DECODING THE NIKON-NIKKOR CODE
I bet you have seen these “strange markings” all over Nikon lens… but what the heck do they mean?
This Nikon lens abbreviations and acronyms glossary will help you to decode the Nikon code, and a short history lesson so you can better understand these lens.
Also for those who are a little newer to Nikon, their lens are branded “Nikkor”. No need to be confused, it’s just part of history. Nikon originally only wanted their best lens to carry the “Nikkor” name. But now, all their lens are “Nikkor” nonetheless.
When dinosaurs walked the Earth, lens are totally manual. Not just in terms of focusing, but also in terms of exposure metering. There is no auto-focus, and there are no “auto”, “aperture priority”, “shutter priority” or “program” modes.
It was not until 1977 that Nikon had a huge advancement with “Automatic Maximum Aperture Indexing… or just “Auto Indexing (AI)” for short. The AI system itself, in layman terms, made the lens “smarter” and allowed cameras to have those “auto exposures” mode. The AI system had many upgrades over the years.
- 1979 : AI-E
- 1982 : AI-S
- 1988 : AI-P
While later Nikkor lens no longer have “AI” decorated on them, the AI technology is present in all of them “by default” in a way.
In 1986, Nikon had the “next big thing” with their lens. That is, auto-focusing.
- AF : Auto Focus, yep, the raw basics that this lens has auto-focus mechanism.
- AF-D : Update in 1992, auto Focus with distance information.
- AF-I : Auto Focus with an integrated focus motor.
- AF-S : The newer Auto Focus with Silent Wave Motor… that is supposedly more silent.
The one thing you need to note about Nikon lens is the integrated focus motor. Yep, some Nikon lens have auto-focus but do not have it’s own motor; You need a Nikon camera with a built-in motor… or that lens is as good as a manual focus lens.
Now for a few more note-worthy things in regards to auto-focus (and the related terms).
- SWM : Silent Wave Motor. A name to glorify the less noisy internal focusing motor… and some improvements.
- IF : Internal Focusing. Just some technical jargon. Simply put – the manual focus ring does not turn when auto-focus is working it’s magic.
- RF : Rear Focusing. The rear element moves while focusing.
- CRC : Close Range Correction. Optimized for close focusing distances.
AF and AF-S lens are further categorized… or rather, they have evolved over the years.
- D-Type : The lens carry subject-to-camera distance information, which gave a more advanced “3D Matrix Metering”.
- G-Type : All modern and later lens built beyond this point no longer have an aperture ring. Since technology has grown so much, and the aperture is controlled via the camera instead now.
- E-Type : The newer technology called “electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism”. Well, in simple terms, it allowed more accurate aperture blade controls, which is especially good when shooting at high frame rates.
From the 1930s to 1950s Nikon made lenses for the Leica Screw Mount (LTM) – But Nikon themselves did not produce any LTM cameras. In 1959, Nikon came up with their own “F-mount” standard, and it has not changed since.
But please note that not all camera bodies and lens are backwards compatible – mounting some older F-mount lenses on a later camera body may even result in damage. So please do your research before you slap an old lens on.
Also, lens built for the Nikon mirrorless systems are different and will not mount on “F-mount” systems. See “CX” below.
- FX : Lens built for “full-frame”, or the 35mm film equivalent. FX will never be scripted on the lens, because all F-mount lens are FX “by default”… Unless indicated by “DX” below.
- DX : This lens is specifically designed for APS-C DX camera bodies (or crop sensor). DX lens will work on FX cameras. But you need to set the shoot mode to “DX lens”, and you will get lesser resolution due to cropping.
- CX : This lens is made for the mirrorless systems. Again, CX will not be scripted on the lens. But if you see a lens with the title “1 NIKKOR”, that is a CX lens.
Nikon calls their stabilizing system, Vibration Reduction (VR), and the later upgrade VR II. Nothing too fanciful, but most tripod users tend to switch the VR off instead.
- Micro : Or call it Macro, designed to be capable of focusing very close up to the subject.
- PC-E : Perspective Control with electronic diaphragm. Simply put – “tilt shift”.
- DC : Defocus Control lens allow the control of the out-of-focus parts of the focus. AKA Bokeh. The results are subtle though.
- ASP or AS : This lens has at least one aspherical lens element, which is good for correcting coma and other aberrations.
- SIC : Super Integrated Coating. Better color performance and generally less ghosting and flaring.
- ML : Meniscus Protective Lens. A curved glass element installed in front of the lens to reduce ghosting.
- ED : Extra-low Dispersion. Glass that do not disperse the light as it enters the lens, better sharpness and reduces chromatic aberration. Used in most modern top line Nikon lens.
- N : Nano Crystal Coating. A special coat of glass that “virtually eliminates internal lens element reflections”. That is, it almost completely wipes out possible ghosting.
- FL : Fluorite Lens. Nikon’s new line of glass in 2013, optically superior and significantly lighter glass elements.
Spot the gold ring? Nikon lens with a gold ring are supposedly the “better” range of lens.
So yep, if you are looking good lens, look for that gold ring. All other Nikon lens without the ring are “normal”.