Steve's Web Site

A History of my Photography

Macro Equipment


    Macro photography generally refers to the world of image from about 1:5 to 5:1 magnification. Ordinary lenses don't usually focus this close. At infinity focus lenses are at their closest point to the film plane. Lenses rely on their focusing mechanism to move the lens further from the film plane to focus closer. Since the optical designer and the mechanical designer work together on the lens design the range a lens focuses at is the optimal performance zone. Some lenses, especially the 50-60mm normal lenses have a curved image field and do very poorly capturing flat objects.

    The best way to work closer is by using special macro lenses these typically focus from infinity to 1:3, 1:2, or 1:1 without additional devices. they also are flat field lenses optimized for greatest resolution at closer distances. When I bought my Nikon F2 I bought the 55mm f3.5 Micro-Nikkor as my normal lens. This was a macro lens that would focus to 1:2. I came with an extension tube that allowed focusing down to 1:1. This is a very sharp lens useful for many subjects near and far. I still have and use it today.

    To focus closer you can:

    1. Modify the lens focal length making it shorter, allowing closer focus
    2. Move the lens further from the film plane
    3. Increase the lens effective focal length increasing magnification.

    Method 1 involves using close up lenses. These are positive lenses added to the front of an existing lens. These are the best method to use with zoom lenses and the only method that works with fixed mount lenses. This method has the advantage of not reducing the light amount of light passing through the lens. It has the disadvantage of optical degradation. Your lens will not be as sharp especially at the corners.

    Method 2 involves the use of either/or a bellows and extension tubes that mount between the lens and a camera. This method works best with fixed focal length lenses. The lens can be mounted in either the normal or reverse position. The further you move the lens from the camera the more light you loose. You'll find this works best with older equipment without electrical contacts or complex mechanical linkages. also through the lens metering really shines here since bellows factors and filter factors are handled automatically. A DSLR can be used to chimp the best exposure using the histogram display even if it doesn't couple to 30 year old lenses.

    Method 3 involves adding a teleconverter between the lens and the camera. A 2X teleconverter will double you magnification as well as your focal length. They can be combined with bellows or extension tubes to increase magnification further. The best method is to always use the teleconverter directly attached to the camera body.

Novoflex Auto Bellows

Side view of the Novoflex bellows with the slide copier attachment on the left.

    I bought this bellows in 1975. It has two advantages over the Nikon bellows of its time - it's very compact and it has automatic iris coupling. One reason for the compactness is the fact that the rear camera mount is fixed in position and the front standard is the only one that moves. There is a macro focusing mount on the bottom allowing the whole assembly to be mode back a forth to focus. Both the base and the front standard have a movement knob on one side and a locking knob on the other.

Front view of the bellows showing the lens mount with the iris activation lever. The small rod between the two rails twists to provide the iris control.

    I never kept this bellows in my camera bag because you also need a tripod and all I carried was a table top tripod. I have used it occasionally but most of the time my 55mm lens was all I needed. I did develop a special high magnification setup using a 25mm cine lens mounted in reverse. I was able to get 6:1 magnification with this combo.

View from the rear showing the camera mount and the coupling arm for auto iris operation

    When I tried using this bellows with AI and AIS lenses I discovered that the maximum aperture post on the lens prevented the auto iris mechanism from working. Also the bellows could not mount on newer cameras with a grip on the right side because the bottom could not clear it. I purchased a set of Vivitar automatic extension tubes and put the smallest one on the front and the middle one on the rear and this allowed the iris to function and the bellows to mount on my newer cameras.

The Novoflex bellows with a 50mm EL Nikkor lens in a custom mount.

    I tried to use this bellows and its slide copier to digitize slides. The problem is that with the 55mm micro Nikkor I could not reduce the reproduction ratio low enough to copy the entire slide. If I used the 105mm f2.5 Nikkor the slide copier had to be too far away to mount on the bellows. The 85mm Nikkor would almost work. I ended up purchasing a used Bowens Illumitran and using it with the 90mm Tamron macro lens.


Nikon PB-4 Bellows

Nikon PB-4 Bellows from the side with a 135mm short mount lens. This lens will focus from infinity to 1:1

    The Nikon PB-4 bellows is a relatively new purchase even though it is long obsolete. It was the best bellows Nikon made. Beside having both front and rear standards adjustable to any position, the front standard can both tilt and shift to allow perspective and depth of fields control. Nikon no longer incorporates this feature into the current bellows, but instead make a special macro lens with both tilt and shift. Canon provides this capability in three different lenses.

Front view of the PB-4 from the front. Unlike the Novoflex this bellows has full movements for both the front and rear standard.

    The PB-4 does not proved the auto iris feature of the Novoflex bellows. If you have an E4 extension tube it can be used with a cable release to provide auto iris operation. 

Close-up of the front standard showing the lens release button as well as the tilt and shift locking levers.

    The feature that sets the PB-4 apart from other bellows units is its tilt and shift capability on the front standard. Although limited to one axis only to get this capability these day you have to buy a very expensive 85mm macro lens with tilt shift capability. It is interesting to note that some of the view camera makers are making mini view camera designed to use the medium format digital backs with large format lenses to provide a digital view camera. Some are even offering adapter to use high end 35mm type digital SLR's in place of the medium format digital backs.

Rear end of the PB-5 showing the lens mount. the silver button to the right of the lens mount releases the mount to rotate 90 degrees allowing most cameras to be mounted.

    I bought a use 135mm lens with an adapter that lets it mount on either of my bellows. It can focus from 1:1 to infinity and works fine with the tilt and shift freature of my PB-5.


Vivitar Extension Tubes

The tree Vivitar extension tubes separated. Note the pre-AI meter coupling mechanism and the Dymo tape label

    Vivitar made and sold a large number of these extension tube during the late 1960's to mid 1970's. The reason was simple: Nikon simply didn't think there was a need for automatic iris meter coupled extension tubes. Aside from the PK-3 extension tube provided with the 55mm Micro-Nikkor they offer a kludged system of rings without meter coupling or auto-iris. Even the earlier PK-3 tubes lacked these features. So Vivitar offered a better mouse trap for less money and cleaned up.

The three extension tubes stacked, largest on the bottom smallest on top.


Nikon PK3 Extension Tube

Side view of the PK-3 extension tube showing the meter coupling at the top. The orange button is the lens release.

    This extension tube was included with my 55mm Micro-Nikkor lens which I purchased in 1975. With the 55mm it allowed focusing from 1:2 magnification down to 1:1 magnification. This version provides coupling for the auto iris mechanism and for the old external meter coupling. For some reason Nikon did not see a market for as set of tubes with this design, allowing Vivitar and others to market them.


Nikon BR2 Reversing Ring

Side view of the BR2 Reversing ring.

    Some lens designs, especially asymmetrical ones, work better in reverse for close up work. The ring has a 52mm filter thread on the front and a Nikon lens mount bayonet on the rear to allow mounting a lens in reverse. Of course you loose auto iris control and meter coupling when you use this ring.


Nikon BR3 Filter Coupler

Front view or the BR3 tube. The tab on the left is the lens release.

    When you use a BR2 to mount a lens in reverse the filter mount of the lens is used to hold the lens. This tube was designed to attach to the exposed lens mount of a lens mounted in reverse and provide an attachment point for filters. Since each end is the opposite of the BR2 you can combine the two to make an extension tube.


Nikon E4 Extension Tube

Front view of an E4 extension tube. On the left side is the button to open the lens iris, with a thread to attach a cable release.

    This useful device is used to provide iris control on a lens mounted on a bellows. Since a Nikkor lens with auto iris control is designed to rest at the set aperture rather than wide open when not attached  to a camera it would be nice to be able to open the iris to maximum quickly for focusing. This tube is designed to do just that. The button on the side opens the lens to the wide open position for focusing. The button is threaded to take an old style cable release. Be aware though that a double cable release does not provide auto aperture capability. This unit works in the opposite direction than what it would need to. It can be used on a lens mounted normally or in reverse.