Last Updated on May 7, 2023 by Photography PX
Nikon’s been in business since 1948 when they initially released the Nikon I, their first compact 35mm rangefinder. And since this time, they’ve gone to release well over 400 lenses. But despite them sticking with the F-Mount for almost 60 years, things haven’t remained the same. Instead, they’ve made plenty of tweaks and added a slew of new technologies.
Unfortunately, just like Canon, though, Nikon has also changed their naming conventions several times throughout its life. So that means they’ve accumulated quite a long list of lens abbreviations to describe the various features present in their products. Yet, given these abbreviations are just a string of seemingly random letters and numbers, it’s easy for photographers to feel overwhelmed and think they’re marketing hieroglyphics.
But, no, lens abbreviations have a purpose. And they let us understand what technologies are present in a lens and the general industry trends at hand. So while they appear confusing, they can reveal quite a bit of information.
Still, Nikon has a lot of terms. So this article will outline all of the abbreviations they use, old and new. And in the end, you’ll have a comprehensive guide to revisit whenever you need to determine the meaning or relevance of a specific Nikon feature.
Table of Contents
What are Lens Abbreviations?
Lens abbreviations are acronyms or a set of initials used to describe the characteristics of a lens. These characteristics can include its autofocusing system, stabilization properties, optical construction, lens type, and much more. Nikon usually engraves these abbreviations onto the body of the lens. But, some of their more specific features are hidden in the lens manual or specifications page online.
Either way, these abbreviations let the photographer know the features and technologies present in a lens. And ultimately, it helps us decide if it would benefit our workflow and improve our images.
Here’s an example: Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G.
The first sections are the easiest to recognize as they describe the lens brand, focal length, and maximum aperture. But, the “AF-S” and “G” are not immediately obvious to most photographers, despite how essential these terms are. In this case, they let us know this lens has Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor for smooth focusing, and it’s a G-Type lens, so it doesn’t have an aperture ring.
That said, this is just one example that describes the general idea of how we use lens abbreviations. So now, let’s start tackling the terms that are specific to Nikon.
Nikon Lens Abbreviations
Nikon’s had quite a bit of abbreviation over the years. So let’s first start by covering the lens mounts and formats, then move into more specific qualities and features.
Nikon Lens Mounts or Formats:
Nikon has had two major lens mounts since the company’s creation.
F-Mount – Introduced in 1959, the F-Mount is Nikon’s trademark lens mount and the standard choice on their DSLRs. And rather than ditch this mount (like Canon) with the advent of new features such as autofocus, they’ve continued to refine and mature the system. Today, they’ve released well over 400 Nikkor lenses for the F-Mount, making it the largest interchangeable lens system of them all. And it offers unprecedented backward compatibility.
Z-Mount – Introduced in 2018 alongside the Z6, the Z-Mount is Nikon’s latest lens mount to finally replace the long-standing F-Mount. With the Z-Mount, Nikon integrated a shorter flange distance, paving the way for even more compact but optically superior NIKKOR Z lenses. So the Z-mount now marks the next evolution in their lens technology.
Nikon also has three different formats for its lenses, not including the old-school PRONEA series.
CX – Introduced in 2011, CX (1 NIKKOR) lenses are specifically designed for the Nikon 1 mirrorless digital camera or the subsequent releases in that family (V2, J1, J2, etc). The Nikon 1 family uses a CX-format CMOS sensor, which is even smaller than those used on DX-format cameras. Unfortunately, that means you can’t mount these lenses onto either DX or FX-format camera bodies, though, due to their enormous size difference. So be on the lookout for 1 NIKKOR lens, as they’re only compatible with Nikon 1 series cameras.
DX – are lenses specifically designed to cover the smaller image circle of Nikon’s cropped sensor (APS-C) DSLRs. Thankfully, these lenses will work on their full-frame (FX) bodies. But they will produce a crop and lower resolution.
FX – are lenses designed to cover the larger image circle of Nikon full-frame DSLRs and film cameras. But while they’re designed for 35mm cameras, they do work on APS-C cameras.
Nikon Lens Ranges, Classes or Designs:
AW – All (A) Weather (W) – is a small subsection of waterproof lenses created for the CX format cameras. So that when paired with a waterproof Nikon 1, you could take photos underwater without fear.
CRC – Close (C) Range (R) Correction (C) System – is a subset of a lens with a floating element or lens groups that move separately. By moving independently, the lens can produce superior focusing performance at close distances. Nikon’s incorporated the CRC system into all of their modern lenses, so you’ll rarely see this designation anymore. But, you can find it on older AI lenses.
D – the D-Type lens is an older NIKKOR lens with a manual aperture ring.
DC – Defocus (D) Control (C) – is a specialty lens designed for portrait photography that lets photographers control the spherical aberration. Doing so lets you change lenses out of focus areas or bokeh. And, in theory, it helps the lens produce better overall bokeh.
E – Electromagnetic (E) Diaphragm Control – the E-Type lens has an electronically controlled aperture. So rather than a physical connection, the camera sends electrical signals to control the diaphragm unit. With that, gone is the aperture ring on the lens and any manual adjustments with it. However, the benefit is superior performance since the aperture blades are accurately controlled. So now you can get an even higher frame rate since the lens can quickly stop down without engaging a motor. Plus, you also get more stable AE functionality. Thus, this mechanism is a go-to in Nikon’s highest-end professional lenses, outperforming even the G lenses.
Noct – Nocturnal – is a specialty lens designed for low light photography. Noct lenses have a unique aspherical design that eliminates coma aberrations that typically plague fast lenses. Currently, Nikon has only one of these lenses, the Z 58mm f/0.95, their fastest lenses ever. But, you can find the older 58mm f/1.2 Noct as well.
G – the G-Type is a subset of lenses without an aperture ring. Instead, the camera controls the aperture electronically. Most modern Nikon lenses are G lenses since the aperture ring was only necessary for their older manual focus cameras.
Micro – designates a macro lens used for close-up macro photography. Micro lenses, available in both DX and FX formats, typically feature a 1:1 magnification ratio, rendering their subject at their actual life-size, and they have better minimum focusing distances (MFOD) than other lenses.
PC-E – Perspective (P) Control (C) Electronic Diaphragm (E) – is the company’s equivalent to Canon’s Tilt-Shift lens. These manual focus lenses let photographers tilt and shift the plane of focus to the sensor to compensate for the Keystone effect or create large-format panoramas. And they’re a pretty popular choice amongst architecture and landscape photographers.
PF – Phase Fresnel – is a subset of lenses with similar technology as Canon’s DO (Diffractive Optics) range. These lenses use a diffractive element that bends the incoming light more than usual while still correcting chromatic aberrations. The result is a smaller and lighter lens than one using traditional refractive technology since it uses less lens elements.
I, II – Roman Numerals – signify the lens generation, where the greater the number, the more updated and newer the lens.
IX – are NIKKOR lenses made exclusively for their PRONEA series.
S-Line – Superior (S) – is a subset of high-end Nikon Z series lenses.
SR – Short-wavelength (S) Refractive (R) – is a subset of lenses with a highly specialized dispersion element that controls short-wavelength light. And that, in turn, dramatically reduces chromatic aberration but also yields a more compact and lightweight lens design.
UW – Underwater (UW) – is a subset of waterproof NIKONOS lenses.
Lens Coatings & Filters:
AS – Aspherical (A) Lens (S) Element – this lens element uses a high refractive index to eliminate various imperfections like distortion, chromatic and spherical aberration. Most modern lenses have at least one aspherical element, so it’s rarely designated on the lens itself, as it’s standard.
ED – Extra (E) Low-Dispersion (D) Element – this lens element reduces the light’s color dispersion. This, in turn produces better sharpness while reducing chromatic aberration and color fringing. And it’s usually found in NIKKOR telephoto lenses.
FL – Fluorite (F) Lens (L) Element – this lens element offers better image quality due to a higher transmission rate, less chromatic aberration, and significantly less weight than traditional optical glass.
HRI – High (H) Refractive (R) Index (I) – this lens element corrects the field curvature and spherical aberrations with an equivalent effect of several conventional glass elements. Now Nikon can create a more compact lens.
N – Nano (N) Crystal Coat – this nano-sized anti-reflective coating eliminates internal reflections, which cause ghosting and lens flare, both problems that plague traditional coating systems. Nikon displays this on their lens by using a gold emblem with the letter “N”. And they typically add this feature to their higher-class F-mount or Z-Mount lenses.
NIC – Nikon (N) Integrated (I) Coating (C) – is a lens coating used on pre-AI lenses to reduce flare and ghosting.
SIC – Super (S) Integrated (I) Coating (C) – this is Nikon’s latest multilayered coating for higher light transmission, reducing lens flare and ghosting from internal reflections. It also helps improve the color rendering and general sharpness, especially when shooting backlit.
Pre-AI: Nikon’s Pre-AI lenses are fully manual focus lenses without any automatic functionality. These lenses date back to 1977 and are used with Nikon’s F-Mount film cameras.
A – a pre-AI manual focus lens designed for the original bayonet F-Mount.
Automatic Maximum Aperture Indexing (AI):
Nikon’s AI lenses brought automatic exposure functionality. Several lens lineups within this category exist, each getting more features than the rest.
AI – introduced in 1977 alongside the Nikon F2, the AI range brought automatic maximum aperture correction once the lens was mounted. So now the lens was mechanically coupled to the camera’s exposure system and they could communicate.
AI-S – introduced around 1982, the AI-S range brought Shutter Priority (S) and Program (P) functionality to their lineup since the camera could now control the aperture entirely.
AI-P – introduced in 1988, the AI-P range obtained a built-in Computer Processing Unit (CPU). So now the lenses could transfer data to the camera for more accurate exposure metering.
Auto Focus (AF):
Nikon’s AF lenses brought automatic focusing to the lineup. And it represented an enormous leap in technology.
AF – Auto Focus – introduced in 1986, this lineup brought automatic focusing through the camera. And it was the first generation of autofocusing lenses designed for Nikon SLR film cameras.
AF-D – introduced in 1996, the AF-D range brought autofocus with a microchip that transmitted focusing distance information. So now, the camera could also recognize the distance between the subject and the lens. It’s also useful for metering a scene. Nikon rarely uses this designation anymore, as all their modern lenses have this functionality and are technically AF-D. But, you sometimes can see the D designation written directly on the lens name after the maximum aperture value.
AF-G – introduced in 2000, the AF-G or G-Type lens inherited the same functionality as the AF-D or D-Type lens. But, the main change is that these lenses don’t feature the aperture ring.
AF-I – the AF-I range added an integrated coreless focus motor to the lineup, yielding better autofocusing functionality than AF-D alone. Before this, Nikkor lenses didn’t have an internal focus motor, so they relied on the camera body’s built-in motor to focus. Otherwise, they would become solely manual focus lenses. It also added the useful M/A focusing switch, so users could switch between auto and manual focusing.
AF-S – the AF-S range brought along Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM), which was faster and near silent in operation compared to AF-I. This is the standard focusing motor used on most NIKKOR lenses today and it works on most of Nikon’s DSLRs, especially those which lack a built-in AF motor.
AF-P – introduced around 2015, the AF-P range brought Nikon’s Pulsed/stepping motor, improving the acquisition speed even more when compared to their AF-S technology. But, this technology is also noticeably more quiet and smooth in operation, making these lenses better suited for recording video. However, they only work with Nikon’s more recent DLSRs.
IF – Internal (I) Focusing (F) – is a lens that focuses the lens elements internally, so it doesn’t modify the external focus ring or change size in the process. This design also yields faster focusing performance and a smaller lens design than non-IF lenses. Yet it does so without raising the front barrel of the lens, extending the lens size. Still, not all Nikon telephoto lenses are designed with IF, and not all of them carry this designation even though they have this feature.
RF – Rear (R) Focusing (F) – is a lens designed so that only the rear lens group moves while focusing, which makes the autofocusing performance more smooth. And this design also lets the lens focus without changing its physical size.
SWM – Silent (S) Wave (W) Motor (M) – is a type of autofocusing motor that converts traveling waves into rotational energy to focus the lenses optics. And it offers both accurate and quiet focusing acquisitions. It also provides a full-time manual focus override.
VR – Vibration (V) Reduction (R) – is a system of motion sensors that detects camera shake information from the lens and corrects it by realigning it to the optical axis, thus reducing motion blur. Currently, Nikon’s VR technology compensates for upwards of 5.5 stops. So you can avoid using a tripod in many low light situations since you can now shoot at 1/2 second handheld with practice.
Now that we’ve covered Nikon’s exhaustive list of abbreviations let’s put your new knowledge to the test with a real example.
Let’s look at Nikon’s infamous AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. Here are some other terms only found in the manual and specifications listing: N, SWM, and IF.
Based on the name alone, we can tell a few things immediately. First, this is a Nikon Full-frame lens since it lacks “DX” in the title. Next, it uses Nikon’s (AF-S) focusing technology, so it also has their (Silent Wave Motor) for quick autofocusing. Yet, it also focuses internally (IF), so the lens doesn’t change size during operation.
We can also see this is a (G-Type) lens, so it doesn’t have an aperture ring. Instead, it has a rubber grip, focus, and a zoom collar. We can also tell this lens has an extra-low dispersion (ED) element to reduce chromatic aberration, and it also grabs Nikon’s Nano (N) Crystal coating. Lastly, it has Vibration Reduction (VR), and this is their (II) generation 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
And we gathered all of this information from only one sentence. Quite impressive.
Nikon’s lens abbreviations are helpful, as they give photographers a clear and immediate sense of what their lenses offer. And they ultimately help potential buyers understand the pieces of technology available.
But, given that Nikon has quite a large list of abbreviations, it’s clear why some of their terms are confusing. And it’s also quite unlikely any of us will remember all of this information. So, feel free to use this post as a reference or quick guide to come back to whenever you have questions.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What does G and D mean on Nikon lenses?
The G (G-Type) lens is similar to the D (D-Type) lens, given they’re both Nikon AF lenses. However, Nikon’s G-Type lenses don’t have an aperture collar. Instead, the camera controls the aperture electronically, so you can’t manually adjust the diaphragm on the lens itself. Most of Nikon’s G lenses also use their AF-S technology, giving them superior autofocusing performance over a standard D lens which mainly uses basic AF.
What does S mean on Nikon lenses?
The S standards for Silent Wave Motor, a relatively newer autofocusing motor Nikon added into their lenses.
Which is better AF-S or AF P?
AF-P lenses use Nikon’s newer Pulsed focusing motor, which offers better focus acquisition performance and smoother operation than AF-S. So opting for an AF-P lens would provide the best focusing of all their current lenses.
What does MA mean Nikon lens?
MA stands for Manual/Automatic, which is a switch on the lens that lets you toggle between autofocus and manual focus.
What is the difference between AF and AF-S Nikon lenses?
The difference is their autofocus motors. A standard NIKKOR AF lens uses Nikon’s first-generation autofocusing technology, which is modestly slow and quite loud during use. However, an AF-S lens uses their Silent Wave Motor, which is noticeably quieter and delivers better focusing performance.