A Brief History of Nikon F Mount Lenses

Nikon, formerly Nippon Kogaku K. K. of Japan, has many different types of SLR lenses all using the so called "F" mount. It began in 1959 with what is now referred to as the pre-AI/non-AI lens. These lenses, like all Nikon SLR ones, have a diaphragm which is opened to its greatest aperture to allow for easy focusing and composition but automatically stops down (hence the AUTO designation) to the chosen aperture when the picture is captured. These lenses (seen here) have a little fork, or prong, on the aperture ring used for coupling with the meter in the camera even though, in 1959, there were no meters in their cameras. Be careful mounting these lenses making sure the lens' meter coupling prong matches up with the camera's meter coupling.

In 1977, Nikon introduced the Automatic maximum aperture indexing, or Ai, lens. It still had a meter coupling prong to allow for backwards compatibility with the meters of the previous generation cameras, but the new aperture reading system did not require the photographer be careful when mounting the lens and it did not require the prong, which led to some photographers removing them entirely. Nikon began a program where lenses could be sent in to be AI'd (seen here and here). They would install an Ai compatible aperture ring. Some ground their aperture ring to make them Ai compatible and these sometimes show up on the used market today (seen here and here).

In 1979, Nikon came out with the Series E lenses. These more affordable lenses functioned with the camera the same way that the Ai lenses did, however, the metering prong was removed to make them more aesthetically pleasing. This meant they would not couple with the meters of early Nikon cameras.

In 1981, Nikon introduced Ai-S to the F mount (seen here). The "S" was for shutter and these lenses allowed for shutter priority and program modes. The camera was able to precisely control the lens' diaphragm because the diaphragm moved by the same percentage (uniformly) on all Ai-S lenses. There is a little concave notch in the base of the lens telling the camera the lens is Ai-S compatible and an extension from the base that tells the camera how long the focal length is allowing the camera to decide to choose shorter exposure times for longer lenses.

In 1983, Nikon introduced the Nikon F3AF autofocus camera based on the venerable F3. With it, two new autofocus lenses were introduced, an 80mm/2.8 and a 200mm/3.5. These lenses featured internal focus motors and their AF performance was abysmal but their optical performance was top.

In 1986, Nikon introduced their standard autofocus (AF) lens. It did not feature an internal focus motor like in the F3AF lenses. Instead, the autofocus motor was in the camera body which had a little flat-head screwdriver on the lens mount and would drive the focus mechanism in the lens. This was probably done to lower the cost of the lens and not for performance reasons. These lenses could communicate electronically with compatible AF cameras, like the Nikon F4.

In 1988, Nikon introduced the Ai-P lens which was a manual focus lens with electronics inside that could communicate with AF cameras the same as AF lenses did.

In 1992, Nikon introduced AF...D, or just D, lenses. These worked just like regular AF lenses except that they communicated the distance to the camera. This was supposed to benefit the flash system but it really made no difference.

Also in 1992, Nikon introduced AF-I lenses which featured an internal focus motor and could be autofocused by compatible cameras. This was a feature for 300mm and greater telephoto lenses which needed a stronger focus motor than that which was supplied in the camera. This was the return to having the focus motor in the lens.

In 1998, Nikon introduced AF-S lenses which worked like AF-I lenses except they used Nikon's Silentwave motor and this technology was not limited to telephoto lenses.

In 2000, Nikon introduced the G lenses. These had no aperture adjustment ring because the aperture was adjusted by a knob on the camera. This was probably done to cut costs and increase profits as digital cameras came on the scene and cameras became less mechanical, lowering costs. All G lenses communicate distance like D lenses do.

Also in 2000, Nikon introduced VR (Vibration Reduction).

In 2016, Nikon introduced the AF-P lens which only works with 2013 and newer digital cameras (D3300 and later, D5200 and later, D7100 and later, D500 and later). There is a focus motor in the lens and the focus ring does not turn the motor rather it communicates with the camera telling it to turn the motor and focus the lens. This is nice because it makes it cheap to make AF lenses with manual-focus override. These lenses do not work with the D1-series, D2-series, D3-series (partial), D4-series (partial), D5 (partial), D100, D200, D300-series (partial), D90, D80, D70-series, D60, D50, D40-series and D3000.

Also in 2016, Nikon introduced lenses with electromagnetic diaphragms which lacked the mechanical lever on the lens that the camera would control the diaphragm with. These lenses are marked with an "E" in the name and are not compatible with the D1-series, D2-series, D100, D200, D90, D80, D70-series, D60, D50, D40-series and D3000 digital cameras. They are also incompatible with all film cameras.

All throughout these advancements, Nikon managed to keep the same F mount meaning that one can take an AF-S lens and mount it on an old Nikon Nikkormat camera and still get it to work though only stopdown metering would be possible in this case since there is no metering prong. Since the introduction of the G lenses, Nikon broke this compatibility because without an aperture adjustment ring there is not much the photographer can do other than shoot at the smallest aperture.

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