The Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is a very specialized wide-angle lens specifically targeted at three groups of photographers – architecture photographers, landscape photographers and macro/product photographers. Architectural photographers often work with a lot of straight, often converging lines both indoors and outdoors and the “Perspective Control” or “Tilt-Shift” lenses (from this point on I will refer to them only as “tilt-shift”) give the ability to avoid the convergence of parallel lines by shifting the lens upwards or downwards. Landscape photographers need to be able to get everything in focus – from the closest foreground object to distant landscapes. While proper lens and camera techniques, along with good post-processing skills can help in getting sharp images for both foreground and background objects, normal lenses have certain limits landscape photographers have to work around with. For example, stopping down lenses beyond f/11 results in diffraction, which can impact the sharpness and overall quality of an image. With perspective control/tilt-shift lenses, landscape photographers can change the angle of the focus plane without having to increase aperture, putting both closest and furthest objects in focus. The same goes for commercial/product photographers that photograph jewelry and other items for product showcases – everything from the front to the rear of the object must often be in perfect focus. Again, stopping down does not always work and unless angles are changed and subject is on the same plane, there is no easy way to get everything sharp without focus-stacking images in post-processing software like Photoshop. By using tilt-shift lenses, photographers do not have to worry about lens aperture limitations and can achieve the desired effect with minimum effort. One other use that has been gaining popularity lately is to use tilt-shift lenses for portrait photography. Due to the ability to apply selective focus on a particular part of the image via lens tilting (also known as “anti-Scheimpflug“), portraits can appear more interesting and creative. Distant subjects can even appear “miniaturized”, although the effect can be easily reproduced in Photoshop through various plugins.
One thing I have to be clear about upfront – the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E, along with other PC-E lenses is not an easy lens to use. First, it is a manual focus lens, which means that you will have to learn how to adjust the focus while watching the focus indicator in the viewfinder. While the process is very intuitive and easy, it might seem awkward and even counter-productive when photographing moving subjects. In addition, when doing extreme tilting and shifting, the focus indicator might not work at all. I had a few situations like that during my field tests and I had to reset the tilt/shift, focus and then use tilt/shift again. Second, you will have to learn how and when to use a tilt-shift lens and get a good grasp on exactly what tilting and shifting do to the subjects or scenery you are photographing (a guide on how to use tilt-shift lenses will be published soon). Third, you will need to fully understand aperture and depth of field and how tilting can change the lens plane relative to the image plane (the “Scheimpflug principle“). Fourth, you will have to understand the limitations of a tilt-shift lens and learn how to work around those limitations. And last, but not least, you will have to know how to meter with your camera and learn how to shoot in manual mode. Does this sound like too much for you? If it does, then you might want to reconsider getting a PC-E lens.
I was fortunate to test all three current Nikon PC-E lenses side by side (Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E, Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E and Nikon 85mm f/2.8D PC-E) and compare them against other normal Nikon lenses. While I wish I had more time to play with each of the PC-E lenses and test them in different scenarios, I decided to focus on landscape and portrait photography and see how applicable and useful these lenses would be for my everyday photography. I did experiment a little with Macro photography with the 45mm and 85mm lenses, but not much, as I am not into macro. I just thought it would be a good idea to see how useful these lenses would be for macro/product photography.
Note: The image above was shot at f/8, with the closest flowers at less than 1 meter. If I had not tilt the lens, only one portion of the image would have been in focus. To achieve a similar depth of field with a regular lens, I would have to stop down to f/32 and even then I would not be able to get everything in perfect focus.
Out of the three PC-E lenses, I found the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D to be the most useful for my needs – mostly due to the wide angle use for landscapes and portraits. It is a very sharp, colorful and “contrasty” lens, although as you will see below, it does have a few imperfections. Optically, it is superb even wide open, from center to corner. I compared it against the current sharpness king the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G and found it to be a close match. Let’s look at the lens in more detail.
1) Lens Specifications
- Ultra-wide, Perspective Control (PC) lens featuring tilt, shift and rotation capability, perfect for architectural and nature photography.
- Revolving capability of plus or minus 90-degrees, in 30-degree increments, for versatile tilt/shift shooting effects.
- Three aspherical elements virtually eliminate coma and other types of lens aberration even at the widest aperture.
- High-performance Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) offers superior color performance and substantially reduced ghosting and flare.
- Wide shifting range, plus or minus 11.5mm, with a tilting range of plus or minus 8.5 degrees provides exceptional control.
- Three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements offer superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration.
- Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat virtually eliminates internal reflections across a wide range of wavelengths, for even greater image clarity.
- Rounded 9-blade diaphragm for more natural appearance of out-of-focus image elements.
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 24mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/3.5
- Minimum Aperture: f/32
- Format: FX/35mm
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 61°
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 84°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.37x
- Lens Elements: 13
- Lens Groups: 10
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- ED Glass Elements: 3
- Aspherical Elements: 3
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.7ft.(0.21m)
- Close Range Correction: Yes
- Focus Mode: Manual
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Dimensions (Approx.): 3.2×4.3 in. (Diameter x Length), 82.5x108mm (Diameter x Length)
- Weight (Approx.): 25.7 oz. (730g)
- Supplied Accessories: HB-41 Bayonet Hood, CL-1120 Flexible Lens Pouch
2) Lens compatibility
Although the above lens specifications say that the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is compatible with DX format, unfortunately, the lens cannot be fully shifted upwards on some DX cameras. The main problem is the built-in pop-up flash on many entry-level/older DX cameras that hangs too low and extends too much. Pro-level DX DSLRs like D300 and D300s do not have this problem, since the pop-up flash is elevated a little more to fit PC-E lenses (the same is true for D700 FX camera), but most lower-end DSLR models do. On some DX models you cannot even mount the lens with the shift knob on the top, so you would have to rotate it first. Is this a big problem and will it prevent you from being able to capture photographs? Landscape photographers do not care about lens shifting (rise/fall) for the most part, so it is only relevant for architectural photography and other rare situations. Other than that, the lens works perfectly fine on all DX cameras.
Changing aperture is also only available on modern Nikon DSLRs. If you own an older DSLR like Nikon D2x or D80, you will have to use the aperture ring on the lens to set aperture. With all current Nikon DSLRs, all you have to do is set the aperture ring on the lens to “L” position, then you can change the aperture directly from the camera. Another important issue to note is metering. When lenses move off-axis, it is normal for metering not to work reliably. If your camera can meter with PC-E lenses in normal position (without any tilting or shifting), you should use the meter before making any tilt and shift movements.
Nikon PC-E Lens Compatibility Chart
|Nikon DSLR Camera||Metering||Aperture Control||Max Shift/Rise||Exposure Modes|
|* The above chart is only valid for Nikon 24mm f/3.5D, 45mm f/2.8D and 85mm f/2.8D PC-E lenses|
The maximum lens shift is ±11.5 mm and the entry-level/older Nikon DX cameras will limit the ability to rise the lens to a certain level. The tilt perspective control function is not limited on any of the above cameras, so you can tilt the lens easily ±8.5° on any DSLR camera. Although the lens can be rotated up to 90° left or right for perspective control adjustment, the proximity of the built-in pop-up flash might be a problem for rotating the lens after it is mounted on the camera.
2) Lens features and handling
Just like all Nikon professional lenses, the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E lens is built to last a lifetime. The outer barrel is mostly made of metal, except for the plastic focus ring and front filter thread. The tilt/shift parts are also all metal, including the control knobs. Weighing 730 grams, it is heavier than the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G by 110 grams, but still lighter than the monster Nikon 14-24mm and Nikon 24-70mm lenses. The lens feels very solid in hands and the focus ring is conveniently located in the front of the barrel, making it easy to manually focus with a thumb and index fingers while shooting images or video. The barrel does not rotate or extend, so you can easily use it with various filters. The outside seems to be well-protected against dust and moisture, but considering how the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is constructed, there is no way to fully weather-seal the lens. It has a very complex optical design with a total of 13 lens elements in 10 groups, with 3 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) to minimize chromatic aberration and 3 aspherical elements to correct spherical aberration and coma. To reduce ghosting and flares, the lens elements are also coated with Super Integrated Coating (SIC) and Nano Crystal Coat (N). Those who are into close-up/macro photography will be pleasantly surprised by the short focusing distance of 0.21 meters and the maximum reproduction ratio of 1/2.7. An evenly shaped “HB-41″ lens hood is supplied with the lens.
All current Nikon PC-E lenses are very similar in size and control layout. Take a look at the lenses side by side:
Aside from a couple of differences, all three look alike. The 85mm PC-E is slightly shorter and has a reversed tilt/swing mechanism. The difference in height changes with the lens hoods though:
Due to the massive size of the hood, the Nikkor 85mm PC-E is the tallest of the group.
And here you can see how the PC-E lenses compare in size to the 24mm f/1.4G and 85mm f/1.4G prime lenses:
3) Lens sharpness and contrast
The Nikon 24mm f/3.5D is a very sharp lens (when not tilted/shifted), as can be seen from the second page of this review. This is mainly due to the larger image circle of PC-E lenses. The center frame is always sharp at all apertures, while corners are acceptably sharp at f/3.5 and get very sharp at f/5.6. The lens performance is also excellent when the lens is moved sideways (also known as “swing”) or tilted up or down. Shifting the lens is generally not a problem, although extreme shifting can result in plenty of vignetting (see below). The sharpness figures do drop as you get closer to the extreme corners though.
While the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D is a wide-angle perspective control lens, it sports a 9 blade diaphragm that can yield either pleasant or ugly-looking bokeh, depending on circumstances. When photographing a close subject without tilting or shifting, the lens can yield pleasant bokeh, as shown below:
Bokeh in parts of the image can also look good when the lens is heavily tilted. However, images with a slight tilt or areas of the image that are close to the sharpest part of a heavily tilted image can yield very ugly-looking bokeh, similar to the below:
There is some vignetting present when shooting wide open @ f/3.5 (around -1 stop in the extreme corners) without tilt/shift, but it is dramatically reduced by f/5.6 and almost gone by f/8.0. Here is an extreme example of vignetting at f/3.5:
Tilting the lens does not add any extra vignetting, but heavily shifting the lens does. When the lens is shifted all the way up or down (or to the sides, depending on how you got the lens set up), you will see a heavy amount of vignetting on one side. Therefore, avoid fully shifting the lens or get ready to crop in post-processing. The normal vignetting issues can be quickly corrected in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, while heavy vignetting can only be addressed by cropping.
6) Ghosting and Flare
The Nano-Coating glass inside the lens definitely reduces ghosting and flare, but does not completely eliminate it, especially at very large apertures:
As you can see, there is some magenta on the sun and both ghosting and flares are visible at f/32. If you are shooting against bright sources, try to keep your aperture below f/8.
There is a slight amount of barrel distortion on the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D when the lens is not tilted or shifted:
This can be easily fixed by dialing +1 in Photoshop’s Lens Correction filter (under Geometric Distortion – Remove Distortion). The moment you start shifting the lens, the optical axis of the lens changes, so you have to make the necessary adjustments in Photoshop to compensate for the change in axis before attempting to remove distortion.
8) Chromatic Aberrations
In general, chromatic aberrations are controlled very well. The amount of CA can slightly increase when shifting the lens up and down, but the issue can be easily addressed in post-processing software.
Let’s now move on to the good stuff – Sharpness tests. Select the next page below.
Some technical junk:
- White Balance: Custom, Temp: 4500, Tint: +11
- ISO: 200
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Lens was mounted on Nikon D3s FX Camera and Gitzo tripod
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect. After each successful focus acquisition, focus was switched to manual to prevent camera refocusing
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom settings: Default settings, but exposure had to be slightly adjusted for some images
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Testing was performed at f/3.5, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32 apertures
- Nothing was moved during testing
9) Sharpness Test – Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E Center Frame
Stopping down the lens to f/5.6 and f/8 does not improve the performance at all, as can be seen below:
I normally do not publish crops from apertures above f/11 due to diffraction, but I decided to include all apertures in this sharpness test, to show you how much the PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5 can be pushed:
At f/11, the lens shows a very slight amount of diffraction, but it is almost negligible. At f/16, however, the effect of diffraction on image is evident. Stopping down the lens further more results in loss of detail and you will notice loss of contrast as well:
Just be careful when shooting above f/11, as diffraction will certainly affect the image as seen above.
10) Sharpness Test – Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E Corner Frame
What about the corners? Let’s take a look:
Wide open, the corners start a tad softer compared to the center. There is also a slight loss of contrast that is visible at both f/3.5 and f/4.
The corners reach their peak performance at f/5.6 – that’s when the lens is the sharpest. Stopping down the lens to f/8 does nothing, so you can stay at f/5.6, unless you need to increase the depth of field.
Stopping the lens down to f/11 and f/16 shows signs of diffraction.
By f/22 and f/32 diffraction not only reduces the contrast, but also impacts the overall quality of the image, as expected.
11) Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E Sharpness Conclusion
As you can see from the above crop samples, the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is one sharp lens that performs very well wide open. You do not need to worry about stopping it down at all, unless you need the best corner performance, in which case just stop the lens down to f/5.6 and you will get optimal sharpness across the frame. Landscape and architecture photographers will appreciate the quality of images this lens is capable of producing. Sharpness, colors and contrast are all top notch and optically I cannot find much to complain about.
I did not measure the performance of the lens when it is tilted or shifted in a lab environment for two reasons – there would be no way to compare the results with other lenses and I simply did not have a good methodology to test the lens in tilted or shifted position. One thing I am sure of though, is that the lens is equally sharp when it is slightly tilted/shifted. When the lens is tilted/shifted to maximum levels, there is a slight loss of sharpness and contrast, but it is expected, since we are dealing with extreme corners.
Compared to Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
12) Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E vs Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
How does the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E compare to my favorite landscape lens the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G? As I have pointed out in my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 Review, the 24-70mm is very sharp wide open. When I compared the 24mm PC-E against the 24-70mm, the results at 24mm were almost identical – both lenses performed flawlessly in the center. Therefore, I will skip posting crop samples for both lenses in the center. Instead, let’s see how the lenses compare in the corners wide open (Left: Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E @ f/3.5, Right: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G @ f/2.8):
As you can see, the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is clearly superior wide open. Not only does it have less distortion, but also the image is much clearer, especially in the extreme corners. Let’s see what happens to both when stopped down to f/4:
The sharpness of the Nikon 24-70mm improves quite a bit when stopped down to f/4 and the images are now comparable.
Stopped down to f/8, both lenses perform equally well in the corners, but the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E seems to have a more pronounced color fringing.
In summary, the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is sharper wide open, but performs about the same as the 24-70mm when stopped down to f/4 and beyond. Color and contrast on both lenses are very comparable. Both lenses handle ghosting and flares similarly as well, although the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E seems to add some purple to the light source. The bokeh on the 24-70mm seems to be a little busier and edgier than on the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E, although I have not performed a side-by-side comparison in different environments. The Nikon 24-70mm suffers from a lot more vignetting at large apertures. Chromatic aberrations are about the same on both, although the 24mm PC-E has plenty of purple and blue fringing when the lens is shifted upwards or downwards. Obviously, the above comparison is only showing one aspect of each lens, since the 24-70mm has the zoom range that the 24mm PC-E does not have and the PC-E has the tilt/shift capability the 24-70mm does not have.
Please note that these comparisons are only valid for when the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is used as a “normal” lens and is obviously not an apples-to-apples comparison. The tilting and shifting capabilities of the PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D cannot be simulated by other non-PC-E lenses, including the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G.
Compared to Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
13) Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E vs Nikon 24mm f/1.4G
How does the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E fare against the legendary Nikon 24mm f/1.4G? Let’s take a look at the center frame at f/4.0 (Left: Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E @ f/3.5, Right: Nikon 24mm f/1.4 @ f/3.5):
Wide open, the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is slightly sharper than the 24mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4. When both lenses are stopped down to f/3.5 (as shown above), the sharpness levels are about the same, which is great news for the PC-E. Let’s see if the situation changes when both are stopped down to f/8:
I cannot see any difference between the two. The Nikon 24mm f/3.5D seems a tad sharper, but that’s because it is slightly closer. I did not move my setup while performing these tests, so the difference in field of view is probably coming from the difference in lens size and front elements. Therefore, I can conclude that the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E matches the center performance of the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.
Let’s take a look at the corners now with both lenses wide open (Left: Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E @ f/3.5, Right: Nikon 24mm f/1.4G @ f/1.4):
Both look very similar, but the 24mm PC-E seems to be a little sharper away from the extreme corner. What if we stop both lenses down to f/4?
This is where the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G starts to shine – it is much sharper when stopped down to f/4 compared to the PC-E.
By f/8 both lenses are somewhat comparable, but the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is still sharper, with less chromatic aberrations as well.
In summary, the center performance of the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is incredibly good, matching the legendary Nikon 24mm f/1.4G in sharpness and contrast. However, it is still no match to the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G in extreme corners at all apertures. As for other lens features, the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G yields a more pleasing bokeh than the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E (smaller aperture of the PC-E adds its share here). Color and contrast are top of the class on both lenses. Vignetting is a little more severe on the 24mm f/1.4G when using large apertures, but very comparable at f/4. Both lenses handle ghosting and flares similarly, although the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E seems to add some purple fringing to the light source, as illustrated on the first page of the review. The Nikon 24mm f/3.5D seems to handle distortion a little better – distortion levels are lower, especially when shooting at close range.
Please note that these comparisons are only valid for when the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E is used as a “normal” lens and is obviously not an apples-to-apples comparison. The tilting and shifting capabilities of the PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D cannot be simulated by other non-PC-E lenses, including the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.
Summary and Image Samples
The PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED can be a very powerful and valuable tool in a photographer’s bag. It has many different uses – the lens can act as a normal 24mm lens for wide-angle photography, can swing left and right or tilt up and down and can be shifted in different directions at the same time (with some limitations, as described on the first page). The shifting capability gives photographers the ability to control converging lines, while tilting and swinging allow changing the lens plane to either bring everything in focus, or to selectively apply focus to certain parts of an image. These unique features make the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E a very specialized lens. They also add to complexity of using such a lens. It took me several weeks to fully understand how to work with PC-E lenses and even after using them for a while, I still had occasional issues with focus and depth of field.
Once I figured out how to use tilt/shift lenses, when and how to deploy them, I started realizing that the benefits of using such lenses far outweigh their complexity. Having used regular lenses for many years now, I have been frustrated by certain limitations when photographing landscapes. For example, if I had objects at a very close distance to my DSLR camera (flowers, stones, etc), I knew that I either had to step back and increase the space between my lens and my subjects, or I had to shoot multiple images at different focus points and then focus stack them in post-processing. And as you may already know, any time more than one photograph is used to create a single image, there is always a potential for error. Changes in weather, wind, lighting conditions and other factors could have an adverse effect on the final image. You could spend many hours trying to get everything aligned and fixed. Like the old view film cameras, PC-E lenses can deliver outstanding results directly on camera, without using any post-processing software. This means saving time and getting better results without having to mess with image editing software.
Out of the three PC-E lenses, I found the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E to be the most useful for my needs, primarily because of the 24mm focal length that is ideal on FX sensors for landscape and architectural photography. As you can see from this review, the lens is sharp across the frame and is very comparable to the legendary Nikon 24mm f/1.4G lens. It does have a couple of problems like excessive chromatic aberration when the lens is shifted all the way up or down, some distortion and vignetting at the largest aperture, but those all can be easily addressed in post-processing software like Lightroom. If Adobe releases camera profiles for this lens, you will be able to fix some of the issues with a single click, using the Lightroom Lens Correction. However, since the tilt/shift information is not stored in EXIF data, Lightroom will not correct issues that occur when the lens is tilted, swung or shifted. You would have to address those manually.
One major annoyance with most tilt/shift lenses, including the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E, is the factory default setting for tilt and shift movements. All Nikkor PC-E lenses are shipped in such configuration, where you can swing the lens left and right, but you cannot simultaneously shift the lens in the same parallel direction. If you tilt the lens, you can only shift to the left and right sides and if you swing the lens, you can only shift it upwards or downwards. To fix this issue, you have to send your lens to a Nikon service center for reconfiguration. Nikon does not sell these in parallel configuration, but if you buy a used unit, it might be already configured for parallel movements. If you are a landscape photographer, definitely get yours adjusted.
Overall, I am very pleased with this lens and I will be adding it to my gear list soon, primarily for my landscape photography needs. If you are an architecture or landscape photographer, I recommend adding the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E to your gear list as well, especially if photography is your bread and butter.
15) Where to buy and availability
16) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.