This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E, a special purpose wide-angle “Perspective Control” lens designed for architectural, commercial and nature photography, also known as PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED. 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
Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.