Lens designations, what do they mean, it seems EVERY maker of camera lenses has various designations that mean different things. Most of them have different levels of lenses as well. Today we are going to give into this subject and try to sort it all out for you so you can make an informed decisions when buying lenses for your camera.
This is the Liam Photography Podcast, Episode 237, I’m your host Liam and today is March 31st, 2022.
Let’s look at the larger brands first, like Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm and Sony, but we will also look at some of the more well known third party makers as well such as Viltrox, Tamron and Sigma as well as Zeiss. Since this is a LOT of data to go through I am going to continue this discussion next Thursday as well.
During the days of DSLR, Canon developed up to four different lens types of varying quality and price point. The EF mount, which is for their DSLRs and now slowly being replaced by their newer RF mirrorless mount. Under the EF mount Canon offered both crop body and full frame lenses. Their crop lenses were designated with EF-S or EF-M, the later being their original EF lenses for their first crop body mirrorless cameras like the M5 and M6.
The EF-M lens mount is one of Canon’s two new systems for mirrorless cameras, the other being the RF mount.
The M system has an 18 mm flange focal distance (compared to 20 mm for RF and 44 mm for EF and EF-S) and a 47 mm throat diameter (compared to 54 mm for EF, EF-S, and RF). As it is designed for use with an APS-C-sized image sensor, it features the same crop factor (of roughly 1.6) as the existing EF-S lens mount.
The M system is somewhat limited as Canon has issued relatively few native lenses, listed below. There is a lack of native lenses with a large aperture, the exceptions being 22 mm f/2.0 and 32 mm f/1.4. In 2014, third party manufacturers started to present their M lenses. In addition, it is possible to use Canon EF and EF-S lenses (made for the Canon DSLRs) with an adapter. This solution reportedly works well also with regard to the autofocus, but it takes away the size advantage of the smaller M system. Suitable adapters (from EF to M or from EF-S to M) are made by Canon as well as third party manufacturers. As is common with mirrorless systems, the adapter solution is not backwards-compatible with Canon’s DSLR cameras: this means that you cannot put M lenses on a non-M DSLR.
Canon EF-S lenses
The Canon EF-S lens mount is a derivative of the EF lens mount created for a subset of Canon digital single-lens reflex cameras with APS-C sized image sensors. It was released in 2003. Cameras with the EF-S mount are backward compatible with the EF lenses and, as such, have a flange focal distance of 44.0 mm. Such cameras, however, have more clearance, allowing lens elements to be closer to the sensor than in the EF mount. Only Canon cameras released after 2003 with APS-C sized sensors support the EF-S mount.
The “S” in EF-S has variously been described by Canon as coming from either “Small image circle” (the lens projects a smaller image circle than normal EF lenses to match the sensor), or “Short back focus” (the smaller mirror used in APS-C cameras also allows optical elements to protrude further into the camera body, reducing the minimum distance between the sensor and the back element of the lens). The combination of a smaller sensor and shorter back focal length distance enhances the possibilities for wide angle and very wide angle lenses. Such lenses designed for the EF-S mount can be made smaller, lighter (containing less glass), faster (larger aperture) and less expensive.
Although not all Canon EF-S lenses use this short back focal length, they cannot be mounted on DSLRs with sensors larger than APS-C. However, some lenses produced by third-party manufacturers may feature the standard EF mount if they do not have the shorter back focal length but only have a small image circle. Such lenses will give noticeable vignetting or unsharp outer areas if used on a 35mm film or full frame sensor cameras. To a lesser degree, vignetting also occurs with APS-H sensor sizes, such as several (now discontinued) cameras of the 1D series.
Canon EF lens Mount
The EF lens mount is the standard lens mount on the Canon EOS family of SLR film and digital cameras. EF stands for “Electro-Focus”: automatic focusing on EF lenses is handled by a dedicated electric motor built into the lens. Mechanically, it is a bayonet-style mount, and all communication between camera and lens takes place through electrical contacts; there are no mechanical levers or plungers. The mount was first introduced in 1987.
Canon claims to have produced its 100-millionth EF-series interchangeable lens on 22 April 2014.
The EF mount replaces its predecessor, the FD mount. The standard autofocus lens mounting technology of the time used a motor in the camera body to drive the mechanics of the focus helicoid in the lens by using a transfer lever. The key innovation of the EF series was to use a motor inside the lens itself for focusing. This allowed for autofocusing lenses which did not require mechanical levers in the mount mechanism, only electrical contacts to supply power and instructions to the lens motor. The motors were designed for the particular lens they were installed in.
The EF mount reversed the mechanical logic of the FD mount. The FD mount provided the three-eared bayonet fitting on the camera body, and each FD lens provided a breech-lock receptacle to register and fasten the lens to the bayonet. The EF mount reverses this logic, providing the bayonet on each lens, and a receptacle on the camera body.
The EF mount also changed the logical clamping action of the bayonet receptacle to improve the tactical operation. Attaching an FD lens to a camera body required two hands: one to hold the lens in position, and a second to twist the breech-lock ring to rigidly lock the lens to the camera. The EF mount instead provides leaf springs in the receptacle, which hold the registration surfaces of the lens and receptacle together along the optical axis, while the manual twisting action engages a spring-loaded registration pin in the receptacle which drops into a recess provided on the bayonet fitting, locking the rotation. This EF mount feature provided the convenience of attaching EF lenses with one hand (holding the lens and twisting), versus two hands (one to hold the lens, one to twist the breech-lock) required for the FD attachment. An EF lens may also be removed with one hand by gripping the base of the lens and pressing the nearby release button with the tip of thumb. The one-handed skillful operation of the EF mount allows changing lenses in handheld photography, since the other hand is freed to hold the camera body.
When the EF mount was introduced in 1987, it had the largest mount diameter (54 mm internal) among all 35 mm SLR cameras.
The EF series includes over eighty lenses, encompassing focal lengths from 8 to 1200 mm. Many EF lenses include such features as Canon’s ultrasonic motor (USM) drive, an image stabilization system (IS), diffractive optics (DO) and, particularly for L-series lenses, fluorite and aspherical lens elements.
Controls and Features
Canon EF lenses typically have a number of controls, switches and physical features, used by the photographer to control the lens. The types and number of the controls can vary from lens to lens. With the most basic lenses having only a few, to the most complex having over a dozen different controls and switches.
This is a list of the different controls and switches found on most Canon EF lenses, along with a detailed description on what they are used for.
Lens mount index: This raised, round red mark is found on all EF lenses. It is used for matching the EF lens mount to the mount on an EOS body, so one can connect the lens to the body quickly.
Focusing ring: This control, found on most EF lenses, is used for focusing the lens. It is usually a ring on the lens body, that can be turned.
Zoom ring: This control is found on most EF zoom lenses. It is used for changing the focal length of the lens. The zoom ring usually has certain, common, focal lengths marked on it. To set the zoom ring to any given focal length, one must turn the ring so that the marked focal length matches the zoom index. The zoom index is typically a white, or black, line found next to the zoom ring.
Distance scale window: This feature is found on many EF lenses. This feature, while not a control or switch, is useful to the photographer for determining, or setting, the lens’s focus distance. It is used in conjunction with the Focusing ring. When rotated, the distance scale will also rotate to show the changing focus distance. On some lenses the distance scale also has an infrared index. These are shown as red markings below the distance scale. This is used for making focus adjustments when the photographer is doing infrared photography, as lenses typically focus infrared light at a different point than visible light, and therefore achieving correct focus using visible light will result in an out-of-focus infrared image. To make an adjustment, first focus the subject, then turn the Focusing ring so it matches the corresponding infrared index mark.
Focus mode switch: This switch is found on most EF lenses that have an autofocus feature. It is used for setting the lens to either autofocus mode, or manual focus. When set to autofocus mode (AF), the lens will autofocus when directed to by the camera. When set to manual focus (MF), the lens is focused using the Focusing ring. Some lenses support full-time manual focusing (FT-M), which allows the photographer to focus the lens manually even with the mode switch set to AF, without damaging the lens (as could happen if a lens without FT-M is manually focused while in AF mode).
Focusing distance range limiter switch: This switch is found on most longer focal length lenses, and macro lenses. It is used for limiting the focusing distance range of the lens when using it in autofocus mode. Most lenses have two settings; these are usually full focus range (from minimum focus distance to infinity), and distant focus range (from halfway point of focus range to infinity). Other lenses have three settings, with the additional setting usually being near focus range (from minimum focus distance to halfway point of focus range). Longer focal length lenses and macro lenses have a relatively long travel distance for the focusing mechanism inside the lens; this feature shortens the autofocus time. When the photographer knows they will not need a certain part of the focus distance range, limiting it will help shorten the autofocus time, and possibly prevent “focus hunting”.
Soft focus ring: This ring is found only on the 135 mm ‘Soft Focus’ prime lens, and enables a variable soft focus effect from completely sharp (0) to very soft (2), although it has little effect when used with apertures over f/5.6. Although the ring can be set to any position, two ‘stops’ are implemented at positions 1 and 2.
Image stabilizer switch: This switch is found on all EF lenses that feature an image stabilizer. It is used for turning the image stabilizer “on”( | ), or “off”( o ).
Image stabilizer mode switch: This switch is found on many EF lenses that feature an image stabilizer, particularly those of longer focal lengths. The switch has two settings on most lenses: Mode 1 and Mode 2. The newest IS Mark II versions of certain EF super telephoto lenses (the 300mm f/2.8L, 400mm f/2.8L, 500mm f/4L, and 600mm f/4L), plus the 200–400mm f/4L IS and 100–400mm f/4–5.6L IS II, have a third setting, Mode 3. Mode 1 is normal mode, used for typical photography, where the subject does not move. Mode 2 is used for panning; this is useful for sports or wildlife photography, where the subject moves constantly and one will need to pan. Mode 3, intended to track action, is similar to Mode 2 in that it ignores panning; however, it only applies stabilization when the shutter is released—the viewfinder image is not stabilized. One should not use Mode 1 for panning as this will typically cause blurred photographs; the image stabilizer will attempt to correct for all motion, including the panning motion, but cannot do so due to the limited range of motion of the IS mechanism. Older lenses that have an image stabilizer, but do not feature this switch, are permanently in Mode 1. Some newer lenses, such as the Canon EF-S 18-200mm lens, are able to detect if they are being panned in either axis and will automatically disable the stabilization for the axis parallel to movement and therefore do not require this switch.
Autofocus stop buttons: These buttons are found on some super telephoto EF lenses, evenly spaced around the front collar of the lens. They are used for temporarily stopping the autofocus feature of the lens. Only one button needs to be pressed to activate the feature. To use this button, one must first have the autofocus active, then when one wishes to halt autofocus, one presses and holds the button. To resume autofocus, one releases the button. Some newer bodies allow these buttons to be assigned to perform other functions; for instance, the Canon EOS 7D allows the photographer to set these buttons to perform any of six functions.
Focus preset: The focus preset feature is found on most super telephoto EF lenses. The focus preset feature uses one switch, one button, and one ring. It is used for presetting a given focus distance into memory, so that the photographer can quickly recall the focus distance, without the need for autofocus. The switch has three settings “off”( o ), “on”( | ), or “on with sound”( ((- ), and is used for turning on the feature, and deciding if sound is desired. The “set” button is used for saving the focus distance into memory. The focus preset ring is used for recalling the memory save point. It is a thin knurled ring, usually located in front of the Focusing ring. To use this feature, one must set the switch to either “on” or “on with sound”, focus the lens to the desired distance, then press the “set” button. After this, when the feature is turned on, the photographer can turn the focus preset ring, and the lens will recall and focus quickly to the distance that was saved. This feature is useful for sports and birding photography (for instance, to allow rapid focusing on the goal or on a spot where the birds may perch).
Filter mounting: This mount is used for attaching filters to EF lenses. There are three types: front threaded mount, inner drop-in mount, and rear gelatin holders. Front threaded filters are used on most lenses, and are attached by threading and tightening the filter. Inner, drop-in filter mounts are used on super telephoto EF lenses. They are attached by first pressing the two buttons on the filter mount, and pulling it out. Then either a round threaded filter is attached, or one can use a gelatin filter. Rear gelatin filter holders are used by cutting out a sheet of gelatin, to the size shown on the back of the lens and then sliding it into the holder. Filter mounts are useful for all types of photography, and every EF lens has either one or two of the three types used.
Lens hood mount: This feature is found on most EF lenses. This mount is used for attaching the lens hood. The hood mount is of a bayonet style on most EF lenses, though a clip-on style hood mount is used for a small selection of current lenses.
Tripod collar: This feature is found on most longer focal length lenses, and macro lenses. The tripod collar is used for attaching the tripod ring. There are two main styles of tripod rings. One type is opened up, placed on the lens’ tripod collar, then closed and tightened. The other type does not open, but instead is slid up the lens from the mount end (which can only be done when the lens is not mounted on a camera body) and tightened. To set the tripod ring so that it is level with the lens, rotate the ring until the index mark on the tripod ring matches the index mark on the distance scale. The tripod ring is used for attaching a tripod/monopod near to the point of balance of the lens-body combination, more conveniently than the camera body. In the case of larger and heavier lenses, there is also less strain on the lens mount if the body is supported by the tripod-mounted lens than if the lens were to be supported by a tripod-mounted body.
Ultrasonic motor drive:
Ultrasonic motor (USM) lenses appeared with the introduction of the EF 300 mm f/2.8L USM lens in 1987. Canon was the first camera maker to successfully commercialise the USM technology. EF lenses equipped with USM drives have fast, silent and precise autofocus operations, and consume less power compared to other AF drive motors.
There are three types of USMs: ring-type USM, micromotor USM, and Nano USM. Ring-type USM allows for full-time manual focus (FT-M) operations without switching out of AF mode. Micromotor USM is used to bring down the cost of the lens. It is possible to implement FT-M even with micromotor USM; however, it requires additional mechanical components, and the vast majority of micro-USM lenses do not offer such capability. Nano USM was introduced in 2016 with the release of Canon’s latest iteration of the EF-S 18–135mm lens. It is intended to offer the AF speed of ring-type USM with the quietness of STM mechanisms (see below).
Some older USM lenses are identified with a gold ring and the word “Ultrasonic” printed in gold on the lens barrel. L lenses with USM don’t have the gold ring, but they still have the word “Ultrasonic” printed on the lens barrel.
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens
Canon announced Stepping motor (STM) lenses first in June 2012, alongside the EOS 650D/Rebel T4i/Kiss X6i.
Canon stated that this technology allows smooth and silent autofocus, and with compatible bodies (the first of which is the 650D) will provide continuous autofocus in live view and video. Unlike USM, STM lenses use focus-by-wire to enable full-time manual mode. Two main disadvantages are linked to focus-by-wire: First, the need to computationally process the input before the intended action is executed leads to a sometimes perceptible lag. Second, using the motor requires power, so when an STM lens is not connected to a camera or the camera is switched off, changing the focus is impossible.
All stepping-motor lenses are marked with the letters “STM” on the front of the lens as part of the model designation.
The image-stabilized Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM lens
The image stabilization (IS) technology detects handheld motion and optically corrects it. It only corrects handheld motion; if the subject of the photograph is moving, IS will not stop it. It also can only stabilize so much motion, ranging from two to five stops, depending on the specific IS in the lens. Canon has released several versions of the IS system, including the following:
The first version, first used in the 75-300mm lens (1995), takes approximately one second to stabilize, provides approximately two stops of stability, is not suitable for use on a tripod, or for panning.
The 300mm f/4L IS USM lens, released in 1997, adds IS Mode 2, which detects whether panning is taking place horizontally or vertically, and only compensates for vibration in the plane perpendicular to the plane of panning.
In 1999, with the release of the IS super-telephoto lenses (300mm f/2.8L through 600mm f/4L), tripod detection was added, so that the lens could be used on a tripod with IS turned on.
In 2001, a new version of the Image Stabilizer was created for the 70–200mm f/2.8L. This version takes approximately 0.5s and can be stabilized up to three stops.
In 2006, the 70–200 mm f/4L IS USM was released with an Image Stabilizer which allows up to four stops of stabilization.
In 2008, the 200mm f/2L IS USM was released with a new version of IS which allows up to five stops of stabilization.
In 2009, the 100 mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM became the first Canon lens with a Hybrid Image Stabilizer. In addition to correcting angular movement, Hybrid IS also corrects for shift movement.
In 2011, with the release of the 300mm f/2.8L IS II and 400mm f/2.8L IS II, IS Mode 3 was added. This mode is similar to Mode 2, except that stabilization is applied only when the shutter is released.
Some newer lenses include an Image Stabilizer which can automatically detect whether the user is panning and respond accordingly, and therefore these lenses do not have an IS mode switch.
All EF lenses that support IS have the words “Image Stabilizer” written on the lens. On some of Canon’s larger telephoto lenses, the words “Image Stabilizer” are etched onto a metal plate affixed to the lens.
Diffractive optics (DO) are special lens elements that are used in some lenses. DO lenses are usually smaller and lighter and are better at handling chromatic aberration, compared to conventional lenses of similar focal length and aperture value. They are more expensive to make. Only the EF 400 mm f/4 DO IS USM, its updated Mark II version, and the EF 70–300 mm f/4.5–5.6 DO IS USM contain DO elements. DO lenses have a green ring on the barrel.
Top range Canon EF lenses are designated “L-series”, or “Luxury” lenses. L series lenses are compatible with the full range of EF or EF-S mounts and, as they are aimed at the high-end user, most also include environmental or weather sealing and a constant maximum aperture. All L lenses are supplied complete with a hood and a pouch or case, which are not generally included with non-L lenses. Distinctive visual cues include a red ring around the lens and an off-white colour on longer-focal-length models. The latter also helps to reflect light and reduce heat absorption and subsequent internal expansion of lens components that can affect the image quality of long focal length lenses.
All L lenses include at least one fluorite, ultra-low-dispersion glass element, super ultra-low-dispersion glass element, and/or certain types of aspherical elements. (Note that a number of non-L lenses also use aspherical element, and at least one non-L lens has a Super UD element) Most L lenses feature an ultrasonic motor (USM) for focusing.
Canon Lens Ring Colors and What They Mean:
Silver Band Lenses:
The Canon silver ring lenses are their entry level lenses in both EFS, EF and RF. These are lower quality lenses without weather seal and some have STM focus motors. They are also Canon’s least expensive lenses, although some are of really good optical quality like the EF 40mm STM Pancake lens and the EF-S 18-55mm Kit lens, some have Image Stabilization as well.
Gold Band Lenses:
These are Canon’s mid-range lenses in both EF-S and EF mounts. They are higher image quality and build quality and many are wider aperture such as F/1.4 they also have the USM or Ultra Sonic Motor for Auto Focus. These lenses are also more expensive, but won’t break the bank some have Image Stabilization as well.
Red Band Lenses:
These are Canon’s “L” Series lenses also know as luxury. They are the best optical image quality, have the best build quality and weather sealing. Some of these lenses are white and others are black in color, but both have the red ring. They also have USM AF systems, some have Image Stabilization as well.
Green Band Lenses:
These lenses are generally Canon’s DO lenses and some are also Tilt Shift lenses as well. Some have AF, some don’t and some also have USM and some do not.
Nikon F-Mount Lenses:
The Nikon F-mount is a type of interchangeable lens mount developed by Nikon for its 35mm format single-lens reflex cameras. The F-mount was first introduced on the Nikon F camera in 1959, and features a three-lug bayonet mount with a 44 mm throat and a flange to focal plane distance of 46.5 mm. The company continues, with the 2020 D6 model, to use variations of the same lens mount specification for its film and digital SLR cameras.
The Nikon F-mount is one of only two SLR lens mounts (the other being the Pentax K-mount) which were not abandoned by their associated manufacturer upon the introduction of autofocus, but rather extended to meet new requirements related to metering, autofocus, and aperture control. The large variety of F-mount compatible lenses makes it the largest system of interchangeable flange-mount photographic lenses in history. Over 400 different Nikkor lenses are compatible with the system (other details can be found at the Nikkor The Thousand and One Nights site). The F-mount is also popular in scientific and industrial applications, most notably machine vision. The F-mount has been in production for over five decades, making it the only SLR lens mount which has been produced for over 50 years.
System of lenses:
In addition to Nikon’s own range of “Nikkor” lenses, brands of F-mount photographic lenses include Zeiss, Voigtländer, Schneider, Angénieux, Samyang, Sigma, Tokina, Tamron, Hartblei, Kiev-Arsenal, Lensbaby, and Vivitar. F-mount cameras include current models from Nikon, Fujifilm, Sinar, JVC, Kenko and Horseman. Numerous other manufacturers employ the F-mount in non-photographic imaging applications.
The F-mount has a significant degree of both backward and forward compatibility. Many current autofocus F-mount lenses can be used on the original Nikon F, and the earliest manual-focus F-mount lenses of the 1960s and early 1970s can, with some modification, still be used to their fullest on all professional-class Nikon cameras. Incompatibilities do exist, however, and adventurous F-mount users should consult product documentation in order to avoid problems. For example, many electronic camera bodies cannot meter without a CPU enabled lens; the aperture of G designated lenses cannot be controlled without an electronic camera body; non-AI lenses (manufactured prior to 1977) can cause mechanical damage to later model bodies unless they are modified to meet the AI specification; and AF-P lenses (introduced in 2016) will not focus, even manually, on cameras introduced before roughly 2013. Many manual focus lenses can be converted to allow metering with consumer Nikon bodies by adding a Dandelion chip to the lens.
The Nikon D7000 reveals a modern F-mount design, including aperture lever (left), CPU contacts (top), and mechanical AF linkage (lower left).
The flange of a current F-mount lens, including aperture lever (upper left) and CPU contacts (bottom).
Nikon F-mount dimensions
Most Nikon F-mount lenses cover a minimum of the standard 36×24 mm area of 35mm format and the Nikon FX format, while DX designated lenses cover the 24×16 mm area of the Nikon DX format, and industrial F-mount lenses have varying coverage. DX lenses may produce vignetting when used on film and FX cameras. However, Nikon lenses designed for film cameras will work on Nikon digital system cameras with the limitations noted above.
Mounting and control rings:
F-mount lenses lock by turning counter-clockwise (when looking at the front of lens) and unlock clockwise. Nearly all F-mount lenses have zoom and focus controls that rotate in the clockwise direction (as viewed from behind the camera) to increase focal length and focus distance respectively. This convention is also used in Pentax K-mount and Sony A-mount lenses but is opposite of the direction normally used by Canon. F-mount lenses also typically have aperture rings that turn clockwise to close. The aperture rings have two sets of f-stop numbers. On cameras equipped with Nikon’s Aperture Direct Readout (ADR) system, a small window under the pentaprism reads the smaller scale and displays the selected f-stop in the viewfinder.
Nikon has introduced many proprietary designations for F-mount Nikkor lenses, reflecting design variations and developments both in lenses and the F-mount itself. There are also “unofficial” designations used by collectors and dealers to differentiate similar lenses.
Nikon F professional SLR camera with eyelevel prism and early NIKKOR-S Auto 1,4 f=5,8cm lens (1959)
A typical F-type (“Pre-AI”) lens, the Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 showing “Nippon Kogaku Japan” engravings, scalloped-metal focus ring, and old-style Meter Coupling Prong (clearly visible to the top right of photo).
Nikon F2SB professional SLR camera with GN Auto Nikkor 1:2,8 f=45mm AI lens
A typical AI lens: A Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 showing “Nikon” engravings, rubber focus ring, and new-style Meter Coupling Prong distinguished by its cutaway sections. The lens is mounted on a Nikon FE2 camera.
A — Auto Nikkor (also unofficially F, Pre-AI, Non-AI or NAI) — Designation for the first generation of F-mount lenses, introduced in 1959. These were all single-coated, and meter coupling was provided by a prong (known as the Meter Coupling Prong) fixed to the lens’s aperture ring. The Photomic T through-the-lens light meter introduced in 1965 worked at full aperture, so the maximum aperture of the lens had to be communicated to the meter via a manual setting on the ASA dial. The Nikkormat FTn and FTn metered finder for the Nikon F introduced semi-automatic aperture indexing which was achieved by mounting the lens with the aperture ring set to f/5.6, and then turning the ring to first the minimum and then the maximum apertures. (The need for this step was eliminated by the AI system below.) Early versions are marked “Nippon Kogaku Japan” and have their focal lengths stated in centimetres, but models produced after about 1965 have focal lengths stated in millimetres. The “Nippon Kogaku Japan” engraving was replaced by “Nikon” from 1971 onwards.
Mounting a non-AI lens can damage many modern Nikon camera bodies. AI-cameras that still may use non-AI lenses includes the Nikon F2A/F2AS with Photomic A (DP-11) or AS (DP-12) finder, Nikon (Nikkormat) EL2, as well as Nikon FM and FE. In addition, the Nikon Df, a DSLR introduced in late 2013, can use non-AI lenses. The A lenses can be converted to the AI specification; see AI’d below.
T, Q, P, H, S, O, N, UD, QD, PD — Appears immediately before or after the “Nikkor” name on F-type lenses (see above), designating the number of optical elements in the design. Short for Tres (3), Quattuor (4), Penta (5), Hex (6), Septem (7), Octo (8), Novem (9), UnDecim (11), QuattuorDecim (14) and Penta-Decem (15). The terms Unus (1) and Bini (2) were also apparently designated, but never used. Terms P=Penta, H=Hexa, and PD=Penta-Decem (Greek root) were used (instead of Quinque, Sex, and QuinDecim) to avoid ambiguity with Quattuor, Septem and QuattuorDecim. This designation scheme was dropped with the introduction of “Modern” (K-type) Nikkors in 1974.
Auto — Designation for F-type lenses indicating an automatic diaphragm (aperture). Not to be confused with automatic exposure or auto focus, the designation fell out of use in the early 1970s and was not carried onto K-type lenses.
C — Indicates a multicoated F-type lens. Appears with an interpunct after the number of optical elements (in the form “Nikkor-X·C”). This designation was introduced in 1971 and discontinued in 1974 with the introduction of “Modern” (K-type) Nikkors, when multicoating had become standard practice.
K — “Modern” or “New” Nikkors introduced in 1974. While Pre-AI for compatibility purposes, K-type lenses introduced the new cosmetics that would be used from 1977 onwards for AI-type lenses (see below). The scalloped-metal focus rings were replaced with rubber grip insets, and the use of element number and coating designations was discontinued. The ‘K’ designation itself is believed to be derived from the Japanese “konnichi-teki”, loosely translatable as “modern” or “contemporary”.
AI — Manual focus with “Automatic Maximum-Aperture Indexing,” introduced in 1977. The AI standard adds a Meter Coupling Ridge to the aperture ring, which encodes the current aperture setting relative to the maximum, and a Lens Speed Indexing Post on the mounting flange, which encodes the maximum aperture itself. The Ridge and Post couple to the camera’s light meter. Lenses designated AI-S, Series E, and AF all include these features of AI. Current professional Nikon camera bodies link with the Meter Coupling Ridge, but the Lens Speed Indexing Post is ignored and the maximum aperture value is set electronically by the operator instead. AI-designated lenses also improved on the original Meter Coupling Prong, adding cutaways which allow more ambient light to fall on the aperture ring, increasing visibility on cameras which optically projected the setting inside the viewfinder.
AI’d — An unofficial designation for lenses converted partially (Meter Coupling Ridge only) or completely from non-AI to AI. This is accomplished by replacing the aperture ring and the metering prong (using a long-discontinued kit procured from Nikon) or by modifying the original part. Some independent camera repair technicians continue to offer such conversions.
AI-S — The successor to AI, the AI-S specification added two mechanical enhancements — standardized aperture control, and the Focal Length Indexing Ridge — required for the shutter priority and other auto-aperture exposure modes of the Nikon FA, F-301/N2000, and F-501/N2020 cameras (although the FA will operate correctly in shutter priority and program modes with any AI lens). Later cameras did not require these features, and interoperate with AI and AI-S lenses identically. The term AI-S is now commonly used to refer to manual focus lenses, and Nikon continues to produce eight prime lens models in its AI-S line. All Nikon AF lenses with aperture rings (non-G) also meet the AI-S specification, except for their lack of a Meter Coupling Prong (which can be added). Visually, AI-S lenses can quickly be identified by the smallest aperture setting (usually f/22) being marked in orange,
Standardized aperture control. AI-S lens apertures move in a standardized fashion in relation to their stop-down levers. The levers of AI and pre-AI lenses were intended only to close the aperture to its manual setting. The advance of aperture control by the camera body itself, by partial actuation of the stop-down lever, meant more precision was required for consistent exposure. This feature is indicated by a Lens Type Signal notch in the lens mount. Note that despite popular misconception, the F4 is NOT capable of engaging P and S auto-exposure modes with non-CPU lenses
Focal Length Indexing Ridge. AI-S lenses with a focal length of 135mm or longer are indicated by a ridge on the lens mount, used by FA and F-501 to engage high-speed-biased Program Autoexposure.
Electromechanical and data communication:
AF — The original autofocus designation, indicating focus driven by a motor inside the camera body. All AF lenses have an integrated CPU (microprocessor). Used in the form “AF Nikkor”, this should not be confused with the original autofocus lenses for the F3AF camera, which were designated “AF-Nikkor” and are considered predecessors to AF-I lenses.
AF-N — Indicates the “New” version of an AF lens. The change from plastic focus rings on early AF lenses to the a new “rubber inset focus ring” (RIFR) is often indicated by the AF-N designation. Introduced in 1990.
AF-I — Autofocus-Internal. Driven by a coreless DC motor. Used only in long telephoto lenses (300 mm f/2.8 through 600 mm f/4.0). Introduced in 1992.
AF-D — Designation for an AF lens (as above) with “D” functionality (see “D” below). Introduced in 1992.
AF-S — Autofocus-Silent. Uses a “Silent Wave Motor” (SWM) (ultrasonic motor) to focus quietly and quickly. Similar to Canon’s “USM” technology. Introduced in 1996.
AF-P — Autofocus using a stepper motor. First F-Mount lens in 2015 after being introduced 2011 in the Nikon 1-mount. All DX AF-P lenses omit the physical AF/MF switch — those with Vibration Reduction (VR) omit the VR-switch.
Fully AF-P compatible without any firmware update are the Nikon D850, D500, D7500, D5600, D3400, D3500, Nikon-1 series with FT1 adapter and newer cameras. Fully AF-P compatible after update are the Nikon D5, D5500 and D5300. After update the following cameras lack a software VR-switch: D4S, D4, D810, D810A, D800, D800E, D750, D610, D600, Df, D7200, D7100 and D3300 – if the lens includes no physical VR-switch, VR is always on. Additionally they lack “Manual focus ring in AF mode”, the manual override of autofocus.
The Nikon D3X, D3S, D3, D700, D300, D300S, D7000 and D2XS operate only AF-P FX lenses with additionally restrictions that after a reactivation from the standby mode a (quick) automatic or manual refocusing must take place as the focus is reset to infinity as they wake up. To avoid this, the standby time may be set in the camera for a longer time or “Unlimited”. The D5200 works with DX and FX lenses, but additionally displays a “Lens not attached” message if a lens lock switch was activated when the camera is turned on.
The AF-P focus motor will not work with all Nikon film cameras and D1 to other D2 series, D200, D100, D5100, D5000, D90, D80, D70 series, D3200, D3100, D3000, D60, D50, D40 and D40X. Standard is VR = on and focus to infinity with all cameras only supporting E-type lenses. Not to be confused with old AI-P “Program” (CPU) lenses.
CPU — Central Processing Unit. The lens is fitted with electrical contacts for digital communication with the camera. All AF and AI-P lenses are CPU lenses. Some non-professional Nikon cameras require CPU lenses for metered operation. This designation appears in specifications but not lens names.
D — Distance. Indicated after the f-number in the name, and also occasionally designated AF-D. The integrated CPU electronically communicates focus distance information, which is incorporated into the camera’s exposure calculations in 3D Matrix Metering mode, and also D-TTL and I-TTL flash autoexposure. All AF-I, AF-S, and G-type lenses are also D-type.
E — Electromagnetic diaphragm. The aperture diaphragm of an E lens is controlled digitally by the camera, and actuated electromagnetically by a system housed within the lens, rather than employing the F-mount’s traditional mechanical diaphragm linkage. This system first appeared in certain Perspective Control lenses, designated PC-E (with designs that preclude a mechanical linkage). E-type lenses aperture control is only supported by all DSLRs with CMOS image sensor except the Nikon D90. For all other cameras the lens aperture stays maximum open with normal autofocus and metering. E Lenses with manual aperture control like PC-E lenses allow manual diaphragm operation on all cameras, with possible unreliable metering on DSLRs without E-type support. Otherwise E lenses are similar to G lenses. Not to be confused with old AI Series E lenses.
G — Designation for lenses without an aperture ring, indicated after the f-number in the name. G lenses retain the mechanical diaphragm coupling of other Nikkors, but the aperture setting can only be controlled by the camera body. Only autofocus bodies with command dials are capable of controlling G lenses. Older autofocus bodies will work with G lenses in shutter priority and program modes with full opened aperture. Some recent G lenses feature a weatherproofing gasket around the mounting flange. G lenses otherwise have the same characteristics as D lenses.
P or AI-P — “AI with Program.” CPU-enabled variation of AI-S. Includes only the 45/2.8P, 500/4P and 1200-1700/5.6-8P Nikkor lenses. Zeiss ZF.2 and Voigtländer SL II lenses are also AI-P designs, although they are not designated as such. Not to be confused with early lenses marked “Nikkor-P” meaning a 5-element lens (see pre-autofocus designations above).
Aspherical — Aspheric lens elements. Also Hybrid used: Thin molded aspheric elements coupled to a conventional glass element. This designation appears in specifications but not lens names.
CRC — Close Range Correction. Improved performance at close focus distances. Achieved by internal focus movements that move differently relative to the movement of the other focusing elements. This designation appears in specifications but not lens names.
DC — Defocus Control. DC lenses have a separate control ring for spherical aberration, which affects primarily the appearance of out-of-focus areas, also known as bokeh. At extreme settings, DC lenses can generate an overall soft-focus effect. Includes only the AF DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2D and AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D.
ED — “Extra-low Dispersion” glass incorporated to reduce chromatic aberration. Lenses using ED elements usually carry a gold ring around the barrel to indicate the fact (although on some low-end lenses gold foil is used instead), and older lenses were also marked “NIKKOR✻ED”. In addition to normal ED glass, “Super ED” glass is used in some lenses.
FL — Fluorite. Designates a lens which includes one or more elements constructed of fluorite instead of glass. Currently includes the AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR, available since 2013, the AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, available since 2014, the AF-S 500mm f/4E FL ED VR and AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR, available since 2015, and the AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, available since 2016.
GN — Guide Number. Assists in flash exposure on cameras without automatic flash metering. The flash’s guide number is set on the lens, and the aperture is accordingly coupled to the lens’s focus ring for correct exposure. The only GN lens, the supercompact GN Auto Nikkor (it was the second smallest Nikon F-mount lens ever made), was built during the late 1960s and early 1970s. An updated variant with a lens hood was made through the 1990’s alongside the FM3a.
HRI — High refractive index elements. Contains elements with a refractive index >2. This designation appears in specifications but not lens names.
IF — Internal Focus. Focusing is accomplished through the movement of internal lens groups, eliminating extension and rotation of the front lens element, allowing focus to be driven quickly by a small motor. IF lenses also allow the use of a polarizing filter without the need to readjust it after focus.
Micro — Micro-Nikkor lenses are capable of high reproduction ratios, typically 1:2 or 1:1, for macro photography. Industrial Nikkor lenses designed for greater than 1:1 reproduction are, in contrast, labeled Macro-Nikkor. The first Micro-Nikkor lenses were created for producing microforms of Kanji text.
N — Indicates the Nano Crystal Coat, a relatively new type of lens coating that originated in Nikon’s semiconductor division. Lenses with this coating feature the logo of an “N” inside an elongated hexagon on the name plate.
NIC — Nikon Integrated Coating, a proprietary multicoating. Appears in specifications but not lens names.
PC — Perspective Control. Lens features shift movements (and also tilt movements on some models) to control perspective and depth-of-field. Newer PC lenses are designated PC-E (see designation E above). Not to be confused with early lenses marked “Nikkor-P·C” meaning a five-element coated lens (see pre-autofocus designations above).
PF — Phase Fresnel. To counteract chromatic aberration. It replaces several lens elements, thus reducing the size and weight of a lens.
Reflex — Designates a catadioptric (mirror) lens.
RF — Rear Focusing. Quite similar to internal focusing. Focusing is accomplished through the movement of rear lens groups, eliminating extension and rotation of the front lens element, allowing focus to be driven quickly by a small motor. RF lenses also allow the use of a polarizing filter without the need to readjust it after focus.
SIC — Super Integrated Coating, a proprietary multicoating. Appears in specifications but not lens names.
UV — Lenses designed for imaging ultraviolet light.
VR — Vibration Reduction. Uses a moving optical group to reduce the photographic effects of camera shake. Some VR lenses also support a panning mode, detecting horizontal movement of the lens and minimizing only vertical vibration. The second generation of VR is called VR II, which is designed to offer another 1-stop advantage over original VR, but lenses with this feature are still designated simply “VR.”
Alternate product lines
DX — Lens designed for the smaller Nikon DX format. Vignetting may occur if used on a 35mm format or Nikon FX format camera in full-frame mode, although some DX lenses cover the full 135 frame at longer focal lengths.
IX — Lenses designed for use with the now-defunct Pronea APS SLR. These are all autofocus zoom lenses. They are not compatible with cameras outside of the Pronea system unless mirror lock-up is used
Series E — A line of eight lower-cost lenses manufactured during the 1980s for Nikon’s amateur SLRs. They sacrificed some construction quality and employed simpler but often surprisingly good optical designs. Early Series E lenses were built to the AI specification. Later Series E lenses were upgraded to the AI-S specification, and are identifiable by a metal ring on the barrel. None of this family of lenses were branded Nikkor, instead carrying the text “Nikon Lens Series E.” Not to be confused with E – type autofocus and electromagnetic diaphragm lenses.
Bellows — Lens designed exclusively for use on a bellows unit, primarily for macro photography. Also called short mount. Since some Nikon bellows allow for a front rise, they allow a limited variety of lenses to be used similarly to a PC lens (see Optical design above).
Fisheye-Nikkor — Lenses producing either a circular image on the film plane/imager or a partially circular image. Can be as wide as 220° or typically 180°. Fisheye lenses are based upon an equidistant projection formula, or an orthographic projection (OP).
LW — Amphibian lens. Produced for Nikonos system, featuring a Nikonos lens mount, waterproof, but not designed for underwater use. Ideal for surfers, speleologists.
Medical — Nikkor designation for a macro lens with a built-in ring light strobe system, designed for clinical and scientific applications.
Noct — “Night.” Specialty low-light lens designed for maximum sharpness at the widest aperture setting. The name has been applied only to the Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2.
OP — Orthographic Projection. A fisheye lens that produces an orthographic rather than the equidistant image used on other fisheye lenses. This is useful for measuring the amount of sky blocked by a building or object. This maintains the same brightness in the image as in the object, with no falloff at the edges.
UW — Underwater lenses. Produced for the Nikonos systems.
Nikon Z-mount is an interchangeable lens mount developed by Nikon for its mirrorless digital cameras. In late 2018, Nikon released two cameras that use this mount, the full-frame Nikon Z 7 and Nikon Z 6. In late 2019 Nikon announced their first Z-mount camera with an APS-C sensor, the Nikon Z 50. In July 2020 the entry level full-frame Z 5 was introduced. In October 2020, Nikon announced the Nikon Z 6II and Nikon Z 7II, which succeed the Z 6 and Z 7, respectively. The APS-C lineup was expanded in July of 2021, with the introduction of the retro styled Nikon Z fc, and in October 2021, Nikon unveiled the Nikon Z 9, which effectively succeeds the brand’s flagship D6 DSLR.
Nikon SLR cameras, both film and digital, have used the Nikon F-mount with its 44 mm diameter since 1959. The Z-mount has a 55 mm diameter. The FTZ lens adapter allows many F-mount lenses to be used on Z-mount cameras. The FTZ allows AF-S, AF-P and AF-I lenses to autofocus on Z-mount cameras. The older screw-drive AF and AF-D lenses will not autofocus with the FTZ adapter, but they do retain metering and EXIF data. Z-mount cameras support metering as well as in-body image stabilization (IBIS) with manual focus lenses.
The 55 mm throat diameter of the Nikon Z-mount makes it the largest full-frame lens mount. It is much larger than the F-mount, the Sony E-mount used by Sony mirrorless cameras but only slightly larger than the 54 mm of both the Canon EF and Canon RF mounts. It is also slightly larger than the 51.6 mm diameter full-frame mirrorless Leica L-Mount. The Z-mount has also a very short flange distance of 16 mm, which is shorter than all mentioned lens mounts.
The introduction of the Z-mount also saw the re-introduction of the Noct brand, used to describe the 58 mm f/0.95 S Noct lens with an ultra-fast maximum aperture.
Nikon published a roadmap outlining which lenses are forthcoming when the Z-mount system was initially announced. The roadmap has been updated multiple times. As of October 2021 the current version of the roadmap indicates eight lenses to be released until 2023.
Fujifilm X-mount Lenses:
The Fujifilm X-mount is a type of interchangeable lens mount designed by Fujifilm for use in those cameras in their X-series line that have interchangeable-lenses. These lenses are designed for 23.6mm x 15.6mm APS-C sensors.
Various lens manufacturers use this mount, such as Fujifilm’s own XF and XC lenses, Carl Zeiss AG (Touit lenses), Samyang Optics, Handevision, SLR Magic, Viltrox and Zhongyi Optics. Additionally, a host of adapters for a range of SLR lenses are available, allowing the mounting of lenses (without autofocus or auto aperture) from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Contax/Yashica, Konica and more. This mount type should not be confused with the discontinued Fujica X-mount, which is not compatible with the newer X-mount without an adapter.
“By mounting the lens deeper inside the camera, closer to the sensor, resolution is increased across the frame. Information exchange between the body and lens ensure a responsive experience at all times.”
Fujifilm X-mount lenses come in two major lines, their XC and XF, with the XC being their less expensive line of lenses for consumers, hobbyists and amateurs. These lenses are mostly plastic in design and have no weather sealing as a general rule. The XF line of lenses have weather sealing, are mostly metal construction and are much higher quality and more expensive lenses. Fujifilm also has some of their XF lenses with what is known as “red badge” lenses, which are similar to Canon “L” Series, really high end lenses with the best build, optical quality and wider apertures. Another thing with Fujifilm lenses I had to get used to when I first started shooting with my GFX50R and now that I am using X-Series as well, I had to find out what the various letter designations meant on their lenses.
R: Fujifilm’s lenses that have an R on them means that the lens has a physical aperture ring control on the barrel. This is one of the things that Fujifilm shooters love the most is the “old style” experience of having that ring on the lens. Some of these lenses have the Aperture markings on the lens barrel and some do not there are also some that have the Aperture “Clicks” and some that do not, which are preferred for video as they are quieter lenses.
LM: LM lets you know that the lens focuses with a Linear Motor.
Linear motors are a favored feature of Fujifilm lenses. These motors focus by directly moving the lens elements within the lens in a linear fashion, rather than a traditional stepping or rotary fashion.
The advantages of a linear motor are faster focus, quiet operation, and low power draw. This kind of focusing is preferred for movie recording, which demands fast & accurate focus and silent operation.
WR: The WR lens abbreviation stands for Weather Resistance.
While I’ve had pretty good luck using all lenses in the rain and dust, I’m really pushing it. The WR lenses are the best lenses to use if you plan on working in environments with fine sand, high humidity and sea spray, and rainy locations. I’ve used them in total downpours without fear, however, I wouldn’t try submerging them.
These lenses feature seals at the joints to keep dust and water out. Some, like the 18-135mm zoom, also have a “bellows” that eject water and dust from the seals as you operate the zoom.
OIS: The OIS Fujifilm lens abbreviation stands for Optical Image Stabilization.
PZ: The PZ lens abbreviation stands for Power Zoom.
These lenses have a small, quiet motor that activates the zoom. Instead of you zooming the lens directly by rotating a zoom ring, you rotate a ring that controls the motor. This allows for smoother zoom, useful for recording movies. This feature is currently only found on the XC15-45mm.
APD: This lens abbreviation stands for Apodization filter. Right now, this is only found on the Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 APD lens.
The apodization filter, built into the lens, is a special filter that portrait photographers love. This filter helps your subject stand out from the background, creating a more natural separation between foreground and background, and blurring the out-of-focus areas around the edges even more.
You won’t see these letters in the Fujifilm lens abbreviations making up the name of the lens, but you will see them on the front of the lens, for some extra letters you may wonder about.
EBC stands for Electron Beam Coating. This is a multi-layer coating developed by Fujifilm that increases light transmissivity for better color and contrast while reducing lens flare. The “Super” is the latest iteration of this technology developed decades ago. This is found on all Fujifilm X & GF lenses.
The GI stands for Gradient Index. This is an additional coating that helps decrease flaring for light entering the lens from the sides. It’s found on the rear of one or two lens elements; these lenses also feature the EBC coating.
Fujifilm has a couple of macro lenses in the lineup. These lenses are great for portraits and close-up work. They allow you to focus extremely close to the subject and take photos without distortion for realistic life-size photos.
The TC abbreviation stands for teleconverter. These “extensions” mount between your lens and your camera, increasing the focal length of your lens.
Fujifilm teleconverters are not compatible with all lenses. They are currently only compatible with the 50-140mm and 100-400mm zoom lenses.
GF Lenses: In addition to their X-Series lenses for their APS-C cameras, Fujifilm also has a line of Medium Format mirrorless cameras, which are known as GFX cameras.
These cameras use the GF line of lenses and other than the GF indicating their Medium Format system the lenses letter designations are the exact same as the ones on the X-Series glass. That helps keep thing streamlined for their customers and easy to understand once you know what each letter stands for and now you do.
Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM (SAL-70300G) telephoto zoom lens
The A-mount, originally known as the A-type bayonet mount was introduced by Minolta in 1985 as the world’s first fully integrated SLR autofocus system. As a result, all Minolta A-mount lenses can be used on Sony DSLRs (except for that some newer camera features cannot be used), and all Sony A-mount lenses work on Minolta’s film and digital SLRs (except for that SSM/SAM lenses can be used only with manual focusing on cameras not supporting SSM and that APS-C format lenses cannot reasonably be used on film cameras due to their smaller image circle). During the initial introduction of the α system in 2006, Sony announced 19 lenses and 2 tele-converters, of which the majority were rebranded Konica Minolta lenses. At the 2007 PMA trade show, Sony unveiled several new lenses, but referred to them only in qualitative terms and did not provide specifications.
On 18 May 2009, Sony introduced the first A-mount lenses to feature their new SAM (Smooth Auto-focus Motor) in-lens auto-focus motor for more lens-specific AF speed improvements. This introduction was made with the new “+30” series camera bodies (α350 + 30 = α380). These new bodies retain an in-body focus motor for backward compatibility with the historic lens collection. In addition, the new bodies utilize HDMI output for display on HDTV sets and feature dual memory card slots for both Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo chips as well as SDHC media format, while eliminating CompactFlash support.
The E-mount is a lens mount designed by Sony for their NEX (“New E-mount eXperience”) and ILCE series of camcorders and mirrorless cameras. The E-mount supplements Sony’s A-mount, allowing the company to develop more compact imaging devices while maintaining compatibility with 35mm sensors. E-mount achieves this by:
Minimising mechanical complexity, removing mechanical aperture and focus drive.
Shortening the flange focal distance to 18 mm compared with earlier offerings from Sony which used 44.5 mm.
Reducing the radius of the flange.
The short flange focal distance prohibits the use of an optical viewfinder, as a mirror box mechanism cannot be included in this reduced distance. Therefore all E-mount cameras use an electronic viewfinder.
Initially, E-mount was implemented on the Sony α NEX-3 and NEX-5 consumer-targeted devices with APS-C sized sensors. E-mount integration into Sony camcorder products was provided with the Sony Handycam NEX-VG10. On 24 August 2011, new products were announced, specifically the NEX-5N as a successor for the NEX-5, and the NEX-7 as a prosumer product, as well as the NEX-VG20 as the successor to the NEX-VG10. The Sony E-mount was brought to the 35 mm video camera market with the Sony NEX-FS100.
The first third-party camera to use the E-mount was the Hasselblad Lunar, announced at Photokina on 18 September 2012 and released in early 2013.
In September 2013, Sony announced the first model from new ILCE series, the Sony α3000. In October 2013, the first models with full-frame sensor size were released, the Sony α7 and Sony α7R. On 19 April 2017, Sony revealed their new model Model ILCE-9, the Sony α9, characterized as a professional mirrorless camera system.
In September 2017, Sony revealed their high-end camera for video production, VENICE—a 6K 16-bit raw recording camera.
1) Sony Lens Format Abbreviations
SAL – Sony Autofocus Lens, but perhaps better understood as Sony Alpha Lens as lenses that come with this abbreviation are designed specifically for the A-mount cameras. As with SEL, this abbreviation is only part of Sony’s short product name. For example, the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA SSM lens is also known as SAL-2470Z.
DT – stands for “Digital Technology” and specifies lenses that are designed for cameras with APS-C sensors. These lenses do not cover the full 35mm sensor image circle, much like Nikon DX, Canon EF-S and Sigma DC lenses. That said, DT lenses can be mounted on full-frame Sony cameras and used in crop mode effectively turning a full-frame Sony camera into a cropped-sensor camera.
SEL – specifies Sony autofocus lenses designed for their E-mount mirrorless camera system. As with SAL, this abbreviation is only found in the short product name. For example, the Sony E 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ SSM lens is also known as SELP1650.
FE – lenses that cover a 35mm sized sensor and are designed to be used with Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, such as the Sony Alpha A7.
E – lenses designed for Sony’s mirrorless cameras with APS-C sized sensors, such as the Sony Alpha A6000.
2) Sony Lens Class and Technology Abbreviations
G – stands for “Gold” and specifies Sony’s best, highest-quality, most expensive professional lenses.
ZA – Zeiss Alpha, Zeiss branded lenses designed specifically for Sony cameras and, as far as high-quality goes, these are on par with Sony’s G lenses. During my research, I’ve found differing opinions, but as far as I know ZA lenses are not actually designed by Zeiss. Designing and manufacturing these lenses is still up to Sony, but only when the optical design is approved by Zeiss according to their high standards.
SSM – SuperSonic Motor, Sony’s version of a ring-type ultrasonic motor used for extremely fast and silent AF operations. Minolta A-mount camera bodies released before 2000 do not support SSM and you’d be left with manual focus only, but that’s unlikely to be a problem for most Sony shooters.
SAM – Smooth Autofocus Motor is built into some of Sony’s lower-end lenses released since 2009. It’s sufficiently speedy and quiet, but not as good as SSM. The addition of SAM also usually indicates that the lens has a plastic build and is from the affordable range. Much like SSM, SAM does not work with pre-2000 Minolta camera bodies and the lens focusing will need to be done manually.
OSS – Optical SteadyShot means that a particular lens has optical image stabilization. Sony Alpha mount lenses don’t have such a feature because Sony prefers to use sensor-based IS with its DSLR and SLT cameras. However, their mirrorless E-mount system relies on optical image stabilization instead.
PZ – stands for “Power Zoom” and specifies lenses that have inbuilt motors to operate the optical zoom. Useful for videography for the lens’ ability to zoom smoothly. PZ lenses are also quite compact for their class.
ED – as with lenses from other manufacturers, stands for Extra-low Dispersion glass elements used in the lens’ optical construction and designed to reduce chromatic aberrations.
3) Specialized Sony Lens Abbreviations
TC – as with other manufacturer, stands for Tele Converter and means that this particular lens is designed to increase the focal length (and reduce the maximum aperture) of telephoto lenses.
Fisheye – Fisheye lenses, as you already probably know, provide extremely wide angles of view (180 degrees is not uncommon). What makes them distinctively different from regular wide-angle lenses is the very strong and unique distortion characteristics. Diagonal fisheye lenses cover the whole frame, whilst circular lenses produce a circular image within the frame. Read this article if you want to learn more and see some image samples.
Pancake – Sony’s lenses designed with extremely compact size and light weight in mind.
Macro – as with lenses from all other manufacturers, Macro lenses in Sony lens line-up offer higher-than-average magnification and are designed to work well at close focus distance. It is also worth noting that Sony doesn’t play around with the designation – if the lens is specified as Macro, it can achieve 1:1 magnification.
STF – Smooth Transition Focus, lenses that employ special APD lens groups that get thicker towards the edges and, because of that, reduce the amount of light passing through. Basically, these lenses are designed to deliver extremely smooth, silky out of focus highlights, but with some trade-offs, chief among which is the lack of autofocus. Also, even though the physical maximum apertures of STF lenses are generally wide, the actual amount of light coming through due to APD lenses is much lower (the difference between lens’ f-stop and t-stop can vary up to one and a half stop of light, meaning an f/2 STF lens would let in approximately as much light as a regular f/3.2-3.5 lens would). Finally, and this is a personal opinion, I find the excessively smooth rendition of out-of-focus areas to look lifeless, characterless and “plastic”. However, if you want a lens that delivers what is considered to be a superbly silky out-of-focus background/foreground with high image- and great build quality, and don’t care about lack of AF, a lens such as the Sony 135mm f/2.8 (T4.5) STF may just be what you are looking for.
4) Lens Example
Having covered the most frequently seen Sony lens abbreviations, we can now analyze the name of an actual lens. Perhaps the 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM?
First things first – the lens obviously has a variable focal length that can be set from 70mm to 300mm and the maximum aperture starts at f/4.5 on the wide end and gradually closes down to f/5.6 as you move towards the long end of the focal length range. The G letter indicates it is part of Sony’s “Gold” range, as as such is built very well with tight tolerances, high-quality materials and best optics the manufacturer could come up with. SSM means that the lens also has a ring-type ultrasonic motor for AF operations, so autofocus should be both swift and nearly silent. However, if you were to mount this lens on a pre-2000 Minolta SLR body, you’d be left with manual focusing only. The lens itself is designed for full-frame A-mount cameras and two aspects indicate this: first of all, there are no FE, E (to indicate E-mount compatibility) or DT (to specify the lens as designed for APS-C sensor cameras) definitions; secondly, the short product name of the lens is SAL70300G, and, as we know, SAL indicates that the lens is designed for A-mount cameras. If you read the lens description you will also notice it has ED elements to counter chromatic aberrations.
One of the biggest third party lens makers out there is Sigma. Sigma has a large selection of lenses for ALL the major camera makers, although Sigma has not gotten into the RF mount yet.
1) Sigma Lens Category and Class Abbreviations
We start off by looking at different lens categories (which Sigma calls “product lines”). Not so long ago Sigma has started completely reworking its lineup. The main reason why the project (which they call Global Vision) is happening, according to Sigma, is because “more and more photographers face frustrations in lens selection, as the range of products available is enormous and the differences are not always clearly defined.” So they chose not only to drastically change the design language and quality (in all senses of the word and for the better) , but also place each individual lens into a specific category. This means that all lenses in that category has a few very important features in common. You could say they are united with a single concept. There are three categories in total and here are their descriptions:
C (Contemporary) – this product line consists mainly of variable aperture zoom lenses for general use, such as standard and telephoto zoom lenses for APS-C cameras (the Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OS HSM Macro C, for example). The way I see it this is basically the place for Sigma’s budget zoom lenses, of which there will be many.
A (Art) – you will find all the fastest Sigma prime lenses to belong to this product line. Sigma says the Art lineup is “designed with a focus on sophisticated optical performance and abundant expressive power”. Some wide-angle, macro, fishey and fast-aperture zoom lenses will also belong to this category (the 18-35mm f/1.8 HSM A is a good exampl).
S (Sport) – as you might understand, this product line is for telephoto lenses (both zoom and fixed focal length) designed with sports and wildlife photography in mind. Expect these lenses to be quite pricey and also feature relatively fast maximum aperture settings.
EX – Sigma’s high-end lenses of old (manufacturer’s equivalent to Canon L and Nikon gold ring series), you can still find a few new and used optics with such designation. Sigma has dropped it for its new lenses, however, so we won’t be seeing any recent products that would belong to the EX lineup.
2) Sigma Lens Format Abbreviations
Sigma is one of the largest third-party lens manufacturers and, as such, designs lenses for a variety of sensor sizes:
DG – lenses compatible with full-frame sensor DSLR cameras.
DC – lenses designed for for APS-C DLSR cameras.
DN – lenses designed for compact system cameras. Sigma is yet to release lenses for full-frame mirrorless cameras (the Sony duo), so it is yet unclear if such optics will have a designation of their own (quite likely), or belong to either DN or DG series.
3) Sigma Lens Technology Abbreviations
HSM – the Hyper Sonic Motor is Sigma’s equivalent to Canon USM and Nikon SWM technology. It is a ring-type ultrasonic motor designed to provide quick and silent focusing.
OS – optical image stabilization technology used in Sigma lenses; similar to Canon IS, Nikon VR and Tamron VC.
ASP (Aspherical) – lenses with this designation have aspherical glass elements in their optical design.
APO (Apochromatic) – apochromatic lenses are designed to correct chromatic and other sorts of aberrations more effectively. Truly apochromatic lenses feature exotic fluorite elements and have no chromatic aberrations at all. According to Sigma, their APO lenses “are telephoto and telezoom type lenses which use special optical designs and optical materials (SLD or ELD glass) to improve their performance. The result is images which have greater contrast, sharpness and color definition than a comparable non-APO type lens .”
RF – such lenses have rear focusing design, which means that during focusing operation only a few elements positioned behind the diaphragm blades are moved (rather than all the elements). This results in potentially faster AF operation and non-rotating front elements.
IF – internal focusing is similar to RF, but in this case several optical elements in front of the diaphragm are moved during focusing (rather than all the elements). The size of the lens remains constant, but the focal length might change slightly as you focus.
SLD – Special Low Dispersion glass elements are designed to minimize chromatic aberrations.
ELD – Extraordinary Low Dispersion glass elements might have a slightly funny name, but they should perform even better than SLD.
FLD – F Low Dispersion element, at least according to Sigma, is “the highest level low dispersion glass available with extremely high light transmission.” It should basically perform as well as fluorite elements (that is what the “F” stands for), but is far less expensive.
TSC – Thermally Stable Composite is a special material that blends qualities of polycarbonate and metal and is used in the construction of some lenses. According to Sigma, it “offers 25% greater elasticity than polycarbonate. Since its thermal shrinkage is low, TSC matches well with metal parts, further contributing to the high-precision construction of the lens.”
4) Specialized Sigma Lens Abbreviations
MACRO – Sigma macro lenses are designed to provide good magnification with a relatively short minimum focus distance. A very popular and highly regarded Sigma macro lens is the 150mm f/2.8 OS HSM. However, if you expect the traditional 1:1 (or at least 1:2) magnification from all Sigma “macro” lenses, you are in for a bit of a surprise. For years this designation was used even on Sigma’s cheapskate zoom lenses that could focus a bit closer than you’d probably expect, yet still nowhere near true macro distances. It was more of an attempt to lure less knowledgeable buyers much like cramping more megapixels into a compact camera and saying it is somehow “better” because of it. So if you are used to Canon and Nikon macro lenses that are generally capable of 1:1 magnification, make sure you check the specifications of a Sigma macro lens before purchasing it to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Fisheye (Diagonal, Circular) – I’m sure not much explanation is needed in this case. Fisheye lenses provide very wide angles of view (180 degrees is not uncommon) with distinctive and very strong distortion. Diagonal fisheye lenses cover the whole frame, whilst circular lenses produce a circular image within the frame. Read this article if you want to learn more and see some image samples.
5) Sigma Lens Sample
Time to analyze the name of an actual lens, and my pick this time is the 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S lens:
Recent Sigma lens names have been quite short and, officially, this lens is simply called the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM. As you can see, it is a telephoto zoom lens with focal length range of 120-300mm and a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout. DG means it is designed with full-frame cameras in mind, so can be used on such bodies as Nikon D800 or Canon 5D Mark III (obviously you need an appropriate mount version for either system). The lens has Sigma’s ring-type ultrasonic autofocus motor (HSM) and optical image stabilization (OS). The lens belongs to Sports product line (S). Digging further in the description we can see that it features SLD and FLD glass elements to counter chromatic aberrations and improve sharpness, and is made of Thermally Stable Composite (TSC). There are no separate abbreviations for it, but the lens also incorporates some dust and water protection and the filter thread is a massive 105mm in size (Ø105).
Tamron is a Japanese company manufacturing photographic lenses, optical components and commercial/industrial-use optics. Tamron Headquarters is located in Saitama City in the Saitama Prefecture of Japan.
The name of the company came from the surname of Uhyoue Tamura who was instrumental in developing Tamron’s optical technologies. It was only on the company’s 20th anniversary that the name was changed to Tamron (from Taisei Optical).
List of Tamron lens designations:
SP — ‘Super Performance’, professional lenses
Di — ‘Digitally Integrated’, featuring coating optimized for digital SLRs, but still usable on 24×36 mm sensors (35 mm, ‘full’ or double frame)
Di II — Lenses for APS-C sized sensors only
Di III — Lenses for compact system cameras
ZL — ‘Zoom Lock’
ASL — hybrid ‘ASphericaL’ elements
GM — ‘Glass Molded aspherical’ elements
XGM — ‘eXpanded Glass Molded aspherical’ elements
LD — ‘Low Dispersion’ elements
XLD — ‘eXtra Low Dispersion’ elements
XR — ‘eXtra Refractive index’ glass
UXR — ‘Ultra-eXtra Refractive index’ glass
AD — ‘Anomalous Dispersion’ elements
LAH — ‘LD + ASL’ hybrid lens element
ADH — ‘AD + ASL’ hybrid lens element
HID — ‘High Index, High Dispersion’ glass
[IF] — ‘Internal Focusing’
BBAR — ‘Broad-Band Anti-Reflection’ coating
BBAR-G2 — ‘Broad-Band Anti-Reflection Generation 2’ coating
eBAND — nano-structured ‘Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency’ coating
AX — ‘Anti-reflectioneXpand’ coating
FLR — ‘FLuoRine compensation’ coating
VC — ‘Vibration Compensation’ – in-lens image stabilization (mounts for camera systems with in-body image stabilization typically don’t feature VC in the lens. In this case, the lens does not carry the VC designation for this mount.)
USD — ‘Ultrasonic Silent Drive’ (AF lenses with this designation typically no longer carry the AF designation)
PZD — ‘Piezo Drive’ (AF lenses with this designation typically no longer carry the AF designation)
HLD — ‘High/Low torque-modulated Drive’ (AF lenses with this designation typically no longer carry the AF designation)
RXD — ‘Rapid eXtra-silent stepping Drive’ (AF lenses with this designation typically no longer carry the AF designation)
VXD — ‘Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive’ (AF lenses with this designation typically no longer carry the AF designation)
OSD — ‘Optimized Silent Drive’ (AF lenses with this designation typically no longer carry the AF designation)
DC — ‘DC Motor’
DSP — ‘Digital Signal Processor’
MPU — ‘MicroProcessing Unit’
DMPU — ‘Dual MicroProcessing Unit’
MR — ‘Moisture-Resistant’ construction
MP+DR — ‘Moisture-Proof and Dust-Resistant’ construction
Ok since this has been a VERY long episode, I am going to cover other third party lenses in next week’s episode, so make sure you tune in again next week.
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