Canon Lens Abbreviations

Different manufacturers use very different abbreviations to describe the technology used in their lenses even if the technology itself is quite similar. Some abbreviations can be difficult to understand and easily mixed up. We’ve already covered Nikon lens abbreviations. This article will help you understand Canon lens naming terminology.

Canon Lens Abbreviations

1) Canon Lens Format Abbreviations

  • EF – this is the new fully electronic Canon lens mount introduced back in 1987. Lenses marked with EF are compatible with all Canon EOS cameras, digital and film, and are designed to cover 35mm full-frame image circle.
  • EF-S – the only difference between Canon EF and EF-S lenses is that the latter has been designed for Canon digital cameras with APS-C sensors, such as the Canon EOS 700D. Canon EF-S lenses should not (and in most cases can not) be mounted on Canon EOS film and digital full-frame cameras with 36x24mm sized sensors because of the larger mirror used in these cameras. If mounted, damaged to the mirror may be caused upon shutter actuation – it would hit the lens’ rear element. EF-S lenses feature a protective pin that stops these lenses from being mounted on a full-frame EOS camera.
  • EF-M – a new lens format specifically designed for the Canon EOS M mirrorless camera system with EF-M mount. Just like the EF-S lenses, EF-M are designed for APS-C sensor cameras. They will only fit Canon EOS M cameras, though, thanks to shorter flange focal distance (distance between lens mount and film/sensor plane). EF-S and EF lenses can be mounted on EF-M lens mount through the use of appropriate lens mount adapters, but EF-M lenses can not be mounted on the EF mount.
  • FD – this is the old manual focus Canon lens mount used before 1987. Because it was not suitable for autofocus, Canon decided to switch from FD and designed the EOS system with EF mount. Canon FD is now discontinued, but still used by film photography enthusiasts. There are some cracking lenses with the FD mount and, through the use of appropriate adapters, FD lenses can be mounted on modern EOS EF cameras. Adapters with an optical glass element allow infinity focus, while simpler adapters without an additional optical element will not focus at infinity.
  • FDn – the same as FD, only with no coating designation on the lens front (used SSC lens coating).
  • FL – same mount as FD, but without the ability to meter at full aperture.

2) Canon Lens Class and Technology Abbreviations

  • L – standing for “Luxury”, the L designation marks Canon’s top-end, professional grade lenses with the most advanced optical formulas and high quality, complex glass elements. These lenses are built to Canon’s highest standards and often feature some sort of weather protection as well as wide aperture setting. L lenses are priced according to their quality, but some are considered budget (within reason), like the 24-105mm f/4L lens. It retails for over $1100 at the moment and can hardly be considered cheap, but for an L lens, this sort of price is very acceptable. L class lenses are easily recognized by the presence of a red ring around the front end.
  • SSC – Super Spectral Coating. Originally discovered by Lord Rayleigh in 1886 and enhanced by Carl Zeiss later, lens coatings made a huge impact on future optics. Basically, coating minimizes lens reflections and increases contrast. All modern Canon lenses are multicoated, so only the oldest of them have the SSC marking on the barrel.
  • I, II, III – Roman numerals in the lens name describe the lens’ generation. For example, there are two Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lenses: the first one is the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, and the other one is Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. The only difference in the name of the lenses is the “II” designation of the second lens, which means it is the newer, updated version. Both are professional, tough L-grade lenses, but with different optics and price. Generally, if a lens gains IS – which is Image Stabilization – it drops the previous numeral and should be considered a newer release.
  • USM – this abbreviation means the lens is equipped with Canon’s top-end focusing motor, the ring-type UltraSonic Motor. This is a fast, quiet and powerful autofocus motor that allows full-time manual focus override. It is used in most current Canon lenses from low-cost prime lenses all the way up to exotic telephoto and L-class lenses.
  • Micro USM – this autofocus motor is smaller and simpler than USM used in most Canon lenses. Like its big brother, it is fast and quiet when used in smaller lenses with lighter optical elements. There is a disadvantage, though – Micro USM does not generally allow full-time manual focus override. There are exceptions. One notable lens to feature the simpler Micro USM motor rather than full-sized ring-type USM yet allow full-time manual focus tweaking is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. Both USM and Micro USM motors are indicated as USM on the lens itself.
  • STM – Stepper Motor designed to minimize autofocus vibrations and noise during video recording, this autofocus motor has been gradually making its way into budget Canon lenses. The first lens to sport STM was the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM lens. Now, all EF-M lenses incorporate the Stepper Motor, but even some EF-S lenses have been updated, like the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens. STM lenses use fly-by-wire focusing, which means turning the focus ring does not physically move the elements, but tells the AF motor to do so.
  • AFD – Arc-Form Drive is the first autofocus motor used in Canon EF lenses. It is much louder than USM motors, somewhat slower and not as quick. It also has slower reaction time so does not follow subjects as well as newer motors. There is no full-time manual focus override. If an autofocus Canon lens has no indication on its barrel what sort of AF motor is used, it is either AFD or Micro Motor.
  • MM – this abbreviation stands for Micro Motor, which is the least advanced AF motor used in Canon lenses along with AFD. Basically, it is a smaller version of the AFD motor. This autofocus motor is only used in the cheapest Canon lenses, like the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II kit zoom. This motor does not allow full-time manual focus override like the more sophisticated USM systems do. It is also somewhat louder in operation, although because the kit zoom is so light, the motor is also very small and the noise is rarely intrusive. If an autofocus Canon lens has no indication on its barrel what sort of AF motor is used, it is either Micro Motor or AFD.
  • PZ – stands for Power Zoom and uses a dedicated motor to change the focal length of the lens. I believe the only Canon EF lens to use PZ is the EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 PZ.
  • IS – this is Canon’s abbreviation for optical image stabilization, or simply Image Stabilizer – a piece of technology that moves some of the lens’ optical elements to counter shake and provide sharper results when slow shutter speed is used for static subject capture.

3) Specialized Canon Lens Abbreviations

  • Macro – a lens with such designation focuses down to relatively short distances and provides 1:1 magnification.
  • Compact Macro – similar to regular macro lenses, Compact Macro can focus very close. As far as I know, there is only one such lens – the EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro. There is a dedicated converter available for this lens that increases the working distance (distance between subject and front lens element at minimum focus) and enables 1:1 magnification for this lens. It is called the Canon Life-Size Converter EF.
  • MP-E – there is only one Canon lens with such designation, and it is the Canon MP-E 62mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens. MP-E means very high magnification optics – this lens starts to focus at magnification where regular macro lenses run out of puff. The aforementioned lens is manual-focus only and does not focus at infinity. Instead, it can achieve magnification anywhere from 1:1 to 5:1.
  • TS-E – lenses with tilt and shift adjustments used for creative portraits, landscapes, macro and architecture photography. Exotic, expensive and manual focus only.
  • DO – Diffractive Optics lenses have special glass elements that bend light more than regular glass. This allows them to be smaller than regular lenses of the same parameters. A well-known Canon DO lens is the telephoto EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM. It shares the great build quality with the L siblings, but has a green ring around the front rather than a red one.
  • Softfocus – as you may have guessed, Softfocus lenses have optical formula that is meant to deliver softer results on purpose. Such lenses used to be popular decades ago among film photographers for portrait photography as they hid skin imperfections and created a “dreamy”, glowing effect. Suffice to say such lenses are no longer popular today – it is easy to achieve soft focus effect using post-processing if one should wish so. There is only one Canon EF lens with Softfocus feature, and it is the EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus. It is possible to turn off the Softfocus by setting appropriate ring on the lens to the value of 0 (off), in which case the lens acts like a normal 135mm f/2.8 would.

4) Lens Example

Now that we have all the relevant abbreviations taken care of, let’s analyze the name of an actual lens. How about the popular Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM?

Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM Lens

Based on the lens name we can easily tell that this is an expensive and professional-grade optic (L designation). As a top-quality instrument, it also features an advanced optical formula for best possible performance, including ED and Fluorite glass elements (L). Weather sealing is a possibility with L lenses and is indeed present in this particular case. It is also designed with film and digital full-frame Canon EOS cameras in mind (EF). Naturally, it can be used on crop-sensor Canon DSLR cameras, too. The lens is optically stabilized – it features Canon’s Image Stabilizer technology (IS). This is also the second version of such a lens with a stabilizer (II). Autofocus is driven by Canon’s best motor. Full-time manual focus is available, while automatic focusing promises to be very snappy and quiet (USM).

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Amr Ibrahim
    October 21, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    This is a great article, waiting for the Nikon ones.

    • October 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Amr,

      check the first paragraph, there is a link to Nikon lens abbreviations. :)

      • 8
        ) Amr Ibrahim
        October 21, 2013 at 6:15 pm

        Yeah I saw it, I quickly jumped to the middle title, thank you.

    • 3
      ) Nigel Cheffers-Heard
      October 21, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      This is a badly researched and presented article, full of errors. Lens coating was recognised in the 18th Century, and explained and perfected by Lord Rayleigh in the 19th Century. Zeiss came to use it rather later. “L” lenses are just that; Canon has never claimed it meant anything. FL is an identical mount to FD, but without the ability to meter at a full aperture. Shall I go on?
      As they said in my school; 3/10, must try harder.

      • October 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm

        Nigel, instead of schooling Roman, who is obviously not an expert in optics or old manual focus Canon lenses, why not make suggestions to make the article better for beginners and those looking for information on Canon lens abbreviations? I will fix the errors you pointed out, but if there are any problems anywhere else, please point those out and we will gladly take care of them.

        Thank you for your help and have a great week!

        • 5
          ) Tim
          October 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm

          I liked the article!!! It was helpful to me!

      • October 22, 2013 at 12:50 am

        Nigel,

        what you need to realize is that I’ve done some “minor” research before writing this article. So here goes.

        Perhaps I should have clarified on the coatings. Zeiss developed interference-based ant-reflection coating in 1935, which was much more complex than the simple coating developed by Lord Rayleigh. These coatings marked a milestone in lens coating technology and, at least according to Wikipedia (not the most reliable source, I know), the technology was hidden during the World War II.

        “L” lenses stand for “Luxury” and that is a fact. If the numerous online resources are not enough for you, you can read the statement yourself from Canon Lens Work II Book by following this link:

        http://software.canon-europe.com/files/documents/EF_Lens_Work_Book_2_EN.pdf

        Finding it was not easy, so I can simply quote it for you:

        “The bright red line engraved on the lens barrel. And an L for “luxury.” ”

        You mentioned yourself that FL is different from FD in that it does not have the ability to meter at full aperture. You named a difference. Therefore, FL is different to FD. Canon introduced FD after FL, therefore FL is older. I am not here to give you a full-blown history lesson on FD and FL mounts. For the purposes of this article it was enough to say FL is an older mount version than FD, because that is true.

        And to answer your question, yes, please do go on if you found some actual errors in my article. I would appreciate it if you were a bit more polite, though.

  2. 6
    ) FrancoisR
    October 21, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I liked the article too, thank you Romanas. It’s not that easy to decypher each brand.

    Keep on the good work!

    merci ;)

  3. 7
    ) Renato
    October 21, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Has Nikon any lenses with the same performance and quality than Canon L lenses? Mainly weather protection.

    • October 21, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      Nikon has some amazing lenses that Canon does not have – Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G is one example.

    • October 22, 2013 at 7:45 am

      Renato,

      yes. Though not all Canon L lenses are weather protected. Nikon’s equivalent to Canon L lens series is the gold-ring lenses, such as 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, 85mm f/1.4G and other.

  4. 9
    ) David Lewis
    October 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Very helpful Romanas. Thanks

  5. 11
    ) Don B
    October 21, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Thank you for your article. I appreciate the hard work that you do for us.

  6. 13
    ) Mihail M.
    October 22, 2013 at 2:30 am

    Very useful article, thank you!

    PS : really love your website. As a newbie in photography, it helps me a lot. Please keep up the good work :)

  7. 16
    ) Frank Rainsborough
    July 20, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Romanas, Thanks, very helpful, and I like the way in which you’ve dealt with Nigel’s niggles!

Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

Leave a Comment