Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Review

A specialized ultra wide-angle tilt-shift lens


This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC, also known as PC NIKKOR 19mm f/4E ED, a special purpose wide-angle lens designed for architecture, cityscape and landscape photography. “PC” stands for “Perspective Control”, but I will refer to this type of lens as “tilt-shift” in this article. Architecture and cityscape photographers often work with straight lines and tilt-shift lenses give the ability to avoid the convergence of vertical lines by shifting the lens upwards or downwards. Landscape photographers often want to keep everything in focus, especially when dealing with close foreground objects.

Nikon 19mm f4E ED PC-E

Stopping down to very small apertures results in diffraction, which impedes sharpness. Tilt-shift lenses offer an alternative to stopping down by tilting the plane of focus, putting both closest and furthest objects in focus. Focus stacking in post-processing software is another way to achieve maximum focus without stopping down excessively, however, the technique also has its pros and cons, making tilt-shift lenses unique in their own ways. The ability to apply selective focus on a particular part of the image via lens tilting allows distant subjects to appear “miniaturized”, although this effect can be reproduced in image editing software, as well.

Tilt-shift lenses offer many enhancements over traditional lenses, but they are expensive, not easy to use and come with a few compromises. First, the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is a manual focus lens. You must rely either on the viewfinder and focus indicator to achieve sharp focus, or the live view screen and subject zooming for precise results. Additionally, when doing extreme tilting and shifting, the focus indicator does not work, making focusing via live screen the preferred method.

Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Image Sample #1
NIKON D810 @ 19mm, ISO 64, 1/1, f/8.0

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 your subjects. Third, you will need to understand aperture and depth of field and how tilting can change the lens plane relative to the image plane (the Scheimpflug Principle). Finally, tilt-shift lenses generally do not offer large maximum apertures, making tripod usage critical in low-light situations.

Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Image Sample #2
NIKON D810 @ 19mm, ISO 200, 1/60, f/5.6

Lens Compatibility

The Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is not compatible with all Nikon cameras. The shift and rotate mechanisms are located near the lens mount; movement of these parts can be restricted by camera bodies that have parts close to the mount. Also, the electronic aperture is not functional on some older bodies. See the table below for more information:

Nikon DSLR CameraNo LimitationsSome Limitations*Incompatible
Nikon Z camerasX
Nikon D3 / D4 / D5 seriesX
Nikon D810 / D810AX
Nikon D500X
Nikon DfX
Nikon D800 / D800EX
Nikon D600/D610/D700/D750X
Nikon D300 / D300SX
Nikon D3X00 / D5X00 / D7X00X
Nikon D1 / D2 seriesX
Nikon D100/D200/D3000X
Nikon D40/D60/D70/D80/D90X
Nikon Film SLR CamerasX
*Barrel movement could be restricted.

Lens Features and Handling

Nikon’s professional lenses have consistently impressed me with their excellent build quality and good ergonomics. The Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is no exception in this department. The lens barrel is constructed with metal and high-quality plastics. I was initially surprised at the size and weight of this lens, expecting it to be relatively small given the f/4 aperture. However, it is only slightly lighter than the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G, which weighs 969g.

Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Image Sample #3
NIKON D810 @ 19mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/4.5

The focus ring is conveniently located towards the end of the lens. Since this lens is manual focus only, Nikon has ensured that the focus ring is well-dampened, making precise focus adjustments a breeze. To be clear, manually focusing the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is a much better experience than with most autofocus lenses that prioritize motor speed over manual precision.

Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Image Sample #4

Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Image Sample #5

Tilting, shifting, and rotating the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is a pleasure with its easy-to-reach knobs and locking mechanisms. Let us go through these individually.

Tilting: Tilting the plane of focus is done using a large circular knob located on the top of the lens. On the bottom of the lens is a lock switch and a small tension adjuster. In this manner, a photographer can make precise adjustments to the plane of focus and lock the tilt mechanism when not in use.

Shifting: Shifting the lens’ view is even easier than adjusting tilt. A single knob protruding from the side of the lens moves the shift mechanism. No lock is available.

Rotating: The tilt and shift mechanisms both work in a single dimension. Luckily, Nikon has provided an excellent rotation mechanism that allows each function to be rotated independently by up to 180 degrees with notches every 30 degrees. Rotation is locked using a lever on each rotational axis.

Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Image Sample #10
NIKON D810 @ 19mm, ISO 64, 3/1, f/8.0

Weather and dust sealing are not guaranteed with this tilt-shift lens. Tilting and shifting functions require the lens barrel to move, making a tight seal impossible. However, after using the camera for a few weeks in mixed environments, I did not see any issues with dust making its way into the lens.

One of my few grievances with the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is the bulbous front element and no lens hood. It is understandable that such a lens would have its field of view impeded by a hood, but walking around with a glass globe sticking out made me nervous. Nikon’s 14-24mm f/2.8G includes a built-on hood; a similar concept would have been great for the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC.

Nikon 19mm f/4E PC Image Sample #6
NIKON D810 @ 19mm, ISO 64, 15/1, f/11.0


About Matt Nielsen

Matt is a software engineer and 2016 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University living in San Francisco, California. He is passionate about sports, architecture, and urban landscape photography. Check out Matt's work on Instagram!