Photography Is Overrun with Confusing Abbreviations and Acronyms. Here's How To Fix It.

Sadly, photography is replete with abbreviations, from AE to WB and from PMA right up to DSLR. I believe that collectively they cause AC (Avoidable Confusion) for all, including those who are DC (Digitally Competent). Are you sick and tired of them, too? Read on!

Readers of my blog know that I’m not afraid to use a cliché here and there. They’re hard to avoid. After all, clichés make the world go around, if you follow my drift. I am willing to use clichés because they sometimes convey ideas in the most succinct way possible, just like certain well chosen expletives do—for instance, the expletive that you are possibly bleeping under your breath at this very moment.

But you’ll rarely catch me using an abbreviation. Abbreviations are the devil’s sign language, a form of verbal shorthand that allows us to communicate without any creativity, originality or imagination. I hate them because they are confusing and add nothing to our language, but most of all because they are hard to capitalize.

Acronyms are not much better. If you don’t know the textbook difference between the two, here it is: the letters in an acronym create a pronounceable word, like RADAR or MADD, whereas the letters in an abbreviation are just a bunch of letters and are articulated individually, like ISO or DUI. One reason I hate both is that the unschooled often try to pronounce the unpronounceable, like DOT (Department of Transportation), DOF (Depth of Field) or APS (what was that one again?) and it sounds ridiculous. Try to pronounce “DMV” with a straight face and without SLRing.

Years ago we had a perfectly good set of names for camera exposure modes, including Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. Then along came Canon around (1979 or so) with the labels Av and Tv which mean Audio Video and Television—I mean Aperture Value and Time Value. And therein lies my point: abbreviations sometimes do not migrate across platforms very well. Do you use a UPS—Uninterruptible Power Supply—or use United Parcel Service? Does HR mean Home Run or Human Resources? And while we’re talking baseball, does SB mean Stolen Base or the same as SOB? And, please don’t get me started on the bevy of obscure abbreviations spawned by TM (Text Messaging, Trademarks or Transcendental Meditation, depending on your POV). LOL!

In retaliation against a world that insists that it’s better to spit out staccato letters than to fully pronounce names of things, I am using SB for the first time as a BP (Bully Pulpit) and proposing the following new abbreviations. And yes, all of these can be applied under the rules of the ITSF (If The Shoe Fits) rulebook.

DPF  Dreaded Purple Fringe. Commonly misconstrued as CA (Chromatic Aberration, not California) DPF is caused by camera manufacturers who try to put twenty pounds of pixels into a ten pound camera. The result makes the edge between the clipped highlights and blocked shadows glow like a black light in a 1960’s college dorm room (yes, I’m speaking from experience here, on all counts).

DSC  Damn Small Camera. Japanese camera makers refer to them as Digital Still Cameras so as to differentiate between them and their camcorder cousins, and for statistical reporting purposes, that’s fine—but have you even tried to use one of those ultra-thin, all-LCD point-and-shoots with adult human hands? Where do you put your fingers? I saw one that said “TGIF” (Thumb Goes In Front) on the lens barrel.

lbs  I love this one because it’s always small letters, like its lightweight brother “oz” or European cousin “cc.” What makes it better is that the letter “l” is so easily confused with the number “1.”  In fact, I like this one so much I think I’ll just leave it alone. Well, almost. Camera makers, please realize that specifying the weight of a camera without including the weight of the battery is misleading and downright ignorant. LBS, then, by my new definition means “List Battery Specifications.”

PIA  Truth be told, a PR assistant who worked for a major camera manufacturer referred to Yours Truly as a PIA in an internal e-mail she accidentally sent to me. PIA isn’t the name of an Italian actress; it actually means Pain in the A-region, but I played dumb because a) I know that I probably am a PIA at times, and b) I never really wanted to write about their cameras, anyway. Poison Injected Accidentally is my new translation for this set of letters, although from her perspective it could be Person I Alienated.

USB  Users Should B---h. (Good manners prevent me from spelling out that last word, but it’s often used to mean “complain” and occasionally a female K9.) Okay, I know that USB 3 is fast and the cables are reliable, etc. But one nagging question remains: why are we still using cables in the 21st century?

CMOS  Candy Makes Ostriches Sleepy. What do you mean that doesn’t sense? Are you suggesting that Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor does makes sense? Try to pronounce “CMOS” and it sounds like you’re ordering a box of Girl Scout cookies.

OK, that’s all from me today. If you have some favorite abbreviations of your own, please share them with us. Comment here or on our Facebook page. In the meantime, as my beautiful almost-fourteen-year-old daughter always reminds me, DSL (Don’t Stop Laughing).

—Jon Sienkiewicz