Nikon PC 19mm F4E ED review
Nikon 19mm F4 tilt/shift lens review
Nikon PC tilt-shift lens
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Keith Cooper looks at the Nikon PC Nikkor 19mm F4E ED tilt/shift lens.
This Nikon F mount ‘perspective control’ lens gives up to 7.5º of tilt and ±12mm of shift.
The lens was tested on a Nikon Z7 45MP mirrorless camera, with a ‘FTZ’ adapter to go from the camera’s Z mount to the lens F mount.
Note: Just after getting the lens, our home city of Leicester was in Covid lockdown – this seriously curtailed testing in that there are not as many example photos as I’d like.
This review is one of over 50 articles on this site that Keith has written about tilt/shift lenses. There is an index page specifically devoted to the subject.
Nikon 19mm tilt and shift
The Nikon PC Nikkor 19mm F4E ED lens was launched in October 2016. It gives a wide field of view and large enough image circle to allow for ±12mm of shift.
It’s quite a bit wider than Nikon’s 24m PC lens, and like the Canon TS-E17mm gives you that extra coverage when you need it.
Nikon UK kindly lent me a Z7 camera to test the lens with – I’d have much more about the Z7 had it not been for the current restrictions in getting out. I hope to borrow the kit again at some point both to look at the Z7 with other tilt/shift lenses, and explore more of its capabilities as a camera.
You’ll note the FTZ adapter. This is needed since the 19mm is an F mount lens and the camera has the wider and shorter flange distance Z mount. I’ll come back to this later, but suffice to say I look forward to seeing native mount T/S lenses for both Nikon’s Z mount and Canon’s RF mount.
Here’s the lens on the camera/adapter.
The first thing most people notice is the bulbous front element, which many assume is a fish-eye lens. It isn’t, you just need to accept light from a very wide angle to get the coverage and image circle needed for shift.
The lens comes with a locking lens cap which I know is important, after several years using the TS-E17mm and making sure I didn’t hit the front element.
Note the focus ring and DOF scale. The lens has electronic aperture, which does limit to more recent Nikon F mount cameras, but otherwise is entirely manual.
The focus is smooth, although, as with many modern lenses, I’d prefer a longer focus throw for ease of adjusting the lens focus setting, The lens focuses beyond infinity, which is useful when placing the plane of focus using tilt.
At 885g (~2 lbs.) it’s a solidly built lens and the adjustment setting knobs don’t feel fragile or loose.
In all my articles I refer just to lens shift or tilt along with the direction it is in. You may sometimes see vertical up/down shift referred to as rise or fall, and left/right tilt as swing. These terms are familiar to anyone coming at lenses like the 19mm from a view camera background, but I prefer to be more consistent for readers coming from a 35mm camera background. My apologies if you’re a long time large format camera user, but you already know all this stuff ;-)
|Max Format size||35mm FF (FX)|
|Lens mount||Nikon F (FX)|
|Number of diaphragm blades||9|
|Special elements / coatings||3 ED + 2 aspherical elements + fluorine & Nano Crystal coatings|
|Minimum focus||0.25 m (9.84″)|
|Weight||885 g (1.95 lb)|
|Diameter||89 mm (3.5″)|
|Length||124 mm (4.88″)|
|Notes||Can rotate 90 degrees in either direction, tilt up/down 7.5 degrees, shift left/right 12mm.|
Nikon’s MTF chart for the lens and the lens construction.
The rear of the lens shows the rear element of the lens inside. This moves with respect to the lens mount.
The key feature of the lens is that relative to the camera the optics can be shifted away from the centre axis of the sensor and they can be tilted at an angle. The name ‘Perspective Control’ associated with Nikon’s tilt/shift lenses really applies just to shift. I’ll show later, that a shift of the lens is often used to control the ‘perspective ‘ of the shot.
The lens movements are achieved through movable sections of the lens. The 19mm allows the axis of tilt and shift to be changed independently, along with their relationship to the camera,
I’ve a few shots here that show the different movements
The simple application of shift moves the mount relative to the lens body. This is by rotating the knob in the lower left.
A different view – note how the shift is now 12mm to the left (lens relative to body)
Note in the photo above, the lens shifts left and right and also tilts left and right.
With older lenses this relationship was fixed. You could send Nikon lenses off to be adjusted so the movements were at right angles, but you were limited to one or the other.
BTW, with Canon lenses you could do the modification yourself [Adjusting the TS-E90] Don’t be tempted to try this with Nikon lenses – there is an internal connector that needs replacing and if not done you’ll damage the lens.
The rotation of the lens allows for the lens to be rotated with respect to the mount. This is in 30º steps and lets you change the shift axis from up/down to left/right.
You can set the angle to whatever you like, but there are click stops at 30º intervals.
Here’s a simple shift to the right.
The tilt axis can be rotated independently by 90º, with a click stop at 45º
Here are the tilt and shift axes set 45º apart.
The rotations have locking tabs, and the tilt axis has a locking knob to hold it in place as well as well as a tab locking at 0º or no tilt.
Here’s the lens tilted as above, on the camera, with some vertical shift as well.
The complexity of the adjustments can feel daunting, but in my teaching I always start with shift and no tilt. First vertical, then horizontal and then mixing them for diagonal shifting.
Once shift is mastered, it’s time to work through the basics of tilt, such as how to run the plane of focus along the ground or a wall.
Then comes adding them together so that a setup like this can have a specific meaning and use.
The protruding parts of the lens can cause problems for some cameras when moved. This applies to cameras with an overhanging flash/prism.
In particular with the Df, D6xx series, D300 series, D700, D750, D800/D800E, D3xxx series, D5xxx series, and D7xxx series there will be issues. I don’t have any of these cameras to test, but have noted the same problem with some Canon models and the TS-E lenses where it limits the amount of upwards shift.
I mentioned the bulbous front element… That pretty much renders filters useless, unless you get a big box to fit on the front of the lens and use huge flat filters. Yes, you can get them, but they are difficult to use with much shift, which is probably why you’re using the lens in the first place.
Flare and distortion
The lens is very resistant to flare, even with the sun in the frame. These two shots are at f/9 and show slight spikes from the sun. They’ve been processed to try and enhance any flare effects.
The nine blade aperture gives 18 point stars (double the number of blades if an odd number).
In the second example I’ve highlighted a few bits of flare.
In general, sunlight falling on the front element lowers contrast and can cause some veiling. A hand often works for shielding for me.
Where the sun absolutely does need to be in the frame, I’ll take two shots. One uses my hand to blot out the sun and a second without, at the same camera settings, can then be blended together.
Slight barrel distortion is visible in very close shots, but I didn’t notice it in any building photos. A closer look at this vertically shifted shot shows it, but not at a level I’d personally be concerned about.
Even so, I had to draw the green line on the photo to really show it. I’ve also pointed to my reflection showing how much vertical shift has been used.
The following two images show why you might use shift. The first is pointing the camera upwards, the second has the camera level and the lens shifted up.
A 100% crop of the tip of the building shows the very small amount of chromatic aberration. This is easily fixable in the automatic corrections offered in many RAW converters.
To test for vignetting I photograph an old light box. The focus is set at infinity and I step through apertures.
I repeat the shots with the lens fully shifted.
The view here is a screenshot of the JPEG files from the camera from f/4 to f/11. The lens goes to f/32, but you tend not to see much change at ever smaller apertures.
As you can see, by f/8 the non shifted (left) shots are showing the light falloff you’d expect from a wide angle lens. Don’t read too much into the precise amounts of falloff, since I’ve stretched the contrast to exacerbate the vignetting.
By posterising the shot, you can make the falloff more obvious. The lack of circularity for the unshifted versions are partly due to inefficiencies in my lighting setup (you need a bigger lightbox).
More interesting are the symmetries of the shifted shots (right).
By simply shifting the lens you’d not expect to see vignetting on the side of the image opposite the shift. After all the shifted image is just showing what was the centre of the unshifted shot moved off to the left of the frame.
What we’re seeing is vignetting caused by the mount getting in the way of light when the lens is shifted. You see this in many other tilt/shift lenses wide open, but the smaller F mount of the lens means you need to shoot at a smaller aperture to reduce its effect.
A look at the back of the lens when shifted shows how the mount partly obscures the rear element.
Does it matter? Well, I like to stitch shifted pairs of shots (see the examples below) and the shift vignetting can cause stitching issues at wider apertures. If I shoot at f/9 and above the problem largely goes away.
It’s just a feature of the lens mount. Apart from optical improvements in new lenses it’s the biggest reason I’d like to see native mirrorless mount tilt/shift lenses
Tilting the lens strongly also introduces some vignetting at wider apertures. It’s quite low in the 19mm. If you look at some of the outdoor examples of tilt later, you can perhaps spot it on one side of the frame. It tends to be more noticeable with longer focal length lenses.
The lens aperture can be set from f/4 to f/32. At f/4 the depth of field is reduced enough to get a useful blur when associated with strong tilt, but not so obvious as with longer focal length wider aperture tilt/shift lenses. After a few experiments I found that without shift an aperture of f6-7 was good for detail, but with shift f/9 was better in the periphery of the image circle.
This photo of the Queen’s building at De Montfort university has considerable vertical shift.
I don’t know how much shift, since as with every other tilt/shift lens I’ve used, there is no EXIF data relating to movements.
This 100% crop shows the difference between f/7.1 and f/9 – click to enlarge.
The limits on my testing intervened, so I’ll leave with the observation that f/9 gave me very nice results for many of the images I have been able to show here. F/32 is going to show a lot of diffraction softness (and sensor dust), but is most likely to be of use with strong tilt where you’re looking for a lot of depth of field.
Lens focus – no auto
The lens is a manual focus lens. What’s particularly useful when using the Z7 is the ability to show focus peaking in the viewfinder. This can really help you get the feel of how tilt actually works.
For non-tilted use, the distance scale is fine and the depth of field scale gives a rough idea of DOF (I rarely use them, see Hyperfocal focusing – why I ignore it for more).
Once you add tilt, the focus distances no longer have any meaning and the focus setting is just used to place the plane of focus where you want it.
As an architectural and landscape photographer my most common adjustment is to add vertical shift to the lens, so as to be able to keep the camera level and thus eliminate converging verticals. This is part of what leads to the ‘Perspective control’ name of the lenses.
It’s important to remember that as you add shift you’re effectively using part of what would be part of the image from a much wider lens. This means that you have to watch for the natural distortions of an ultra wide rectilinear lens.
Note the slight stretch of the cloud in the corners. You may not want this more ‘dynamic’ look, so a few shots as the clouds move may be in order.
This can also show up in the proportions of parts of buildings nearer to you.
The brown part of the building gets much more prominence as a result of this. Personally I might prefer a view from further back taken with a longer tilt/shift lens. The location here is not far from my home, so one of my favourite locations to test lenses. As such you’ll often see it in my other reviews of tilt/shift lenses.
The strong compositions that you can get with a wide lens, do need some care. I’ve only examples with vertical shift below, but other reviews and tilt/shift articles show the use of sideways and diagonal shifting of a lens.
1 Great Central Square in Leicester, by the old Central Station.
The Land Registry in Leicester.
Tilting the lens
Whilst I’ve found that most photographers pick up the idea of a shifted lens quite readily, the same is not so with tilt.
My personal explanation is that with shift you can focus as normal, and then just add some shift for composition.
With tilt, the effect is given by a combination of the lens tilt angle and the lens focus setting. This places the plane of focus in a certain position and orientation in space. The distance markings on the lens have no direct meaning and the amount the plane of focus is tilted doesn’t seem to relate to the physical amount the lens is tilted.
Now, I’ve written quite a lot about using tilt in quite a few articles (and a pending book) so don’t worry if it’s not clear to you here. The best place to start is with some of my introductory articles on the tilt/shift index page
One simple way to see the effect of tilt is to tilt the lens fully left or right and then adjust the focus setting. The plane of focus will be a vertical plane that runs beside you and out into the distance. Focus peaking does help here, as does setting the aperture to f/4.
With a rightwards tilt, the plane runs just to the right of the camera here (all f/4).
A detailed view shows the plane of focus slicing through the scene.
Tilt to the left and the plane of focus travels to the left of me.
How far to the left/right of me? It turns out that this distance (often called ‘J’) is set purely by the amount of lens tilt in degrees and the focal length of the lens.
In both the examples above, the lens is set at infinity. Changing the lens focus setting merely swings the plane of focus left or right, but still passing by your camera at the distance ‘J’.
Knowing the height of the camera above the benches lets me set a required amount of downwards tilt to run the plane of focus along the wooden benches.
How do I know the values to set?
I have a simple printed/laminated sheet in my camera bag with tilt tables. These are discussed in more detail elsewhere, but they allow you to set your plane of focus knowing just the ‘J’ distance of your camera.
This is a set of tables for Nikon PC lenses.
The table shows that with a tilt of 7.5º the plane of focus passes only some 13 cm from the camera. See the close up tilt examples below for an illustration of this.
In the explanatory articles there are downloads and a spreadsheet you can use to create your own version
Close up and tilt
Close focus at f/4 gives good detail and not much vignetting.
You can see the slight barrel distortion of the lens. I didn’t notice any significant curvature of the plane of focus in these limited tests – it may be there, but it didn’t impinge on anything I did whilst using the lens.
Moving focus to ~35cm the field is good and sharp. Some vignetting is visible – as expected from my earlier tests.
Adding a full 7.5º of tilt to the left swings the plane of focus around (still at 35cm focus setting).
When adding tilt to the lens at closer distances, there is a distinct change in framing, not a lot, bit worth noting. This is something that is found with any tilted lens and varies with the design of the optics and mechanical tilt mechanism.
The upshot of this is that adding tilt to a lens set at a particular distance will move the plane of focus further away from where the camera is pointing.
Note too that as you get closer, the effect of the 7.5º of tilt is reduced -and- that at no point does the amount the plane of focus is tilted ever match the 7.5º of lens tilt.
Focus at infinity
In the earlier examples by the canal, the plane of focus ran directly away from me with the lens set at infinity. How does this work close up?
Here are some shots taken of the setup on my desk. I altered the perspective of the shots to make them more ‘diagrammatic’. [I use Nik Perspective Efex for this].
First, a line of small cars along the ’35cm + 7.5º line’.
The view from above.
Now, with -just- changing the focus setting to infinity.
The arrow shows how the plane of focus extends out into the corridor.
Two views of the setup to give a feel for just how strange the effects of a tilted plane of focus can look.
Just one other thing.
The focus setting on the lens goes beyond the infinity mark. Set it as far as possible past infinity and the plane will swing a bit more to the left of the camera, but still at a distance from the camera ‘J’ given by the tilt setting of the lens. and its 19mm focal length.
Stitching and cropping
I’ll finish up with a few examples showing how I typically use such wide lenses.
You can of course crop to a square aspect ratio, and with a camera like the Z7 you still get a good sharp 30MP image.
Two views from the same location composed for crop and no crop.
You can of course take two shots, one shifted up and one down. Stitching these together gives a 70-80MP image.
These two examples are both up/down stitches of landscape format images. – I find that up/down pairs are less likely to show parallax errors in stitching. A left/right stitched pair in landscape format makes for a good panoramic view.
However, remember that at full shift, the corners of your images are pushing into the lower image quality periphery of the lens image circle. If there is important detail in the photo, you may need to go to a smaller aperture than normal
When using left/right stitching it may be worthwhile using a diagonal shift, so that the two images have an element of vertical shift in them as well as the desired left/right shift.
Although a curtailed review, I was able to decide two things for sure: the PC Nikkor 19mm F4E ED lens is a superb quality lens and… I rather like the Z7
Distortion and aberrations are at minimal levels and sharpness/contrast hold up well even at full shift. Although ‘only’ f/4 the lens has a nice smoothness to out of focus areas, especially when tilted.
The lens is solidly built and had no slack or movement in any of its adjustable parts. The side mounted shift adjustment knob gives a precision and lack of slip to shift adjustments, but at the cost of more rapid adjustment.
The relatively narrow opening on the F mount leads to noticeable shift vignetting at wider apertures. It can be an issue when stitching image pairs. This isn’t a problem if you know about it and working at f/9 effectively negated the problem.
When it comes down to it, most users are likely to be looking for the extra wide coverage it offers. It’s something that needs some care, but can give very strong lines and a sense of depth, especially with multiple shots.
I hope the review has been of interest – please do feel free to ask (email or the comments below) if you’ve any specific questions.
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