Nikon lens naming convention can sometimes be rather confusing, because Nikon uses letters and abbreviations to identify different lens components. Knowing what each of those stands for can be valuable, especially during the process of evaluating and purchasing lenses. I am excluding all old manual focus Nikon lens specifications, because they are not used as much anymore.
Nikon Lens Naming Convention / Nomenclature
- AF – stands for Auto Focus, which means that the lens can automatically focus through the camera.
- AF-D – Auto Focus with Distance information. Same as AF, except it can report the distance between the subject and the lens and then reports that information to the camera. The distance information can be useful for metering.
- SWM – Silent Wave Motor allows quiet autofocus with a quick switching between autofocus and manual operation. Overriding autofocus is very simple – you just turn the focus ring, instead of switching to manual mode first like you have to on AF-D lenses.
- AF-S – Auto Focus with Silent Wave Motor. The AF-S lenses have built-in motors inside the lens, which work great on all cameras without built-in motor such as Nikon D40/D40x, D60, D3000 and D5000.
- IF – Internal Focusing allows the lens to quickly focus by moving some of the elements inside the lens barrel, without moving the front barrel or extending in size. Many of the modern Nikon lenses such as Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II are IF lenses. Lenses with IF acquire focus faster than lenses without IF.
- RF – Rear Focusing. The focusing is done by moving the rear element inside of the lens, which means the rear element moves while focusing. The latest Nikon 24mm f/1.4 lens, for example, is RF.
- G – If you see a letter “G” after aperture in the lens, for example “Nikon 50mm AF-S f/1.4G”, it means that the lens does not have an aperture ring like the old lenses. All modern Nikon lenses are “G”, because the aperture ring is only needed for old manual focus camera bodies.
- Micro – Same thing as Macro, which is designated for macro lenses for close-up work.
- PC-E – Perspective Control with Electronic Diaphragm. Allows lenses to tilt and shift to create special effects.
- ED – Extra-low Dispersion glass elements within the lens do not disperse the light as it enters the lens. Most modern top of the line Nikon lenses contain ED glass, which also delivers better sharpness and reduces “chromatic aberration” or color fringing in photographs.
- DC – Defocus Control lenses allow controlling the bokeh, which is great for portraits.
- VR – Vibration Reduction allows using lenses hand-held without the need for a tripod in low-light situations. Special motion sensors inside the lens detect hand motion and compensate for the motion by stabilizing the lens in the opposite direction.
- SIC – Lenses with Super Integrated Coating have better color performance and are generally deal better with ghosting and flare.
- N – The letter “N” stands for Nano Crystal Coat and it is always displayed in a golden sticker on all top of the line Nikon lenses. It is a special type of glass coating that reduces ghosting and internal flare to deliver outstanding image clarity.
- DX – If a lens says “DX”, it means that it is specifically designed for DX camera bodies such as Nikon D3000/D5000/D90/D300s. DX lenses do work on FX bodies, but only at half the resolution.
- CX – If a lens says “CX”, it means that it is specifically designed for CX camera bodies such as Nikon 1 V1/J1/J2. CX lenses do not work on any other Nikon mounts.
Take a look at the following Nikon lens:
As you can see from the lens image, it says “AF-S Nikkor 24mm 1:1.4G ED” on the lens, which basically means that it is a fixed Nikon (Nikkor and Nikon are the same thing) 24mm lens with a maximum aperture of 1.4, has built-in auto focus with silent wave motor (AF-S), has no aperture ring (G) and contains extra-low dispersion glass. The large letter “N” on the side indicates that the lens has Nano Crystal Coat. The rest of the information is not displayed on the lens, but can be obtained from the lens page on Nikon’s website.