Nikon PC Nikkor 19mm f/4 E ED Review
The PC Nikkor 19mm f/4E ED lens is an impressive piece of kit, looking very much at home on the Nikon D810 body. It is a serious business from the start as we peel off the various warning notices about the possibility of trapped fingers as there are so many ways to rotate parts of the lens. Duly warned, I am pleased to report that my fingers remain unscathed after using the lens for several days.
The instructions advise that users of cameras other than the D5, D4 series, D810 series and D500 may find that some combinations of shift and rotation may not be available as the controls may foul the camera body. There are certainly many options. Tilt, shift and also rotation of both these parameters give a very versatile group of potential movements. This offers not only the possibility of changing the way receding lines are recorded but also for control of depth of field for subjects lying at an angle to the camera axis. There are locks to prevent accidental movement. All of these controls are firm but smooth and look well made, able to withstand a long period of regular use without problems.
Starting at the front of the lens, we have a very substantial locking lens cap that bayonets on without any difficulty in alignment. This covers a highly bulbous front element. There is no possibility of attaching filters or hoods. Behind this is a beautifully damped manual focusing ring, and this is, of course, a manual focus only lens. Unusually for such as wide angle lens, it matches the acuity of the D810 focusing screen perfectly and is actually very easy to focus, the image snapping in and out crisply. Distances are marked in feet and metres and there is also a depth of field scale.
Further back we find the tilt control, scale, rotation and lock mechanisms. Nearest to the camera body the same is available for the shift mechanism. All of these controls work very smoothly. The range of shift available is plus or minus 12mm and the amount of tilt plus or minus 7.5 degrees. The shift part of the lens rotates 90 degrees left and right, with click stops every 30 degrees. The tilt part rotates 90 degrees to the left only, with a click stop at 45 degrees. It all takes a little getting used to but everything soon drops into place and the result is a very versatile set of tilt, shift and rotational movements.
The lens weighs a solid 885g, but in use, it is well balanced and is not too onerous in terms of this weight. It comprises 17 elements in 13 groups, including 3 ED (Extra Low Dispersion) and 2 Aspherical. Nano crystal and fluorine coatings are used.
The diaphragm is an E-type electronic design, giving ultra-smooth and precise aperture control, with 9 blades offering improved bokeh effects. Closest focus is 0.25m, or 0.9 feet.
In use there are no particular hazards or difficulties and all operations of the lens are smooth and slick. The build quality is impressive indeed.
The amount of tilt and shift available is really quite versatile. Stopping down the lens is a good idea when using shift, to ensure any vignetting or drop off at the extreme image circle edges is minimised. Using tilt, wider apertures can be used when the tilt brings a receding line back to being parallel with the lens axis. An example of this is the line of DVDs in the images section. Here, even an f/4 aperture brings most of the line into focus, and f/8 totally clinches it. To use the hyperfocal distance instead, as with a conventional lens, would mean using a very small aperture, such as perhaps f/22, with the resultant drop-off in sharpness we expect from diffraction.
As regards shift, one use is to enable the camera back to be kept parallel to the subject and then to shift the frame upwards to, for example, encompass the cut off portions of a building. Thus we correct converging verticals, making the perspective what our eyes want to see, even though in effect we are making the image optically wrong.
All of this does not even begin to consider the creative possibilities, so this is a lens that will take a lot of living with to even approach fully exploring its potential.
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