Review: PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED Lens
The PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED lens was introduced along with the PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D, bringing the total number of Nikon’s Perspective Control (PC) lenses up to four, the others being the PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED and the PC Micro Nikko 85mm f/2.8D. Perspective Control lenses correct linear distortion, reproducing images as they are seen by the human eye, straightening a building’s converging lines in architectural photography while giving the you more control over depth-of-field. PC lenses are useful for architecture, both exteriors and interiors, but are also handy for nature, still life, and product photography.
If you're photographing architecture with a conventional lens and you’re close to the subject, you have to tilt the camera to capture the major portion of the building. When that happens, especially with a wide-angle lens, it usually distorts lines that should be straight and parallel to others, and while this kind of distortion may be used to produce a dramatic composition it is not the kind of image beloved by architects and owners looking to sell or lease the property.
A perspective control lens, such as the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E, has shift controls that can correct this type of distortion. The 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E’s tilt control also gives additional creative control over depth-of-field and lets you effectively change the camera’s apparent position to avoid unwanted reflections in an image.
A combination of both tilt and shift controls are part of all PC-E Nikkor lenses and let you isolate or emphasize a subject though selective focus. Both of these controls are well know to view camera photographers familiar with the Scheimpflug principle for depth-of-field that states the plane of focus will cover the entire subject from front to back (independent of the aperture) if the subject, lens and image planes intersect at one point. When these conditions are met, the position of the plane of focus corresponds to the object plane and everything appears in focus.
The Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass element minimizes chromatic aberration, and three aspherical lens elements minimize other types of lens aberration. This photograph was made with the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E on a tripod mounted Nikon D3 in Live View mode. Exposure was 1/20 second at f/22, ISO 320, with a plus one and one third stop exposure compensation. Lens shift of 10mm was used. ©2008 Joe Farace
The 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E’s tilt/shift mechanism offers up to plus or minus 11.5mm shift for perspective control and +/- 8.5-degree tilt control for creative focus. The lenses address distortion and vanishing point issues with side-mounted controls marked in one mm/one-degree intervals that can be used to adjust the focal plane with shift and tilt. The lens optics can also rotate up to 90 degrees right or left for perspective control adjustment with a click-stop provided at every 30 degrees.
The 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E incorporates a rounded nine-blade electromagnetic diaphragm that provides auto aperture control when used with Nikon SLRs that feature an electronically controlled aperture, such as the D3, D300 and D700 cameras. Otherwise it functions as a preset lens where you have to use the top-mounted button to open the aperture for focusing and composing and press it again to stop down to shooting aperture.
The PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED features an Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass element minimizing chromatic aberration and three aspherical lens elements to minimize other types of lens aberration. Both 45mm and 85mm PC lenses offer a 1:2 reproduction ratio for close-up photography and incorporate Nikon’s Super Integrated coatings and the company’s Nano Crystal Coat to eliminate any remaining ghosting and flare.
The first thing you notice about the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E is the warning label wrapped around it that tells you in several languages to be careful when attaching the lens to a camera body so you don’t “catch your fingers between the lens and the grip on the camera body.” I’m not saying you couldn’t smash your fingers doing it, but I couldn’t find a way to do it with my average sized paws when mounting on a Nikon D3. Another thing not to be intimidated by is the 252-page User’s Guide. Only 17 pages are in English, so you can relax and just read the relevant pages and go out and make pictures.
This photograph was made with the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E on a tripod-mounted Nikon D3 in Live View mode. Exposure was 1/20 second at f/22, ISO 320. EXIF data does not record the amount of lens shift used. The photograph was converted to monochrome using Nik Software Silver Efex Pro Photoshop-compatible plug-in. ©2008 Joe Farace
The lens is delightfully simple to use: The tilt knob on the center top allows the lens to be moved parallel to the camera’s body. One knob rotates the optics; the other locks the lens in place. Similarly, the shift knob moves the lens up and down, while the second knob allows you to lock it in the desired location. You can also rotate the lens by clicking a locking button near the base of the lens. Tip: Before rotating the lens, make sure that all tilt and shift settings are set at their zero points.
When shooting this vertical shot, I rotated the lens to give me access to the tilt controls along the proper axis. Tip: When rotating the lens, it is easier than it should be to select the lens release instead of the rotate lever. If you make this mistake you could end up with the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E jumping off the camera and into your hand … or worse. While there may be electromechanical reasons to have the lens rotate control where it is, it would have been nice if Nikon had made the level red so you can spot it quickly and not make that mistake. ©2008 Joe Farace
This is a manual lens in every respect of that word. Focusing is purely manual and you will have to use the aperture stop-down button on the top of the lens (in its default orientation) to open the lens for focusing and compensation and stopping it down for making the exposure for most Nikon cameras, except for the D3, D300, and D700 models, which transfer that function to the shutter release button. Focusing is not stiff but sure is stiff-ish—I’m guessing it will loosen up over time with use.
Nikon recommends, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the camera and lens, which together make a hefty package, be tripod mounted. I would further suggest that the tripod or head have a level bubble so you can start the process by first making sure that the whole setup is level and true before using the tilt or shift controls to make the final tweaks. If your tripod lacks a level bubble, you can find products such as Adorama’s Double Bubble Spirit Level ($24.95) that will slip on the camera’s hot shoe, and which is what I used for all the shots that accompany this story. The front element of the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor lens is well protected when the lens hood is attached, but if this was my lens I would use a 77mm Skylight or UV filter for additional protection. While a slim mount B+W costs about $85 and a Tiffen filter is roughly $50, this is an almost $1,800 lens and accidents do happen.
The architecturally diverse town of Prospect Colorado includes this touch of South Beach Art Deco. This photograph was made with the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E on a tripod-mounted Nikon D3 in Live View mode. Exposure was 1/40 second at f/22, ISO 320. It was made in Aperture Priority mode with a plus two-thirds stop exposure compensation. ©2008 Joe Farace
Where the 45mm PC-E Micro Nikkor PC-E lens really shines is when used with a camera that has Live View mode. The Nikon D3 offers two Live View modes, one for hand-held shots and the other for use on tripods, and both modes let you preview the effect of the tilt and shift on a three-inch LCD screen to create a kind of 12-megapixel mini-view camera experience. This is yet another reason why I say that in the not-so-distant future, all digital SLRs will have a Live View mode. We can all thank Olympus for that.
Not everybody needs a perspective control lens, but if you photograph architecture, even residential properties and even only occasionally, you will wonder how you ever did without one. It should pay for itself within just a few assignments. Your clients may not even know why your architectural photos are better than your competitors' but they will know that they are better.
Joe Farace is co-author of a new book entitled “Better Digital Available Light Photography,” published by Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier. It’s available in all the best bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.
PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED Specifications
Focal length: 45mm
Maximum aperture: f/2.8
Minimum aperture: f/32
Lens construction: 9 elements in 8 groups (with one ED glass element, and Nano Crystal Coat)
Picture angle: 51°
Minimum Shooting Distance: 0.80 ft.
Maximum reproduction ratio: 1:2
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded)
Filter size: 77mm
Focusing: Manual focus
Size: 4.4 x 3.2 inches
Weight: Approx. 26.1 oz.