Guest post: Shooting products with Nikon tilt lenses

Hello, I’m Henk van Mierlo from I’d like to share with you why I use Nikon tilt lenses for product shoots. The most well known tilt lens is the PC-E Micro Nikkor, but there are also some less known and more affordable options. I’ll tell you in detail the (dis)advantages of these.

Why use tilt lenses?

I regularly shoot jewelry for clients. Necklaces can sometimes look very thin when shot from above. So I tend to shoot these images from a lower angle, which also looks a bit more dynamic (click on images for larger view).

AF Micro Nikkor 105 mm 1:2.8D at f /8.0

AF Micro Nikkor 105 mm 1:2.8D at f /8.0

At this small size you might not notice it directly, but at aperture 8 the back of the necklace is blurred due to DOF. I quickly experienced that 90% of my clients want EVERYTHING sharp. The most logical thing to do would be to close the aperture as much as possible. However, above F /8 ‘diffraction’ starts kicking in, causing the image to loose sharpness overall.

Below is a 100% view of the necklace. Left the rear piece, right the front:

Firstly, the rear piece never gets really sharp. Secondly, the front clearly loses sharpness with increasing aperture. No problem if you print at 10x15, but for serious enlargements, this is an issue. I’ve met serious photographers using pro cameras and taking images at aperture 32, so “everything will be as sharp as possible”. As you can see in the image above, at aperture 32 you could just as easy shoot at 6 MP, making a 24 MP sensor useless!

Using a tilt lens

With the PC-E Micro Nikkor tilt lens you can rotate the ‘plane of focus’ (the Scheimpflug principle). In short, you need to tilt the lens towards the table where the necklace is. If you rotate it halfway the plane of focus will be horizontal, so everything will be sharp, even at aperture 8!

The only limitation of this lens is the maximum tilt angle of 8,5 degrees. This prohibits you from taking images at a really sharp angle. The image above is the max.

Cheapskate tilt lenses

This is the second hand Nikon Bellows PB – 4 I bought through Ebay. It’s not made anymore and that’s a pity. As far as I know it’s the only bellows with a rotatable front. The lens is a second hand enlarger lens, the EL Nikkor 135 mm 5.6. You can get this complete set for 150-250 dollars.

When you put a regular 50mm lens on the bellows, it functions as a macro lens. But if you put an enlargement lens on it, it’s usable at infinity! I used a Nikkor lens, but you could use other brands as well (I also use an excellent Rodagon). It’s easy to find these lenses since a lot of people want to get rid of their darkroom.

With the 135 mm lens you can focus up to infinity, with the 50 mm you can’t. For product photography a 100 mm would be ideal.

Attaching the enlarger lens

Enlarger lenses use a thread, so you need a converter. You can buy these, but you can just as easy make one yourself from a body cap.

I cut a hole with a drill, but had to use some tape because it did not fit tightly enough.

Placing it on your camera

Normal placement for macro photography:

The front plate can only be tilted from left to right, so if you want to tilt it to a horizontal plane, you need to rotate the complete bellows:

Taking images

You do need some patience to work with this setup. It took me a minute to find the right angle with the PC-E lens, with the bellow it took me ten minutes and a lot of zooming in live view to check if the angle was correct. That’s mainly because there is no fine tuning possible with the bellows. Also, it’s completely manual (of course). No measurements whatsoever.

Results with Bellows PB-4

Not only is this setup about 85% cheaper, the front can be rotated a lot further the the PC-E lens:

This allows you to make super low angle shots at aperture 8, and still have everything in focus:


Clearly, The PC-E Nikkor lens produces absolutely sharp images. The PB-4 comes very close, but gets a bit fuzzy in the rear end of the necklace. I guess that’s because the enlarger lens was not designed to be super sharp in the corners as well. Maybe other lenses, designed for technical cameras, can perform better there. I have one, but it’s too big to fit on the Bellows.

The Hartblei tilt adapter

I bought this adapter directly from In short, I think it’s useless.

On the site it says: “macro, doesn't allow to focus on infinity”. Indeed, when you place a 50 mm lens on it, you can’t get much further then about 30 cm. This makes it only useful for small object like rings. But then you’re also stuck with a fixed angle. And when you attach an AF lens on it, it doesn’t really fit well. It’s also very hard to get it loose again. So there is a real danger you damage your lens or camera. Older MF lenses fit better.


I’m quite happy with both the PC-E lens and the PCB-4 bellows and use them both regularly, If I’m in a hurry and want to get excellent results the PC-E lens works best. The worst limitation is the limited tilt angle of 8,5 degrees.

When I have time and want a more creative shot I prefer to use the bellows PB-4. It produces excellent results too, but you need to keep an eye on the sharpness at the end of the image frame, especially as the angle gets sharper. I suppose the main reason for limiting the tilt angle with the newer lenses is precisely this loss of sharpness.

You don’t necessarily need to use these lenses only to get everything in focus. You can also manipulate the focus plane to get creative results. The PB-4 bellows has the best possibilities for such usage as in the image below:

In this image the focus plane follows the tube, so everything that matters is sharp while the round wire is blurred. It’s almost impossible to get a high quality shot such as this one in Photoshop.

Henk van Mierlo is a photographer and designer based in Holland. He also runs a Dutch photography school at You can see his work at

If you want to be a guest blogger on [NR], please contact me with your post suggestion.

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  • manarianz5

    Nice post,very informative…

  • texasjoe

    I’m getting the tilt adapter!

    • gt

      lol. ummm…so clearly you did not read the article?

      • texasjoe

        Actually I did read it. The article said it’s better for smaller objects, like rings; or in my head, bugs. Like ants. The whole purpose for this guest post is to give new ideas for your nikon gear. I shoot alot of pictures of ants and I never thought of tilting. So yes I did read it.

        • Do you have any of your shots up anywhere? I’d be super interested to see.

          • texasjoe

            I’m working on getting a website done. I’m doing one to one with apple on iWeb. Hopefully it should be up soon.

        • GlobalGuy

          Here’s another solution: Lens Babies has a new tilt-adaptor for Nikkor lenses — to make Nikkor-to-Micro4/3. Under STUDIO lighting or in full daylight the image quality will be almost exactly the same as a DSLR for basic work. This would allow you to have a Micro 3/4 camera + Lens Baby Tilt Transformer + Nikkor Lenses.

          If you have a M3/4 camera or are interested in one — you might want to check them out:

          For DSLR’s its a bit more difficult, because the image circle and spacing isn’t optimal.

        • Chris Lilley

          No, the article didn’t say the hartblei tilt adapter was *better* for small objects. it said it was *only usable* for small ones.

          The bellows is better, for all sizes of objects. And, contrary to what the article author suggests, get a proper M39 to Nikon adapter, you can get them for very little cost on ebay.

          • George

            No – the Bellows is more versatile and cheaper, not better.

            Having shot with all of the PC-E lenses and owning one as well, I can say that the clarity and sharpness of the image it delivers to the sensor is unmatched. It’s a 2k piece of glass versus a hack with (even high quality) enlarger lenses! A very clever, functional and interesting hack for sure, one I’ll likely own soon myself, but to suggest it’s ‘better’ is an imperfect rendering of the story.

            The guy who wants that fixed adapter is probably better off getting extension tubes if he’s into rings and bugs. That fixed adapter likely has very limited use. I think the guest blogger was a bit harsh in how he describes that it is useless – it’s useless for *him* since so much of what he does is large jewelery, although I take his warnings about the manufacturing quality seriously (lens attachment.)

            • texasjoe

              I have looked into the tubes before but I don’t really like them. The working distance it to close. I’m hoping for the 105 micro for Christmas if not my birthday is in January.

    • For those who work with view camera systems and SLRs — Sinar has a rear standard that let’s you mount Nikon F cameras to it.
      It’s called the p-slr:

  • plug

    Ah! The ScheimPLUG principle? Or have I lost an f somewhere?

  • Thanks for posting. It was a joy reading it.

  • skt

    Thanks for the informative post.
    I used to thinks tilt-shift lenses are good only for architectural shots .
    But it’s great to know it’s usefulness for product shots.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • SGN

    Thanks for a really interesting read, and as always JunkYard Photography ROCKS!!!

    PS. the word junkyard is not at all intended in a derogatory sense, rather the exact opposite… using whatever tools you like to give shape to your vision.

  • Gabi

    Interesting article. Enjoyable reading while drinking my morning coffee!

  • One of the best articles on NR for me. Thank you.

  • JorPet

    Excellent article. Not the photography I do, but I love to see the techniques the pros use to get the shots I see in ads and magazines.

  • goose

    wowzers, indeed a very very informative article, thanks NR and guest dude.

  • Great read… makes me want to buy a nikkor tilt lens… oh money tree, grow!

    • Jesus


  • Ghislain

    Thanks, very intersting!
    Quick tip for those who only need this extended DOF occasionaly: focus braketing + stacking with photoshop works great. It comes with extra work, but you basically can stay at the sharpest aperture of your lens and get infinite DOF.

    • Henk

      Hi Ghislain,

      I’ve tried that too. The problem I found was that the size of the object changes as you focus further away or closer. That makes it a quite difficult technique. In standard photography you might not notice this maybe.

      By the way, thanks for all the positive comments!

      • You should use macro rails to move the focusing plane – and nothing will change in size. Ofcourse this stands true only for macro shots.

        • Henk

          That’s a possibility too. Good if you’re taking an image of a complex 3d object like a watch. I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.

        • Mikycoud

          You should use macro rails to move the focusing plane – and nothing will change in size.
          But then you’d change perspective as you’d get closer.
          A simpler option would be to get a lens that has no breathing (that doesn’t change the focal as you focus), and use focus bracketing…

          • Henk

            True also. But as far as I know all macro lenses from Nikon have focus breathing, making them useless for this technique. The new 70-200 and 18-200 have focus breathing as well.

            In the case of a watch, maybe the best thing would still be to use a tilt lens and combine two exposures; one for the watch plate and one for the bracelet.

            • Ronan

              Macro focus rail… got mine for like $75.

            • Chris Lilley

              Henk, no, not all macro lenses from Nikon have focus breathing. Only the internal focus (IF) ones do. The older, unit-focusing designs like the Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 (which was in fact originally designed for bellows) have no breathing and work very well here.

              And yes, tilt and focus-stacking can of course be combined.

            • Henk, Chris Lilley is correct about the (IF) macro lenses. I own the 200mm f/4 macro and the older 70-180mm f/4.5 zoom macro. The 70-180 is by far my favorite lens for macro work. I can set up my tripod, focus, and re-frame with the zoom on the fly with no focus breathing caused by zooming. An amazing lens, although not true 1:1 it is more versitile than my 200 f/4.

              After reading your article, I decided I wanted to get the PB-4 and went looking for one. Nowadays, they are very difficult to find and you will pay much more than what many would expect. Fortunately, I just found one on ebay with the 105mm f/4 Nikkor P in the Short Mount Bellows version format. The lens is 1970’s erra so hopefully it is still in good shape.
              BTW, great article…

            • Mikycoud

              Third Party manufacturers also make some great lenses with no breathing. I use a 100 2.8 Tokina that works really well for this. You do have to be careful though, as, like others have pointed out , it’s doesn’t focus internally, so it does extend quite a lot. Something to bear in mind when setting your scene up…
              But I do agree, a TS or PC lens is easier to work with and better suited for product shots.

            • Mikycoud

              AH, I forgot to add that although Nikon’s PC lenses are fantastic quality wise, they suffer from a design flaw: it’s not really modular and one is limited in the ways one can combine the use of Tilt and Shift. Lots of infos about that on the Web.

  • Georg

    Cool post! Very interesting!

  • faterikcartman

    Great stuff!
    Recognizing this I too bought a PB-4 several years ago. However I never got a around to figuring out what lens I should use so it has sat in my office. Being what today is, I suppose, an old hand at photography I have my old wet darkroom equipment in boxes in the garage (is there even a market for dichro enlargers anymore?). Thanks to this article I’m going to dig out my enlarger lenses and put them to good use!

  • Arne Hvaring

    Thank you for the info/warning re. the Hartblei adapter. It might perhaps work on the earlier version of the 85mm PC lens with manual stop-down.
    It should also be pointed out that one can use the front shift function on the PB-4 to recenter the lens somewhat, thus reducing the problem of unsharpness at the edge of the imaging circle.

    • Henk

      That’s a good one! I’ll try that for sure!

  • This is an absolutely fascinating post. I had no idea tilt shift lens were used in this way.

    Thanks very much.

    • Well, I think this post made a believer out of most everyone in the “guest blogger” idea.

      This post was interesting, informative, and an easy read even for people not particularly interested in the subject matter. Pretty much perfect. It addressed an issue I had never thought about before, and provided inexpensive and expensive solutions to take care of it.

      Love it.

      • nikkor_2

        Agree in full with Sean.

  • R!


    • Henk

      Only, if you don’t mind the diffraction as mentioned in the article. With compact sensors this already starts at f /8.0, But if you don’t mind the diffraction, you can also use f /32 with regular sensors.

      • occam

        One advantage is that MFT (Micro Four Thirds) cameras can mount existing Nikkor, Canon, etc. lenses using an adapter. The Lensbaby adapter mounts Nikkor lenses and makes them all into tilt lenses (no shift, but may not be needed on full frame lenses since the lens is designed for larger sensor than that of MFT). Suddenly even plain jane Nikkor can be used as shift lenses (or just normal (modulo 2x MFT crop) if Lensbaby is locked into straight mode).

        As an aside, with an Olympus MFT camera body + adapter, all the old lenses can get Image Stabilization for a few stops advantage (for handholding, not static, tripod product shots) with Olympus IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization). Old Nikkor lenses never looked so good. 🙂

        [However, other than the spanking new Olympus E-5 which is Four Thirds (not MicroFT) and supposed to rock the world for image quality, the Oly’s need refresh. Keep an eye out for the Oly E-P3 in (rumor) February.) Otherwise for prosumer body, the Panasonic GH2 now rocks MFT for stills and video (video on par with Canon dSLRs) but w/o any IBIS (Panny uses in-lens IS). Panny for video. Oly for IBIS.

      • occam

        Oh, Henk (& NikonRumors), I forgot to mention… fantastic article. Pure joy: short, sweet, informative, creative, inspiring. Well done. Thank you for your informative comments as well.

        • Henk

          Hi Occam,

          Thanks for the feedback!

          Lensbaby lenses are brilliant, but sharpness is definitly not their top priority. They are more fit for creative UNsharpness. I would never dare to use one for a client’s images.

          • Eric Duminil

            Note that the new tilt adapter from lensbaby is not a lens.
            It’s basically similar to the Hartblei adapter you described, but with a variable tilt.
            The optical quality you get depends on the Nikkor lens you choose to use.

            Thanks for the post!

  • R!

    not DEP DOF!!

  • R!


  • Great article – and particularly useful for me.
    I shot a project last year ( Haynes Saxophone Manual ) – and one of the first things I struggled with ( apart from the problem of lighting a highly reflective, many angled object ) was getting sufficient DOF.
    With another project in hand I want to address the DOF issue…and very nearly bought a tilt shift lens for the job. My heart overruled my head though, and I went for the 24-70 2.8.

    So, I’m looking at either using focus stacking – or hacking a set of enlarger bellows.
    The only plus point is that the photos aren’t going to be printed that large, so a slight loss of definition due to stopping down won’t be too much of an issue…though because I’ll know it’s there I’ll be looking for it!.


  • Peter

    Excellent read.

  • vFunct

    Another technique for high depth-of-field in still-life is to shoot several shots at different focus points and compose them in post-process. This is better if you have different objects at different depths, instead of one linear object traversing the scene, because the compositing process can be painful at transitions.

  • Lee

    Loved this post, although only done a very few shoots for this type of work, this really gave me a better understanding of how to get the best from what you have. More of this type of post from real life photographers would be very appreciative. Thank you Henk for a very informative lesson.

  • ich bins

    There are some possibilities to get the posted results. First, the tilt- and-shift lenses from Nikon, then Hartblei (sounds German, but is Ukraine or so) and since the last Photokina, two lenses from Schneider, Kreuznach (is German): But when I asked for the price tag, I got a shock, something around 4000 Euro. A Russian brand also offers t&s lenses for Nikon and other systems, offered in the catalogue from Brenner, Germany ( Their price tags are between 500 and 600 Euro, but I don´t know the optical quality of these lenses. Lens Baby – an American brand I presume) – offers something like an t&s- adapter between the body of a camera and the lens to get the Scheimpflug-effect (an Austrian scientist). Price around 200 Euro/$. There we have a bettter control of the effects than shooting 10 pictures with different distances and putting them together on the comp; that’s clinic imho. My Bronica S2 has a bellows with Scheimpflug-possibilies, but who’s still taking pictures on film? The t&s effects really offer great possibilities, it is possible to take out one person in a group which is sharp and all others around aren’t. Really great.

    • Henk

      There are even more options, but they are all quite expensive. There is the Cambo X2-Pro for instance, which offers both shift tilt AND swing (the latest is impossible with the PC-E lenses). But a set with lens is double the price of the PC-E lens.

      • Henk

        Better video about Cambo X2 pro here

  • taurui

    I’m curious.. in product shots, you have all the time in the world. Why not just focus stack in photoshop instead of buying new stuff? 🙂

    • taurui

      Oh, was already answered above. Thanks ,)

  • Gareth

    Thanks for a very informative post.

  • Well written, well photographed and illustrated, and very, very informative. Wonderful piece, thanks!

    • JM


    • +2.

      Excellent article, and a great idea Admin.

    • PJ


  • Suchys

    Very nice article, old known principle, the most interesting is list of equipment used (or recommended in links). One issue you will have in general with DSLR and all the attachments is that you missing rear movements (or PB-4 has them?). The crazy example of front and rear tilt is the picture I shoot in the old factory, the front is about ~ 30 cm from the lens, the rear ~ 3 meters far. Cambo 45SF, Schneider 90XL, stopped down to F22 (normal aperture on 4×5″).

    • Chris Lilley

      PB-4 has movements on the front standard only, unfortunately.

  • nch

    Thanks for writing the article! Well written and it explained the properties of these lenses very well.

  • David Leong

    Excellent article !!! I have always thought micro lenses was used… shows that I have much to learn…. thanks again

  • Very nice and informative article. A pleasure to read!

  • Banned

    Admin, it was interesting and I appreciate this article. But can you make a separate RSS feed for these? Or maybe to accommodate everybody, you would create a “general” RSS feed with everything, and then 1 for rumors and 1 for guest posts. Like the BBC or NYT websites for example. Thanks!

    • I don’t think I will have that many guest posts in order to justify a separate RSS feed.

    • Ren Kockwell

      Are you that pressed for time?

  • graffotto

    I have an old PB4 lying around just for this purpose, but to be honest I havent really used it much yet. Compared to the movements you can get on a large format monorail camera (like my Cambo) its a bit limiting, but of course smaller and lighter.

    I have the option of putting my Nikon DSLR on my Cambo via an adapter, easily available on ebay.
    The large format lenses are better suited for movements, but for such a small image area as a DSLR they will often lack sharpness compared to a lens for the 35mm format.

    I’m in the process of making an adapter for the front standard allowing me to use 35mm format nikkor lenses here. When using the Cambo with bag bellows this should work in a similar way to the PB4, but with more movements (but also bulky which could be an issue).

  • Henk

    Here is the link to the Dutch translation, might you be able to understand Dutch 😉

  • santela

    informative and enjoyable.

  • Richard


    Great Article! Keep ’em coming.

  • Johnny B

    Great Post! I loved it! Can’t wait for more!

  • Akira

    Very informative article. I’d love to see more content like this on here.

  • Dweeb

    Very good and interesting article for the first guest column. Kudos NR.

    • Funduro


  • cinred

    Henk, way to go buddy! This is an excellent article made with a clear and concise purpose. Technical and informative yet easy for anyone to understand. Excellent use of images to demonstrate your points. Thank you. NikonRumors guy – brilliant addition to your site’s content. I applaud you and your dedication in continually trying to provide us with all of Nikon’s latest and greatest! Cheers to you my friend!

    • enesunkie

      Couldn’t have said it better!

    • Thank you and everybody else for the positive feedback and of course special thanks to Henk for the great article. I am working on few other guest posts and as I said already, I will concentrate only on interesting material.

  • Ken Elliott

    Great post.

    A really nice combination is the PB-4 bellows and the Bellow Nikkor 105mm f/4. This lens is very short and has no focusing mechanism. With this combination, I can focus to infinity and get swings and tilts from the bellows. It is a rare lens, and hard to find. I only mentioned it because I’ve got one now – otherwise I’d stay quiet. It works much better than using an enlarger lens, if you can find one in good shape.

    Most enlarger lenses use a Leica screw thread. You’ll find Leica-screw-mount-to-Nikon-F-mount adapters on eBay for very little money. On a small budget, I’d get a Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 with oil on the aperture blades. This oil issue prevents the lens from stopping down quickly, so it is a problem if you mount the lens directly on the camera – so the lens goes for less than $50. But this is not a problem with a bellows unit, so you can get a great lens for almost nothing.

    BTW – the PB-4 does not need a focus rail because one is built in. The top rails control the front and back risers (camera and lens) to set magnification, and the bottom rails move everything as a unit to achieve focus. This is THE bellows to get for the serious macro shooter.

    • @Ken,

      I just bought the exact setup you speak of. Do you have any pictures available for view on flickr or picasa for which you have used this combination? What other lenses have you used with the PB-4 besides the 55mm f/2.8?

  • The invisible man

    This is what I want for Xmas:
    Nikon D400
    Nikon D900
    Nikkor AF-s 200mm f/2.8 VRII
    Nikkor AF-s 300mm f/4 VRII
    Thank you !

    • That’s not going to happen all at once :p

    • E.T.

      Xmas 2011? 2012?2020?

  • ZoetMB

    Superb article!!! Clearly written with great examples and no apparent biases.

    I would love to see more of these, but I agree with others that perhaps this should be a separate section of the site.

    • Suchys

      Ansel Adams, “The Camera” is superb source if you want to dive little deeper into these principles

  • Chiaroscuro Fotog

    Top notch educational survey. I want more!

  • mshi

    But for much more control, I would go a step further and use the following:

    Horseman LD View Camera for Nikon

  • it is all nice and stuff, but we always did it so, that we photographed it with high res MF camera, 90% to the plane, and then tilted it in photoshop.
    no reason to spend moneys on expensive cameras or lenses and spend hour shooting.

    yes it is sterile stock photography, but what else is product photography.

    Tilt & shift lenses have sense, but not for product shoots. for stocks and products you need to click, change, click change, release. Nobody will pay your time fidling with T&S lens for several minutes per necklace.

    • *90degrees…*

    • Henk

      It really depends on what you’re aiming for. If you’re shooting a catalogue with hundreds of products, and no image gets bigger then a postcard, there’s not much use or time for these lenses.

      I primarily use these lenses for special images that are used for brochure covers or posters. But even for catalogues it can be useful. Bracelets photo’s can be very hard to make because the backside gets blurred very quickly (tends to macro), the tilt lens can help there a lot.

      But if it’s just click, change, click change, why bother at all I guess.

      • still, such work (high paid) i would not do with some 135 camera, but MF system. Already at stock photos they would reject most of them done with T&S lenses especially home made where sharpness is not perfect.
        Mamiya can tilt and shift with all lenses.

    • Ren Kockwell

      Totally disagree. Who won’t pay? You get what you pay for. Also, you’re generally NOT going to do this with every shot in a collection anyway. So the time spent evens out.

    • 10thNikon

      Ellis – after going through the thread, this is also a useful approach to consider for infinite focus product shots. Much less fussy than compositing multiple focus brackets. I’m sure it’s not a complete replacement either, but one I intend to try when looking for both perspective and infinite focus. My wife is a jeweler, so I’m finding this all very interesting as the assigned photographer…
      Kudos to the original article poster too – I will look into investing into one of these refined solutions.

  • Any experience with “Lensbaby” tilt/shift lenses or adapters? Are they another option?

    • They are fun to play with, but mostly toys for a ‘lo-fi’ look.

      There are typically only one or 2 elements on the lens-babies, and those aren’t nearly the optical quality of any real lens. Think of them as special effects lenses – unless you wanted a specific effect with the edges soft, you likely wouldn’t want to shoot product detail with them.

  • G4

    Thank you for posting this. Its very informative

  • Theo

    Wonderful post, thank you guys!

  • Alex f

    First time I’ve read a photography article in ages…and come away knowing something new. Good article, interesting to read.

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