Nikon PB-4 Bellows - Tilt/Shift for the F-Mount

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: November 22, 2020
Nikon PB-4 Bellows

The Nikon PB-4 is a professional quality bellows released in 1970. It's special because it is the only model with tilt/shift capabilities.

By combining perspective control and a bellows lens the Scheimpflug principle can be applied. For macro photography, this provides an additional tool to focus stacking.

Nikon’s F-mount is attractive because of how easily other camera systems can be adapted to it. You're never going to have a problem finding an adapter for a mirrorless camera.

PB-4 Bellows Specs

Swing25 Degrees
Shift10mm
Extension43-185mm
Weight2lb 12.5oz (1260g)
Dimensions (L x W x H)8.5” x 4.5” x 6.5”

The camera mount of the bellows can be rotated 90 degrees. This allows a camera to be used in portrait or landscape orientations.

To switch between tilt/shift and rise/fall adjustments, the bellows can be mounted on a tripod head tilted 90 degrees.

Used PB-4 Bellows Prices

Nikon PB-4 bellows can easily be found on eBay. If you’re not in a hurry, every few weeks one sells for a great deal at auction.

You may also be able to find PB-4s on other gear sites.

New Bellows Options

If you want a new bellows, Novoflex will be happy to sell you one. They range in price from expensive to lots of money.

Build Quality & Features

Nikon PB-4 Tilt Shift

The PB-4 has the best build quality out of all of the bellows models that Nikon made. There are bellows from other manufacturers that have a similar build quality, such as the Minolta Auto Bellows.

However, if you want tilt/shift for perspective control or the ability to use Nikkor lenses, the PB4 is the best choice.

There is no cable release threading on the front standard to automatically stop the lens aperture down when taking a photograph. That is a feature on the Nikon PB-6.

Both Standards Move

Nikon PB-4 Bellows Standards

Being able to move both standards makes it possible to photograph a subject at high magnification. Adding lens extension, reversing lenses, or using microscope objectives can all result in short working distances.

By moving the camera forward, the lens can be positioned at the front of the bellows. This will reduce problems with the bellows rails obstructing or hitting the staging area.

If you are just interested in a bellows for copying slides, the rear standard doesn't need to move. As long as there is a slide copier available, any bellows will work.

Rear Standard Clearance

Larger DSLR bodies might not clear the rails on a PB-4. My Nikon D750 is barely able to change from landscape to portrait orientation.

I’m not sure if a D850 be able to be mounted to the bellows. A D5, D4, or any of the other bodies with a built-in grip will not be able to be mounted.

A workaround to this problem can be to use an extension tube, such as the Nikon PK-13. This will move cameras back far enough to where they can be mounted.

Alternative Option

Nikon PB-6 Bellows

The Nikon PB-6 bellows has a PB-6D spacer accessory. The spacers will raise the height of the standards to make room for built-in motor drives.

Unfortunately, the spacers are hard to find, expensive, and you'll need two of them.

If you need to use a larger camera, you're going to have to track down a Novoflex or medium format bellows. Due to the expense of those, buying a micro 4/3 camera with an electronic shutter will be less expensive and help remove vibrations.

Mirrorless Cameras

Adapted mirrorless bodies shouldn’t run into any problems. My Sony A7 and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds bodies can be adapted to the bellows without any issues.

With a large number of adapters available you won't have to search hard to find one that will suit your price range.

Nikon PB4 Lens Mount

Built-in Focus Rail

Different cameras, lenses, and standard position is going to change the center of balance on the bellows.

Obviously, a focus rail allows for fine focus. More importantly, having a focus rail makes it easy to balance the weight of a bellows on a focus stacking rail.

I would not be able to use the bellows on my WeMacro focus stacking rail, without the ability to balance the weight.

A motorized focus stacking rail saves a bunch of time. I'd lose my mind if I had to manually change the focus for a series of 100+ images that will be focus stacked.

Nikon PB-4 Bottom Tripod Mount

Tilt Shift and Rise Fall Adjustments

Focus stacking makes this feature less noteworthy. Focus stacking also means you aren't limited to having to use a 55mm macro or bellows lens.

The front standard can swing up to 25 degrees and shift up to 10mm. These movements can extend the depth of field of an image by applying the Scheimpflug principle.

The Cost of Perspective Control

In order to take full advantage of the movements, a bellows lens will need to be used. There are only a few available and they are relatively expensive compared to the price of a Nikon PB4.

If having movements for perspective control is a must, look at either a Novoflex bellows or view camera. A view camera is the best choice because you get more movements with a large range.

Bellows Lenses for the Nikon PB-4

Nikon PB-4 Bellows Lens  Micro Nikkor 55mm

There are 3 short mount bellows lenses with F-mounts available. Two of them are Nikkors.

These lenses will allow the use of tilt/shift adjustments at minimum extension. Other lenses, such as some high-quality 50mm Nikkor lenses can be used, but they will only be usable at higher magnification.

If you want to use the tilt/shift movements, your top choice should be the 105mm Nikkor. This was the lens most commonly paired with the PB-4 when it was in production.

Standard lens macro lenses that use an extension tube to reach 1:1 magnification can also be used. For Nikon lenses that will be the various versions of the Micro Nikkor 55mm.

  • Nikkor-P 105mm F/4 Bellows Lens
  • Nikkor-Q 135mm F/4 Bellows Lens
  • Novoflex Noflexar 105mm F/4
  • Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 – A macro lens that also works well reversed. (Use a Nikon BR-2A.)

PB-4 Accessories

All of the Nikon BR Accessories for the bellows are still available. Beyond that, the f-mount has the largest third party support for accessories of any vintage bellows.

Like Nikon, competing camera companies stopped producing bellows decades ago. The Canon FD, Minolta SR, and Olympus OM are all dead mounts.

Pentax is still using a variation of the K mount, but has a small user base.

Accessories for any of these systems are difficult and expensive to find. Make sure you can find all the accessories you'll need before purchasing a bellows.

PB-4 Manual

A PDF scan of Nikon PB-4 Bellows Manual can be found on Butkus.org.

Page 2 is worth checking out if you ever have any questions about the bellows you need to ask in a forum. It lists the nomenclature for all of the bellows parts.

Page 6 has a chart showing the reproduction ratio range for a variety of lenses that were in production along with the PB-4.

Beyond that the manual is limited as it is a total of 13 pages long. I wouldn't go out of my way to find an original copy. Leave them for the collectors.

Reversing Rings

An easy way to get magnification higher than 1x is to reverse mount a lens. The Nikon BR-2A adapter allows a lens to be attached by the front filter threads to the bellows.

Standard focal length and wide-angle lenses will work the best. Macro lenses, especially those around 50mm, can also perform well.

You're also not limited to lenses with 52mm front filter rings as step-up/down rings are cheap and easy to get.

Quality is Hard to Find

The Nikon BR-2A is a precision machined brass nickel-plated reversing ring. It will work perfectly with no need to worry about poor machining tilting the focal plane of the mounted lens.

You're not going to be able to find an OEM reversing ring for another camera system. The next best option would be to look for a Kiron Reverse Mate for your desired lens.

Third-party reversing rings are going to be poorly machined out of aluminum and cost more than a BR-2A.

Microscope Objective Adapters

If you want to go beyond 2x or 3x magnification, microscope objectives become attractive choices. You’re also going to need a setup to focus stack, because of the extremely shallow depth of field.

I use a WeMacro focus stacking rail. The WeMacro rail is one of the least expensive options on the market.

The most popular first microscope objective would be an AmScope 4x finite objective. It costs less than $20 and the price to performance ratio is untouchable.

Check out Robert OToole's review to see what the microscope objective is capable of.

RMS Adapter

In order to mount the objective to a bellows, a Royal Microscopical Society (RMS) adapter is needed.

RMS to Nikon F-mount or M42 adapters are easy to find. On the other hand, RMS to Canon FD, Olympus OM, Minolta SR, or Pentax K are harder to find.

I ended up using an RMS to M42 adapter in an M42 to Nikon F-mount adapter. The M42 adapter I used does not have a glass element in it to correct for infinity focus.

PS-4 Slide Copier

Nikon PS-4 Slide Copier

The PS-4 is the slide copier attachment for the PB-4. There is a hole in the front of the bellows rail that the slide copier mounts to.

Having the slide copying unit attached to the PB-4 bellows makes getting critical focus easy. No other accessories, such as a tripod, will be needed.

Slide copiers are easily found alone or paired with the bellows. If you need a slide copier, the best deals are when they are bundled with a bellows.

The Nikon ES-2 is a good alternative for copying or digitizing slide film, as well as negative film. Because it can handle strips of film, slide film does not have to be mounted in a holder to be digitized with a digital camera.

Conclusion

The PB-4 bellows is a 5 out of 5 stars.

I am very happy with the build quality and features of the bellows. It meets all of my needs for my use cases. It's my top recommendation for a bellows.

Balancing weight is easy because of the built-in focus rail. All of the movements are still smooth, which is impressive considering how old the bellows is.

Everything on the bellows is positioned well. Nothing gets in the way or is difficult to reach.

The Nikon bellows PB-6 is in the same price range. I think it is a slight step down in quality. However, there are accessories for it that do not exist for the PB-4.

I also previously had a Nikon PB-5 bellows that I did not like, due to it not having a focus rail.

Unlike other gear, I do not have any desire to replace it. For around $100, it is the best bellows you can buy for macro photography.

Nikon PB4 Standards Side View

All Nikon Models

  1. Model IFor rangefinder cameras with an S-mount.
  2. Model II - First for the F-Mount.
  3. PB-3 – Has a fixed rear standard and no slide copier.
  4. PB-4 – A fully featured professional bellows.
  5. PB-5No focusing rail, difficult to work with.
  6. PB-6 – Can have better clearance for larger cameras, as well as different accessories.

Alternatives

These are well-made bellows that you might be able to find a great deal on.

Make sure you're able to find accessories you might want before purchasing. High priced accessories, lenses, and adapters can negate potential savings versus the Nikon PB-4.

  • Canon Auto Bellows
  • Minolta Auto Bellows III
  • Kenlock 35mm Tilt, Shift, Swing Bellows - Rare and hard to find.
  • Kopil Bellowsmat – Has tilt/shift and rise/fall movements.
  • Yashica Extension Bellows
  • Pentax Auto Bellows

Optical Bench Tubes

Optical test and research equipment is great for macro photography. These won’t save you any money, but they are an alternative to a bellows.

Where they are better than a bellows is that the setup will not be raised as far off of the base it is mounted to. The height added by the bellows rails will not be there, which should make the entire setup more stable.

Thorlabs, Edmond Optics, and Newport all sell tubes and clamps. The sizes appropriate for photography are M42 and M52. It is the same M42 as the Pentax screw mount. The M52 is 52mm instead of 42mm.

These tubes are going to have thicker walls than camera extension tubes. The additional mass and rigidity is desirable for higher magnification work.

There are also clamps for optical tubes that should be used to take the strain off of a camera mount.

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