Are DSLR Lenses Universally Compatible?

When I first started out with photography, I had an entry-level Nikon DSLR camera. It came bundled with a few kit lenses, but as time went by I bought a few more lenses.

When it was time for a camera upgrade, I was looking at a Canon DSLR camera. But this got me thinking: Can I use the lenses that I bought for my Nikon camera on my Canon camera? Are these lenses universally compatible?

After all, I did spend a pretty penny on the Nikon lenses and I didn’t want them to go to waste.

Let’s find out.

Are DSLR Lenses Universally Compatible?

No, DSLR lenses are not universally compatible because lens mounts differ across brands and camera types. As an example, a lens made specifically for a Nikon DSLR camera cannot be mounted on a Canon DSLR camera. On the other hand, lenses are generally compatible with different camera models from the same manufacturer. This means that if you have a selection of Canon lenses, for instance, you can mount them on various Canon DSLR cameras.

It is very important that you understand the different lens mounts. Not only across brands but also the different lens mounts from the same brand. I’m specifically referring to Canon lens mounts, but I will get to that in a second.

While there are various DSLR camera brands, the two main DSLR camera brands are undoubtedly Canon and Nikon. Let’s have a look at the lens mounts from these two brands.

Nikon F-Mount

When it comes to lens mounts, Nikon has made it fairly simple because there is only one Nikon lens mount namely the F-mount. The F-mount was first introduced in 1959 and it is still being used to this day.

It is important to note that the size of the image sensor can vary between different Nikon cameras. Certain Nikon DSLR cameras make use of a full-frame image sensor, and to take full advantage of the full-frame sensor, you need to make use of an FX lens.

Other Nikon cameras have a standard image sensor namely the DX sensor, and you get DX lenses that are specifically made for this type of sensor.

Both the FX and DX lenses can be mounted on a camera with an F-mount, however, if you mount a DX lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor then the lens will not be able to make full use of the full-frame image sensor.

Canon EF Mount

Things are slightly more complicated when it comes to Canon lens mounts. They have a standard EF mount which was first introduced in 1987. But more recently, they introduced two derivatives namely the EF-S and EF-M mounts.

Just as with Nikon cameras, the image sensor size across Canon cameras can differ as well. The smaller image sensor, or cropped sensor, makes use of lenses designed for both EF and EF-S mounts. However, full-frame Canon cameras can only accept lenses with an EF mount.

The EF-M mount is a recent development, and lenses that are designed for EF-M mounts can only be used on mirrorless Canon cameras.

Lens Adaptors

Now I’m going to address the elephant in the room. There are lens adaptors on the market which let you use lenses that are not compatible with your brand of DSLR camera.

Lens adaptors will not affect the general image quality because they don’t make use of any glass and they also don’t affect the focal length of the lens. However, most lens adaptors don’t allow for electronic communication to pass through to the camera from the lens, and this means that the lens won’t be able to auto-focus.

This might not be a big deal for photographers in general, but it is definitely a deal-breaker for videographers.

Can I Use A DSLR Lens On A Mirrorless Camera?

It is indeed possible to use a DSLR lens on a mirrorless camera, but in most cases, you will need a lens adaptor to mount the lens on the camera.


There is a lot to keep in mind when it comes to lens mounts from various camera manufacturers. But, the most important thing that you should remember is that DSLR lenses are not universally compatible.

If you have a selection of Nikon lenses, then you are limited to only using them on Nikon cameras. And, if you have Canon lenses then you can only use them on Canon cameras.

While you can technically fit a Nikon lens on a Canon camera with a lens adaptor, it does present some problems in certain situations as most lens adaptors do not let electronic communication pass from the lens to the camera. This means that certain functionality such as auto-focus will not work.