Nikon AF vs. AF-S. What Is The Difference Between These Lenses? (A Bit of History)

Understanding autofocus and old Nikon lenses: AF vs. AF-S

Topic: Understanding old Nikon lenses, specifically, AF vs. AF-S (with a bit of history).

This will be the shortest article on this website but something I meant to write about for a while. So, old Nikon lenses and autofocus; Nikon AF vs. AF-S.

What is the difference between these two types of Nikon lenses?

But first, what is autofocus?

Autofocus allows you to focus on the subject without exerting any physical effort in the form of “twist the focus ring” or “try to determine by eye whether a subject is in the sharp focus.”

With the advent of autofocus, the everyday life of a photographer became much simpler and more fun.

I am sure many will disagree with me, arguing that the whole romance of the process of shooting is gone. Well, let all those who don’t agree romantically continue using their hands (with manual focus).

Nikon began to produce lenses and cameras with autofocus (AF) as early as 1986. All the lenses were labeled AF.

Back in 1986, the operation of the autofocus mechanism was pretty simple. A reducer was installed on a particular lens (as seen in the image below):

And on the camera there is a drive:

Basically, it’s a screw thread that is fine spiral on the lens that interlocks with a corresponding fine spiral on the camera body to mount the lens. Like a screw and a nut.

This way, the camera determines the required distance to the subject, the drive rotates the reducer, and voila! Here’s an autofocus.

Examples of Nikon cameras with a “screw thread”:

  • D50 / D70 / D80 / D90 / D200 / D300 / D7000 / D7100 / D700 / D750 / D810 / D3

AF-S, autofocus single (sometimes called single area AF)

This type of lenses emerged relatively recently.

They focus much more quietly (some are almost noiseless) and much faster than AF lenses.

The difference is that the drive is already on the lens its, and the camera only sends signals through the contacts:

The drive already adjusts the optical circuit to the desired distance.

In general, it doesn’t really matter how it’s done, but as a result, we have a fast and silent autofocus.

If you want to understand more about old Nikon lenses (AI, AI-S, AF, AF-S), check out DPreview’s post here.

Now, for commercial purposes, Nikon made the separation between its digital cameras.

What’s that separation?

Basically, starting with the release of the D40 budget SLR camera, all budget Nikon SLR options were produced only with AF-S focusing, that is, they are all without a “screw thread”.

A few early camera examples:

  • D40 / D40x / D60 / D3000 / D3100 / D5000 / D5100 / D3200 / D5200 / D3300 / D3400 / D5300 / D5500.


AF-S works on all Nikon digital cameras, so you don’t have to worry about autofocus.
For AF lenses to have autofocus, you’ll need to get a kit lens with lens mount screws.

What I am trying to say here is that older lenses will work only in the mode of manual autofocus.

Nikon benefits from this. They make money on new lenses.

All those new DX lenses are in demand for budget DSLR niche audience.

For example: you have D5000 and you want to buy a portrait lens, but the problem is that you won’t have autofocus on a cheap 50mm f/1.8 AF lens (under $150).

So, you will need to buy either 35mm f/1.8 AF-S (under $200) or 50mm f/1.4 AF-S lens (around $450).

Makes sense?

Either way, all new lenses are very well worth their price and I am sure you won’t regret buying one.

If you’re a beginner photographer still looking for your first camera, here’s an article for you to check out:

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

Nikon AF vs. AF-S. What Is The Difference Between These Lenses? (A Bit of History)
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