Bellows vs Extension Tubes - Please advise


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Oct 6, 2010
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South Africa
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I would like to get into close-up photography and would like to know from the gurus which would be the best buy - bellows or extension tubes. I have a Nikon D5000.
I would recommend a set of Kenko extension tubes (~$100 - 120 on eBay). While not as versatile as bellows, these will preserve all of your automatic functions, whereas bellows units will not. Bellows units are also generally much more expensive, and many older bellows units won't fit correctly on modern DSLRs. Unless you really need the extreme magnification of a bellows unit, I would go with the tubes.
Loss of effective aperture will be the same with bellows or extension tubes since they work exactly the same way. The only difference is that extension tubes are a fixed distance whilst bellows lets you "zoom" the magnifiaction increase in and out.

The other main difference has been pointed out - a bellows setup will strip you of contacts/controls between the camera and the lens - whilst a good set of extension tubes (like the kenko tubes) will have contacts thus letting you retain all normal lens controls. Note there are ultra cheap extension tubes on the market which won't have the contacts and thus will not allow any lens control from the camera - these are best avoided.

Note that some older design nikon lenses still have the manual aperture controls on the lens itself - however whilst this can be used it is a slower and more tricky method (since you have to remember to close the aperture blades before taking a shot). The most ideal method with bellows is to use a setup like the Nonoflex which either has a bellows with contacts or an adpator that fits between bellows and the lens+camera and has a cable that carries the contacts and thus retains communication
When did Nikon quite making the BP-6? That was from what I understand was a bellows with electrical contacts.
Wow! Less than 24 hours since I've joined this forum and already a wealth of very informed opinions and suggestions! What a great place to be. Many thanks for the responses, guys. It is very much appreciated. Looks like I will have to start hunting for a bellows with contacts. From what I gather from the above, there is definitely a place for extension tubes (with contacts, of course), but I would like to get really close to the objects. I might opt for both, but that could prove to be a bit pricey.
i Strongly recommend you choose Extension Tubes

Thanks for your reply. Would you mind explaining why you would recommend the extension tubes over bellows (even if both have contacts)? I did note that the extension tubes are a lot cheaper and more readily available than bellows with contacts. I would also like to know how much the difference is in the magnification of the subject between using bellows as opposed to extension tubes, please.
Bellows and extension tubes work the same way - both add distance between the camera body and the lens and by doing so strip infinity focus and reduce the minimum focusing distance - letting you focus closer and thus get a more magnified image. The only difference is that bellows have no fixed length, letting you extend or contract the distance whilst an extension tube gives you a fixed distance of separation.

If set to the same distance they would give you identical image quality and magnifiaction so what you gain with bellows is on the fly variation of the magnification whilst with tubes you'd have to mount more or less if you want to vary what you have to work with.

Tubes are generally more prefered because they are cheaper (with contacts) than the bellows and also work well at being used for a variety of uses - from macro lenses through to being used on 300mm, 400mm and even 500mm lenses for close up work (eg many will use telephoto lenses of the just listed focal lengths with a few tubes to take photos of dragonflies).
Many thanks for clarifying, Overread. So what you are saying is the magnification and quality should be the same irrespective of which of the two you use.

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