Nikon Lens Codes

Nikon uses a bunch of different codes in naming their lenses. Here’s how to make sense of them.

Nikon Nikkor 80-400mm lens
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Filed Under: Glossary, Lenses
Topics: Nikon

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Nikon uses a dizzying array of codes in their lens names to identify key features and technologies of the lens.

Some refer to mount types, impacting the compatibility of the lens with certain types of Nikon cameras. Others designate technologies such as lens coatings that improve the optical performance of the lens. Some refer to the technology and features that have gone into the lens, which affects performance and handling. And others signify the type of lens and its suitability for particular purposes.

Nikon has been making camera lenses and other optical equipment for a long time, and over the years, they’ve used many codes.

Once you know how to read them, they can be very useful. But they can also be confusing. So here’s a breakdown of many of the codes Nikon has used over the years on their camera lenses. There are more beyond this, but I’m focusing here on the ones you’re most likely to come across.

I’ve grouped them by the type of information they convey.

Nikon Lens Codes for Mount Types

Codes in this category help identify which lenses are compatible with which types of Nikon cameras.

F-Mount

This is Nikon’s primary lens mount since 1959, used for both film and digital SLR cameras. The F-Mount provides compatibility across a wide range of camera bodies and lens types, including full-frame (FX) and crop-sensor (DX) cameras. You can use F-mount lenses on Z-mount cameras with the FTZ mount adapter. (Note: It doesn’t work the other way; you can’t put a Z-mount lens on an F-mount camera.)

Z-Mount

Introduced in 2018, the Z-mount system is designed specifically for Nikon’s mirrorless camera systems (aka Z-series). Z-Mount lenses have a larger diameter and shorter flange distance compared to F-Mount lenses, allowing for improved optical performance and more compact lens designs. You can’t use Z-mount lenses on F-mount DSLRs or SLRs, and there’s no adapter that you can buy to make it work. Nikon also refers to these just as Z-series.

Nikon Lens Codes for Digital Format Types

These refer to the image coverage area of Nikon’s digital sensor cameras. They’re used for both F-mount DSRLs and Z-mount mirrorless cameras. 

FX

Full-frame lenses designed for Nikon’s full-frame sensor digital cameras. FX lenses can also be used on DX (crop-sensor) cameras, but the field of view will be cropped, effectively increasing the focal length by a factor of 1.5x.

DX

Designed specifically for Nikon’s crop-sensor (APS-C) cameras. These lenses provide a smaller image circle, resulting in a more compact and lightweight design. Using a DX lens on an FX camera will result in vignetting. When using a DX lens on an FX camera, the camera may automatically switch to a DX crop mode, utilizing a smaller portion of the sensor to avoid vignetting.

Nikon Lens Codes for Categories

These categories refer to differentiating grades of lenses.

S-Line / S

Often appearing only as S, the S-Line designation is applied to some premium lenses in Nikon’s Z-mount lineup that meet higher-than-usual criteria. Or, as Nikon puts it: “lenses that have cleared newly established standards in design principles and quality control that are even stricter than Nikon’s conventional standards.” Oddly, it appears they couldn’t make up their mind about what the ‘S’ stands for, and it doesn’t stand for a single, specific word. Instead, Nikon says: “The ‘S’ can be read as representing words such as ‘Superior,’ ‘Special’ and ‘Sophisticated.'”

SE

Stands for Special Edition. Used on a handful of Z-mount lenses with retro styling mimicking the look of lenses from Nikon’s classic FM camera era.

Nikon Lens Codes for Autofocus Motors

Nikon has used several generations of autofocus motors in their lenses over the years.

AF

AutoFocus lenses using a mechanical coupling to the camera body for focus. The autofocus motor is built into the camera body, not the lens.

AF-S

AutoFocus-Silent wave motor lenses, featuring a fast and quiet autofocus motor built into the lens, allowing for full-time manual focus override.

AF-P

AutoFocus-Pulse motor lenses, using a stepper motor technology for smooth and quiet autofocus, ideal for video recording. Limited compatibility–mainly for newer cameras (or, in some cases, updated firmware). Not to be confused with Ai-S P, which refers to manual focus lenses.

AF-N

These are lenses redesigned from the original with wider rubber focus rings for more precise manual focus. 

AF-I

Refers to lenses with internal motor for auto focus.

SWM

It stands for Silent Wave Motor, and it refers to the mechanism to drive the autofocus in AF-S lenses. As its name suggests, it’s designed to be quiet. It uses ultrasonic waves to propel the focus mechanism, which is what makes it quite (and smooth). There are actually two types of SWM, but they’re not distinguished in Nikon’s tech specs. But the performance of one type (the more expensive ring type) is better than the less expensive micromotor version.

VCM

Voice coil motor, a magnet-driven focusing motor.

SSVCM

Silky Swift VCM, a type of AF motor drive used on select high-end Z-mount telephoto lenses. It achieves high-speed focusing with near-silent operation, useful for situations where silence is required or when shooting video. One oddity is the warning that Nikon attaches to lenses with this feature: “Do not use this product if you have a pacemaker or other medical device. The magnet or magnets in this product could cause medical devices to malfunction.”

Nikon Lens Codes for Aperture Control

Some Nikon lenses have a traditional aperture ring on the lens that you rotate to change the aperture (or lock to allow the camera to control it). Many newer Nikon lenses, in the G category, have done away with the aperture ring altogether.

G / G-Nikkor

A G-type lens, an update to the D-type lenses that incorporate the same kind of distance information. The defining feature is the lack of an aperture ring, with the aperture controlled through the camera’s dials and menu rather than on the lens itself. Note that you’ll need to check your camera’s specific compatibility with G-type lenses, because they don’t work with all cameras.

D / D-Nikkor

A D-type lens, which conveys the distance from the focal plane to the subject back to the camera to support various kinds of 3D exposure metering and i-TTL fill flash. Many, but not all, D-type lenses have a manual aperture ring.

E

An E-type lens, which uses an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism for aperture blade control. Designed to improve the accuracy of exposures with continuous shooting, especially at high frame rates. Limited compatibility–older DSLRs and SLRs aren’t compatible with it. But it’s also worth noting that Nikon has recycled the E designation over the years. The first version was back with manual AI-S lenses, when the E series was a trimmed-down (and partly plastic) series of budget-friendly lenses. If you’re looking at an old manual lens, that’s what the E refers to in that case. If you’re looking at a modern autofocus lens, the E refers to electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism.

AI-S P

A type of manual focus lens that has a P-type CPU, enabling the use of auto-exposure features.

Nikon Lens Codes for Optical Technologies

Some lenses feature notable technology that the designers (and marketers) consider worth highlighting in the name of the lens and may well influence a buyer’s decision (and the price). An important example is newer lenses that feature lens optical stabilization.

VR

Vibration Reduction, Nikon’s image stabilization technology built into the lens to reduce camera shake and allow for sharper images at slower shutter speeds. You might also come across VR II, which is an updated and improved version.

ED

Extra-Low Dispersion Glass, a specialized type of lens glass designed to reduce chromatic aberration and improve overall image quality.

Super ED

Stands for “Super Extra-low Dispersion” glass. It is designed to further reduce chromatic aberration and improve overall image quality compared to regular ED glass. Super ED glass is typically used in high-end, professional Nikon lenses where superior optical performance is required, such as telephoto lenses and lenses with large apertures.

SR

Short-Wavelength Refractive Lens. SR is a high- and specialized-dispersion glass lens that refracts light with wavelengths shorter than that of blue. By controlling short-wavelength light, the lens is able to achieve highly precise chromatic aberration compensation so that the colors in your images are more accurately reproduced. It also allows for more flexible optical designs, which allows for compact, lighter lenses to be designed.

FL

Some lens elements are made of fluorite rather than the more typical glass. This reduces weight while maintaining optical quality. Used especially in longer focal length lenses to help keep the weight down.

AS

Aspherical lens. Its purpose is to minimize aberrations and allow for a more compact lens size. Aspherical lenses effectively reduce coma and other lens aberrations, even at the maximum aperture. They are especially beneficial in rectifying distortion in wide-angle lenses, leading to a lighter and more compact design by decreasing the required number of standard (spherical) elements. Aspherical lens elements achieve this correction by continually altering the refractive index from the lens’s center.

AS-ED

Aspherical – Extra-low Dispersion glass elements. An ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element that features the characteristics of an Aspheric glass element for a more compact size lens. Like Aspherical lenses, AS-ED lens elements minimize coma and other types of lens aberrations, even when used at the widest aperture by continuously changing the refractive index from the center of the lens. The AS-ED lens elements are optical glass developed by Nikon to obtain optimum correction of chromatic aberrations.

IF

Internal Focusing, a lens design that allows the lens to focus without changing its physical length or rotating its front element.

CRC

Close-Range Correction, a lens design that provides improved image quality at close focusing distances. It uses “floating elements” that move internally within the lens to maintain high optical quality even at very close focusing distances (i.e., macro).

PF

Phase Fresnel, a lens technology that uses a fresnel element to reduce chromatic aberrations and allows for lighter and more compact lens designs, particularly in telephoto lenses.

TC

Teleconverter. More specifically, though, it’s used for a feature of a lens that has a built-in teleconverter, such as the high-end telephoto prime NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S.

A-Type Lens Codes

This is a special category that most shooters are unlikely to come up against. But I’m including them here for reference. 1

A-type lenses are Nikon’s oldest type of 35mm lens, and the earliest of them date back to the earliest Nikon cameras and the introduction of the F-mount system in 1959. They’re entirely manual-focus and are easy to spot with their silver filter ring. Another way to spot them is that their focal length markings are only in metric (although that’s not an entirely reliable way to differentiate them, because some of the later A-type lenses added feet to the distance scales).

A-type lenses used a code that denoted the number of elements used in the lens design, and this is marked on the lens itself. The letters are the first letters of the corresponding Greek word for the number. So the inscription on the front of the lens might read something like NIKKOR-Q Auto 1:3.5 f = 13.5cm. 2

  • U = Uns = 1 element
  • B = Bini = 2 elements
  • T = Tres = 3 elements
  • Q = Quatuor = 4 elements
  • P = Pente = 5 elements
  • H = Hex = 6 elements
  • S = Septem = 7 elements
  • O = Octo = 8 elements
  • N = Novem = 9 elements
  • D = Dece = 10 elements 3

Nikon Lens Codes for Lens Coatings

Applying the right kinds of chemical coatings to a lens provides optical benefits, such as reducing stray reflections and/or improving contrast. These days, most modern Nikon lenses are multicoated as a standard feature, so these codes are less often included in the name, but you might see references to them printed on the lens itself.

SIC

Super Integrated Coating, Nikon’s multi-layer lens coating technology used to reduce lens flare, ghosting, and improve color accuracy and contrast.

N

Nano Crystal Coat, a lens coating technology that further reduces ghosting and flare, particularly from bright light sources.

NIC 

Nikon Integrated Coating. An older designation for lens coatings designed to reduce ghosting and flare.

ARN / ARNEO

An anti-reflective coating developed by Nikon and used in conjunction with Nano Crystal Coat to further reduce ghost and flare effects caused by incident light entering the lens vertically. It’s especially useful when shooting direct-on to a light source.

FLC

Fluorine Coat. A coating designed to repel dust, water droplets, grease or dirt, ensuring easy removal even when they adhere to the lens surface.

M

Meso Amorphous Coat. Meso Amorphous Coat provides an effect superior to that of Nano Crystal Coat for diagonal incident light, and an effect equivalent or superior to ARNEO Coat for vertical incident light. With its superb performance, ghost and flare caused by incident light from various directions are noticeably reduced, delivering clear images even under harsh conditions. 

Nikon Lens Codes for Specialized Lenses & Features:

The codes in this category refer to specialized or niche lenses that are used for specific uses.

Micro

Nikon’s designation for macro lenses, designed for close-up photography with a 1:1 magnification ratio. It’s often written as NIKKOR-Micro. In recent Z-mount lenses, they’ve been using the code MC instead.

MC

Newer Z-mount Nikon lenses use this in place of the previous “Micro.” It refers to a macro lens with 1:1 magnification.

PC

Perspective Control, Nikon’s tilt-shift lenses for controlling perspective and depth of field, often used in architectural and product photography to keep vertical lines straight and true. 

DC

Defocus Control, a specialized lens feature that allows for precise control over the out-of-focus areas (bokeh) in an image.

NOCT

Nocturnal. Or, in more practical words, a very fast lens designed for night-time and low-light shooting, and, even more specifically, one that minimized coma from bright light sources in the frame. You’re not going to come across this one much. So far as I’m aware, Nikon has only used it once, with a highly specialized, rare, and expensive NIKKOR 58mm ƒ/1.2 Noct back in the late-1970s (with an updated AI-S but otherwise unchanged version in the early 1980s).

Why NIKKOR?

This isn’t a code, per se, but you’ll see “NIKKOR” on most Nikon lenses. How come?

“NIKKOR” is a brand name used by Nikon Corporation to label their photographic lenses. They first started using it in 1932. At that time, Nikon was known as Nippon Kogaku K.K. When they introduced their photographic lens, which was designed for aerial photography, they named it the Aero-Nikkor. The name is derived from combining “Nikon” and “Refractor,” the latter being a term used to describe optical systems that employ lenses to form an image.

Nikon chose to use the NIKKOR brand name to differentiate its high-quality lenses from its camera bodies and other products.

So NIKKOR isn’t a code, as such, but a brand that’s designed to suggest high-quality optical standards.

  1. For the information in this section, I’m relying on Simon Stanford, Rudi Hillebrand & Hans-Joachim Hauschild, The New Nikon Compendium: Cameras, Lenses & Accessories since 1917 (New York: Lark Books, 2004) pp.157-58.[]
  2. In this case, the Auto doesn’t mean autofocus–this is an entirely analog, manual-focus lens. It’s referring to the lens’s automatic diaphragm. And the 13.5cm was the original way to refer to what would now be called a 135mm focal length.[]
  3. There are also some lenses that don’t fit neatly with these notations, such as the 15mm f/5.6, which has 15 elements and thus carries the notation “NIKKOR-PD” (ie. 5+10). Stanford, Hillebrand & Hauschild, The New Nikon Compendium, p.158.[]
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David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

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