Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E

In this review, Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at a highly specialised macro lens with tilt and shift movements, making it ideal for architecture and product photography.

Nikon's 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro lens offers the photographer greater creative control through tilt and shift lens movements, whilst also being suitable for close up photography, giving a maximum magnification of half life size. This is a highly specialist lens, so you would need to really want the ability to use the lens movements feature as it costs around £1390. Currently no other third party manufacturer offers an equivalent optic, so if you're looking fo perspective control at this focal length, this is your only option for Nikon at present.

Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro: Handling and features
As with other PC-E Nikkors in the range, this 45mm optic can accommodate up to 11.5mm of shift for control of perspective, or 8.5 degrees of tilt to manipulate the focal plane. The lens can also be rotated up to 90degrees clockwise or anticlockwise, with two intermediate stops between. Due to the wide range of lens movements, the lens needs to be capable of covering a much wider image circle, which explains the high price tag, even though the on-paper specification may not seem that exotic without the movements.

Shifting the lens one way or another allows the user to control perspective, for example, correcting converging verticals on buildings. Tilting the lens manipulates the focal plane, allowing the user to either increase or decrease the depth of field for a given aperture. Dials on each side of the lens assembly give precise control of each movement, and two smaller dials allow the tension applied to each control to be adjusted, or to lock the movements in place. All the dials are easily accessible and easy to manipulate.

This is a manual focus lens as the tilt/shift movements would make it very difficult to motorise the focusing process. The aperture is electronically controlled and can be selected via the aperture ring around the lens barrel. To use the lens in Program Auto and Shutter Priority modes, the aperture ring needs to be turned past f/32 to where it says 'L'. As the lens is manual focus, Nikon have kindly provided a hyperfocal scale on the lens barrel. Unfortunately the markings are so close together that it is almost useless, at least it is irrelevant when using tilt movements anyway. The focus control offers just enough resistance to allow for fine focus adjustments easily and focus is confirmed via the camera's autofocus confirmation light.

Overall I found the lens a joy to use. Time needs to be taken to make the most of the movements available, but this is part of the appeal of a lens like this, for me at least.

Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro: Performance
From its widest aperture, this optic produces excellent results across the frame. Stopping down a little improves things even more with the lens peaking in quality between f/5.6 and f/8. I have to say I was surprised at how well the lens performs right out towards the edge of the imaging circle, with excellent sharpness being recorded between f/4 and f/11 right across the imaging area. At smaller aperture diffraction starts to take a bite out of the sharpness, but results are still good right down to f/22.

Resolution at 45mm How to read our graphs
The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. As this lens covers a larger image area than normal lenses do, the grey bar represents the value tested from near the edge at full shift. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D700 using Imatest.

The 45mm PC-E showed a little more chromatic aberration than I'd hoped for, but levels are still wholly acceptable. Levels of CA start off very low across the frame, increasing as the lens is stopped down. They are at their worst at f/32 where they peak at 0.71 pixel widths, which may start to become visible in very high contrast situations.

How to read out charts
Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimise the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D700 using Imatest.
Chromatic Aberrations at 45mm

Due to the wide range of movements with this lens, it is impossible to accurately measure falloff with Imatest across the whole image circle. At f/2.8 the corners of the 35mm imaging area are 1.48stops darker than the image centre, so I would expect more vignetting if using the movements of the lens. Stopping down to f/8 appears to give even illumination across much of the imaging area.

A small amount of barrel distortion is present with Imatest measuring 1.39% barrelling, which I though quite surprising for a prime lens such as this. Luckily the distortion pattern is uniform, so should be easy to correct in image editing software afterwards if necessary.

Click on the thumbnails for a high resolution image

(Above) Using the tilt function allows the depth of field to be manipulated for a given aperture. Here I also used the shift function to straighten up the building a little.

(Right) Here I used the tilt function to increase the Depth of field, despite using a moderate aperture of f/9. You can really see the quality of this lens in the detail recorded on my old watch.

Nikon's Nano Crystal Coating does a sterling job of suppressing internal reflections which cause ghosting and flare in images. Even in quite strong contra lighting situations, this lens gives a pleasing amount of contrast, with few signs of flare.

Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro: Verdict
This lens is a specialist optic constructed without compromise, capable of producing images with outstanding sharpness across the frame. The tilt and shift movements are a joy to use, as the controls feel precise and well laid out. If this kind of lens has tickled your fancy, you will not be disappointed. It may be worth hiring a copy before you buy tough, as it pays to be sure when dropping nearly £1400 on a lens as specialist as this.

"The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E lens is one of the sharpest lenses I've tested to date."
Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro: Pros

Outstanding optical performance
Very precise controls
Excellent build quality

Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro: Cons
Almost useless hyperfocal scale
Maybe a touch pricey, but you get what you pay for.


Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro: Lens specification
Price £1,390.00
Filter size 77mm
Format Full-frame
Construction 9 elements in 8 groups
Angle-of-view 51°
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 67.5cm
Internal focusing No
Image stabilisation No
Minimum focus 25.3cm
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum aperture f/32
Weight 780g
Size 83.5×112mm
In the box Lens Case, Circular hood

The Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro costs around £1390 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro

Add your message

Login required
Please login here or if you've not registered, you can register here. Registering is safe, quick and free.