This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E, also known as PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED, a special purpose normal-angle lens designed for architecture, commercial, macro, and nature 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 enable the photographer to avoid the convergence of vertical lines by shifting the lens upwards or downwards. Landscape photographers often want to keep everything in focus. Stopping down to small apertures gives greater depth of field, but 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. Image stacking in post-processing software is another way to achieve maximum focus without stopping down excessively, but not without potential negative side-effects. 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 not easy to use and come with a few compromises. First, the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is a manual focus lens. You must rely 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.
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 work best when used with a tripod so the photographer can take time to fine-tune settings.
I have been using the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E for the past year and a half. It is a ten-year-old lens with a small user base. As such, this review will focus on my experiences with the lens rather than technical measurements often used in Photography Life reviews. Please forgive the lack of hard numbers. I think you will still find this review to be useful.
Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E Specifications
- Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
- Focal Length: 45mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/32
- Format: FX
- Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 34°50’
- Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 51°
- Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.50x
- Lens Elements: 9
- Lens Groups: 8
- 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: 1
- Super Integrated Coating: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.83ft (0.25m)
- Focus Mode: Manual
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
- Approx. Dimensions: 3.2in (82.5mm) x 4.4in (122mm)
- Weight (Approx.): 26.1oz (740g)
- Supplied Accessories: HB-43 hood, CL-1120 soft case, LC-77 front cap, LF-4 rear cap
The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E has a maximum shift of ±11.5mm. Entry-level and older Nikon DX cameras have limited ability to shift the lens. 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 on these cameras. The tilt perspective control function is not limited on any of these cameras, so you can tilt the lens easily ±8.5° on any Nikon DSLR camera.
|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|
|Nikon Z cameras||Yes||Yes||11.5mm||P/S/A/M|
|Nikon D3/D4/D5 series||Yes||Yes||11.5mm||P/S/A/M|
|Nikon D2 series||Yes||No||9.5mm||M|
|Nikon D800 series||Yes||Yes||11.5mm||P/S/A/M|
|Nikon D600/D700 series||Yes||Yes||11.5mm||P/S/A/M|
|Nikon D300 series||Yes||Yes||11.5mm||P/S/A/M|
|Nikon D7000 series||Yes||Yes||8mm||P/S/A/M|
|Nikon D3000/D5000 series||Yes||Yes||6mm||P/S/A/M|
Lens Features and Handling
Nikon’s professional lenses have consistently impressed me with their excellent build quality and good ergonomics. The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is no exception in this department. The lens barrel is constructed with metal and high-quality plastics. This lens is substantially larger and heavier than most normal-angle prime lenses due to the tilt-shift and rotation controls.
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 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is a much better experience than with most autofocus lenses that prioritize motor speed over manual precision.
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, I did not see any dust enter my lens. Like most professional Nikon lenses, the lens mount has a rubber seal. Tilting, shifting, and rotating the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E 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 performed using a large circular knob located on the top of the lens. On the bottom of the lens is a small tension adjuster that can lock the tilt mechanism in place. 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 performed in a similar manner to adjusting tilt. A knob protruding from the left side of the lens moves the shift mechanism while a small tension adjuster with locking capability sits on the right side of the lens.
Rotating: The tilt and shift mechanisms both work in a single dimension. Luckily, Nikon has provided a rotation mechanism that allows the lens to rotate up to 180 degrees with notches every 30 degrees. Rotation is locked using a small lever on the left side. This lens features a single rotational axis, meaning that tilt and shift are forced to rotate together.
Aperture: The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E has a D-type aperture, meaning it can be set electronically from the camera, or it can be set using an aperture ring which sits between the focus ring and the tilt-shift mechanism.
Preview: One interesting function found on this lens is an aperture preview button located on top of the tilt-shift mechanism. The photographer can quickly check depth of field at their selected aperture by pressing this button (by default the lens is kept at maximum aperture until the shutter is clicked).