Nikon PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED review
Nikon 24mm F3.5 tilt/shift lens review
Nikon PC tilt-shift lens
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Keith Cooper looks at the Nikon PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED tilt/shift lens.
This Nikon F mount ‘perspective control’ lens gives up to 8.5º of tilt and ±11.5mm 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.
This review is one of over 50 articles on this site that Keith has written about tilt/shift lenses. We’re aiming to cover all Nikon PC-E lenses in due course.
There is also an index page specifically devoted to the subject, including all Keith’s articles, reviews and videos.
Keith’s video review of the PC-E24mm on YouTube
Nikon PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED tilt and shift
The Nikon PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED lens was launched in January 2008. It gives a wide field of view and large enough image circle to allow for ±11.5mm of shift.
The tilt setting and shift setting are independent – both at full here.
The lens above is shifted upwards and tilted to the right.
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 24mm 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 should already know all this stuff ;-)
|Aperture||f/3.5 – 32|
|Lens construction||13 elements in 10 groups (with three ED glass elements, three aspherical lenses, one with Nano Crystal Coat)|
|Picture angle||84°, Maximum 101° when fully shifted|
|Closest focus distance||0.21 m / 0.7 ft|
|Maximum reproduction ratio||1:2.7|
|Aperture blades||9 (rounded)|
|Filter attachment size||77 mm|
|Dimensions||Approx. 82.5 x 108 mm / 3.2 x 4.3 in.|
|Weight||Approx 730 g / 25.7 oz|
|Supplied accessories||Bayonet Hood HB-41, Flexible Lens Pouch CL-1120|
|Initial (2008) price||£1099.99/ €1642.00|
It’s a solidly built lens and features internal focusing, whereby the front doesn’t move as focus is changed.
Here’s the internal construction detail.
The focus throw is ~120 degrees, giving a good range for both near and far focus. At the closest focus distance, the subject is very close to the front of the lens, making it easy for the lens to get in the way of lighting. Then again, you probably won’t be getting a lens like this for macro.
The focus extends just a bit past infinity. This is a good thing since it gives an increased flexibility in setting the plane of focus when using tilt. It does however mean that you do have to focus on objects rather than just trust the focus end stop.
The shift and tilt are controlled by small knobs. These also have locks to set in place. There is a detent at the zero settings making it easier to feel when movements are zeroed.
In the view above, the lens is fully shifted to the right. The tilt is at zero and you can see the tilt lock below the tilt indicator scale.
Here’s tilt without shift.
The lens tilt setting is measured in degrees – note that this is not the same as any movement of the focal plane caused by tilting the lens. That is set by the combination of tilt and focus setting.
The button next to the tilt knob is to stop down the aperture when in auto mode.
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.
The lens rotates with respect to the mount by ±90 degrees meaning that the shift/tilt axis can be set in any arbitrary direction. A small tab releases the mechanism, and there are click stops at 30º intervals.
Now here I have a small complaint (for Canon too!, but not Laowa). 30º steps do not include a setting at 45º, meaning that if you want to shift (or tilt) at a 45º angle, you have to estimate the position – this is a source of error when doing multi-shot stitching. I’d prefer 15º steps.
A less subtle concern comes with the tilt and shift axes being set at 90º to each other. This means that if I use up/down shift, I’m limited to left/right tilt. Older Canon T/S lenses also had this limitation, but you could partially dismantle the lens and set both axes on the same plane. Although the design of the PC-E24mm looks similar, do not try this. In the Nikon lens a part needs changing – you will likely cause damage with a DIY conversion.
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.
Filters need to be large external ones if the lens is to be used at extreme shift, since anything other than very low profile screw-on filters will show vignetting at large amounts of shift.
This diagonally shited view shows the effect of leaving the lens hood attached
Flare and distortion
Putting the sun at the top of this shifted view shows quite obvious flare and spikes.
The lens hood vignetting is also really obvious at full vertical shift.
Keeping direct sun off the front element is very advisable.
The lens exhibits slight barrel distortion, but at a level that can be hard to spot. This building front (vertically shifted up) shows a very slight bowing.
There is quite low level chromatic aberration – easily fixable in the automatic corrections offered in many RAW converters.
This 300% crop gives a feel for fixing it (from the diagonally shifted image with hood vignetting above)
To test for vignetting I photograph an old light box. The focus is set at infinity and I step through apertures.
Note the lens hood in place. This was to see just how much shift was needed before you see it (~9mm)
I repeat the shots with the lens fully shifted.
The view here is a screenshot of the JPEG files from the camera from f/3.5 to f/16. The lens goes to f/32, but you tend not to see much change at ever smaller apertures.
Note a fairly hard vignetting at full shift even without the lens hood in place.
Posterising the image shows the shape of the vignetting.
Look at the lower edge of the shifted example at f/5.6. This edge of this is showing a vignetting opposite to the direction of shift, which doesn’t really fade until perhaps f/16.
This is a physical shift vignetting caused by the lens mount obscuring part of the rear element at high shift.
It’s a feature of the narrowness of the Nikon F mount, and can be seen, to a lesser extent, even on the much larger Canon EF mount
Here is the Z7, FTZ adapter and PC-E24. At some point, a native Z mount tilt/shift PC-E lens should appear and make use of that huge Z mount, with its wide mouth and short bac-focus distance.
Is this a problem? Mainly if you want to stitch multiple images with different amounts of shift. If stitching a left/right pair of shots at full shift, it may be worthwhile including a third centre shot (no shift). Most stitching software should be able to cope, but it is an obscure effect that might be worth considering.
When testing the lens I used the fully manual aperture setting ring of the lens. With the Z7 this gives instant feedback for depth of field. There is an ‘L’ setting on the aperture ring for ‘auto’. Used with a compatible Nikon camera, all exposure modes are available to take photographs without operating the aperture stop-down button.
The 9-blade aperture has slightly rounded blades, but will still give 18 pointed sunstars on some specular reflections.
These are not really strong like the Laowa 15mm shift I recently tested, where they are an obvious feature.
Taking a series of shots of the same location at different aperture lets me decide how image sharpness varies with aperture. For the centre peak sharpness is around f/5.6, f/8 a bit further out, and if you are using much shift then f/11 will give a wider range of sharpness.
I should note that even with shift, the exposure system of the Z7 worked just fine, If you are using the lens on a DSLR then check exposure at zero shift/tilt, since lens movements do not play well with DSLR metering, with unpredictable results.
By f/16 softness is starting to show, and f/32 needs really good reasons to use unless sharpness isn’t important. Oh, and f/32 will show exactly how much dust is on your sensor – that does come out sharp at f/32.
These two shots show the expected vignetting at f/3.5 and f/8
Lens focus – no AF
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.
The camera focus points will also show when focus is achieved.
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.
My own most common use of shift is a simple vertical shift. This is typically used to get the framing from looking upwards, but without the converging verticals this produces.
So, for this building, the camera is level, but the shot shows more in an upwards direction – the direction of shift.
This is the effect you get with no shift and just pointing upwards – a normal 24mm lens.
I generally include a few shots like this in a collection for a client – why? Well, the ‘strong lines’ tend to be liked by people in marketing, even if the architects generally hate this look.
When shifting, your camera viewpoint doesn’t change. The camera is still pointing just below the silver railing, midway across the picture.
There is no information about just how much shift was applied, since I didn’t write it down.
EXIF data doesn’t record tilt, shift or how much the lens was rotated in the mount. If it matters to you then make a note of it. Currently, there is no tilt/shift lens I know of which provides such data to the camera.
The Z7 is an excellent camera from the point of view of processing images, no problems in dealing with the shadowed areas.
Most of these shots are hand held, relying on the built in level. It works well, even if the lamp post in this next shot show a bit of misalignment (I’d have a tripod on a paying job!)
The 24mm lens gives a more natural looking perspective than the PC-E19mm, which takes rather more care in composition.
Shifting to the side
In the shot below I’m directly in front of a (tilted) window.
As would be expected, I’m right in the middle of it.
By walking to the left and shifting the lens to the right I’ve moved my reflection out of that window pane.
The perspective of the doorway changes and there are other effects on the composition, but this is a technique I make use of when I want to slightly change the reflection in a window, such as removing myself from the shot without photoshop…
Other uses include for interior photography in places with mirrors.
Just as horizontal and vertical shift moves the camera view direction away from the centre of the frame, they can be combined for diagonal shift, where the camera view direction is moved to one corner (lens shifted the opposite direction).
Looking at the vanishing point in the perspective of this shot, you can see how it is moved towards the left corner
Diagonal shifting is less intuitive in its use, but practice will mean you see its opportunities more often.
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 my 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/3.5.
In this example (f/3.5) I tilted the lens to the left, with the focus set at infinity, so as to run the plane of focus along the posts.
Note the horizon shifted towards the top of the frame – this is because I als used some downwards shift.
You can also see a bit of stronger vignetting on the right hand side – this is ’tilt vignetting’ and a result of the tilted lens. This is in addition to vignetting from the wider aperture choice.
How do I know the value of tilt to set to get the plane of focus along those posts?
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 7º the plane of focus passes only some 20 cm from the camera.
In the explanatory articles there are downloads and a spreadsheet you can use to create your own version
If you’re looking for the ‘miniature world’ look then try strong upwards tilt and then use the focus setting to place the plane of focus through the view in front. Use a wide aperture and try and look down on the subject.
It’s very much an experiment as to what it comes out like – personally I’ve tried it a few times, ticked the ‘Done that’ box and moved on. It’s very dependent of the material in the scene as to whether the miniature look is convincing. I keep it in the range of effects I can do, but no-one has ever commercially asked me for that look ;-)
Close up and tilt
Close focus at f/3.5 gives good detail and not much vignetting. I’ve focused on a pen on my desk (it’s quite close to the lens) The depth of field is quite narrow – certainly not enough to run the length of the pen.
Adding near maximum tilt and adjusting the focus setting, lets me run the plane of focus along the length of the pen. This is still at f/3.5, so the plane of focus is still very thin, just running along the pen.
At such short distances, the tilt tables become less useful and an iterative focus technique is easier to use.
The large image circle of the lens needed to provide the shift function is much larger than the camera sensor. That means you can take photos with different amounts of shift and stitch them together,
So, here’s a pair of photos and the resulting stitched/cropped image
The resulting image has more megapixels and can easily be cropped to exactly what you want.
One potential issue is that in taking the pair (or more) of photos, the camera is fixed and the lens moves. Ideally, the lens should be fixed and the camera moved to capture different parts of the image circle.
The slight movement of the lens can cause stitching errors, especially when elements of the scene cross at different distances. So, for the image above, the problem might appear with the columns. I use a vertical shift more often since with scenes like the one above, errors are more likely to appear on vertical edges. and an up/down shift reduces this.
However, for optimum results, the camera needs to be moved in the opposite direction to the shift. I have a tripod where the arca style clamp has measurements on it. This means that if I use 10mm of shift I need to move the camera 10mm to the opposite side. This can get awkward and benefits from using a camera ‘L’ bracket.
One popular use of shift is to make ‘panoramic’ style images with strong left/right shift. The fall off in image quality and vignetting at strong shift mean that some care is needed in getting optimal results, and it’s here that the lens perhaps most shows its age.
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.
The lens works very well on modern mirrorless cameras such as the Z7 I was able to test it with. It’s an excellent introduction to learn about the use of tilt and shift, whilst not being so extremely wide angle as to make composition more tricky.
The lens quality is good but does perhaps show its age a bit, and the relatively narrow F mount contributes issues at wider apertures and shift. Looking at the capabilities of Nikon’s new Z mount I truly look forward to seeing what Nikon can manage when they introduce Z mount tilt/shift – PC-E lenses at some point. Mechanically, the lens is robust, although the restrictive fixed setting of the tilt/shift axis orientation could be an annoyance for some.
With stitching and even basic use of vertical shift it can give a much better understanding and appreciation of the geometry of the space in front of you. My first ever tilt/shift lens was a 24mm and for my architectural work it’s still my first choice if there is enough space.
A manual lens like this is, I’d suggest, a good choice for anyone looking to develop the ‘slower’ side of their photography – it’s not a choice for sport/action shots but one where the creative use of shift and tilt can teach a lot.
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. Thanks to Nikon UK for the loan of lens and camera.
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