The term camera lens normally refers to the whole barrel containing a set of glass lenses proper, plus the mount mechanism into the camera body and the rings for adjusting aperture and focus, mainly.

I was looking for the technical specifications of the glass lenses in a certain camera lens, only to realize that the word lens is so widely used for both the container and the containee that no way I get search engines finding anything but camera lenses.

I wondered if in English there is a more refined naming for the whole camera lens that does not use the word lens. Or the other way around.

In other words, how do English speakers fond of optical lens design and of photography distinguish between the whole camera lens and the part glass lens in a camera? Say, they talk about lens manufactures, at a certain point the doubt may arise about which industry the talk isabout. Which term may help clarify the confusion behind this metonymy?

4 Answers 4


From Wikipedia

A camera lens (also known as photographic lens or photographic objective) is an optical lens or assembly of lenses used in conjunction with a camera body and mechanism to make images of objects ...

If camera lens / optical lens is not a sufficient distinction, you could call the whole thing the assembly and the individual parts elements (some may be mirrors) if you need to be particularly clear which you are talking about, provided it is already clear you are considering camera lenses.

  • If you have a multi-element lens containing mirrors (such as a mirror telephoto) would you refer to the lens elements as 'refractive elements' and the mirror elements as 'reflective elements'?
    – BoldBen
    Mar 12, 2021 at 11:03

A camera typically has a compound lens, which is an assembly of individual glass lenses that are arranged in a particular configuration to focus light. The whole lens assembly may be correctly referred to as simply a lens, since the whole apparatus is just a device that focuses light.

The term lens element may be used to refer to any one of the individual glass lenses that make up a complex lens. A high-end photographic lens may consist of a dozen or more lens elements.

See Lens Elements at Wikipedia.


They are known as "lens elements" See Nikon's site https://www.nikon.co.uk/en_GB/product/nikkor-lenses/glossary

To enhance the performance of its optical lens elements, Nikon employs an exclusive multilayer lens coating that helps reduce ghost and flare to a negligible level.


Correct, the term Lens Element (or Optical Element) is accurate for an individual glass lens component.

Additionally, many in the optical design industry — like me — will refer to a camera lens as a Lens Assembly to avoid confusion with individual optical elements.


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