Fotodiox Macro Bellows
Since June is Photography and Video month here at MAKE, we’re focusing (so to speak) on project documentation. To coincide with this theme, I decided to try out Fotodiox’s Macro Bellows, which is available for both Canon and Nikon SLRs. A macro bellows allows lenses that otherwise don’t have a close focus distance to get ultra tight closeups on small subjects. This is perfect for documenting projects with small details. While you can buy lenses that have macro capabilities, the Fotodiox Macro Bellows is great for a photographer trying to save a little money. At $40, it’s much cheaper than investing in a new lens, and serves as possible alternative to swappable extension tubes which achieve the same effect. However, the low price comes with a few drawbacks.

Attaching the bellows is easy; it connects to your camera body’s lens port and your lens connects to the front of the unit. A knob on the left side brings the lens forward and backward and the knob on the right locks the bellows in place. This controls the level of magnification. The feel of the controls and overall construction was surprisingly sturdy, given its low price. I was comfortable attaching even my heaviest lens to the front of the bellows.

After spending a little time getting the focus just right, I found that the depth of field was too shallow to make a good photo. Adjusting the lens to a smaller aperture helped greatly, but this is where one of the drawbacks comes into play. Because the lens is not electronically connected to your camera when you use this bellows, you can’t use your camera’s control over the aperture the way you’re used to. If you want to change the aperture (also known as f-stop) on your lens, you must first attach the lens directly to your camera, set the aperture, and then hold down the depth-of-field preview button while you remove the lens from the camera. This process will set your lens’s aperture until the next time you connect it directly to your camera. And if you want to change the aperture, you must disconnect the bellows and reconnect the lens to the camera. This makes “chimping” to find the right aperture very difficult unless you’re using an older lens with a manually adjustable aperture ring. The fact that the lens is not electronically connected to the camera also means that you’ll only be able to manually focus your lens.

The quality of the resulting image depends mostly on the quality of the lens you use with your bellows, so please use the images below as a general quality reference for using any bellows. The photo on the left was taken with a 50mm Canon lens on the bellows without any cropping. The photo on the right is taken with the same 50mm lens at its closest focus distance and then cropped down to match the size. While the image with the bellows has some optical abberations along the outside, it lacks the noise found in the image on the right. The image on the right has the benefit of the 5D Mark II’s 21.1 megapixel sensor. Cameras with fewer megapixels stand to benefit the most from using a bellows. 50mm with bellows / 50mm cropped without bellows

The optical abberations along the outside of the frame seem even more drastic when pitted against a “native” macro lens. On the left is a Canon 50mm lens attached to the bellows. On the right is Canon’s 100mm f/2.8 macro. Keep in mind that the latter is a $600 lens and that the quality of the lens itself has much to do with with the quality of the photo.

If you want to dive into macro photography, but don’t have the money to splurge on new glass, the Fotodiox Macro Bellows serves as an inexpensive stopgap. It will take a little practice to use and you’ll have to settle on an f-stop so that you don’t waste time changing it using the method outlined above. For a little more money, you can also purchase Canon’s own macro extension tubes. These have the benefit of being able to pass electronic data between the camera and the lens so that you can control your lens’s focus and aperture with your camera. Nikon users can purchase tubes manufactured by a company such as Kenko to get electronic control of their macro-converted lenses. Your budget will help decide which route to go for macro photography. If you’re looking for something very inexpensive but gets the job done, the Fotodiox Macro Bellows fits the bill perfectly.