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What Do All The Letters, Acronyms, and Numbers on My Camera Lens Stand For?

A quick peek at the barrel of your camera’s lens reveals a jungle of letters, numbers, and acronyms. What exactly do they all mean and how can you translate the codes into useful information?

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of Photography Exchange—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites. Image courtesy of Canon, USA. 

The Question

Photography Exchange reader Mikal Sundberg is curious about the markings on his camera lens. He writes:

Then looking at a lens name there is a lot of acronyms in the name describing it’s features (often specific to the manufacturer).

Examples, Nikon:
Nikon AF-S DX 16-85mm VR f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED
Nikon AF-I 600mm f/4D IF-ED
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED

Examples, Canon:
Canon EF 85mm f1.2L USM Mark II
Canon 70-300mm f/4.5-f/5.6 DO IS

Examples, Sigma:
Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX APO DG HSM Macro
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM
Sigma 50-150mm F2.8 EX DC APO HSM II

How do I decipher the lens names from different manufacturers?

So what kind of decoder ring do you need to make sense of the code?

The Answers

Photography Exchange contributor Jrista offers up a very comprehensive answer. We won’t judge you if you skim through his expansive write up until you find your specific brand of camera equipment.

Brand Lenses

Most major camera manufacturers offer their own line of lenses. Such lenses tend to follow the most stringent quality guidelines, and often come with a price premium.

Canon Lenses

Canon lenses use the following terms to indicate features of each lens:

  • Common
    • XYZmm: Focal length
    • f/x.y: Maximum aperture
  • Focus/Mount Type
    • EF: Electronic Focus
    • EF-S: Short-Back Electronic Focus
    • EF-M: Mirrorless Electronic Focus
    • TS: Tilt-Shift
      • TS-E: Tilt-Shift, Electronic aperture control
    • MP-E: Macro-Photography, Electronic aperture control
  • Features
    • IS: Image Stabilization
    • USM: Auto Focus Type: Ultrasonic Motor
    • STM: Auto Focus Type: Stepping Motor
    • (Mark) N: Version of lens (Mark II = v2, Mark III = v3, etc., word Mark may not be present)
    • DO: Diffractive Optics
    • L: Luxury series
    • Macro: close focusing, but not necessarily 1:1 magnification
    • Softfocus ability to use soft focusing for smooth dreamy look
    • PF Power Focus

Examples

  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens
  • Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM
  • Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

Nikon Lenses

Nikon lenses use the following terms to indicate features of each lens:

  • Common
    • XYZmm: Focal length
    • f/x.y: Maximum aperture
  • Lens System
    • DX: Digital, Short Back
    • FX: Full Frame (film or digital)
  • Lens Mount
    • AI: Automatic Indexing mount (includes metering sensor)
    • AI-S: Improved Automatic Indexing mount
    • IX: Lenses designed specially for APS film SLR-s; their rear end protrudes too much to allow using them on a 35mm film camera or a dSLR
    • Serie E A cheaper serie of AI-S where plastic replaced some metal parts. Not designated as Nikkor but “Nikon Lense Serie E”
  • Focusing System
    • AF: Auto Focus, built into camera
    • AF-S: Auto-Focus Silent (Silent Wave Motor, required for bodies without focus motor)
    • AF-I: Auto-Focus Internal
    • AF-N: Auto-Focus (improved version, rare)
  • Features
    • Reflex: Catadioptric (mirror) lense.
    • D: Distance, communicates focus distance for 3D Matrix metering mode and also for flash autoexposure. All AF-I, AF-S, and G-type lenses are also D-type. (Indicated after the f-number in the name, sometimes designated as AF-D).
    • SWM: Silent Wave Motor
    • N: Nano-Crystal Coating
    • NIC: Nikon Integrated Coating (multicoated lenses)
    • SIC: Super Integrated Coating (multicoated lenses)
    • VR: Vibration Reduction
    • ED: Extra-low Dispersion Glass
    • FL: Fluorite. Designated a lens with some element in fluorite instead glass.
    • ASP: Aspherical Lens Element
    • IF: Internal Focusing
    • RF: Rear Focusing
    • RD: Rounded diaphragm
    • Micro: Enable high reproduction ratio. Typically at 1:1 or 1:2.
    • G: No aperture ring (automatic aperture only)
    • DC: Defocus Control
    • PC: Perspective Control. Lenses with shift feature (older) and newer with tilt as well.
    • E: Electronic diaphragm. Some lenses with an electronic diaphragm. Only supported by bodies from D3 and after.
    • P: CPU enabled version of AI-S lenses (Sometimes designated as AI-P)

Examples

  • Nikon AF 85mm f/1.8
  • Nikon AF 85mm f/1.8D
  • Nikon AI 500mm f/4.0 P
  • Nikon AF-S DX 16-85mm VR f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED
  • Nikon AF-I 600mm f/4D IF-ED
  • Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED

Olympus 4/3 lenses

  • Common
    • XYZmm: Focal length
    • 1:x.y: Maximum aperture
  • Features
    • ED: Extra-low dispersion glass elements
    • SWD: Auto Focus Type: Supersonic Wave Drive Motor
    • N: Version of lens (II = v2, III = v3, etc.)

Pentax lenses

  • Common
    • XYZmm: Focal length
    • 1:x.y: Maximum aperture
  • Focus/Mount Type
    • K, M: Manual Focus, Manual/Aperture priority metering
    • AF: Early AF system with AF motor and electronics in lens that works only with ME-F body.
    • A: Manual Focus, supports Shutter priority and Program exposure metering
    • F: Adds Auto Focus to capabilities of A lenses
    • FA: Adds ability to communicate MTF to body to capabilities of F lenses
    • FAJ: Removes aperture ring from capabilities of FA lenses
    • DA: Same capabilities as FAJ, but with reduced imaging circle for digital cameras with APS-C sized sensor
    • DA L: Same capabilities as DA lenses, Lighter construction
    • D FA: Same capabilities as FA lenses, usable on both film and digital cameras
  • Features
    • AL: Aspherical elements
    • ED: Extra-low dispersion glass elements
    • SMC: Super multi coating lens coating
    • HD: Newer “high grade” multi-layer lens coating
    • PZ: Power Zoom
    • SDM: Auto Focus Type: Supersonic Drive Motor
    • IF: Internal focussing
    • WR: Weather Resistant (when matched with weather resistant body)
    • AW: All Weather (again when matched with WR body; it’s unclear how if at all this differs from the above)
    • ★: High performance, including weather and dust sealing
    • Limited: High quality, compact design (primes)
    • Macro: 1:1 magnification
    • XS: Extra slim, even more compact than Limited

Sony/Minolta Lenses

Sony lenses, previously Minolta lenses, have similar features to Nikon and Canon. Their notation is as follows:

  • Common
    • XYZ/x.y: Focal length/Maximum Aperture
  • Lens Mount Type
    • Alpha: α Type Mount
    • E: E Type Mount
  • Focusing System
  • Features
    • G: Gold Series (highest quality)
    • (D): Distance Encoding (supports ADI feature of some Sony bodies)
    • DT: Digital Technology (optimized for digital cameras)
    • APO: Apochromatic correction using AD elements
      • HS-APO: High-Speed APO
    • AD: Anomalous Dispersion
    • OSS: Optical Steady Shot (E-mount only)
    • T*: High-performance Coating
    • M: 1:1 magnification
    • Z: optical engineering by Carl Zeiss

Examples

  • Sony Alpha 70-200/2.8 G
  • Sony Alpha 28-75/2.8 SAM
  • Sony Alpha DT 18-250/3.5-6.3
  • Sony E 18-200/3.5-6.3 OSS
  • Sony Alpha 100/2.8 Macro

Off-Brand Lenses

Many off-brand lens manufacturers make lenses that fit many types of bodies, including Canon, Nikon, etc.

Sigma Lenses

Sigma lenses use the following terms to indicate features of each lens. They differ slightly in how they denote aperture:

  • Common
    • XYZmm: Focal length
    • Fx.y: Maximum aperture
  • Compatible Body Brands
    • Sigma
    • Nikon
    • Canon
    • Minolta/Sony
    • Pentax
    • Kodak (extremely limited)
    • Fujifilm
    • Olympus (limited)
    • Panasonic (very limited)
    • Leica (very limited)
  • Features
    • HSM: Hyper-Sonic Motor
    • ASP: Aspherical lens element
    • APO: Aphochromatic (low-dispersion) lens element
    • OS: Optical Stabilizer
    • RF: Rear focusing
    • IF: Inner focusing
    • CONV: Teleconverter compatible (APO Teleconverter EX), not usually part of the lens name but mentioned in the product description
    • EX: Professional lens body finishing and construction
    • DG: Supports full-frame cameras (newer lenses only, implicit on older models)
    • DC: Supports cropped-frame cameras (lightweight construction, smaller image circle)
    • DN: For mirrorless cameras
    • Macro: close focusing, but not necessarily 1:1 magnification

Examples

  • Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM
  • Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM
  • Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
  • Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

Tamron Lenses

Tamron lenses use the following terms to indicate features of each lens. Tamron offers a considerable degree of functional features and lens types, particularly lens types that affect chromatic aberration:

  • Common
    • XYZmm: Focal length
    • F/x.y: Maximum aperture
    • AF: Auto-Focus
  • Compatible Body Brands
    • Nikon
    • Canon
    • Minolta/Sony
    • Pentax
  • Features
    • Lens Elements
      • XR: Extra Refractive Index Glass (lighter, smaller lenses)
      • LD: Low Dispersion (chromatic aberration reduction)
      • XLD: Extra Low Dispersion (advanced chromatic aberration reduction)
      • ASL: Aspherical (improved focal plane convergence)
      • LAH: LD + ASL hybrid lens element
      • AD: Anomalous Dispersion (improved control over chromatic aberration)
      • ADH: AD + ASL hybrid lens element
      • HID: High Index, High Dispersion Glass (minimizes lateral chromatic aberration)
    • Functional Features
      • VC: Vibration Compensation
      • USD: Ultrasonic Silent Drive
      • SP: Super Performance (professional line)
      • IF: Internal Focusing System
      • Di: Digitally Integrated (optimized for use with full-frame digital cameras)
      • Di-II: Digitally Integrated (optimized for use with APS-C digital cameras)
      • ZL: Zoom Lock (prevents undesired zoom lens barrel extension)
      • A/M: Auto-focus/Manual-focus Switch Mechanism
      • FEC: Filter Effect Control (controls filter direction when lens hood attached, i.e. for Polarizing filters)
      • 1:1 Macro: 1:1 Magnification

Examples

  • Tamron SP AF17-35MM F/2.8-4 Di LD Aspherical (IF)
  • Tamron AF18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di II LD Aspherical (IF)
  • Tamron SP AF180mm F/3.5 Di LD (IF) 1:1 Macro

Tokina Lenses

Tokina lenses use the following terms to indicate features of each lens:

  • Common
    • VW~XYZmm: Focal length
    • f/x.y: Maximum aperture
    • AF: Auto-Focus
  • Compatible Body Brands
    • Nikon
    • Canon
    • Minolta/Sony
    • Pentax
  • Features
    • AT-X Pro professional line (primes and constant aperture zooms)
    • AT-X consumer line (variable aperture zooms)
    • AS: Aspherical Optics
    • F&R: Advanced Aspherical Optics
    • SD: Super Low Dispersion
    • HLD: High-Refraction, Low Dispersion
    • MC: Multi-Coating
    • FE: Floating Element System
    • IF: Internal Focus System
    • IRF: Internal Rear Focus System
    • FC: Focus Clutch Mechanism (allows switching between auto & manual focus)
    • One Touch FC: One-Touch Focus Clutch Mechanism
    • FX: Full frame
    • DX: Digital (cropped frame)

Samyang Lenses

Samyang (also sold as Pro-Optic, Rokinon, Bower) lenses use the following terms to indicate features of each lens:

  • Common
    • XYZ mm: Focal length
    • f/x.y: Maximum aperture
  • Compatible Body Brands
    • Nikon
    • Canon
    • Minolta/Sony
    • Pentax/Samsung
    • Olympus
    • Panasonic
  • Features
    • AE: contains electronic chip to allow Automatic Exposure and iTTL flash metering on a Nikon body
    • AS: contains Aspherical element(s)
    • Aspherical: contains Aspherical element(s)
    • ED: contains extra-low dispersion element(s)
    • IF: Internal Focusing
    • MC: Multi Coating
    • UMC: Ultra Multi Coating
    • MFT: designed for Micro Four Thirds systems
    • CS VG10 - custom design for Sony Nex-VG10
    • Preset: Aperture preset (so you can quickly flick aperture ring between maximum aperture for focusing and desired aperture for shooting; there’s no aperture linkage on a preset lens)
    • Mirror: a mirror lens

Examples

  • Samyang AE 14 mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC
  • Samyang 35 mm f/1.4 AS UMC
  • Pro-Optic AE 85 mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF

If you’re scratching your head now because you’ve learned the term but you don’t know what it means, another Photography Exchange user Hamish Downer is here to help:

The top answer covers the decoding of the letters very well. I thought I might add a few comments as to what some of the features actually mean in terms of consequences of the features (it took me a while to work out what some of them meant).

Lenses only for reduced frame DSLRs

Most low to mid range DSLRs have a sensor that is smaller than a 35mm film frame – sometimes called “reduced frame” or “cropped sensor”. So using a “full frame” lens will mean lots of extra light around the sensor that isn’t used. You can makes lenses smaller and lighter by reducing the projected image size to fit the sensor size. However using these lenses on a full frame camera would result in the corners of the image being dark – and mostly these lenses won’t fit on a full frame camera.

The “less than full frame” codes are:

  • Canon: EF-S (EF for full frame)
  • Nikon: DX (FX for full frame)
  • Pentax: DA (FA or D FA for full frame)
  • Sigma: DC (DG for full frame)
  • Sony/Minolta: DT
  • Tamron: Di II (Di for full frame)

Image Stabilisation/Vibration Reduction

Image Stabilisation is also called Optical Stabilisation, Optical Image Stabilisation, Optical Steady Shot, Vibration Compensation and Vibration Reduction. Does what it says on the tin basically. (Although note that some DSLR bodies have a form of vibration reduction in the body and so don’t need it in the lens).

  • Canon: IS
  • Nikon: VR
  • Panasonic: OIS
  • Sigma: OS
  • Sony/Minolta: OSS
  • Tamron: VC

Fast and Quiet Focussing Motors

The focussing motors in some lower end lenses can be quite noisy. The higher end lenses are able to focus more quickly (the movements can be more accurately controlled) and are quieter and use less battery. The acronym for it usually includes “Sonic”:

  • Canon: USM Ultrasonic Motor
  • Nikon: SWM Silent Wave Motor
  • Olympus/Zuiko: SWD Supersonic Wave Drive
  • Pentax: SDM Supersonic Drive Motor
  • Sigma: HSM Hyper-Sonic Motor
  • Sony/Minolta: SSM Super-Sonic Motor
  • Tamron: USD Ultrasonic Silent Drive

Lens Features

There are a variety of lens features to reduce chromatic abberations (where different colours don’t exactly converge) and other imperfections in lens performance. In particular

  • aspherical lens elements have a more complex surface profile that can reduce or eliminate spherical aberration and also reduce other optical aberrations compared to a simple lens.
  • low dispersion glass means that there is a relatively small difference in the amount different colours bend while going through the glass (technically the refractive index does not vary so much with wavelength), which reduces chromatic aberration.
  • apochromatic lens elements are very good at reducing chromatic aberration – they are generally made up of three different materials stuck together.
  • Canon: DO Diffractive Optics
  • Nikon: ED Extra-low Dispersion Glass, ASP Aspherical Lens Element
  • Olympus/Zuiko: ED Extra-low dispersion glass
  • Pentax: ED Extra-low dispersion glass, AL Aspherical Lens Element
  • Sigma: ASP Aspherical lens element, APO Aphochromatic (low-dispersion) lens element
  • Sony/Minolta: AD Anomalous Dispersion, APO Apochromatic correction using AD elements, HS-APOHigh-Speed APO
  • Tamron: Aspherical or ASL aspherical lens element, AD Anomalous Dispersion, ADH AD + ASL hybrid lens element, HID High Index, High Dispersion Glass, LD Low Dispersion, LAH LD + ASL hybrid lens element, XLD Extra Low Dispersion, XR Extra Refractive Index Glass
  • Tokina: AS Aspherical lens element, F&R Advanced Aspherical lens element, HLD High-Refraction, Low Dispersion, SD Super Low Dispersion

Lens Coatings

There are a variety of lens coatings used to reduce internal reflections and other possible problems. Internal reflections can end up producing ghost images or adding to lens flare. Not all lens manufacturers specify the lens coatings they use.

  • Nikon: NIC Nikon Integrated Coating, SIC Super Integrated Coating
  • Pentax: SMC Super Multi Coating
  • Sony/Minolta: T High-performance Coating
  • Tokina: MC Multi-Coating
  • Yashica: DSB Single-Coating, ML (later MC) Multi-Layer (later Multi-coating)

Macro

Macro lenses can focus very close to the end of the lens, providing (at least) a 1:1 ratio between the size of the object and the size of the image on the sensor. In plain english, you can take very close up shots of flowers, insects and so on. They are just called Macro (or occasionally Micro), making life easy for once.

Focusing

This includes Internal/Inner Focusing (IF) and (Internal) Rear Focusing (RF or IRF). Both of these reduce the number of individual lenses moving inside the lens. They also mean that the front of the lens will not move in or out, or rotate, during focusing. The lack of rotation can be important if, say, you have a circular polarizing filter, or a graded ND filter fitted to the lens. And the front not moving in or out can be important if the lens is very close to the subject.

High End Lenses

Some manufacturers have a code to indicate their high end lenses:

  • Canon: L Luxury
  • Pentax: * and Limited
  • Sigma: EX Professional EXternal lens body finishing
  • Sony: G Gold Series
  • Tamron: SP Super Performance

Miscellaneous

Other codes might indicate the mount type (which will indicate whether it will fit your body), whether it will work with a Teleconverter or whether the lens needs the camera body to provide the motor for auto-focussing.

Note that I’m not an expert at this and am happy to integrate clarifications left in comments.


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/29/13

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