7

A very large number of photographic products have names ending in "-tar." Most of these are camera lenses, but there are examples of film and even camera brands that follow the same pattern. The practice dates back to the nineteenth century, with the Zeiss Protar lens being possibly the first example. Others have included:

"-ar" alone is also seen, with the Zeiss Planar and Tessar lenses being early examples. And while we're at it, we might as well throw in Nikkor, Nikon's name for its line of SLR camera lenses.

I've looked into this and haven't uncovered much in the way of definitive answers; the best guesses I've seen have been along the lines of "Zeiss started it and the other lens makers copied Zeiss because they thought it sounded cool." I thought I'd bring the question here to see if the community's etymology expertise can provide any insights. (That this is strictly "English-related" is debatable, I suppose, but I believe the question belongs here because of the familiarity of several of these brand names in English contexts.)

  • 1
    Don’t forget Apostar, Apotar, Biometar, Biotar, Cardinar, Cintar, Colorfinar, Culminar, Curtar, Elmar, Evar, Fujitar, Futar, Futurar, Heliar, Isconar, Lanthar, Longar, Lordonar, Lustrar, Magnar, Meritar, Mirotar, Novar, Oplar, Orthometar, Pancolar, Pantar, Planar, Pointicar, Protar, Quinar, Radionar, Robotar, Rolleinar, Sandmar, Serenar, Skopar, Solinar, Sonnar, Stemar, Summitar, Takumar, Telemar, Teleoplar, Telezenitar, Tessar, Thambar, Travenar, Travetar, Triotar, Variozenitar, Vivitar, Westar, Xenar, Zenitar, or Zoomar. And that’s just for starters. – tchrist Jun 3 '14 at 17:18
  • 1
    Note that the reason they are called Nikkors is something else, related to the old Zeiss Icon trademark. – tchrist Jun 3 '14 at 17:24
3

The -ar Suffix in Lens Names

The -ar suffix does not stand either for argentum nor for anti-reflective coatings. As one poster suggests:

It's really simple, Zeiss, Goerz, Voigtlander and several other top German makers introduced lenses with names like Unar, Tessar, Planar, Dagor, Protar, Heliar, Dynar etc, this was at the turn of the 19/20th centuries. Everyone else copied them.

So it started with the top German brands, and everything since owes the practice to those early lenses. It is hard to overstate the importance of the original Zeiss lenses, like the Unar, the Protar, the Planar, and especially the Tessar. It seems that once people had the Tessar, everybody wanted in on it.

The Unar came from separating a lens with two doublets, leaving just a one-piecer lens. The Protar and Novar were indented to be “new” lenses. And the Tessar in particular was named for the Greek word relating to four, as in tesseract.

Despite common belief, the Tessar was not developed from the 1893 Cooke triplet design by replacing the rear element with a cemented achromatic doublet. In fact, Paul Rudolph designed the Anastigmat with two cemented doublets in 1890. In 1899, he separated the doublets in the Anastigmat to produce the four-element, four-group Unar lens. In 1902, he realized that reversing the two rear elements of the Unar and returning to a cemented doublet would improve performance; he named the result "Tessar", from the Greek word τέσσερα (téssera, four) to indicate a four-element design.

We see this theme again in lens names like Hexar, with its a six-element design, and in Septon with of course seven elements in its design.

But the Latinate -ar suffix of lenses like the Planar, just like the Greek -on suffix of lenses like the Septon, really just started off as a way to make an adjective.

The other common lens suffixes each have their own loose meanings, not always followed.

For examples, a lens whose name ends in -on tended to be a wide-angle one, such as the Zeiss Distgaon.

But those ending in -flex were for TLRs instead of for SLRs or rangefinders, because they were reflex lenses.

Just the -ar lenses alone are almost numberless, with just a partial sampling:

Biometar, Biotar, Cardinar, Cintar, Colorfinar, Culminar, Curtar, Elkar, Elmar, Evar, Fujitar, Futar, Futurar, Heliar, Isconar, Lanthar, Longar, Lordonar, Lustrar, Magnar, Meritar, Mirotar, Novar, Oplar, Orthometar, Pancolar, Pantar, Planar, Pointicar, Protar, Quinar, Radionar, Robotar, Rolleinar, Sandmar, Serenar, Skopar, Solinar, Sonnar, Stemar, Summitar, Takumar, Telemar, Teleoplar, Telezenitar, Tessar, Thambar, Travenar, Travetar, Triotar, Variozenitar, Vivitar, Westar, Xenar, Zenitar, Zoomar.

If you look at the leading elements, they usually their root in some classical word, although there are some number of exceptions with their own stories, like the Elmar, perhaps most famously.

Nikkors

The Nikkor lenses from Nikon have a rather different origin:

The Nikkor brand was introduced in 1932, a Westernised rendering of an earlier version Nikkō (日光), an abbreviation of the company's original full name Nippon Kōgaku ("Japan Optics"; 日本光学工業株式会社).

In fact, the very name Nikon was intended to mimic the famous Zeiss–Ikon marque, something of a Nipponese Ikon, if you would. They got into trouble for this:

Due to a lawsuit alleging trademark violations of the name "Zeiss-Ikon," Nikon cameras were not imported into Germany during the early and mid 1960's. Nippon Kagaku's temporary solution was to turn Nikon cameras into "Nikkor" cameras.

And later it comes full circle:

The interesting thing about this particular dispute is that Nikon got its start in the 1940s and 1950s by adopting a name similar to Zeiss-Ikon, a well-known German manufacturer of cameras.


SEE ALSO

  • 2
    The Latin -ar suffix was originally in complementary distribution with -al after /l/ by dissimilation (polar, familiar, regular, lunar). – John Lawler Jun 3 '14 at 21:09
1

I think there's a chance this may be just tradition in the photography industry.

This article suggests that the 'ar' suffix renders the preceding word as an adjective, which would be useful for product names.

From your examples:

'Summit-ar' - i.e. of the summit, the best. 'Vivi-tar' - i.e. of life, living. 'Trio-tar' - i.e. of having 3 (as the product description you linked to suggests, there are 3 lenses).

This is supposition but it seems to work well enough for a decent number of your examples.

Finally, this usage is derived from Latin and is common in Romance languages and English also to denote a noun that belongs to a group. Given that the photography industry is and always has been very international this type of pattern that applies equally well to so many languages would make sense.

0

It's possible, perhaps even likely, that -ar is derived from argentum, the Latin for silver, since a suspension of silver salts was used in black-and-white photography.

As corroboration, I offer protargol:

Etymology: < German Protargol (1897) < Prot- (in Protein protein n.) + classical Latin arg- (in argentum silver: see argent n. and adj.) + German -ol suffix.

A colloidal combination of protein and silver salts, used originally as an antiseptic and later chiefly as a stain for light and electron microscopy.

[OED]

Sony use Carl Zeiss lenses. User Jo Bedard has found a potted history of Zeiss lenses on a Sony website indicating that Prot(o)- means "first" as it was the first in a series of -ar lenses.

  • Possibly, but then I would expect to see the suffix applied to film stocks more often than lenses. The only film I can think of that fits the pattern is Kodak Ektar, which was introduced more than 50 years after the first Ektar lenses in a pretty clear example of brand extension. – phenry Jun 2 '14 at 17:12
  • According to Zeiss, Protar was named so because it was the first of a serie. I think OP maybe right, due to the success of Zeiss with their -ar series, other copied the pattern. See explanations for other lenses as well: sony-mea.com/microsite/dslr/09/carlZeissLens/… – P. O. Jun 2 '14 at 17:12
  • "Protargol" just happens to contain the sequence of letters t-a-r. As shown by your etymology, the t is part of prot[ein] and the a-r is part of arg[entum]. And, like @phenry, I see no reason why people would name their lenses with a suffix derived from a chemical used in film. It's like suggesting that a name component of a car engine is derived from a part of the tyre. – David Richerby Jun 2 '14 at 22:24
  • Although -ar for argentum might be pushed, I feel that the infix -t has not been accounted for. Y a-t-il, peut-être, quelque autre possibilité qui explique ce phénomène curieux? Ok, viewed synchronically that’s not true epenthesis, thanks to the old Latin -t in 3sg pr ind act verbs. Certainly Japanese requires epenthetic insertions of foreign words, as of course in certain positions does Espanish. But the tradition seems to have begun in Germany, so there must be something else to it. – tchrist Jun 3 '14 at 17:16
  • @tchrist Sorry, I should have mentioned proto- rather than just pro-. Fixed. – Andrew Leach Jun 3 '14 at 18:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.