Being predominantly a large-format film photographer I have happily watched and comforted myself with the thought that no combination of DSLR and lens could possibly get close to the performance and fine detail offered by my large format camera with movements. In the past I have tried some of the DSLRs, and although I enjoyed using them and the convenience of the instant preview, they just did not do it for me as a landscape photographer. Several concerns always came to the fore, such as final image-size limitations, noise in the shadows and finally lack of movements, resulting in the loss of foreground definition and depth of field.
However, this perception was about to rudely challenged when I was offered the chance of venturing out onto the Outer Hebrides with the Nikkor 24mm PC-E shift and tilt lens. I used it with a Nikon D700 sporting a full frame FX CMOS sensor.
Meanwhile the 24mm PC-E lens has an angle of view of 84°, rising to 101° when fully shifted. The shift is available at ±11.5mm and the tilt ranges ±8.5°. This lens contains 13 elements in 10 groups and contains three ED elements, three aspheric and one with the new Nano Crystal Coat.
All I had to do now was to get out there and to see if all this technology was up to scratch and, more importantly, could deliver the results that my Schneider lenses could when fitted to my Ebony large format camera. I must admit I was sceptical, but the potential benefits were such that I thought I needed to give it a try. I decided to schedule a shoot for the glorious Isle of Lewis and Harris and when I arrived there I ventured out onto the wonderful beaches and deployed the Nikon with the 24mm PC-E in exactly the same way that I would have done had I been using my large format camera. I noticed immediately the ease with which I could use this lens and how quickly I could obtain the focus I was looking for by deploying its tilt function.
The lens is fitted with a locking knob on one side and a ’dial-in’ adjustment knob on the other. Both of these functions are easily accessible to the hands when looking through the viewfinder of the camera and they avoid the need to take your eyes from the focusing operation. The general focusing operation I followed with this lens is as follows:
After you have completed all these steps, stop the lens down to f/11, which I found was more than enough to give you the depth of field you need. Go beyond this point and you will start to suffer from diffraction and to lose the sharpness you have worked so hard for.
You should be mindful that small changes in tilt lead to large changes in the focus plane angle, and that tilt is correspondingly less influential as the tilt angle increases. The most common mistake I have seen while teaching clients and students large-format camera movements is over-estimating the amount of tilt needed. Just dialling in 5 degrees of tilt to get a Scheimpflug effect on a normal landscape is usually far too much, and the photographer is left confused and frustrated that their composition has not ’snapped’ into pin-sharp focus.
Generally applying the principles I had used for many years made the use of the Nikkor very easy indeed, and the overall ease of having the exposure preview available with a histogram was a treat! The real test was the final image. Having made many exposures on my trip and pushed the lens to its limits, when back at home I finally got the chance to look at the Raw files on my monitor - and I have to say that I was impressed.
Although my main concern was the performance of the lens itself, the D700 camera had also performed excellently and I was presented with clean, crisp results which I could easily print up to a size of A2 and beyond, without any loss of quality. The 24mm PC-E lens stopped to a maximum of f/11 offered me some stunning results and when I had had the time to process my black and white sheet films I must confess there was little difference in terms of image sharpness and definition that had been achieved.
© Paul Gallagher