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. 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. 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.
1) Lens Specifications
- Ultra-wide, Perspective Control (PC) lens featuring tilt, shift, and rotation capability.
- Revolving capability of plus or minus 90-degrees, in 30-degree increments, for versatile tilt/shift shooting effects.
- Two 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 12mm, with a tilting range of plus or minus 7.5 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: 19mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/4
- Minimum Aperture: f/32
- Format: FX
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 73°
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 97°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.18x
- Lens Elements: 17
- Lens Groups: 13
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- Distance Information: Yes
- Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
- ED Glass Elements: 3
- Fluorine Coat: Yes
- Aspherical Elements: 2
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.9ft (0.25m)
- Focus Mode: Manual
- Accepts Filters: No
- Approx. Dimensions: 3.5in (89mm) x 4.8in (124mm)
- Weight (Approx.): 31.2oz (885g)
- Supplied Accessories: CL-1120 Soft Lens Case
2) 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 Camera||No Limitations||Some Limitations*||Incompatible|
|Nikon D3 / D4 / D5 series||X|
|Nikon D810 / D810A||X|
|Nikon D800 / D800E||X|
|Nikon D300 / D300S||X|
|Nikon D3X00 / D5X00 / D7X00||X|
|Nikon D1 / D2 series||X|
|Nikon Film SLR Cameras||X|
|*Barrel movement could be restricted.|
3) 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.
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.
Note: move the slider below to see how shifting the lens makes San Francisco City Hall stand up straight.
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.
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.
4) Lens Sharpness and Contrast
The quality of the images produced by the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is fantastic. Sharpness is even across the frame, including when making large shifts. At f/4 sharpness is very good, but this lens really shines at f/5.6, showing exceptional performance. Colors and micro-contrast are what you would expect from a professional lens. I would characterize the images as cool in tone. More information on the lens sharpness, along with comparisons to other similar focal length lenses can be found further down in this review.
Nikon’s 9-blade rounded diaphragms deliver very smooth bokeh. The Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is no different; it delivers consistently smooth, round bokeh balls. I was somewhat surprised at how well this lens renders out of focus elements. Many wide-angle lenses do not render out of focus elements smoothly or consistently across the frame. Even when tilting and shifting, I did not see the bokeh balls become malformed. But this is not something you would generally have to worry about – after-all, wide-angle lenses and especially tilt-shift lenses like the 19mm f/4E PC are not made for bokeh – even wide open at f/4 and a relatively close subject at minimum focus distance, you will have a hard time getting things out of focus in the background. Here is an image where I exaggerated bokeh by intentionally de-focusing the subject:
At the same time, bokeh can definitely become important when tilting a scene, as can be seen from some of the sample images in this review.
Most lenses experience light falloff, also known as vignetting, in the corners when shooting at maximum aperture. The Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is designed to yield practically no vignetting. Even at its maximum aperture of f/4, the amount of vignetting is only stronger at infinity focus and it never passes above 0.8 EV, which is very impressive. Once stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller, vignetting is almost non-existent – you will not notice it in images. Below is how Imatest measured vignetting for the lens at different apertures:
Unlike traditional lenses, tilt-shift lenses project an image circle much larger than the camera sensor so that barrel movements do not cause extreme vignetting. However, falloff does become apparent as the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC nears maximum shift. Stopping down to f/5.6 definitely helps a great deal though, as indicated above. Combining heavy tilt and shift can result in light not reaching the edge of the sensor at all, but this is a rare use case.
7) Ghosting and Flare
When a bright light source enters a lens directly it can cause unsightly spots resulting from light reflecting off of glass elements inside the lens. Ghosting and flare are especially common with wide-angle lenses with their large fields of view and small lens hoods. Many Nikon lenses use a coating technology called Nano Crystal Coat to reduce reflections inside the lens. The Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is equipped with this technology. In my testing, the 19mm f/4E PC handled bright light sources very well considering that it has a wide angle of view and no hood:
Keep in mind that the amount of ghosting and flare you will see in images will vary depending on where the light source is in the frame, its size and how strong the light source is is. If you are planning to include the sun in the frame and you see strong ghosting and flare, consider moving the sun in the frame or use Nasim’s technique to eliminate ghosting and flare in images.
8) Chromatic Aberrations
Chromatic aberration (CA) is an unsightly green, purple or magenta outline found near areas of high contrast in an image; for example, black lines against a bright sky can cause CA. This optical design defect is most prevalent at the edges of the frame in wide-angle images. The Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is designed in such a way that its lateral chromatic aberrations are minimized at all apertures. Even in the most contrasty situations, I saw only minimal CA in resulting images. Shifting the lens to its outer limits may increase CA a bit, but in my testing this was extremely minimal. Here is an image captured with a very bright sky:
And here is a 100% crop from the image that shows a very slight amount of lateral chromatic aberration:
Below is data extracted from Imatest:
As you can see, at wide open aperture of f/4, there is about 1.25 pixel of vignetting, which gets reduced as the lens is stopped down.
When it comes to distortion, as expected from a wide-angle lens, the Nikon 19mm f/4 PC definitely shows signs of distortion, especially at close distances. Imatest measured 0.95% barrel distortion, which is in line with the Nikkor 24mm f/3.5 PC-E, which has a little less 0.82% barrel distortion. The only wide-angle lens that stands out in this category is the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art, which shows practically no barrel distortion at close focus.
Unless you are planning to shoot straight lines at relatively close distances, you should not worry about fixing distortion in post. The lines in the above image look straight and the image was not corrected for distortion in post, just like all the other ones in this review.
10) Sharpness Test
Before we dive into sharpness figures and start comparing lenses, I would like to point out something very important: designing wide-angle tilt-shift lenses is a pretty tough challenge, especially when it comes to resolving power throughout the frame. The Nikon 24mm f/3.5 PC-E was a very good lens until 36 MP sensors arrived. That’s when we started seeing that the lens was not all that good, especially towards the edges of the frame. It took Nikon many years to introduce the 19mm f/4E PC, which was specifically designed for high-resolution sensors. Let’s take a look at how the lens performed in our lab tests using Imatest:
Right off the bat, the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC shows pretty impressive wide open performance in the center of the frame. Considering how close the lens was to the test target, even mid-frame and the edges look really good at f/4, which is something many lenses struggle with. Sharpness peaks at f/5.6 and once stopped down further, the performance of the lens starts to diminish rather quickly.
How good are the above numbers and what do they mean? Let’s find out by comparing the lens performance to popular wide-angle lenses from Nikon.
11) Lens Comparisons
11.1) Nikon 19mm f/4E PC vs Nikon 20mm f/1.8G
You might be curious how much a single millimeter impacts a lens’ angle of view. One millimeter is equivalent to roughly 3 degrees. So a 19mm lens compared to a 20mm lens has virtually no difference in how a subject will appear. This is where the similarities between these lenses end. The Nikon 20mm f/1.8G is a small, fast, relatively cheap, general-use wide-angle lens. It can be used for a huge variety of subjects, and really shines with architecture, panoramas and astrophotography. The Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is a highly specialized tool with a slow maximum aperture and a large price tag, so there is no comparison there.
For these reasons, most photographers would be better off with something like the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G. However, let’s not forget that the 19mm f/4E PC does not compete with such lenses and never will – it can do things standard lenses will never be able to. If you are an architecture photographer, you would have to capture a scene with a much wider lens in order to leave enough space for post-processing software to be able to deal with perspective distortion corrections. And even after all the corrections, the software will most likely leave very little resolution to work with, especially if the subject is very close. If you shoot landscapes, you would have to plan on utilizing the focus stacking technique to be able to capture the foreground and the background with all the detail. And if you are dealing with wildflowers at a very close distance and you have slight wind, good luck trying to get all that detail. A lens like the 19mm f/4E PC takes care of such issues – you have the flexibility to tilt and shift using the lens itself, with no extra post-processing steps. You have the ability to correct perspective distortion and change the focus plane when needing to capture all the detail in the foreground and the background, all in a single exposure. So keep all this in mind when comparing specialized tilt-shift lenses to standard ones, especially when it comes to sharpness. Depending on what you are trying to do, sharpness might not even be relevant.
Now that we have all that covered, let’s see how the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC compared to the 20mm f/1.8G in the lab in terms of sharpness:
It is pretty clear that the two lenses are very different optically. The 20mm f/1.8G is going to resolve more detail at f/4 in the center when compared to the 19mm f/4E PC. However, take a look at how both lenses do in the mid-frame and the corners – the 19mm f/4E PC is remarkably good there, especially at the edges of the frame. Although the 20mm f/1.8G catches up at f/5.6 and smaller apertures in the edges, the tilt-shift lens shows excellent edge performance at all apertures.
11.2) Nikon 19mm f/4E PC vs Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G
The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G is an extremely versatile wide-angle zoom lens. It covers ultra-wide to standard wide-angle scenes with incredible sharpness corner to corner even when shot at maximum aperture. This lens is a favorite of many serious Nikon shooters and it is used widely by many landscape photographers. However, just like the Nikon 20mm f/1.8G, the 14-24mm is designed for general use photography. Again, the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is a much more specialized lens (thanks to its tilting and shifting abilities), built specifically for architecture and landscape photographers. There is also a $1,500 difference in favor of the 14-24mm f/2.8G, distancing the 19mm f/4E PC even further.
Just like with the 20mm f/1.8G, we should not be comparing these lenses purely based on optics, but rather on their intended use. The 14-24mm covers a lot more angles, both on its wider and longer ends, so it is a bit more versatile in that regard. At the same time, the 19mm f/4E PC is a prime lens that might not be as versatile in comparison, but it does have its unique uses, as explained above.
Here is how the two lenses compare in the lab at similar focal lengths:
While the 14-24mm f/2.8G shows comparable performance in the mid-frame and the corners, it certainly does better in sharpness in the center of the frame, especially when stopped down to f/4 and f/5.6. However, this difference is very minimal and not something you would notice in images. While this is a testament to how amazing the 14-24mm f/2.8G really is as a zoom lens, let’s again not forget that we are looking at two lenses for different uses.
11.3) Nikon 19mm f/4E PC vs Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E
This comparison pretty much comes down to four things: how much of a difference does 5mm, no filters, sharpness and a large price tag make? 5mm may not sound like much, but it gives the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC a 13.5% larger angle of view than the Nikon 24mm f/3.5D PC-E; this is significant for wide-angle photography. One focal length is not better than the other, and your preference will depend on your subject and your vision as a photographer. Some photographers prefer getting closer to a subject with super wide angle lenses, while others find 24mm to be a great compromise. Landscape photographers might not like the fact that they cannot mount a standard circular filter on the 19mm f/4E PC, while they can on the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E (for cityscape and architecture filters are less crucial). This means that one would have to use a third party solution that will be able to accommodate filters on the lens. And those filters are not going to be small. Based on the looks of the lens, a filter holder would need to mount to the front part of the lens like a hood – that’s the only mounting point that is available on the front of the lens barrel. That’s how the NiSi filter holder for the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC seems to be designed and I am sure others will follow. Sharpness-wise, there is a pretty big difference between the two lenses, as shown below. And lastly, the difference in price between these lenses is pretty significant – the 24mm f/3.5 PC-E costs $1,200 less than the new 19mm f/4E PC.
Let’s compare the sharpness of these two lenses and see what Nikon was able to achieve with the 19mm f/4E PC:
The sharpness difference between the two lenses is pretty shocking – the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E shows quite poor performance at its maximum aperture, which gets better as the lens is stopped down. Unfortunately, even when stopped down to f/5.6, the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E cannot reach the same sharpness as the 19mm f/4E PC. In fact, when testing the two lenses side by side, the 19mm f/4E PC looked as sharp wide open as the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E stopped down to f/5.6. And that’s just in the center! Take a look at the edges of the frame and you will see why the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E needs to be replaced sooner than later – it just cannot resolve much in the corners. Unfortunately, the lens does not get any better when stopped down – even at f/8, it struggles quite a bit, unable to yield sharp images. We went through two samples of the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E in our lab and both showed very similar results, so this is not just sample variance at play.
In short, the 19mm f/4E PC is a much superior lens in terms of resolving power when compared to the 24mm f/3.5D PC-E – there is simply no comparison. Is the difference worth the $1,200 price premium? For a working pro who uses tilt shift lenses extensively, it would most likely be worth it, especially when shooting on high-resolution cameras like the Nikon D810.
The PC NIKKOR 19mm f/4E ED is Nikon’s latest addition to its set of perspective control lenses. These lenses are targeted at small groups of photographers that demand special performance from their equipment. Specifically, the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC is designed for architecture and landscape photographers that want to keep vertical lines from converging, or want to be able to change their plane of focus to make everything from foreground to background appear sharp in their images. When used as a panoramic tool, the 19mm f/4E PC can also be used to easily stitch several vertical or horizontal images without dealing with nodal slides and other panoramic equipment. It also has uses in architecture and other types of photography where shifting the plane of focus can produce an interesting depth effect by selectively limiting what appears in focus in the resulting image. Lastly, tilt-shift lenses can also be used to create a “miniature” effect through limiting the plane of focus to a small area when looking down on a scene (although I found it difficult to do with the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC due to its huge angle of view).
Depending on what you are trying to do, computer software is often a cheaper alternative to buying a tilt-shift lens. Software programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop allow photographers to straighten converging lines and create miniature effects without using expensive lenses. However, software can only mimic what a true tilt-shift lens is truly capable of. It requires planning ahead of time and depending on how close and how tall the subject is, could result in heavy cropping and loss of resolution. In many cases, extreme stretching of subjects as a result of heavy perspective distortion correction yields very undesirable results, making the quality of images look very poor and unappealing. Tilt-shift lenses are specifically designed to overcome such issues, making it easy to frame and compose an image, allowing to see the end result right away.
The same challenges can appear in focus stacking. When dealing with close subjects, many lenses tend to change their field of view, making it difficult to perform proper focus stacking. In addition, since focus stacking software often uses masking to merge the results, it can be rather difficult to deal with transitions and other resulting problems. Tilt-shift lenses can address such issues with ease, as one can change the plane of focus and put sharpness exactly where it needs to be in the scene. That’s why many macro and landscape photographers choose tilt-shift lenses.
I very much enjoyed testing the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC and I am very pleased with the quality of the results. This was the first time using a tilt-shift lens, and although it took me some time to get used to it, the results speak for themselves. This lens empowered a level of creativity that I had not experienced before. If I were a working pro who needed such a specialized tool, I would definitely consider purchasing it for my business. I can see how such a lens would pay for itself quickly for a busy architecture or landscape photographer.
I would highly encourage architecture and landscape photographers to give tilt-shift lenses a shot – it may open up a lot of possibilities for you. For other photographers with less specialized needs, I would recommend sticking to Nikon’s 20mm f/1.8G or 14-24mm f/2.8G lenses, because these options are cheaper and better suited to most photographic applications.
Additional notes from Nasim: I had a chance to test two samples of the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC-E in my Imatest lab. I am happy to report that both samples were consistent in terms of resolving power and had very little optical problems to deal with. There is some focus shift to deal with, but it is generally not an issue, especially when using live view. For best precision and accuracy, I highly encourage to use live view with high magnification. For vertical shots, Nikon’s live view split screen is a life-saver. And let’s not forget that this is the only tilt-shift lens in Nikon’s arsenal that you no longer have to send to Nikon for swapping out the tilt/shift axis / orientation. The ability to easily rotate the axis is an absolutely amazing feature for landscape photography and something I hope Nikon will incorporate in every tilt-shift lens in the future. Overall, the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC-E is the best tilt-shift lens I have ever used. Although I have not had a chance to take it to shoot landscapes yet, I am definitely planning to do that in the future.
13) Where to Buy
You can purchase the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC lens from our trusted partner, B&H Photo Video for $3,396.95
14) More Sample Images
Nikon 19mm f/4E PC
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Image Quality
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating