Nikon D3x and PC-E tilt/shift lenses
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I have received several inquiries about how the Nikon PC-E tilt/shift models perform on the 24.4MP Nikon D3x. My thoughts follow. But first, a digression on prices—
UPDATE (17:40 PST): At least one online vendor (KEH) is showing prices $300 higher than the B&H Photo prices on all 3 PC-E Nikkors. That might mean nothing, or it might (not sure of prices at KEH prior to today). A spot check of various other vendors still appear to be the same, but a price increase would logically come Feb 1.
European readers especially are concerned about price increases on Nikon lenses. Only Nikon USA knows whether US prices on lenses will also rise, but if so, the date will likely be Feb 1 from what I’m hearing—so if you’re “on the fence”, now is the time to act.
Nikon PC-E Micro-Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED tilt/shift lens, shown tilted≠
Fully-shifted examples are part of DAP for the PC-E Micro-Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED, with examples on the PC-E 24mm f/3.5 coming next week (see my DAP reviews of both lenses using the Nikon D3).
The tilt function is the only way to get a “free lunch” in terms of depth of field, evading the softening effects of diffraction, by allowing wide-open sharpness from close-up to infinity. See the with/without tilt examples with the 45PC in DAP.
All the Nikon PC-E lenses are unequivocal must-haves for the serious landscape shooter. They are not quick and easy lenses to exploit (adjusting tilt), but they offer results (because of tilt) unachievable with any other lenses in their focal length. All are best-in-class (tilt/shift), so their modest optical shortcomings must be kept in perspective. Distortion is the main concern for architectural shooters, here the 24mm and 45mm are at issue, but there are no good alternatives.
In addition to perspective control, the shift function of the PC-E lenses means you can quickly and easily make ~47 megapixel stitched images with a D3x! See this and this for background, and my Nikon D3x review in DAP has some examples.
Please note that the new PC-E models are electronic (“E”) aperture control, and require more recent Nikon bodies (VR capable), like the D3, D3x, D300, D700. A standard mechanical Nikon-to-Canon lens adapter will not suffice for Canon users because of the electronic aperture control. I haven’t tried the 16-9.net adapters, which apparently solve the “E” issue, but also have some drawbacks. Older Nikon bodies may also have some mechanical limitations when shifting (viewfinder overhang).
Note that DX-frame cameras (eg D300) will see outstanding results since they see the “sweet spot” of the image circle. To keep things in perspective, the Nikon PC-E line is as good as it gets, with the possible exception of the ultra-expensive and large/heavy Hartblei/Zeiss 40/80/120mm line, based on medium format optics.
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PC-E 85mm f/2.8D — about $1699.
The new version is reportedly a smidgen better on flare than its predecessor, which I’ve used extensively in both visible and infrared. One of my favorite lenses for landscape work, the original 85PC is stunning in both visible and infrared, no mean feat. Save about $550 by buying the older version, and with a lens adapter you can also use it on Canon!
Canon users should buy the older model (non-electronic) and use it with a quality lens adapter; trusted sources tell me that the 85PC when fully shifted is superior to the Canon 90mm tilt/shift. For such a specialty optic, why not get a lens that works on both Canon and Nikon?
The PC-E 45mm and PC-E 24mm will show some color fringing (extremely well controlled when kept in perspective), but Nikon Capture NX2 eliminates it even when the lens is shifted. A jaw-dropping feature of NX2, really, considering it’s a simple checkbox. With Capture NX2 processing for color fringing included, the Nikon PC-E offerings are head and shoulders above the Canon solution.
PC-E 45mm f/2.8D ED — about $1899.
See August 8 2008 comments. On the D3x it shows some corner/edge weakness at full shift at f/8; about 10mm shift (vs 12) will maintain very high quality. Aperture f/11 improves things vs f/8 in the corners, but drops contrast due to diffraction over the whole frame (DAP examples show this). Really a stunning lens compared to any previous tilt/shift lens in this range.
PC-E 24mm f/3.5D ED — about $1899
See July 10, 2008 comments. Expect to see weakness on the D3x beyond about 7mm of shift, with 9mm of shift about the limit for high quality. Having used the exotic Olympus 24mm f/3.5 and the very good Canon 24/3.5 tilt-shift, I can say that while the Nikon PC-E 24/3.5 could be better, it’s the best 24mm tilt/shift ever made, clearly superior to the Olympus and the Canon, as well as the Leica/Schneider 28mm f/2.8 PC-Super Angulon.
Landscape shooters of the PC-E 24/3.5 can respect the maximum shift issue while enjoying the tilt function, for an incredible depth of field boost. If you shoot landscapes wide, the PC-E 24/3.5 has no peer.