information. Pedants of trivia who concern
    themselves with criticism of the "correct" mechanisms of
    language evolution are missing the point entirely. It makes
    *no* difference why or how a change takes place. All that
    counts is whether it serves the purpose well for communicating
    information.

    For some people that is more significant, and more apparent,
    than it is for others. Barrow happens to be a very
    international place, with a majority of the population speaking
    English as a second language. I typically hear people born in
    Mexico, American Samoa, Korea, the Philipines, and Thailand, not
    to mention the local Inupiaq speakers all speaking 1) their
    native language and 2) English that varies from person to
    person. *Nobody* cares whether words match precise dictionary
    meanings, because *point* is to communicate.

    When people *communicate*, the question is not "what did they
    say", but "what did they mean".
     
    Floyd Davidson, Oct 3, 2005
  7. Siddhartha Jain

    Chris Brown Guest

    It's a pun - it's "go ogle", as in, "go and look for", but it sounds a bit
    like "googol", giving the idea that it returns lots of results.

    And given Google's origins, I rather doubt there were any marketers
    involved. It was initially a university experiment in inexpensive Linux
    clustering.
     
    Chris Brown, Oct 3, 2005
  8. Siddhartha Jain

    BC Guest

    "Go ahead, outline "that evolutionary process" for me. I'd sure like to
    see
    how you get "fixed focal length" to evolve into "prime." What might the

    intermediate steps look like, I wonder?"

    Many of the earlier zoom lenses from the 1960's and 1970's comprised an
    afocal zooming portion in the front, followed by a fixed focal length
    lens group in the rear. That fixed focal length lens group was, and
    still is, called a "prime lens". I suspect that this may have led to
    all fixed focal length lenses being called prime lenses.

    As a side note, this early type of zoom lens automatically had a
    constant f/# through zoom. However, it is not nearly as common a
    design form as it used to be.

    As I've pointed out to you earlier, respected manufacturers such as
    Panavision do use the word "prime" to mean fixed focal length. The cat
    is clearly out of the bag here, and we might as well get used to
    "prime" and "fixed focal length" being synonyms.

    Brian
     
    BC, Oct 3, 2005
  9. Siddhartha Jain

    Jeremy Nixon Guest

    Odd. Companies tend to fight that sort of thing tooth and nail, since they
    lose trademark protection otherwise.
    Yes. But no one pretends it's actually correct. We have "xerox" as well.
    It is not. It has made it into the New Oxford American Dictionary and the
    Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd Edition), but not, thus far, the OED itself.
    No, I'm thinking of "google", to wit:

    google, v. Cricket. intr. Of the ball: to have a 'googly' break and swerve.
    Of the bowler; to bowl a googly or googlies; also (trans.), to give a googly
    break to (a ball). Hence googler, a googly bowler.

    Which *is* in the OED. The usage predates the Internet search engine by
    some 90 years.
     
    Jeremy Nixon, Oct 3, 2005
  10. Siddhartha Jain

    Jeremy Nixon Guest

    I meant the cricket term, as mentioned in my other post.
     
    Jeremy Nixon, Oct 3, 2005
  11. Siddhartha Jain

    Chris Brown Guest

    It's entirely unclear why you think this usage has "almost certainly been
    destroyed beyond hope of recovery". If a cricket-nerd uses it, it will be
    obvious from context which version they are talking about, hence there is to
    be no confusion.
     
    Chris Brown, Oct 3, 2005
  12. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    I'll do better than that. I'll direct you to an excellent dictionary which
    is just loaded with extensive usage notes, and you can while away many a
    pleasant hour reading them: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
    Language, Third Edition. (I think there's a later edition now.) This is the
    real big one, not the desk dictionary.

    Even quicker, do a Google search on "misused words." You'll find several
    lists, some of the words real oldies, still often misused. Wrong for years,
    still wrong today, and they'll still be wrong in years to come. In most
    cases the wrongness is in stylistic usage rather than definition, but the
    principle is the same. Popularity of usage does not automatically confer
    correctness.

    N.
     
    Nostrobino, Oct 3, 2005
  13. Siddhartha Jain

    Jeremy Nixon Guest

    Do you really think that, even in the nerdiest of cricket-nerd circles,
    anyone can ever again use that word without everyone who hears him thinking
    of the "new" meaning?
     
    Jeremy Nixon, Oct 3, 2005
  14. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    I'm not familiar with the origins of that.

    My current anti-favorite is "that begs the question, <question inserted
    here>." Ever since some TV ads appeared (again and again) with a voice-over
    asking, "That begs the question, Is it better to give <name of product,
    forgotten> or to receive?" this annoying misusage has spread like the
    proverbial wildfire, among commentators, columnists and others, who
    evidently think it's just a classy way of saying "raises the question."

    Here in the U.S. the expression "that begs the question" was almost never
    seen, except occasionally in British writing. So when the average American
    reader saw "that begs the question" in, say, an English novel, he had not
    the foggiest idea what it meant. (Question? What question?) Now
    unfortunately we see it again and again, *never* used correctly.

    N.
     
    Nostrobino, Oct 3, 2005
  15. "Biro" is another example, at least in the UK.
    Being English, and having gone to a cricketing school, I know about
    googlies (even if I could never bowl them). I have however never, ever,
    heard the term "google" in that context. If you say it's in the OED,
    fine. It's not in the Concise Oxford in my office, but it is mentioned
    as an "also..." in Chambers. Probably never been used in real life since
    WG Grace hung up his bat.

    David
     
    David Littlewood, Oct 3, 2005
  16. Siddhartha Jain

    Chris Brown Guest

    Even if they can't, that's not even close to your original position.
     
    Chris Brown, Oct 3, 2005
  17. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    That's interesting. If that FFL lens group would (or could if separated)
    function independently as a stand-alone lens, then that seems like correct
    usage. That is, you have what is essentially a prime lens with a zoom
    attachment, even if they are built as a single unit.

    For all I know you may be right, though I have always suspected the usage
    came about through someone seeing "prime lens" correctly used, i.e. in
    connection with some attachment such as a close-up lens or tele extender,
    and the prime lens happening to be FFL, just assumed that was what "prime"
    meant. But this is just speculation on my part.

    I'm sorry I don't remember your earlier mention of this. (Was it recent?)
    I've just Googled "panavision" and find you are correct, though as I've
    mentioned previously other manufacturers (Schneider, Zeiss, Arri etc.) do
    *not* use "prime" and "fixed focal length" synonymously, since they
    catalogue "variable prime" lenses--lenses of variable focal length.
    Panavision appears to be in the minority among lens makers as far as its
    usage is concerned.

    Incidentally, while looking I also found this, in connection with
    Panavision's Camera 65 system: "This employed using 65 mm film in
    conjunction with the APO Panatar lens, an integrated anamorphic lens (rather
    than a prime lens with an anamorphoser mounted on it) set to a 1.25
    expansion factor."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panavision

    Now that clearly uses "prime lens" to distinguish the camera lens--whether
    FFL or not--from the attachment used with it, which is correct usage. A link
    in that sentence takes the reader to Wikipedia's definition for "prime
    lens," which is the now popular and incorrect one. I think it's significant
    that Wikipedia's definition of the term, though a popular one, does not
    comport with their own use of the term in the Panavision article.

    This sort of confusion could be avoided simply by not using "prime" to mean
    fixed focal length, which no existing definition for "prime" can support in
    the first place.

    N.
     
    Nostrobino, Oct 3, 2005
  18. Siddhartha Jain

    Nostrobino Guest

    Hear, hear! :)

    Fully agree. If the cheapening and dilution of words like "incredible" is
    anyone's idea of evolution, I'll take vanilla.

    N.
     
    Nostrobino, Oct 3, 2005
  19. It is a Shakespeare quotation which has gone into common usage here for
    needless over-adornment or expense, as for example with gold plated
    taps. However, although pretty well everyone in the UK at least would
    understand "gilding the lily" to mean this, it is a foolish misquote,
    which flatly makes nonsense of the point: lilies are not already gilded,
    so gilding them is not pointless.


    The correct quote (from King John, ii 9) is:

    "To be possess'd with double pomp,
    To guard a title that was rich before,
    To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
    To throw perfume on the violet,
    To smooth the ice, or add another hue,
    Unto the rainbow, or with taper light,
    To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
    Is wasteful and hideous excess."

    (He sure could write)

    Byron also quoted the key line in Don Juan, stanza 76:

    "As Shakespeare says, 'tis very silly
    To gild refined gold, or paint the lily."

    However, if you used the expression "painting the lily" I doubt if one
    in a thousand in the UK would get the point.

    Just an example of the massive power of popular ignorance.
    To beg the question is, correctly, to assume the truth of a proposition
    without actually attempting to prove it. For example (from Brewer's
    Dictionary of Phrase and Fable): "parallel lines never meet because they
    are parallel". Originally a translation from Latin "petitio principii",
    though first used by the Greek Aristotle.

    You are right in that it should not be used to mean "raises the
    question", as begging the question very much involves deliberately not
    raising a question (i.e. the truth or otherwise of the underlying
    proposition) which really needs to be raised.

    David
     
    David Littlewood, Oct 3, 2005
  20. Siddhartha Jain

    Jeremy Nixon Guest

    When things devolve too far in that direction, communication becomes
    difficult or impossible.
     
    Jeremy Nixon, Oct 3, 2005
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