Making Sense of Nikon Lens Abbreviations

That New E AF-S ED-IF G VR PC DC DX Nikkor is a What?

This is the film body version of the article. Also see the DSLR version on dslrbodies.com.

While Nikon has stuck with the F-mount for over 30 years, they've made plenty of additions and tweaks during that time, and it seems that every time they do, there's a new acronym to learn. First, a little history, then the translation dictionary.

  • Pre-AI: The original F-mount appeared in 1959, and lenses that were produced from then until about 1979 are usually referred to as Pre-AI. These lenses are dangerous on most current Nikon bodies. With the exception of a modified F5 or F6 mounting one of these lenses on many recent film cameras will result in damage, so don't even try it. If you find that you have one of these lenses and want to use it on a current film camera, you must have the lens converted to AI first. Nikon used to do this, but now it's done by a number of independent companies.
  • AI: In 1977 Nikon added a feature called Aperture Indexing (AI). By about 1979, most Nikkor lenses were being produced with AI. Any AI or later lens will mount on all recent and current Nikon film bodies. Some consumer film bodies may not meter with them.
  • Old E, AI-S, AI-P: Nikon kept adding new variants of AI: E in 1979, AI-S in 1982, and AI-P in 1988. They are essentially the same to a current camera body as AI lenses, with the exception of AI-P, as it is has a CPU built into it (see next paragraph). You can add a chip to any AI or AI-S lens to effectively make it an AI-P lens, though this is not a simple operation.
  • D, G, AF-I, AF-SThe first autofocus lenses appeared in 1986. These have a "CPU" built into the lens, but this really is just a fancy way of saying it has an electronic transfer of basic lens information to the camera. Since then, we've had several variations of autofocus lenses: D-type (1992) adds distance information to the data supplied by the lens to the camera, AF-I, AF-S add in-lens focusing motors, and G-type removes the aperture ring (but is otherwise identical to D-type). The main things to watch for are non-D versus D or G. This is found by looking at the aperture designation on the barrel, which would be something like f/2.8, f/2.8D, or f/2.8G for plain autofocus, D-type, and G-type respectively. Only D and G lenses will transfer focus distance information to the camera body, and that’s useful for flash metering, amongst other things.
  • New E: Yep, Nikon recycled the E, this time to mean “electronic activation of the aperture.” This first appeared on the PC-E lenses. Why? Because a mechanical linkage to the aperture from the camera body is too complex when the lens is shifted and tilted. Now, however, Nikon has made clear that they’re building E lenses for good: the 400mm, 500mm, 600mm, 800mm exotics are E, the 300mm f/4 revision is E, the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 DX lens is E, and more E lenses are coming. This is not without serious legacy implication, however. E lenses will be essentially “maximum aperture only lenses” on many cameras made prior to the switch. This includes the F6. Nikon erroneously labels these cameras as “incompatible” with E lenses, when it really is “losses functionality."


Nikon also made lenses with the type of IX. These lenses were designed for the Pronea series of cameras, which use the Advanced Photo System format film. They cannot be used on 35mm film or digital bodies, so just ignore them unless you have a Nikon Pronea.


In terms of functionality, we're ready to get more specific now (I'm just going to cover bodies from the FM2n/F4 era onwards here):

N65, N75, N80

  • Pre-AI: DO NOT USE, may cause damage
  • AI, AI-S, old E: mounts, no meter
  • AI-P, older AF: mounts and meters, possible focus restrictions
  • D, G:  mounts, 3D metering, advanced flash metering, no focus restrictions
  • New E: mounts, but maximum aperture only, no controlling aperture


F100

  • Pre-AI: DO NOT USE, may cause damage
  • AI, AI-S, old E: mounts, no meter
  • AI-P, older AF: mounts and meters, no focus restrictions
  • D, G: mounts, 3D metering, advanced flash metering, no focus restrictions
  • New E: mounts, but maximum aperture only, no controlling aperture


F4

  • Pre-AI: mounts, stop-down metering
  • AI, AI-S, old E: mounts and meters, no focus restrictions
  • AI-P, older AF: mounts and meters, no focus restrictions
  • D: mounts, 3D metering, advanced flash metering, no focus restrictions
  • G and new E: mounts, but no way to set aperture


F5

  • Pre-AI: modified body will mount, no metering
  • AI, AI-S, old E: mounts, no matrix metering, no focus restrictions
  • AI-P, older AF: mounts and meters, no focus restrictions
  • D, G: mounts, 3D metering, advanced flash metering, no focus restrictions
  • New E: mounts, but maximum aperture only, no controlling aperture


F6

  • Pre-AI: modified body will mount, no metering
  • AI, AI-S, old E: mounts, matrix meter only with data entry setting, no focus restrictions
  • AI-P, older AF: mounts and meters, no focus restrictions
  • D, G: mounts, 3D metering, advanced flash metering, no focus restrictions
  • New E: mounts, but maximum aperture only, no controlling aperture


FM2n, FM3a

  • Pre-AI: DO NOT USE may cause damage
  • AI, AI-S, old E: mounts and meters
  • AI-P, older AF: mounts and meters 
  • D: mounts and meters
  • G and new E: mounts, but no way to set aperture


Mounts = can be mounted on the camera in question
Meters = all metering functions work with the lens in question
No matrix = matrix metering is disabled with the lens in question
3D metering = distance taken into account in matrix metering
Advanced flash metering = advanced balanced fill-flash mode(s) with distance supported


Next, even Nikon lens hoods have meaningful acronyms. The letters in the name of the hood specifies something about the hood itself:

  • HB:  Bayonet mount hood
  • HE:  Extension hood for long lenses that already have a hood
  • HK:  Slips onto the lens and then locks using a knob
  • HN:  Screw mount hood
  • HR:  Rubber hood, usually screw mount
  • HS:  Snaps onto lens like a lens cap


But Nikon's acronyms and abbreviations don't stop with overall lens type or lens hood; plenty of other sub-categorizations exist. So check out the information below to find out what the acronym you're looking at means. If you encounter a term I haven't defined, let me know so I can add it to the list.

Note: with pre-AI lenses Nikon often used a single letter abbreviation to indicate the number of elements in the lens: U (uni) =1, B (bi) =2, T (tri) = 3, Q (quadra) = 4, P (penta)-5, H (hexa) = 6, S (septa) =7, O (octa) = 8, N (nona) = 9, and D (deca) = 10). Usually these letters were appended to Nikkor, as in Nikkor-Q 135/2.8, which would be a pre-AI 135mm f/2.8 lens with four elements (Q). Keep that in mind when deciphering the alphabet soup Nikon has used over the years. If you're dealing with a really old lens, a single letter alongside the Nikkor is likely to refer to elements, not the terms shown below.

  • A — The original bayonet lens type (1959). Manual focus lens. Considered Pre-AI
  • ADR — Aperture Direct Readout. A fancy way of saying that aperture scale can be seen directly by the cameras that have overhanging prisms (ala F4, F5). Started with AI lenses in 1977.
  • AF-I — An autofocus lens with an Integrated, coreless focus motor (1992). All AF-I lenses are D-type, but some older film bodies can't autofocus with them (N60, N8008).
  • AF-S — An autofocus lens with a Silent wave, integrated, coreless focus motor (1996). Basically an update to AF-I. Some older bodies can't autofocus with them (N60, N8008). Some newer bodies (D40, D40x) can only autofocus with them.
  • AI — Aperture Indexing (1977). Manual focus lens.
  • AI-P — An AI lens variant (1988) that was "chipped" to send data to the camera.
  • AI-S — A variant of AI designed to be used with Program and Shutter-priority exposure modes (1982). Manual focus lens. Distinguished by smallest aperture being printed in orange and a small scoop on the bayonet flange, which transmits aperture info. Otherwise same as AI.
  • ASP — Lens has aspherical elements in its optic design. Aspherical lenses eliminate coma and other types of lens aberrations by using complex curves in the design of lens elements.
  • C — A lens coating type (Nikon Integrated Coating) for Pre-AI lenses. Distinguished by a C after the lens designation and a black filter ring.
  • CRC — Close Range Correction, means that the lens was designed to provide superior focusing at close distances and with flat fields.
  • CX — (2011) Nikon 1 mirrorless camera lens.
  • D — (1992) Adds distance information to the data transmitted to the camera via chip. Distinguished by the D or G after the lens designation.
  • DC — Defocus Control lens, allows the photographer to change the degree of spherical aberration in the out-of-focus areas to provide for better bokeh.
  • DX -- (2003) Indicates a lens designed to cover the smaller image circle of the digital camera bodies. May still work on 35mm bodies at some focal lengths.
  • old E — A special type of AI lens (1977) introduced with the consumer-oriented EM body. Says Nikon Series E on the lens. Light in weight, plastic in construction, but optically good.
  • new E — Electronic aperture activation. The lens does not have a physical connection to the aperture activation arm in the camera and instead uses electrical signals between camera and lens to control aperture (see notes on body compatibility, above)
  • ED — Extra-low Dispersion element(s) used in the lens.
  • FX — (2007) 35mm full frame digital sensor. While Nikon doesn't explicitly use this acronym yet with lenses, it has used it casually to refer to lenses that cover the full 35mm film (and FX digital sensor) frame, as opposed to lenses that cover smaller imaging sizes, such as DX or IX.
  • G — Removes the aperture ring from a D-type lens. Thus needs to be used on camera with Command dial control of apertures. With some older cameras (N90s, for example), can be used in Program or Shutter-priority exposure mode, though.
  • HRI — High Refractive Index. First appeared on the 55-300mm lens.
  • IF — Lens uses internal focusing rather than moving or turning outer elements.
  • IX — Lenses for the Pronea system (Advanced Photo System). Can't be used on the 35mm or digital bodies.
  • K — Another Pre-AI lens type, this time with rubber focus rings.
  • N — Originally, the actual designation used for the first AI lenses; beginning in 2005 it now stands for Nano Crystal Coat, a special type of flare reduction coating applied to newer lenses.
  • N (gold emblem) — Nano coating. A crystalline coating that eliminates internal lens element reflections, reducing ghosting and flare.
  • NIC — Nikon Integrated Coating. A fancy way of referring to Nikon's glass coating system, which is used to help reduce flare and ghosting.
  • PC — Perspective Control lens, allows the front of the lens to be shifted relative to the rest of the lens to correct for perspective. All PC lenses are either AI or AI-P in type.
  • RF — Rear Focusing, means that lens achieves focusing by moving the rear elements; similar to IF.
  • SIC — Super Integrated Coating, a multi-layer flare reduction coating, usually applied to the more complex zoom lenses.
  • SWM — Silent Wave Motor. This is the motor in the lens used in AF-I and AF-S lenses.
  • UW — Underwater lenses, destined for the Nikonos systems.
  • VR — Vibration Reduction lens, corrects for camera movement during exposure. VR function only works on post F5 cameras (e.g., not F4, N90s, N60, N70, N8008). Lately, Nikon has been using a VRII designation to indicate some advances to the vibration reduction system. 


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