Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro Nikkor
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November 1, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
Tilt-shift lenses provide a very unique function for photography, allowing the photographer to adjust the direction of the lens relative to the image plane. This practice provides very interesting results, allowing the photographer to correct image perspective as well as have much greater control over depth of field. Nikon calls this type of lens a ''Perspective control'' lens. It's a little bit beyond the scope of this review to explain how tilt-shift lenses work; if you need to know, I suggest reading this excellent article in the Wikipedia.
Until 2008, Nikon lagged behind other manufacturers in its output of Tilt-shift lenses. Now that has changed, with their introduction of 24mm, 45mm and 85mm PC-E lenses. All Nikon PC-E lenses cover the 35mm film or FX frame; on a DX-sensor body the 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E will give an equivalent coverage of 68mm.
The 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E comes standard with a bayonet-mounted bowl-shaped lens hood, a lens pouch, and a price tag of around $1,800.
Readers of our previous 24mm PC-E Nikkor review will perhaps be disappointed not to see shifted results in our sharpness grid viewer. The last time we did this, for the 24mm, it required an exorbitant amount of work. We'd like to thank LensRentals.com for their loan of this lens for our testing: to rent this lens, click here.
The 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E is a very sharp lens, though not quite as sharp as one might expect for an $1,800 lens. The lens performs a bit better on the D300s, where slight issues with corner softness are not prevalent; it becomes essentially tack-sharp by ƒ/4, and only very marginally better at ƒ/5.6. Any further stopping-down only degrades image sharpness slightly, but not practically. Diffraction limiting is clearly noticeable by ƒ/16, and further softness is evident at ƒ/22 and ƒ/32, where overall image sharpness is noticeably diminished.
On the full-frame D3x, the lens is put to its test. Shot wide open at ƒ/2.8, the central region of the frame shows excellent sharpness, but there is evidence of not insignificant corner softness (on our sample copy, more so on the left side than on the right). Stopping down to ƒ/4 improves this corner softness completely, offering excellent corner-to-corner sharpness. Similar results are offered at ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8, and diffraction limiting starts to set it at ƒ/11 with a slight reduction in overall image sharpness. At ƒ/16, image sharpness is more noticeably affected, and by ƒ/22 and ƒ/32 images are somewhat soft indeed.
Chromatic aberration is controlled fairly well by the lens, and automatic CA reduction in both the D300s and D3x cameras; it's somewhat more prominent on the D300s than on the D3x, showing in both cases as magenta fringing on areas of high contrast.
Corner shading isn't really a problem with the 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E; on the D300s it's negligible, and on the D3x it's only evident at the ƒ/2.8 setting. At this setting, the extreme corners are 1/3 stop darker than the center.
Distortion is well-controlled by the 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E; on the sub-frame D300s, there is essentially no distortion. It's just slightly more noticeable on the full-frame D3x, showing as barrel distortion: in this case, just +0.25% in the corners.
The 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E is a manual focus lens. Moreover, it requires at least a D300, D700 or D3 (or newer) to automatically select apertures, otherwise you will need to manually select an aperture, too.
The 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E provides 0.5x (1:2) magnification, with a minimum close-focusing distance of just over nine inches (25.3 cm).
Build Quality and Handling
Given its premium price tag, it's no surprise that the 45mm ƒ/2.8 PC-E pulls out all the stops when it comes to build quality. From the solid textured finish to the delicate slide of the large focus ring, this lens is a delight to use. The lens comes with a 252-page manual in 12 languages (16 are English); it has a full-page table of what cameras can use this lens, and what functions can be used with each camera. The lens transmits distance information to camera, so full TTL-BL lighting is possible with Nikon's more recent flashes. It is a large lens - over four inches long and three inches in diameter, and almost a pound in weight. Consequently there are warnings in the manual saying not to use the lens hood with a flash and only shoot flash at certain distances.
The diaphragm is made up of 9 rounded blades. PC-E lenses usually require manual operation of the aperture, but when this lens is mounted on a D3x or D300s, automatic selection of the aperture is possible. The aperture selection ring is about 1/4-inch wide and made from a textured rubber. It is positioned before the focus ring, but in front of the tilting and shifting mechanism, for obvious reasons.
As a perspective-control lens, the lens can be shifted left or right, up 11.5mm in either direction, by turning the shifting knob. It can also be tilted by up to 8.5 degrees by turning the tilt knob. The lens can be rotated up to 90 degrees left or right, by depressing a button and rotating the main body of the lens through its axis. By revolving the lens, the shift function can be changed to operate on the vertical axis and the tilt function to operate horizontally. Click stops are every 30 degrees when rotating the lens. When tilting or shifting the lens, there is a locking knob to ensure that the lens stays in the position to which it is set. Finally, there are central indents in the lens body for both tilt and shift functions, to let you know you the lens is in its normal position.
The lens is decorated with a few features: a distance scale, marked in feet and meters, as well as a matching depth-of-field scale (with no marked IR index). The depth-of-field scale shows markings for ƒ/11 and ƒ/32. The tilt feature is marked in individual degree notations, and the shifting feature is marked in 1mm increments.
On the D3x body, the lens balances nicely; on the D300s body, it is a little front heavy, but not overly so. To get the best results from this lens, a tripod is highly recommended. The lens takes 77mm filters.
The manual focus ring is the other main feature of the lens, made from a large, soft rubber, one inch wide. It is very smooth to turn, taking about 160 degrees to run through the entire focusing distance. The front element of the lens does not rotate while focusing, making working with polarizers a painless operation. There is some slight lens extension during focusing: it will extend by 5/8''. An additional feature of this lens is that two SB-R200 wireless speedlights can be attached to the front of the lens.
The bowl-shaped lens hood is simple in comparison, with a smooth interior. Attaching it will add 1 1/4-inches to the overall length of the lens, and is recommended to reduce the appearance of flare in images. The lens hood can be reversed for storage.
Really, the only alternatives in this category lens, in the Nikon line-up, are either the 24mm ƒ/3.5D ED PC-E or the 85mm ƒ/2.8D PC-E. Both of these lenses offer essentially the same characteristics, with the only difference being a slightly faster maximum aperture and the focal length.
This is one of those cases where if you think you need this lens, you probably know almost everything about it and the only real consideration is the sticker price. For getting shots with a unique perspective, or a depth of field impossible with conventional lenses, there is no substitute - the only choice involved is 24mm, 45mm, or 85mm.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
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