A sharper focus with a set of bellows

I’m currently working on sharpening my skills with macro photography.  I’ve invested in high-power macro lenses, I’ve bought a macro focusing rail to move the camera into sharp, tight focus, and I’ve improved my focus stacking capabilities.

But I have a feeling that the one new item I’ve acquired may help me really claim a victory.

Scope this out.

What I’ve done here is add a set of bellows between my camera and my lens.  You’ve probably seen bellows like these on 100-year-old Kodaks.  But these bellows are special.  They’re set up to move in such a way that the lens stays put, but the camera itself moves forward and backward.

This actually guarantees that when I take several photos in various stages of focus, the image will remain the same size.  In my previous photography attempts, if I move the camera and lens forward or backwards, the photographed image will grow or shrink – which might cause problems when assembling the image in a focus stack.

And trust me, getting these bellows was a straight-up PITA.

These are Nikon PB-4 bellows, the top of the line product.  They’re sold on eBay for huge amounts – $200-$400 in mint condition.  If they’re any cheaper, it’s because someone’s liquidating their collection or the bellows have rips or pinholes in them.  I’d get outbid on one set of bellows, another set would mysteriously disappear from the site, someone would run the bid up on me and then not pay (most likely a shill bidder, nasty little weasels), so that the seller could try to sell me the bellows for an exorbitant price.

After a couple of weeks of unsuccessful shopping, I finally got my mitts on a set of Nikon PB-4 bellows, along with a reversing ring to create a macro image from a 50mm lens (the ring allows the lens to be mounted backwards, which creates an enormously detailed macro image).

Although these are Nikon PB-4 bellows, the seller included an extra lens on the bellows – a Novoflex 105mm 1:4.  So I hooked up my Nikon Df to the bellows, put the entire assembly on my Vanguard Tracker tripod and –

— and I need something subject-worthy.

I went outside, walked down the street, and plucked some seed pods from the branch of a tree.

I took a few photos with this setup – first I made sure the camera was in focus, then I locked the lens in place and I slowly moved the camera, a little bit at a time, along the bellows rail.

Twenty-one shots stacked later … and this came out.

Seed pods 1. Nikon Df camera, Novaflex 105mm 1:4 lens, Nikon PB-4 bellows, 21 shots combined into focus stack. (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Good lord, it looks like a casting call for Audrey II.

Okay, let’s test out some of my super-powered macro lenses.  First off, let’s see what the Laowa can do.

I cranked up the magnification to 4x … took a burst of shots … combined them … and …


Seed pods 2. Nikon Df camera, Nikon PB-4 bellows, Laowa macro lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

In case you’re wondering, that’s actually the side of one of the seed pods.  It’s not what you THINK you’re seeing.  Get your filthy mind out of the gutter, you pervert.

So let’s try another macro lens.  I still have this 3.5x Mitakon Chinese glass … let’s give it a shot.

I attached it to the bellows, and snapped off a few shots …

And when I was done, this came out.

Seed pods 3. Nikon Df camera, Nikon PB-4 bellows, Mitakon macro lens, photos stacked. (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Okay, so as you can see right there … again, that’s just a bump on one of the seed pods.  And a little landing strip above the bump on the seed pod.

Again … get your dirty mind out of the dirty gutter.

So this will work.  But I can’t use tree seed pods for this.  I need to go find flowers and leaves and the like.  Something sweet and pretty and dignified.

Not something where a 12-year-old boy will point at it and giggle like he’s auditioning for a Beavis and Butt-head revival. 😀