We got out the Nikon PB-6 Bellows to play with. Last year I assembled the necessary parts and pieces; I have rarely used it. One reason for my One Picture a Day project is to encourage me to spend time with all the gadgets I have accumulated. These tools are capable of so much, but there’s a learning curve with every one of them. The camera, the lenses, the accessories, Aperture, WordPress…all are fairly complex tools. They all take repeated use to understand and utilize their full potential reliably, without having to go back to figure it out all over again. Tonight I had to sit with the PB-6 bellows and associated parts for about an hour just to reacquaint myself.
I use a PB-6 bellows, an F-mount adapter, 17mm focusing helicoid, a 42mm-to-39mm thread adapter, and an El-Nikkor 50mm f/2.8 enlarger lens, attached to a Nikon D90. The focusing helicoid is what I use to adapt the threads on the EL-Nikkor lens to the F-mount receiver on the bellows. I set the helicoid in the middle of its range, then use the rail on the bellows to focus on the subject. The bellows rail has to be locked in with a thumbscrew after adjustment. The helicoid then is able to give me a little plus or minus fine adjustment after locking in the rail. Just saves a little frustration.
Why use the El-Nikkor? It is optimized for flat-field photography (i.e., focusing an image onto a flat piece of photographic paper in the darkroom); at these true macro distances, the depth of field is miniscule. Plus, these EL-Nikkors are excellent quality glass and very cheap. The EL-Nikkor is also quite compact, and this rig is bulky enough. I have encountered some dust and fungus in these EL-Nikkors; these things spent a lot of time in dark, humid darkroom shelves. I’ve done some surgery on EL-Nikkors to clean them up; they are easy to take apart. You can stick any F-mount lens on this bellows; shorter focal lengths work better, I am told.
Only full-manual is available with Nikon D90 when using the bellows. But with the digital camera’s ability to review, it’s pretty easy to zero in on the best settings. I have noted the view screen on my D90, and I imagine other cameras as well, seems to make the final image appear brighter than what I really end up with. I set the lens at f/8 for the sharpest image. I lit the coin with an LED flashlight.