Bellows -V- Lens length

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Bruce Osgood, Feb 24, 2004.

  1. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

    Sep 9, 2002
    Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Multi Format
    I am trying to learn some rudiments of 4X5 LF cameras prior to a purchase.

    I see various cameras offering different basic bellows length. Some 55mm to 360mm, others 65mm to 300mm. Does the length of the bellows dictate what max/min length lens may be used?

    Without getting into 'extras' like extensions, additional bellows, recessed boards, what would a bellows of 55-360mm offer that a bellows of 65-300mm would not? Do the Max/Min lengths indicate the Max/Min Lens in a 'stock' camera?
  2. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Sep 7, 2002
    Honolulu, Ha
    Large Format
    Yes, the bellows length indicates approximately the maximum or minimum focal length lens that you can use.

    Recessed lensboards are perfectly normal accessories for wide lenses, and you might want one even for a lens that doesn't strictly require one, because it will give you a little more flexibility for movements with the bellows at a short extension.

    At the long end, you generally want about 25% more bellows than your longest lens. Telephoto designs will let you get away with less bellows, but because the node of the lens is physically out in front of the lens, they also make swings and tilts a little more complicated,

    Some manufacturers may tell you the max/min focal length usable on the camera, rather than max/min bellows length. For instance, on a Linhof Tech IV/V/Master, the shortest usable lens is 55mm, but that requires a wideangle focusing accessory, and lenses 90mm and shorter are usually used with a recessed lensboard, and the longest conventional lens is around 360mm, but without much room for close focusing, and the longest usable tele is 500mm, I believe. In practice, most people would use a 360mm or 400mm tele rather than a conventional 360mm lens on a Technika. While tele lenses tend to be less sharp optically than non-tele lenses of the same focal length, by requiring less bellows extension, the camera is also more stable with a tele focused at the same distance, so they produce a sharpness advantage from the vibration/wind perspective.

    Long bellows extension gives you built in macro capability, but adds weight and reduces your wideangle capability typically. With a short (say 300mm) bellows, you lose the macro capability (at least with longer lenses), but you also usually lose a focusing rail, which saves more weight than from the shorter bellows alone and gives you more flexibility with wide lenses. A camera with less bellows extension can also be built a little more lightly, since there's less leverage to counter.
  3. KenM

    KenM Member

    Apr 22, 2003
    Calgary, Alb
    4x5 Format
    Bruce, you've got it. The minimum and maximum amounts tell you how far you can rack the standards apart, which in turn tell you what focal length lenses you can use. Note that telephotos are the exception to this; for example, my Fuji 400mm only requires 260mm of bellows draw.

    When the bellows are fully extended or compressed movements can become difficult, if not impossible. So if you like wide angle lenses, the use of a very flexible bellows or a recessed lenboard may be required. On my Gandolfi I can compress my bellows enough to use a 75mm lens - no movements, however. With a bag-bellows (no pleats) I can have some movements. I can extend my bellows to 485mm, so I don't have to worry about problems with movements with my longer lenses, since a 305mm is my largest normal lens.

    Hope that helps clear things up for you.