Review of Nikkor 24mm PC-E lens on Nikon D800E

Soon after I purchased my Nikon D800E in April 2012, I tried it with the Nikkor 24mm PC-E tilt and shift lens. Reviewing the images taken, whilst the lens performance was good, I didn’t then feel it was outstanding. A comment made by fellow pro Jonathan Gooding challenged my test method, which resulted in me giving it another chance and re- testing the lens over two weeks including a trip to Venice.

I am not going to go into Captain Scheimpflug’s principals regarding focus planes using tilt, nor am I going to go into the benefits of shift. There are plenty of notes available on these topics. In my view, the easiest to understand is probably detailed in Ansel Adams book, ‘The camera’. In fact, the whole series of The Camera, The Negative and The Print, are still relevant today even if you don’t use film. If you transpose his chemical development to digital development and film for sensors, his descriptions about composition; use of light; reading exposure; how cameras operate; printing and the zone system which is how I shoot – capturing the information at the taking stage to produce the visualised print they are excellent. In any case, if you are interested in this lens, I am assuming you understanding the benefits and principals of using it and using your camera to control exposure.

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Lens used without any shift or tilt F8 @ 1/40 ISO 100

The lens is very well made with everything working in a smooth and positive manner. There was some debate initially when the D800/E came out as to whether the lens would work with it or not. The answer is that is does work, but the flash on the D800/E, (why do they put a built in flash on a pro camera?), prevents full rotation of the lens into all directions. Operationally this didn’t cause an issue once I understood which way was prevented. The problem occurs in only one position caused by one of the friction knobs being too large to fit under the flash housing. To overcome this, I just rotated the lens in the opposite direction by 90 degrees and I could then use the shift vertically okay. One slight note of caution regarding the knobs and catches is that the catch that is needed to be pressed to release the lens for rotation is positioned very closely to the lens attachment release of the camera, so care is needed so that you don’t inadvertently release the whole lens from the camera with dire consequences.

When used without any tilt or shift, this manual focus lens is very sharp and when compared with the excellent 24-70mm F2.8 at 24mm, has virtually no flare. Aperture is controlled using the traditional manual aperture control ring on the lens itself. On this model, shift works in one plane whilst tilt works in another. Therefore you cannot tilt and then shift the tilt vertically. I was quoted a fee of around £170 to have the lens converted so that tilt and shift operated in the same plane. I could not test this set up so am unable to say if there would be any issues with the flash housing as mentioned above using this set up. My guess would be that it would not when tilting down but would do when tilting up as this brings the lens knobs closer to the housing.

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Lens used with c. 3 ° tilt - F8 @ 1/40 ISO 100

Regarding shift, whilst this worked fine in bringing the subject into the frame whilst maintaining the verticals vertical, with the 24mm focal length, there is noticeable barrel distortion and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t pick this lens for that purpose due to the distortion.

What I would pick this lens for is the tilt capability which is smooth in operation and easily controllable. I found that exposure is best determined using the histogram when there is any tilt employed and then to adjusted accordingly if necessary.
Tilt runs plus or minus 8½ ° which was sufficient to alter the plane of focus at most heights above the ground that the lens was used when trying to maximise the focus area. When taking shots using anti Scheimpflug, whilst the degree of tilt did enable the minimal focus, the wide angle restricted the effect a little.

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Lens used with c.8½° tilt (anti) – F3.5 @ 1/3 sec ISO 800 Just her head is sharp.
A cropped image from:
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Now to the nub of the lens. Getting up close for a wide angle image and employing just a little tilt, provided much more sharp focus at apertures that lenses work best at, i.e. less than F11. Combining this lens with the resolving power of the D800/E is beneficial if you plan to make large prints.

Lens used with c.2° tilt  – F5.6  @ 1/5 sec  ISO 800



Don’t be fooled with tilt and shift lenses though, they are not the easiest things to use and gain benefits from and the base principle of the wedge shaped plane of focus when using tilt takes some getting used to in planning your compositions.
When you compare the price of the lens – c£1400 – if you need a 24mm prime lens and don’t need apertures larger than F3.5, then it is similarly priced to other high quality 24mm prime lenses. Given that, you ostensibly get the tilt and shift capabilities of this lens for free!

There is another option of course and that is to use adaptors so that you can fit say Zeiss medium format lenses onto the camera. Mirex, a German company make such adaptors and there is a good report on this by Joe Cornish and Tim Parkin on OnLandscape. The advantage if you have a collection of Zeiss MF lenses is that one adaptor fits all. The downside is that the adaptor has only friction control so that adjustment would seem to be trial and error. The second thing is that 50mm is considered wide angle in MF with 40mm being ultra wide angle. Thus angles of view would not match the 24PC-E lens.

What would be good and I have not explored this further, but as the DX sensor size is much smaller than the full frame FX sensor size, if someone would make an adaptor that would fit Nikon to Nikon, then one could use any of the Nikkor full frame lenses with the capability to tilt them, on any DX camera or of course the D800/E in DX mode. That would mean no more new lenses to carry around or buy, just one small adaptor. Food for thought.

c.2° tilt–F5.6 @ 1/5 sec ISO 800

Keep practising
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