Nikkor Lens Designations


There is a lot of confusion among people on the net who recently bought a Nikon digital camera. So I was trying to clear up this concept once and for all. Please link to this site if you run a mailing list or similar where this question comes up now and then.

Nikkor is the brand of lenses produced by Nikon corporations. A lot of people refer to them simply as Nikon brand lenses or Nikon lenses. Don’t get confused, the trading name these lenses are sold under are Nikkor.

Over the years Nikon have mande many different types of lenses, some are compatible with your digital DSLR, some can be used with some effort and a few are not useable or is painful to adapt to the DSLR.

Nikon is however the camera manufacturer with the best compatibility of old lenses on new cameras. Most of the lenses since the fifties and forward can actually be used on a modern Nikon DSLR, I am talking about the D70(s), D50, D100, D1x and such cameras. I personally own a D70s and I am very happy with this camera, it is a great photographic instrument. Perhaps matrix light metering may not work or you have to focus manually but the lenses would actually fit with a few exceptions that you can find in the table below.

I will skip some historical lenses from the eighties in this article, because you will most likely never have to deal with them, and if you do you can always check this article out where the author discusses this problem in more detail. This article is just to give you a quick summary and help at a glance.

Nikkor lenses have a lot of different designation letters to tell the user what type of lens it is, what kind of glass, type of focus and so on and pretty much any other feature. I will try here in a form of a table just very briefly try to describe the different versions and I will not go into too much detail. After all this page is just trying to answer questions like ”Will my lens of type <insert type here> work with my Nikon DSLR” and ”I have this Nikkor 35-70 mm AF-S ED lens from my old Nikon F-series camera, can I use it with my new D70?”. So here we go.

Lenses and Mechanics

These describes the mechanical differences between the lenses made by Nikon over the years. Almost all lenses can be used with a modern digital body, however you really want the autofocus lenses with built-in motors. They are great in the field and manual focus lenses is only really practical in a studio environment because they do not give you proper metering cababilities with the camera.

Code Meaning Compatible
F This is a very old lens, before the AI came around. Nikon original F-mount and were in use between 1959-1977 when it was replaced with the AI series. No, but can be converted to fit. Will not give metering of light.
AI Automatic Indexing. Came out in 1977. Made mounting of the lens to the cam body a lot easier. All AI lenses fits onto every Nikon SLR ever made! Manual focus lenses. Yes, matrix metering mode will not work on most DSLR camera houses.

The D700 (and possibly other new Nikon models)  which can be made to matrix meter with the lenses. According to the manual the user may input data of up to 9 lenses manually and when the data is entered Matrix Metering can be used with them. (Se the comments below)

AI-S Pretty much the same as AI, minimum difference See AI
P Came out in 1988. These are the same as the AI but have electrical connectors. They are still manual focus lenses. They allow Matrix metering on autofocus cameras. These lenses do not report to the camera the distance of focus that the ”D” type do. Yes. Manual focus. Allows matrix metering.
E-series All E-series are AI-S so the same applies. Difference is in the make of certain parts which are plastics. Seven bladed diaphragm. See AI
AF Autofocus lens. Mechanical drive for focusing. All AF are AI-S. All AF lenses can be used with all DSLR. Yes, may need manual focus if the camera do not have manual focus drive.
AF-D Pretty much the same but can allow the camera to know the distance at which it has focus. All AF-D are also AF and AI-S. See AF
AF-I Internal autofocus motor. No mechanical connection between lens and camera body. Yes
AF-S These lenses have autofocus motors built into them. AF-S are controlled by the camera and gives fast focus. Modern DSLR can use all AF-S Yes

Optical differences

These should not impact the compatibility on your lens, they are mainly to do with the optics itself and how to distinguish a more expensive lens from a cheaper one :)

Code Meaning
DX Reduced capacity compared to regular AF lenses. Digital cameras have smaller area that receives the image so these are ”optimized” for DSLR cameras. May not give the full image on analog ”film” cameras of F-type.

All AF lenses works fine on Nikon DSLR cameras. DX lenses may not cover the 35 mm of film in the standard SLR cameras.

VR Vibration Reduction. A great invention that helps shooting steady images and can sometimes make it possible to shoot images without using a tripod.
CRC Close Range Correction. A corrective feature of the glass mainly used in macro photo (Nikon call these lenses Mikro lenses).
ED Extra low Dispersion. Better glass simply put.
IF Internal Focus. Means that the lens do not extend or contract when focusing, this is standard on most modern lenses.
RF Same as IF pretty much although it is the rear elements inside the lens that handles the focus.
Aspherical Use aspherical lenses.
NIC Nikon Integrated Coating, a better coating for the glass in the lenses.
Micro This is Nikkor lens lingo for macro lenses.
DC Defocus Control. Super-sharp lenses that has the ability to control the out-of-focus areas, sometimes referred to as ”bokeh”. Mainly for the most experienced photographers.
PC Used on tilt / shift lenses where the user can shift the focal plane and fine tune and control exactly how the focus works. These lenses are half a fortune in price and very cool.

Help me update this list if you find any omissions or errors, please let me know immediately. Thank you.

More information here.