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Nikkor 35mm PC lens Panoramic
I have recently been on a bit of a panoramic kick. Whether with the 35mm panoramic kit in the Mamiya 7, or previously with the Hasselblad xPan, it is a format which really excites me. Both those options are fantastic for film shooting, but what about digital?
In the past I have cropped and relied on the Nikon D800 resolution to be adequate. On occasion I have shot two or more frames with a standard or wide lens, and then stitched them together. While some results have been quite good, I have always felt they just did not look quite right. Mainly as I do not use a slide mechanism. By swinging the camera from one side to another, it actually changes the angle of the photo, so there are some smart adjustments going on to merge them.
I am a co-host on a photography podcast called Camerosity Podcast. One of the other co-hosts, and a good friend, is a gentleman called Paul Rybolt. Apart from running a successful online used photography equipment shop (you should really go shopping there if you are in the US), Paul is quite experienced behind the camera. Recently he mentioned that he uses the Nikkor Perspective Control (PC) lenses to shoot panoramic photos on digital cameras.
First, what is a PC lens? Large format photographers will be familiar with the tilt and shift methods of adjusting a photo for, say, keeping the verticals in a building upright and straight. These techniques have been used for many years, giving the photographer an unparalleled level of control on the final photograph.
What happens if you want the same control on a 35mm camera? Nikon has provided a part way solution with the PC lens, as have some other manufacturers, like Canon. The Nikkor Perspective Control lenses allow the user to move the lens elements in one direction, which can be done either vertically or horizontally.
To be able to make this effective, they have a very wide image circle. This is especially the case in the 35mm PC lens. Both the 28mm and 35mm PC lenses are popular with users of the Hasselblad xPan. Specifically because of that image circle and the equivalent 30mm xPan lens is prohibitively expensive.
The other advantage of having a PC lens is that if you move it horizontally you can then use it to take multiple photos. They can then be used for a panoramic result. Let’s look closer at the lens and then how it is used to create panoramic images.
- Hasselblad XPan – Xpand the panoramic
- Mamiya 7 – The titanium standard
- LOMO LC-Wide – Expansive Lomography
While still very early in the SLR world, Nikon decided that 35mm photographers should be able to have some of the control that large format photographers have with movements. So, in 1962 the Nikkor PC 35mm f/3.5 was released.
The 11mm shift ability was thought of as a very exciting development. It was the first time any 35mm SLR was able to offer any type of shift feature. Not only was it able to shift, but it could also be done in any direction. Nikon had invested its future in 35mm SLR cameras, so it was not a big surprise they were innovating.
It was six years later when Nikon replaced the lens with the Nikkor 35mm PC f/2.8, the lens used in this article. This second version was faster but also addressed a problem that was faced with the earlier lens. The first version would not be able to be shifted fully if a Photomic meter was attached to the camera. With the new version this was solved. Apart from that, and an expanded aperture range, the look of the lens remained the same.
The second 35mm PC lens came out before the 28mm version, where the Nikkor 28mm PC f/4 came out in 1972. From there a few versions of the lenses came out, and even the very interesting Nikkor 85mm PC-Micro f/2.8 D, where it is not just a shift lens. It is also a macro lens and incorporates autofocus.
The Nikon Nikkor 35mm PC f/2.8 lens is a wide-angle perspective correction shift lens. It has a Nikon F bayonet mount, but a bare one without any of the usual connections. Your camera will not be able to determine the aperture. All Nikon F mount cameras can have this lens mounted.
It is a retrofocus design, with eight elements in seven groups. Focus ranges from 30cm (1 foot) to infinity. Apertures can be set from f/2.8 through to f/32. It is a pre-set lens, so requires metering to be performed with the lens stopped down. The aperture diaphragm has nine blades. Filter thread is 52mm.
It can shift the lens in one direction by 11mm. The lens can be rotated while mounted on the camera, so the shift can be either vertically, horizontally, or even diagonally. Each rotation position is spaced at thirty degrees. As the image circle is shifted at certain angles it needs to be limited by either 7 or 8mm otherwise severe vignetting will come through on the frame. For both straight vertical and horizontal, the whole 11mm can be set.
Metering is only available through the stop down metering method. You can set the aperture you would like to expose with on the preset ring, which allows you to stop down quickly. Keep the aperture itself open at maximum f/2.8 while focusing and framing. Then with the lens positioned in the centre, i.e. no shift, turn the aperture ring until it stops at the preset aperture setting. Take a meter reading and set on the camera. You can then shift accordingly and use the lens. Metering must be taken in the middle, otherwise it will be incorrect.
Interestingly, in the manual it describes how to use this lens for panoramic photos, though it is aimed at film cameras and only uses two frames. The method I use is a little different. The method in the manual assumes you would overlap the frames in the enlarger when printing.
One of the questions I have been asked a few times recently is “Why would you use a shift lens rather than a normal lens with multiple frames?”. The reason is that without a shift head on the tripod, you will never get the film plane straight. This may not be such a big problem these days on digital, as the merging software does correct to some extent. In the film days, this was a larger problem, as overlapping in the enlarger would have the overlapping areas at different angles.
Having said all that, I prefer to get as much right in the camera, so if this offers a way to keep everything straight, I will use it. As I mentioned earlier, my friend Paul Rybolt has been doing this method for many years and has even provided me some photos included in this article. His results alone are enough for me to want to use this method. He has even given me some great pointers lately which has helped me nail the technique.
So how do we do this? Firstly, you need to find the right subject. In my case it has mostly been cityscapes with this, but it can be used on any type of panoramic where there is not much movement within the frame. As we will be merging three photos, any movement will not work. I use a tripod for this method.
After choosing the subject, take a photo with your hand or lens cap on the lens. A very good reason to do this is that after shooting for a bit, it may be very hard to determine the three photos you were targeting to merge.
Next, with the lens in the central position, meter for the exposure. Ensure the horizon is kept level. After focusing and ensuring the aperture has been stopped down, take the first frame.
With the first frame in the bag, shift the lens to the left completely. Take the next frame.
Finally, with the lens fully shifted, turn it around so that it is shifted on the other side. Be careful not to accidentally change the aperture or focus. Take the final shot.
Not a bad idea to then also take another shot with the cap on to really ensure you know which are the three to use.
There are a multiple software packages you can then use to merge the photos. I am a long-time user of Adobe Lightroom and these days the subscription CC version. After I have loaded the photos into Lightroom, I put them into order from left to right and group them together. It is probably not needed to do this but helps me keep organised.
Then it is as easy as selecting Photo Merge Panorama, which I usually find through a Control Click or Right Click on OS X and Windows respectively. I leave it on Spherical and Auto Crop selections and let it do its thing. It is as easy as that.
As you can see, it is a very easy process to get some remarkable panoramic photographs with a flat focus plane when you don’t have a dedicated panoramic camera. If shooting raw format photos, they can be quite large files, but that does mean it gives you more latitude to correct them. Apart from one photo here, I have not done any corrections, so the process is quite straight forward.
I hope this has been helpful. If you have a shift lens, have a go yourself!
In Nikon PC-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 – the First 35mm Perspective Control (Shift) Lens, Yuan Oliver Jin reviews the lens on Casual Photophile.
Alex Luyckx from Classic Camera Revival podcast reviews the lens in Optical Review Blog No. 33 – Nippon Kogaku PC Nikkor 1:2.8 f=35mm.
Over at 35mmc Cal Steward uses the lens for panoramic photos, but on a true panoramic camera in Hasselblad Xpan with a 35mm F2.8 PC Nikkor – A Users’ Review.