Lens formats can be confusing, and with the advent of new mirrorless lens formats, making sure that lens you’re looking at will work with your camera is more complicated than ever. That’s why we created our Lenser tool, to make finding the right, compatible lens simple. But for those who want more data, we’ve compiled this guide to introduce the basics.
Canon has three modern lens formats – EF lenses, which work on both full-frame cameras and Canon’s two crop sensor DSLR formats, as well as older film bodies. Any Canon EOS camera can use these lenses.
EF-S are crop lenses for cameras with smaller sensors, and are not compatible with full-frame Canon cameras, nor with older film bodies. These are the standard consumer-level lenses for the typical canon consumer DSLRs.
The newest format is EF-M, which are compatible only with canon EOS-M line of mirrorless cameras.
Like Canon, Nikon has three modern lens formats – The full-frame FX lenses, the crop-body DX lenses, and the mirrorless-compatible CX lenses. Like Canon’s EF lenses, Nikon’s FX lenses work on all FX and DX camera bodies, but unlike Canon, Nikon DX lenses will work on most FX cameras in “crop-mode” – meaning the camera will only use the center portion of its sensor, effectively acting as a crop-bodied camera.
Where things get more complicated in the Nikon world is the autofocus system.
Nikon lenses marked “AF” require an autofocus motor in the camera body, which Nikon’s less expensive DSLRs do not have these days, so these lenses will not autofocus with Nikon cameras with 4-digit model numbers (for example, the D3000, D5200, or D7100) – they are only fully-functional with 1-3 digit model numbers (Df, D3, D50, D800, etc.), though they can be used in manual focus mode on Dxxx series cameras.
Nikon lenses marked “AF-I” or “AF-S” will autofocus with any Nikon DSLR.
Nikon “G” Lenses
There is much confusion on this topic, but whether or not a lens is a “G” series has nothing to do with autofocus, which is covered above. Lenses marked “G” (for “Genesis”) are the newest designs, and do not have aperture rings, meaning they require camera bodies that electronically control the aperture. The good news is that any “D” series camera body (eg D50, D100, D3100) is compatible with G lenses. G lenses are also fully supported by the following non-“D” models: F5, F100, N80, N75, N65, N55, N60, N50, N4004, N4004s, N5005, PRONEA S, PRONEA 6i.
Again – this does not mean a “G” lens will necessarily autofocus with your camera body – that is governed by the “AF” code as discussed above.
Sony, as the relative newcomer to the DSLR world, has a simpler lens lineup, with two mounts: the “A” mount and the “E” mount. The A-mount is for DSLRs, and E-mount is for Sony’s mirrorless line of cameras. Both A-mount and E-mount are sub-divided into full-frame and crop-body as follows.
Sony A-mount lenses with “DT” in the name are crop-body lenses; all others are full-frame lenses, compatible with any A-mount camera. A useful fact about the A-mount is that it was adopted by Sony when they bought Minolta’s camera business, and any Minolta A-mount autofocus lens will work properly, including autofocus, on any Sony A-mount camera!
Sony E-mount lenses with “FE” in the model are full frame lenses, and can be used on any E-mount camera, whether full-frame or crop body. Lenses with only “E” in the model are crop-body lenses.
Sigma is a big manufacturer of lenses, which also makes their own camera line, though they’re mainly known as a maker of lenses for Canon and Nikon, and more recently, Sony. Fortunately, Sigma has a pretty straight forward compatibility identifier.
Full-frame Sigma lenses are marked “DG“. There are older Sigma lenses which are not marked “DG”, however, which are nonetheless full-frame compatible, as film SLRs were 35mm (aka full-frame). This can lead to a little confusion, so the real key is to look for the crop body identifier: crop-body Sigma lenses are all marked “DC“. Sigma also makes lenses for mirrorless cameras, which they denote with the “DN” designator.
Note that Sigma lenses which do not have a DG, DC, or DN marking will generally autofocus on any modern Canon body, but may not autofocus on Nikon Dxxxx bodies.
Tamron is a manufacturer of lenses for Canon, Nikon, and Sony with a very simple lens compatibility identifier.
Di denotes full-frame lenses.
Di II denotes crop-body lenses.
Di III denotes mirrorless lenses.
Tamron lenses which do not have a “Di” marking were designed for film SLRs, and are therefore full-frame, older designs. These older lenses will generally autofocus on any modern Canon body, but may not autofocus on Nikon Dxxxx bodies.
Tokina is another manufacturer of lenses for Canon, and Nikon with a simple lens compatibility identifiers.
“FX” denotes full-frame lenses.
“DX” denotes crop-body lenses.
At this time, Tokina makes a single mirrorless lens, the Tokina 300mm f6.3 manual focus lens made for the 4/3rds format used by Olympus and Panasonic. They also make a single Sony A-mount crop-body wide angle lens, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 PRO DX II SD.
Zeiss is a maker of very high quality (and expensive) manual focus lenses for Canon, Nikon, Sony, and other cameras. They have recently begun making autofocus lenses for mirrorless cameras, though their SLR offerings remain manual-focus only.
All Zeiss SLR lenses are for full-format, except for the “Touit” line, which are crop-body lenses made for Sony E-mount and Fujifilm x-mount cameras.
Zeiss SLR lens lines
Classic lenses – ZE (Canon) and ZF (Nikon) manual focus full-frame lenses.
Milvus lenses – ZE (Canon) and ZF.2 (Nikon) manual focus full-frame lenses.
Otus lenses – ZE (Canon) and ZF.2 (Nikon) manual focus full-frame lenses.
Zeiss mirrorless lens lines
Loxia lenses – manual focus, full-frame lenses for Sony E-Mount.
Batis lenses – autofocus, full-frame lenses for the Sony E-Mount.
Touit Lenses – autofocus, crop-body lenses for the Fujifilm X-Mount and Sony E-Mount.
What’s the difference between Zeiss ZF and ZF.2 Nikon Lenses?
ZF lenses have AI-S aperture indexing, half-stop aperture ring detents, and no electronic features.
ZF.2 lenses are like ZF lenses, with the addition CPU functionality, similar to Nikon AI-P lenses. They allow electronic focus confirmation, full metering compatibility, and electronic aperture control with Nikon SLR cameras which require CPU lenses.
ZF-I lenses feature mechanical locks for focus and aperture, and additional environmental sealing, for industrial applications.
ZF-IR lenses are adapted to infrared imaging, with coatings that transmit wavelengths up to 1100 nm, and focus scales marked for infrared.