The Novoflex Bellows
Unit & Lenses
for the Pentacon Six
The highly-regarded firm of Novoflex, located in what was at the time West Germany, made its bellows available with the Pentacon Six mount.
[C436-36] The Novoflex bellows, on the right, next to the bellows produced by Pentacon
This smart unit has an integrated focussing slide. The lens
mount at the front and the camera mount at the back can be
exchanged for other mounts, facilitating the use of Pentacon Six
lenses on other cameras and lenses with other mounts on the
Pentacon Six – naturally for macro work only, especially if one is
using lenses designed for 35mm-format cameras.
|The Novoflex bellows on the Pentacon Six, using the 80mm
Biometar lens, metering prism and angle finder, which with
its dioptre correction and extra magnification facilitates
accurate focussing, which is always particularly difficult
to achieve in macro work with any camera and lens.
|The bellows unit made by Pentacon has a lever – seen at
8 o’clock in the top photograph – that presses on
the lens aperture pin, to maintain the aperture at
maximum, which is really essential for focussing on moving
objects in macro work – especially as a very small
aperture is usually desirable to increase depth of field
as far as possible.
As explained on the Pentacon bellows page, here, a double cable release automatically stops down the lens just before the shutter fires.
There is no such aperture pin lever with the Novoflex
bellows, making the use of the Pentacon aperture control
ring (also illustrated on the Pentacon bellows page)
highly desirable. Naturally, this increases the
minimum extension of the bellows.
The double cable release that came with the Novoflex
bellows is also of West German design. It works
well, but has a long rigid end section that screws into
the aperture control tube. This section fouls the
aperture ring on the 80mm Biometar, making installing
the cable release and changing the aperture
difficult. Using the original, East German,
double cable release avoids these problems.
Of course, older lenses without aperture automation
from other manufacturers can be used (via a suitable
mount) on these bellows. In that case, no double
cable release is required – but users must remember to
stop down the lens manually before firing the shutter!
You can see the results of using an old
Schneider-Kreuznach 150mm f/4.5 Xenar lens here. (Scroll
down to just below the half-way point of the
page.) The results are truly outstanding!
(There is much more information on that lens lower down
on this page.)
One of the great plusses of the Novoflex bellows is the slide
copying attachment that Novoflex made for it. This
magnificent accessory makes the copying of Medium Format (or
smaller) slides easy.
[C436-29] The supplementary bellows attach to the slide copier and the front of the lens,
ensuring that no light can enter and degrade the image.
|The observant among you may have noticed the name “Hasselblad” on the slide copier. This outfit, here supplied with the Pentacon Six mount, was at the time of manufacture the best in existence for Medium Format macro work and slide copying.||
Novoflex bellows for the Pentacon Six are hard to find and
usually fetch a very high price. Over many years Novoflex
has made macro bellows, but of course one with the Pentacon Six
mount is not part of their current range.
“TISBIG” or “TISBIG–U”?
These bellows (“TISBIG”) are designed to be used as illustrated here, with the focussing rail at the bottom of the assembly – or they can be mounted vertically on the upright column of a copying stand. They are not to be confused with the elusive bellows for the 500mm Noflexar lens, which have the code name “TISBIG–U”. The TISBIG–U is designed to be mounted “upside down”, with the focussing rail at the top of the assembly. The image scales engraved on the focussing rail are therefore the other way up. As the TISBIG–U is mounted above the lens, it is not designed to be attached to a tripod, and so it lacks the second set of rails that is found on the standard TISBIG, which is there for the focussing slide that is mounted on a tripod, as there is of course no focussing slide on the TISBIG–U. More information on the TISBIG–U can be found here.
“FROM INFINITY TO CLOSE-UP!”
It would appear that these two Schneider Xenar lenses offered by Novoflex had been designed for larger-format cameras (larger than Medium Format). On such cameras, the “flange distance” or “register distance” from the lens to the film is much greater than in Medium Format cameras.
The Novoflex bellows at maximum extension, with 150mm Schneider Xenar, mounted on a Pentacon Six from one of the last years of production.
best as I am able to measure (not very accurately!),
it would seem that the 150mm Xenar requires a rear
extension from the back flange of the lens to the
film plane of about 135mm. The distance from
the front flange of the Praktisix / Pentacon Six
body, back to the film plane of the camera is
74.1mm. This leaves about 61mm space
between the front flange of the Pentacon Six and
the rear flange of the 150mm Xenar lens, in
order to achieve infinity focus.
The Novoflex bellows have a minimum extension of approximately
60mm. Thus, when this lens is mounted onto the
Praktisix or Pentacon Six via these Novoflex
bellows, when the bellows are extended by about 1mm
beyond minimum extension infinity focus is
still possible! What could
be better for a visit to a botanical garden, a zoo
or a park – or even for a walk virtually
anywhere?! The lens and bellows can be used
for normal photography with focus all the way up to
infinity and also for detailed, close-up shots, when
desired. (Of course, there
is no mechanism to stop down the lens
Likewise, the 150mm Xenar can be used on the standard Praktisix / Pentacon Six bellows to achieve infinity focus. In fact, as these bellows have a minimum extension of just 19mm, they need to be extended almost to their half-way point in order to achieve infinity focus with this lens. Further extension allows closer focus. At the maximum extension of the Pentacon Six bellows, which is approximately 101mm, the in-focus subject is about 96 cm from the camera film plane (not from the front of the lens). At this extension, the width of the original scene that would be recorded on film is approximately 21 cm. (For European readers, that is the width of an A4 sheet of paper, held vertically.)
The Novoflex bellows are better suited to the Xenar lens, with the minimum extension being very close to giving infinity focus, while the long maximum extension of approximately 195mm allows subjects approximately just 60mm wide to fill the frame, i.e., very nearly at a scale of 1:1, which means that the image recorded on the film is very nearly life-size and prints (or screen images) will reproduce the subject larger than life-size!
Decades later, the Exakta 66 publicity claimed the same infinity focus for the Schneider Symmar 135mm and 180mm lenses that it was planning to mount on its newly-developed bellows. Unfortunately, the length of the minimum extension with their bellows (66mm) was too great, so this turned out to be impossible. For more information, see here. However, infinity focus with the two Symmar lenses for the Exakta 66 could be achieved with these lenses when using the Pentacon Six bellows. See here.
The Praktisix / Pentacon Six bellows had one advantage over the Novoflex bellows: they had a cable-release socket to enable the aperture pin on the Carl Zeiss lenses that were designed for the camera to be depressed, by means of a double cable release. See here. However, this is not a solution for hand-held photography.
Aperture automation when using the Zeiss lenses could also be achieved with the Novoflex bellows by the addition of the Special Aperture Control Ring, along with a double cable release. See here. However, with these lenses, infinity focus is not possible on any bellows. There would also be no purpose to adding this ring to the bellows when using the Xenar, as it doesn’t have an aperture stop-down pin (and infinity focus would be lost, too).
Results of tests with the 150mm Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar
|In February 2019
I returned to the churchyard of St Peter’s Church,
Benington, which I had visited two years earlier to test
the Makro Kilar / Macro Zoomatar lens. (See results
here.) This time I
took the above 150mm Schneider Xenar on these Novoflex
bellows, mounted on my usual Pentacon Six. For
February, it was exceptionally calm, warm and sunny.
Film used was Fuji PRO400H.
For the macro shots, I knelt on the ground (on a piece of plastic sheeting that I had brought with me!), and I put the angle finder on the metering prism, so that I could have the camera as low as possible and yet view the image from above.
1/250 sec f/8 Hand-held
1/250 sec f/11 Mini-tripod. The tripod was not up to holding this outfit steady, or I would have increased the depth of field by choosing a smaller aperture, and in consequence of that, a slower shutter speed.
|The tripod was
actually making it harder to hold the outfit
steady, so all the rest of the shots were taken hand-held,
at 1/250 sec. Metering was, as usual, with the
Pentacon Six metering pentaprism on stop-down mode, and
exposures were spot-on, except when I knowingly
under-exposed by up to one stop, needing to use 1/250 sec
because of the unreliability of the tripod and relying on
the latitude of the film to record the shadow
details. This is not the way to get the best
results. The mini-tripod, bought when I was a
student many years ago, went into the bin the next
day. It was not worth even giving away. Now
the search is on for a fairly small tripod that will hold
a Pentacon Six rock-steady for macro shots, nearly
at ground level and with the camera the
right way up.
We reported above that with the 150mm Xenar on the Novoflex bellows, it is also possible to obtain infinity focus, so here are a couple of shots focussed at or near infinity, taken on the same occasion.
1/250 sec f/16, Hand-held
Here it was eight minutes past one on 27th February. The Macro Zoomatar shot (here) was taken at about seven minutes to eleven on 9th March, two years earlier. The lighting for this tower is clearly better in the morning than in the afternoon, which must be borne in mind when comparing the two shots.
1/250 sec f/22 Hand-held
Here we see that even when the lens is focussed at a distance of three or four metres and stopped down to f/22, the depth of field is still quite shallow, as would indeed be the case with any 150mm lens. However, this picture again shows even illumination right into the corners with the 150mm Xenar (which is to be expected, as this lens was designed for formats larger than 6×6).
This 150mm Xenar lens must be at least 60 years old, but it still delivers superb results. Multi-coating had not been invented, but the single coating on this lens does an excellent job. I have not needed to increase contrast with any of these shots, but on the contrary, to reduce contrast slightly with some of them. Definitely a lens worth using with confidence!
180mm Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar
The Novoflex catalogue page that we reproduce above lists two Schneider-Kreuznach lenses that Novoflex was offering for use with their bellows for the Praktisix / Pentacon Six: a 150mm Xenar and a 180mm Xenar. Lenses of different focal lengths have different characteristics when used for macro work. Lenses with a longer focal length enable macro work at a greater distance from the subject, which can have advantages:
With this in mind, we will now look at the 180mm Xenar. The Novoflex code for this lens was “XUR”, as can be seen on the above catalogue page. This lens is much bigger and heavier than the 150mm Xenar, which has a 39mm Leica thread mount. The 150mm Xenar requires the Novoflex “TISLEI” mount converter to Praktisix / Pentacon Six, as shown above. The 180mm Xenar has a mount that I measure as 56mm, and so it clearly cannot use the “TISLEI” mount adapter.
The next two images enable us to see the 180mm Xenar and the TISXURRING adapter ring more clearly.
Next, we show some pictures of the 180mm Xenar mounted on a Pentacon Six that is on a tripod, ready for use.
Results of tests with the 180mm Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar
I set up the Induro first, and was so happy with it that I didn’t use the Benro tripod on this occasion. The crocuses were now gone, and in fact I had difficulty in finding any suitable flowers to photograph, so here are the only two close-up shots that I took.
I was disappointed at the lack of flowers in the churchyard on this occasion, and set out again the following day, this time to Letchworth Garden City. However, I again found that most of the early spring flowers were past their best, and the larger summer flowers were not yet out. With flower photography, going on the right day is everything! Again, I only took two photographs, neither of them particularly geat images. Here they are.
Of course, the phenomenal resolution of Medium Format images, even when using supposedly “more grainy” 400 ISO film, enables us to crop these images quite drastically for even greater impact.
For information on tripods suitable for low-level photography, see here.
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© TRA August 2007 Latest revision: April 2019