35mm Shift Lens Group Test
Nikon 35mm f2.8 PC v Olympus 35mm f2.8 Shift v Contax Zeiss 35mm f2.8 PC
Nikon PC-Nikkor 35mm f2.8 PC
This is the latest and widely considered to be the best wide PC-Nikkor available. Whereas Canon's shift and perspective control lenses are positioned at 24mm and 45mm, Nikon offers PC lenses at the relatively similar focal lengths of 28mm and 35mm. Based on a slower (f3.5) eight-element version of the 1960s, the most recent model features seven elements, Nikon's NIC coatings and close-range correction. Only the most recent variants (like this one) have multi-coloured depth of field scales.
Weighing in at 320g, measuring 66mm in length and having a 52mm front filter size, the Nikon PC35 feels compact and shapely in the hand, inspiring confidence in its build quality with all metal construction and positive, smooth movements. It has a number of unique features: it's the only lens of its type to stop down as far as f32, and the manual aperture control is a strange, stepless two-ring limiter affair with broad (precise) spacing. Ergonomically, it's quite pleasing – reminiscent of a large format lens.
The lens has the usual two controls: detents for 360° rotation, enabling horizontal and vertical movements relative to the sensor orientation, and the primary shift. Nikon opted for a simple 'one-way' mechanism that simply winds the lens away from the sluggishly geared control knob. On the down side, this makes for very slow movements; on the upside, stitching is quickly accomplished by winding the lens out to its maximum travel (left), and rotating the collar 180°, without further ado. Though Nikon states an 11mm range of movement, in practice, this seems to net out to a little less: more like 10mm and a smidgeon.
The sample tested here was one of the latest variants, fitted with a Fotodiox Pro Nikon-Canon adaptor.
Olympus Zuiko Shift f2.8 f=35mm (not Zuiko 35mm Shift 1:2.8)
Note well the order of the lens description: I learnt too late its significance. Though Olympus only ever made one version of this lens for the OM mount, the vast majority are single coated, but designated in the most fiendishly subtle way. Many of the later multi-coated units were bought by Sinar for use on their early digital MF systems, and are marked 'Sinaron' on the front lens barrel. All Sinarons are MC lenses and pretty much guaranteed to be top-notch samples. The lens tested here, however, is single coated, and was kindly loaned to us for the review by MXV Photographic (genuinely good people to deal with: not just because they let us borrow this copy). However, it quickly became apparent that it struggled with flare and internal reflections, which set us to investigating the MC situation. Historically, Olympus found all kinds of sneaky ways to flag up the coating used on their lenses: sometimes the key is to look for extra letters; sometimes the omission thereof. If you want a multicoated 35/2.8, here's the knack: look for the inscription "ZUIKO SHIFT 35mm 1:2.8". If the running order of the words is different, or if it says "f = 35mm", it's single coated – and most are. The other giveaway, of course, is a purple/green (MC) or neutral/yellow (SC) reflection.
The lens itself is tiny, in finest Zuiko tradition: 310g in weight and 59mm in length, with a petite 49mm front filter size. Its friction-based movements are typically very smooth: though be warned that they do fail over time and through extended use to the point where they drift and become sloppy. The rotating ansd shifting mechanism is by far the quickest and most useful, however. Simultaneous horizontal and vertical movements are possible, enabling part of the image circle to be mapped that would be inaccessible to any other lens of its type. Additionally, vertical shifts in landscape orientation can be extended to almost 14mm. Naturally the 60mm image circle (Olympus plausibly claims 62mm) precludes horizontal movements greater than 10mm in landscape mode, but the extra functionality is appreciated here, and cements Olympus' reputation as shift lens masters in tandem with their unique 24mm f3.5.
This single coated sample was tested using a CameraQuest Olympus OM / Canon adaptor. A repeat test will be conducted with a multicoated sample soon.
Contax Zeiss 35mm PC-Distagon f2.8
Typical 2007/8 price: $1600-1800
You'll know this is a special lens the moment you pick it up. It takes a big 86mm filter on the front and weighs more than the Nikon and Olympus PCs combined (740g). Optically, it has the full Zeiss pedigree: T* coatings, CRC and every trick they knew about extracting maximum performance from wide angles. Whereas all the 21mm Distagons were made in Japan, all the Contax PC lenses I've seen were made in West Germany and were identical: they never even made an MM version of this lens. At least it makes a buying the right version easy enough: one size fits all. Perhaps Zeiss' funny German way of saying: 'But how can we improve on perfection?'
The minimum focus is 30cm – identical to all the lenses here tested – though each has a slightly different shift mech. Contax opted for a rotating collar that is disengaged for movement by upward pressure, combined with a friction shift to access the 10mm movements available. Swapping between this and the silky-smooth Zuiko, the Distagon feels a bit like a victim of its own robustness: the movements on this sample were on the heavy side of positive. Bulletproof, but not quick.
This mint minus sample was tested with a Cameraquest adaptor.