Photography / Tips and Solutions

Focus on Bellows and Movements

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One of the most underrated and possibly least understood tools of the macro world is the bellows. Seemingly antiquated and perhaps intimidating, a bellows is, simply put, a flexible tool that adds distance between a lens and your camera body to decrease the minimum focusing distance and increase your reproduction ratio. A bellows functions on the same concept as the more popular genre of extension tubes, but with the key distinction of added control. Rather than resorting to preset lengths to distance the lens from your camera, like an extension tube, a bellows is a seamless means for positioning the lens at pretty much any distance away from your camera (assuming the bellows is long enough). So why have bellows fallen by the wayside, compared to tubes? In short: cost and convenience. But what bellows lack in affordability and automation, they often make up for in terms of bringing your macro work to that next level by giving you a greater range of adjustments, and some even giving you the ability to work effectively with view-camera movements for adjusting focus and perspective.

At the most basic level, a macro bellows will feature two bayonets—one to attach to your camera body, another to attach a lens—with the pleated bellows itself connecting the two ends (called standards). The standards will be connected to a rail of some kind for stability and then either one or both standards can be moved along the rail to vary the distance from the lens to the camera body. Whereas an extension tube comes in prescribed lengths, the ability to adjust the distance between the camera and lens lets you fine-tune the reproduction ratio and focusing distance to suit the subject and perspective you need. The Fotodiox Macro Bellows, for example, is a simple, straightforward bellows and also features a scale on the rail and locking knob for consistency from shot to shot. More advanced options, such as the Novoflex BALPRO 1, offer a wider range of compatibility for numerous camera systems through the use of bayonet adapter rings, and also feature an Arca-type compatible rail for easy mounting to a tripod. Additionally, there are even auto bellows for Canon and Mamiya shooters that maintain select automated camera and lens functions during use, including metering and auto-exposure capabilities.

Novoflex Auto Bellows for Canon EOS

Moving to the more complex end of bellows systems, numerous options are available that not only give you the ability to adjust the distance between the lens and the camera body, but also to adjust the plane that the lens and the body occupy. Similar in concept to view cameras and tilt-shift lenses, tilt-shift bellows afford you the most control over focus and perspective when working at close range. Novoflex’s BALPRO T/S is one option that allows you to adjust swing by +/- 15° (which can effectively become tilt if you position the camera in the vertical orientation), as well as horizontal shift by 26mm. Without diving too deeply into technique and geometry, having the ability to tilt the lens and camera planes independently allows you to utilize the Scheimpflug principle to extend your depth of field to a far greater extent and with more control than when working with the camera and lens at fixed parallel planes to one another. This is commonly thought of as a benefit for landscape and architectural applications; however, it is equally important when doing critical macro work and close-up product and object photography, since the depth-of-field range is compromised at such close working distances.

Novoflex BALPRO T/S Universal Tilt/Shift Bellows

Beyond the Novoflex system, additional view camera systems developed by Cambo and Horseman have recently been developed that encompass all the benefits of a macro bellows, but with a far greater range of movements and controls. Cambo’s ACTUS system, for example, is a highly modular view camera that can be configured to accept most current interchangeable lens cameras available, as well as digital backs, along with a huge array of different lens types through swappable standards with various bayonets. Different-length bellows and monorails let you adjust the distance between the camera and lens to great lengths, too, for truly extreme macro shooting, if desired. Similarly, the Horseman Axella View Camera shares a common design concept of modular standards and a wide range of lens-mounting options to really open up how you can photograph at close range. View camera bodies can be a bit more than required for general macro shooting, but the amount of control they afford can be a necessity for working professionals in product and macro shooting fields.

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2 Comments

As the owner of two Minolta MD bellows units from days past, plus also a special Minolta MD dedicated lens for macro-photography, I am glad to see 'bellow-scopes' accorded their rightful place in photography. My field of endeavour is movie-making, with an emphasis on Natural History and I am looking forward to combining '4K' and those two 'scopes, both of which are rigid and robustly constructed, together with my forthcoming purchase of a camera/camcorder, which ticks all of the necessary 'boxes'. Besides which, I have modest machining capabilities available.

Something else to commend he Novoflex and also the discontinued Nikon PB-4 (which has shift and tilt) and PB-6 bellows is the separate lower track for the tripod mount. This feature lets you set a fixed magnification ratio determined by the lens to camera body distance also no with lens focal length, and then move the entire rig for focusing on the subject without changing the magnification ratio.

With simpler  designs like the Fotodiox the tripod mount is fixed at one end and you need to purchase  a separate device to go between the tripod head and the bellows in order to bring the subject into focus. This adds weight, size  and instability to your setup.

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