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Lens Reviews

The 85mm f/2.8D PC Micro Nikkor Review

Roger Engle (ziggy7)

Keywords: micro, macro, lenses, nikon, nikkor, pc, pc_e, 85mm, 105mm, hb_22, scheimpflug, fotowand, targets, fuji, velvia, zeiss, luminar

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Perspective control objectives are commonly associated with architectural photography. However, their capacity to regulate the distribution of depth of field make them susceptible of consideration by macro photographers, discipline where DOF is always a limiting factor. The 85mm f/2.8D PC Micro Nikkor is tried here from the perspective of the nature photographer, not only to learn about its quality but to also understand its functionalities as applied to this specialty.


Click for a wider view of the 85mm PC on a Nikon D100

The lens mounted on a Nikon D100 body

The universal photographic format was born from Oskar Barnack when in 1925 applied the use of 35mm cine movie film to the camera he was designing. The Leitz camera, later Leica, was ridiculed for its subminiature format, but his proposal ended up being the foundation for modern photography. As vastly proven, such format is most convenient and adequate for action photography and offers enough sensitive surface for static images of high quality, now greatly improved by modern films. And so it is used for the majority of nature photography work.

However, the compact design prevented from keeping tilt-shift movements of the optics, an essence of view camera photography. Through bellows and gears big format cameras can modify the distance between the film and the lens, displace it reciprocally in the horizontal or vertical, or change the angle of the lens axis through rotation. These allow for spectacular manipulation of the apparent subject size and relative position, as well as depth of field and perspective.



Fortunately for us Nikonians, the vast Nikon lens catalog contains shift lenses in 28mm and 35mm focal lengths for the typical applications in architecture, plus the 85mm f/2.8D PC Micro Nikkor, also for still-life and close-up photography.


The lens is compared here to the 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro Nikkor, being this one most likely owned by those contemplating the acquisition of the 85mm PC.


Tested for Nikonians and readers of Fotonatura, the Spanish-speaking nature photography forum, we also take this opportunity to thank Nikon Spain and its official Spanish importer, Finicon S.A. for their support in making this article possible and its publication here.


Shift in a lens, means a displacement of it, maintaining its optical plane parallel to that of the film or digital sensor; it moves the lens axis away from that of the image frame; hence its name, shifting. It is useful to change the relative position of the subject(s), without moving the camera, and to correct perspectives.


Lens shift (Illustrations courtesy of Nikon Spain / Finicon, S.A.

Tilt changes the incident angle of the image on the film or digital sensor, by rotating the lens. It has an effect on the depth of field, extending the focused plane, not parallel to the film or sensor anymore.

According to the Scheimpflug principle, a sharp image occurs where the focusing or subject plane, the lens optical plane and that of the film/sensor intersect. It is easy to comprehend the importance of this principle remembering that, at macro photography under ambient light, one seems to never have enough depth of field and light looks like seldom sufficient for closing down the lens while maintaining reasonable shutter speeds. So with this capability, photographers can now focus on butterflies without having to be parallel to their bodies or closing the lens down to its smallest aperture.

Both shift and tilt can be performed in all directions and be combined.



Obviously the lens requires to be of a special design, and not just mechanically. The circle of the projected image must be much bigger than that to normally cover the film or digital sensor format, since the corners or margins will be used, where light fall and optical aberrations are more noticeable.

This explains why these lenses need to be and are ultra-corrected.




The 85 mm f/2.8D PC Micro Nikkor lens arrived in an excellent rigid and padded case. The objective is huge but its size can be judged as modest, considering its features. Its weight of 770 grams / 27.2 ounces is almost double that of the popular 105mm f/2.8AFD Micro Nikkor. This could represent a problem for our back but not for its use; we will need a tripod anyway.


Click for a larger image

The lens mounted on a D100 body
Focused at infinity (left) and minimum working distance (at right)

The accessories front thread is 77mm and the frontal element is well inside the lens housing to reduce risk of flare, even when not using the not included specific HB-22 hood. Build quality can't be said to be but exceptionally excellent. Incorporates the CRC image correction feature for close focus, not standard in Nikon wide angles. The focusing ring is smooth but firm; as in all modern Micro Nikkor lenses, the engraved distance scale is less progressive for long distances.



With a totally extended helicoid for minimum distance focusing, the reproduction ratio is 1:2 or half life-size. Such working distance is 39 centimeters/15.4 inches, identical to that of the 105 mm at the same repro ratio. Real luminosity of the lens under these conditions is f/4.5, since the nominal value of f/2.8 corresponds to infinity. We must remember that even when not shown in the viewfinder of older cameras, effective aperture is diminished as the focusing helicoid is extended.

The most spectacular characteristic of this objective is its thick central body, which includes two precise ramps with gears, with a screw and stop for control. One is for tilting and the other for shifting, possible at a maximum of 12.4mm and 8.3 degrees respectively.


Click for a larger image

Shift and tilt motion is feasible in all directions, because at the mount of the lens there is a mechanism to gyrate it around its own axis.

On the image at right you may see an animation with all possible movements. Be patient, it is a 240Kb image; it may take some time to load.

  All movements animation

The lens shutter has nine blades making the diaphragm iris almost perfectly round, so the out of focus areas are softer than on the 105mm Micro Nikkor. Minimum aperture is f/45, corresponding to a real f/72 with the helicoid at full extension.

Due to the obtrusiveness of both the mobile ramps for shift and tilt, and the mount, there seems to be no room for aperture communication with the body, so it is completely manual. Once pre selected in the aperture ring, a button needs to be depressed to close the diaphragm iris down. Although this does not seem agreeable in this day and age, it is completely understandable given the characteristics of the lens itself and its mount.

On the other hand, the lens belongs to the D series and has the chip to collect and send distance data to the body, allowing for 3D matrix flash.


Through the viewfinder it is immediately apparent the cleanliness of the image and the high resolution of lines this lens captures and transmits. It is rumored to be the Nikkor with the highest clearness.


Click for enlarged view

The great massive lens

Despite its obtrusive appearance, the lens is not difficult to operate, once you gain confidence and learn to operate it. It certainly is not a lens for action photography but for the studio or in exteriors with a tripod. Needing a tripod for macrophotography should not be anything new for those wanting crispness from any lens.

The only difficulty resides in the impossibility to use the metering system when shifting and tilting are in use, because it was designed for an image coming into the mirror in a straight line. The electronic telemeter is also inexact when the lens is either shifted or tilted.

So the workflow begins facing the subject with the lens wide open. Then meter in manual mode. After the aperture is dialed in for the selected shutter speed, then shifting and tilting come in, implying an exposure compensation. Here is where the tricky part really begins; the exposure compensation requires experience. Even when we know that shifting will not exceed one f/stop and that in shifting is always bigger than in tilting. Finally, the diaphragm iris is closed to its desired (and at first, guessed) aperture, press the button to close down the lens and then action the cameras shutter release.

The procedure above is the suggested by the manufacturer but it is also possible to do the movements as required with the lens closed down; then, in aperture priority mode the exposure is almost always correct, eliminating the need to guess. The only problem would be the darkened viewfinder.




Given the potential of this lens for macro photography, it became interesting to study the DOF and to compare it with that of the 105mm Micro Nikkor. So we first visualized it by performing the classic ruler test, photographed at 70º of the lenses' optical axis. Working distance was 39 cm or 1.3ft, meaning a reproduction ratio of 1:2 for both lenses.

Three apertures were tested in three series: the 85mm PC in normal position, fully tilted and the 105mm. The 85mm PC without tilting rendered similar results to the 105mm so there is no point to present those images here.




When the 85mm PC is fully tilted its advantage is notable due to the change of the focus plane, specially at medium apertures. Evaluation of test results is more complex since diffraction plays an important role in both lenses, reducing perceptible differences.

Click for enlarged view

Comparative DOF around the minimum working distance for the 105mm f/2.8D AF and the 85mm f/2.8D PC Micro Nikkor unshifted and untilted.


The graph above shows the theoretical DOF data, as supplied by Nikon when both lenses are focused at a working distance of 40 cm or 15.7 inches, at the range of nominal apertures. The depth of field of the 105mm Micro Nikkor is bigger than that of the 85mm; however, one should not forget we are looking at fractions of decimals in centimeters, i.e. millimeters. This differences grow bigger at close-down apertures: at f/32 the DOF of the 105mm is 1.3cm vs 0.9cm on the 85 PC.



Now, when DOF is compared for longer distances, it becomes evident the small advantage of the 105mm only exists at short working distances.

In the graph below, each pair of lines of the same color compares DOF for both lenses at the same working distance, at different apertures (in the X axis), expressed in centimeters at the Y axis. The longer line of each pair belongs to the 85 PC since it reaches f/45.

Interesting to notice is how at f/32 and 100cm (one meter) from the subject, the 85 PC surpasses the 105 lens by almost 5cm (2"): with a DOF of 19.5cm against just 15.4cm.

The shift and tilt lens can reach even further at f/45; DOF is then 28cm / 11 inches. This aperture is nevertheless not advisable due to the diffraction at such close down aperture.

Of course all of the above corresponds to the 85mm without shift or tilt.


The resolving powers were compared using 5 Fotowand resolution targets over a 60x90cm (23.6x35.4") blackboard. Lenses were mounted on a Nikon F4, film was Fujichrome Velvia 50. This test is only indicative because it was not performed at an optical lab and with a brand new out-of-the box 105mm Micro Nikkor for the comparison, but with our own working sample. No absolute measurement is hence given, but a comparison between curves of the optics.

Click for enlarged view

Blackboard with 5 targets for resolution tests


A series of three images was shot at each aperture for each lens. Reading of results was made directly on the slide film, backlit, with a binocular microscope at 60X, selecting the best value of the three series for each lens. For the sake of brevity only the center images were processed, notwithstanding the fact that the relative behavior on the outside images was equivalent.



The results confirm what intuitively suspected, the resolving power of the 85mm PC is very high and surpasses the 105mm Micro Nikkor at all apertures, which is a superb lens.

Results also confirm the degrading effect of extreme closed-down apertures, typical of the macro lenses. In practice, the last two apertures should be avoided unless an emergency.


Showing such degrading, the images that follow (below) are enlargements of the center images of the resolution targets at f/8 (at left) and at f/45 (at right) for the 85mm PC.


We began field testing after engaging a group of ants and agreeing on a suitable portion of honey as compensation. With their help we tested the 85mm PC Micro Nikkor alone and with a PK-13 extension ring. In the course of the test were able to attest the conservative design of objective: no lightfall nor vignetting were present ever.

Click for enlarged comparative view

85mm f/2.8D PC Micro Nikkor in the field


The image above, made near 1X (life-size) at f/22, shows the clear benefit of tilting the 85mm PC downwards, with a PK-13 ring, over the classic conventional, and only possible alternative made with the 105mm Micro Nikkor as show at right.

By clicking over any of the two you may see a comparative composite.


Click for a comparative larger image



Later, tests with longer working distances and bigger subjects were made possible thanks to the flowers in the dinning room.

This time we just worked with the 85mm PC. The image was proposed at a distance of 0.90 meters, approximately one yard, and pro ceded to shoot without any shift or tilt, at normal position, as shown at right.


Click for enlargement

Then we completely tilted the lens to a side. We wanted to explore tilting as a creative resource, not to have everything in focus, but to apply focus selectively. The result of inclining the lens towards the right and then recomposing is shown at right.  

Click for enlargement

The composition is now successfully altered, placing emphasis in just one flower. The inclination of the lens allowed for a symmetrical tilting movement without change in the perspective.

Right then our interest was turned to the flower in focus, since it had kept its fragile and interesting stem. As customary, all were at the same plane at a certain height over the petals, which forces a conventional take, basically frontal.  

Click for enlargement

After making the classic image, we took advantage of tilting. Displaced the tripod to the right, rotated the entire camera to the left and then tilted the lens to the right. ¿Result? Optical magic allowed for keeping all stem in focus.  

Clcik for enlargement

With a normal objective a closed-down aperture approach would have been required, altering the background.


Studio-type tests allowed us to get used to the peculiar handing of the lens and to learn what to expect from it.

So we moved out into the field and its maneuverability was rather good, obviously due to the previous training. Handling it is not as easy as with other lenses, however, with some practice one achieves a level of reasonable deployment agility.

Clcik for enlarged comparative view


Click for enlarged comparative view

85mm f/2.8D PC Micro Nikkor, normal at left, tilted at right, same aperture


There was an obvious interest to try out this great lens on a digital body, both for having a smaller format than that on film and for the potential advantage of wider movements before reaching the edges of the image. Unfortunately it is designed for 24x36mm format and its own features prevent its use on digital bodies.

The crop factor, due to the size of the sensor, implies a vision angle equivalent to a 127mm lens. This does not affect the movements, but forces one to be farther removed from the subject, loosing practicality. If it were some 25mm shorter in its focal length it would feel like ideal. Besides, the small viewfinder of the D100 is an inconvenience for a lens requiring full frame bright coverage.

In other words: The sensor being smaller than a 35mm film frame, the tilt/shift movements could have been much wider if designed specifically for non-full-frame digital. On a D100 it was obvious than the mechanical tilt limit was reached much before the image circle was compromised over the sensor. In short, complete optical performances possible on a 1.5x sensor were impossible due to the mechanical limit set up with a 24x36 format in mind.

Therefore this is not an objective to perform 100% on digital macro photography with tilting, due to its focal length and extension limits. For that, one can opt for shorter focal lengths or other systems.

For example, using Nikon PB-4 bellows de Nikon with incorporated turn, or with magnifying lenses mounted in a Zörkendorfer helicoidal tiltable extension. This combination allows to achieve over 17 degrees of tilt as shown at right on a D100 body, with a reproduction ratio of almost 2X using a 40mm Zeiss Luminar lens.


Click for enlargement




The 85mm f/2.8 D PC Micro Nikkor has an excellent built and combines great versatility with an exceptional optical performance. It is greatly useful for still-life and close-ups, maintaining excellent performance at macro photography between 1:2 and even 1:1 magnification ratios when adding an extension ring or tube. It is an ideal tool for close-up photographers, producing results unattainable with normal lenses. Although it doesn't resolve images by itself and one needs to learn to use and understand its limitations.

On the negative side, the architecture of the mount and the lens itself forces the lens to be manual; nothing that cannot be overcome, but remains a minor nuisance. We miss more functionality with digital bodies and would love to see more tilt capability.

What we appreciate, however, is the return to the view camera craftsman spirit. This lens forces the photographer to design its image and pre visualize the wanted result, a learning experience to further our own evolution. What else can we want than a lens from which you learn to see?


  • Impeccable mechanical construction
  • Superb optical quality
  • Versatility of movements
  • Big potential for macro photography; not only at 1:2 but up to 1:1 with extension rings/tubes


  • Manual diaphragm
  • Designed for 24x36mm film format, somewhat reduced functionality on non-full-frame digital bodies
  • Weight

In summary: A most tempting proposition and extraordinary performer.

(2 Votes )
Show pages (8 Pages)

Originally written on June 19, 2004

Last updated on April 28, 2016

Roger  Engle Roger Engle (ziggy7)

Orange Park, USA
Basic, 13 posts