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Easy Guide to Canon Lens Abbreviations

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So now you have your camera body. But what about the lenses? They are covered with letters and numbers. What do they mean? They have to mean something, right?

The letters you find on your Canon lens are all abbreviations. These tell you what features your lens has, such as specific elements. Or something your lens can do, such as cut down on camera shake.

Read on to learn more about Canon Lens Abbreviations.

two canon lenses on a shelf, focused on the Canon lens abbreviations

What Are Lens Abbreviations?

Lens abbreviations are important. Many lenses have multiple specifications, making it impossible to write them all down.

Having the abbreviations means you don’t need your camera manual to find out.

Let’s look at an example.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm F/4-5.6 IS STM Lens 

We can see a few abbreviations here; EF-S, IS, and STM. Check out the abbreviations below to find out what those mean.

a Canon DSLR camera

Canon Lens Abbreviations

AFD – Arc-Form Drive. This was the first motor technology employed by Canon. There was no manual override, and they were slow and noisy.

ASC – Air Sphere Coating. This was revealed in 2014 on the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II lens. This reduces ghosting and flare, especially when backlighting subjects. This is something you’ll find on the box, and not on the lens.

BR – Blue Spectrum Refractive. This is a lens element that aims to reduce aberrations, such as chromatic by correcting the blue and purple color from light wavelengths. The 35mm f/1.4 L II is the only lens that uses this at the moment.

Cine-Servo – These CN-E lenses include hand-zoom controllers, and are compatible with either EF or PL mounts.

Compact Macro – A Compact Macro is a smaller macro lens, perfect for travel use. There is only one currently, the 50mm f/2.5. It has a very short minimum focal distance, yet not a true macro lens, as it only employs a 0.5x magnification.

Compact Servo – This feature was revealed in 2016 with the CN-E 18-80mm T4.4, and it was the first of many. Its job was to fill the pricing gap between EOS lenses and video CN-E lenses that were very expensive. These are compact, use the same build and design as the ‘L’ lenses, but include elements for video. These include long-focusing and manual ring for aperture. Image stabilization is also included, yet only work with EF mounts, and not PL like the other CN-E lenses.

CN-E – These lenses are specifically for cinematography, and a line that has grown since its 2012 inception. They are black and red ‘L’ series lenses and expensive compared to EF lenses. You’ll find they are only manual focus with a manual aperture ring.

DC – Direct Connect. You’ll find this on older lenses, and are slower and noisier than the USM or Micro USM models.

DO – Diffractive Optics. These are similarly built to the ‘L’ series lenses. They are distinguishable by the green ring around the lens. This technology allows for fewer glass elements within the barrel, as these optics bend light more than regular elements.  With DO, you get a much smaller and lighter lens, with better optics. There are only a few lenses that employ this technology but expect more soon.

a camera lens suspended mid air, focused on the Canon lens abbreviations

EF – This lens mount was introduced in 1987 to work with EOS cameras, allowing the lenses to autofocus.

EF-S – These lenses are specifically designed for cameras with a smaller image circle, namely, APS-C sensors. You can use EF lenses on a crop sensor camera, but a lot of the lens will be wasted. The benefit with the EF-S is they tend to be cheaper and lighter. EF-S lenses can not be used on a full-frame body.

EF-M – This new lens format is specifically for the Canon EOS M mirrorless camera systems. They cover an APS-C sensor, as the opening is smaller. Lenses bearing EF or EF-S can work on an EF-M mount with an adapter.

FD – The FD mount appeared in 1971 on the Canon F-1. It was used until 1987, where EOS mounts and lenses were developed, allowing autofocus.

FDn – These lenses are the same as FD, just new and improved since 1978. They all came with SSC on the lens elements.

FL – This mount was introduced in 1964 and almost the same as the FD mount. These lenses can be used on an FD mount, but you won’t be able to meter with a wide aperture.

IS – Image Stabilisation. This technology helps to stabilize your camera when hand-held by the use of gyros. These counteract the minute movements of the camera. These let you use up to 5-stops of stabilization, perfect for slower shutter speeds.

KAS S – These are lenses that are CN-E cine lenses, but house a controller for smooth aperture and focus control, as well as zoom.

a canon zoom lens resting on a white sheet, focused on the Canon lens abbreviations

L – These “Luxury” lenses are distinctive by the red band around the barrel. There is quite a range of the ‘L’ series from super wide-angle to telephoto. You’ll also notice the white color rather than the usual black. All ‘L’ series lenses have USM technology and weather sealing. These are the best of the best.

Macro –These lenses are specifically for close up photography, and allow for 1:1 magnification. Some lenses employ ‘macro modes’ which gets you close to the necessary macro magnification. Canon has the 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro, which is a very sharp lens. The EF-S 35mm f/2.8 has built-in LED lights. On top of these, Canon also has tilt-shift macro lenses.

Micro USM – The Micro USM is a cheaper version of the USM, and founder in kit and budget lenses. Compared to USM, it is noisier and slower. Apart from the 50mm f/1.4 lens, there is no manual override. Although being the ‘poor-man’s USM’, it works much better than the older motor types.

MM – This is a cheaper version of the AFD motor and found in kit lenses and budget glass. There is no manual focus, and compared to the AFD, it is slower and nosier.

MP-E – The Canon MP-E 62mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens is the only one, and it provides magnification for super macro images. A macro lens is anything over 1:1, but this lens takes it to 5x. There is no focus ring, so you’ll need to physically move the lens to focus. On top of that, the shallow of depth is very small, so a focusing rail is needed.

PL – This mount allows you to use CN-E lenses on higher-end Cinema EOS lenses. It is much stronger than the EF mount and needs to be as cinema lenses are much heavier.

PZ – Power Zoom. This is a dedicated motor that allows the change of the lens’ focal length. The only lens to use this is the 35-80 f/4-5.6 PZ.

RF – The RF Mount was developed to work with Canon’s new full-frame mirrorless lenses. If you are looking to use EF lenses, then you’ll need an EF to RF adapter, and three of them exist.

a Canon EOS 1 D camera

Soft Focus Lenses – Soft Focus Lenses employed a ring that allowed you to add a dreamy feel to your scene or subject. This was a popular portrait photography feature in the 70’s.

SC – Spectra Coating. When the FD mount was developed, this coating protected the cheaper lenses. You’ll find it on the lens elements, and it decreases flaring and reflections.

SWC – Subwavelength coating. This helps to reduce ghosting and flare. It is the younger brother of the SC and SSC lens coatings.

SSC – Super Spectral Coating. This coating is the same as the SC but used on expensive lenses. It is no longer used as Canon coats their lenses with complex multi-coats.

STM – Stepper Motor. This is a motor that allows for a smoother and quieter focus. They are used in all EF-M lenses and some EF-S lenses, and more are being upgraded every day.

TS-E – These are lenses with tilt and shift capabilities. These manual focus lenses change the plane of focus so that it doesn’t stay within the parallel format. These are common with creatives, but mainly architectural and product photographers.

USM – UltraSonic Motor. This technology is used in many of the latest Canon lenses. It allows for a faster focus while staying super quiet. The only quieter motor is the STM, yet the USM is good enough for event photography.

I, II, III – These marking show the lens’ generation. III is newer than the II, and gives the user a way to find an older or newer version of the same lens. Some lenses will not have reached the third stage.

We have a guide on Sony, Tamron, Sigma, Tokina and Nikon lens abbreviations to check out too!

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