Perspective control lens are a breed among themselves and are perfectly suited for what they are best known for: architectural and commercial photography. They are designed to maintain straight lines while composing those vertical structures. While it is true these special lens have benefits in and around architecture they also have a secret to tell for landscape and nature photographers. I love to use my PC-E 24mm f3.5 and my 45MM 2.8 Micro Nikkor PC-E out in nature to capture some very good image that are not eaisly captured using traditional lens. The PC-E lens is suited to help you capture the beauty of nature in ways not possible with normal camera lens.
One challenge with nature photography is bringing the image back to the viewer with the same visual experience you saw out in the field. Like standing among a grove of towering trees where sunlight is pouring through the canopy or a tall waterfall. For most of use we rely on a wide angle lens. In our attempt to capture the "full" image we are tempted to tilt the lens up or down in hopes of getting the entire picture.
Once we get the image home it sometimes lacks presence or due to lens tilting looks a bit odd - things look to be falling over or leaning in, depending on which way you tilted the lens up or down in hopes of getting everything into the frame.
For this article I will discuss vertical perspective control not focus shift, that will be left for a project later this summer.
Nikkor 45mm PC-E F2.8
Here you see the lens was slide up - this allows the user to capture additional sky without "tilting" the lens up for no distortion images.
PC-E lens provides the user an ability to move the perspective up or down while maintaining perfectly straight lines. This is because the lens can physically slide up or down in relation to the sensor. Interesting!
For example: a 45mm PC-E has a angle of view of about 51 degrees, sliding the lens element up adds 25% more "sky" image area and sliding the lens down adds another 25% foreground image area - you see where I am going with this?
Say you have a wonderful scene that has a beautiful foreground and you also want to capture the tree tops. With the PC-E it is as simple as snapping 3 images.
Technique: For best results you should use a tripod but you can hand hold if your careful. Ensure the camera is level to the ground (buy a cheap bubble level). Since PC-E lens are almost fully manual and exposures are always performed in the default lens position, center the lens on the camera, the default setting. Set your aperture, adjust for correct exposure settings, and focus. Take the first photo, without any additional adjustments, use the lens controls and move the lens element to the full down position, this will bring in the foreground - take the picture. Finally move the lens element to the full top position and take the last photo.
One you have taken three seperate images that encompass the foreground, middle, and sky you are all set to do a PhotoMerge using your favorite photo editor software.
| The Photo Merge
|First image (mid-ground) and exposure calculations for remaining images
||This is the second image for adding additional vertical area
||This is the third image adding additional foreground
|Final Merged Image
Once you merge the three photos you will have a hugh high resolution image file. When I do these merges using my D810 the output jpeg image is about 80mb. For this article i saved the image at the lowest setting to facilitate easy loading.
Not only does the Nikkor PC-E lens slide up or down or shift left or right - you can also rotate the lens - giving you additional flexibility to do a WIDER shot than normal using the technique, but this is also an easy feat for a PANO head, with Nodal plate. However, your not able to go pano in the vertical and this is where the PC-E shines.
If you are sitting on the fence wondering if you should buy a PC-E and tell yourself you will not use it too often - I say yes the PC-E is a wonderful tool to have in your photo bag. It also forces you to think more due to the manual nature of PC-E.
On some camera bodies the PC-E can be set to allow automatic setting of the aperture using the electronic diaphragm feature, but for the most part is a manual lens. It is fun to use!