Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E Review

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.

Nikon 45mm

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.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/4, f/8.0

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.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/11.0

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 D810 @ 45mm, ISO 100, 1/500, f/5.6

1) Lens Specifications

Main Features

  1. Normal, Perspective Control (PC) lens featuring tilt, shift, and rotation capability.
  2. Revolving capability of plus or minus 90-degrees, in 30-degree increments, for versatile tilt/shift shooting effects.
  3. High-performance Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) offers superior color performance and substantially reduced ghosting and flare.
  4. Wide shifting range, plus or minus 11.5mm, with a tilting range of plus or minus 8.5 degrees provides exceptional control.
  5. One ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element offer superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration.
  6. Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat virtually eliminates internal reflections across a wide range of wavelengths, for even greater image clarity.
  7. Rounded 9-blade diaphragm for more natural appearance of out-of-focus image elements.
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/200, f/8.0

Technical Specifications

  1. Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
  2. Focal Length: 45mm
  3. Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
  4. Minimum Aperture: f/32
  5. Format: FX
  6. Maximum Angle of View (DX-format): 34°50’
  7. Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 51°
  8. Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.50x
  9. Lens Elements: 9
  10. Lens Groups: 8
  11. Compatible Format(s): FX, DX, FX in DX Crop Mode, 35mm Film
  12. Diaphragm Blades: 9
  13. Distance Information: Yes
  14. Nano Crystal Coat: Yes
  15. ED Glass Elements: 1
  16. Super Integrated Coating: Yes
  17. Minimum Focus Distance: 0.83ft (0.25m)
  18. Focus Mode: Manual
  19. Filter Size: 77mm
  20. Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
  21. Approx. Dimensions: 3.2in (82.5mm) x 4.4in (122mm)
  22. Weight (Approx.): 26.1oz (740g)
  23. Supplied Accessories: HB-43 hood, CL-1120 soft case, LC-77 front cap, LF-4 rear cap
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/250, f/8.0

2) Lens Compatibility

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 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 Df Yes Yes 11.5mm P/S/A/M
Nikon D600/D700 series Yes Yes 11.5mm P/S/A/M
Nikon D500 Yes Yes 11.5mm P/S/A/M
Nikon D300 series Yes Yes 11.5mm P/S/A/M
Nikon D100/D200 Yes No 9.5mm M
Nikon D7000 series Yes Yes 8mm P/S/A/M
Nikon D3000/D5000 series Yes Yes 6mm P/S/A/M
Nikon D90 Yes Yes 8mm P/S/A/M
Nikon D70/D80 Yes No 8mm M
Nikon D40/D60 Yes No 6mm M

3) 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.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 55/1, f/10.0

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.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, 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, 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.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/8.0

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).

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 20/1, f/5.6

4) Lens Sharpness and Contrast

Modern image sensor have challenged lenses to keep up with ever increasing standards of sharpness. How does the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E, a ten-year-old lens, perform when used with a high-resolution body, like the Nikon D810? From wide open to stopped down the quality of the images produced by the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is fantastic. Sharpness is even across the frame, including when making large shifts. At f/2.8 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. This is one of the sharpest lenses I have used; I feel that it is sharper than Nikon’s holy trinity of zoom lenses which I use on a regular basis.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/160, f/8.0

5) Macro

Macro lenses enable the photographer to create images at a very close distance to the subject. Please note that Nikon uses the word “Micro” to refer to this type of lens. The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is a unique type of macro lens because the photographer may tilt the plane of focus while zoomed in on a subject, giving them a greater level of control over what parts of the image are in focus. This control is invaluable at the macro level because depth of field decreases as focus distance decreases.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/8.0

The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E offers macro capabilities at 1:2 magnification. Nature and commercial photographers will enjoy getting up close and personal; images display at 50% of their actual size on the image sensor. That is, a subject measuring 1 inch long will take up 0.5 inches on the image sensor at the lens’ closest focus distance. Please note that at its minimum focus distance this lens’ maximum aperture reduces from f/2.8 to f/3.8. In practice this is not an issue because macro photography is mostly performed with a fairly small aperture to maximize depth of field.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 250, 1/400, f/11.0

6) Bokeh

Nikon’s 9-blade rounded diaphragms deliver exceptionally smooth bokeh. Bokeh produced by the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is no exception. The quality of out of focus elements is important for macro lenses because closeup images tend to have low depth of field. What is great about this lens is that the bokeh is not distracting; it is smooth and uniform across the frame.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/250, f/3.3

7) Vignetting

Most lenses experience light falloff, or vignetting, in the corners when shooting at or near maximum aperture. Vignetting tends to be most pronounced in fast primes and zoom lenses. The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E does not fit into either of these categories, and it does well with moderate vignetting at f/2.8, minimal vignetting at f/4, and little-to-no vignetting at f/5.6 and above.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/5.6

8) 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. Luckily, this is not much of an issue with the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E because it comes with a lens hood and the front element is deeply recessed inside the lens barrel. On top of this is Nikon’s incorporation of Nano Crystal Coat which helps to reduce internal reflections. All in all, this lens handles bright light better than most. Even pointing it directly at the sun yields only minor ghosting.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/60, f/16.0

9) Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberration is an unsightly green or magenta outline found near areas of high contrast in an image; for example, black lines against a bright sky can cause CA. The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is quite good in this area. Under normal shooting conditions CA is undetectable. In high contrast scenes it can only be seen when zooming in to 100% on a high-resolution sensor.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 100, 1/60, f/8.0

10) Distortion

Some lenses do not render straight lines perfectly; rather, lines will appear to bulge or shrink away from the center of the image. It is important that a lens used for photographing architecture be low in distortion. Otherwise, buildings would appear to lean or wiggle. Distortion is well controlled on the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 400, 1/60, f/6.3

11) Lens Comparison

It is difficult to compare the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E to any particular lens because it occupies a niche in Nikon’s ecosystem. It is the only normal-angle tilt-shift lens in Nikon’s arsenal. Add macro capabilities and you are looking at a truly unique item. The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is not a replacement for a general-purpose normal lens. It is far too bulky and slow (both in terms of focus and aperture) for that. Nikon offers four tilt-shift lenses: 19mm, 24mm, 45mm, and 85mm. The main difference here is in focal length; the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E sits right in the middle and works well in a variety of applications. Compared to other Nikon macro lenses, the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is handicapped by its 1:2 reproduction ratio, considering most of its competitors offer 1:1 ratios. However, this lens allows the photographer to tilt the plane of focus which is particularly useful when dealing with thin depth of field at the macro level. If you are considering adding the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E to your collection, then you probably already know why you need it, and these comparisons will not change that.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/250, f/8.0

12) Summary

The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is one of the most technically perfect lenses I have used. Image quality and build quality are excellent. It is also a really fun lens to use because there are so many functions to play with. MSRP for a new copy is $2050; used copies go for around $1400. Some photographers might wonder if you are getting your money’s worth with this lens. In my opinion, yes, the value is there. The question is if the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E is the right tool to keep in your bag. Computer software can emulate most of the functions of this tilt-shift lens, albeit with lower overall image quality. For this reason I do not recommend this lens for casual photographers. Professionals and serious amateurs with dedicated use cases for the Nikon 45mm f/2.8D PC-E will love it. I hope that you have enjoyed the images and information provided in this lens review. Please leave your questions and comments below.

NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 400, 1/100, f/8.0
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/60, f/8.0
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/8.0
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/4.5
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/5.6
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 500, 1/10, f/8.0
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 125, 1/60, f/8.0
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/11.0
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/320, f/5.6
NIKON D810 @ 45mm, ISO 64, 1/80, f/5.6
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