Focus Rack Advice Please
I use a Nikon PB-4 bellows, which allows tilt and shift on the front, and if you're looking for deeper focus that's maybe even better than focus stacking. I think some of the other Nikon bellows allow tilt and shift, but can't remember which exactly. (Actually, can't even remember if it's the PB4 that I have... it's the dual rail system with tilt and shift.)
The PB-4 is the only one I know of with tilt and shift.
With the bellows I have, you can micro-focus by moving the whole rack, including camera and lens and bellows, or by moving the front and/or rear of the bellows. I think for 95% of the macro shooting I do that's beyond hand-held, it's the superior approach to using a focusing rack.
Yes, the PB-4 has good controls. Both the lens mount and camera mount have geared movements so they can be precisely adjusted independently. The base (tripod mount) also has a geared movement so the camera to subject distance can be precisely moved. All movements have locks.
You set the magnification with the subject to lens distance. Focus by adjusting the camera body position in relation to the lens.
I've done focus stacking by moving the entire camera-bellows-lens unit on the tripod mount. It may also work to adjust the camera to lens distance by moving the camera body while the lens remains fixed.
I will say that the new 105VR on bellows isn't as easy to work with as the older macros. You get no value from the VR anyway... and it adds size, complexity, and as its a G lens, the ability to control aperture.
The 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro-Nikkor is not suitable for use with bellows. You need a lens with an aperture ring so you can manually change aperture. The bellows has no aperture connection from lens to camera so adjusting aperture on camera does not work.
The Nikon AF 60mm Micro has an aperture ring and is still available new. The newer Nikon AF-S 60mm Micro does not have an aperture ring and will not work.
I would also say that the 105 VR is too big and heavy for the PB-4 bellows.
I mostly use EL-Nikkor enlarging lenses with the PB-4 bellows. They are small, light, have an aperture ring, and are very sharp corner to corner. Schneider Componon-S enlarging lenses also work well. I think the EL-Nikkors are a tiny bit sharper. Both can be had on ebay for $50 to $175 depending on focal length. A 50mm will give you extreme magnification with a very short lens to subject distance. I have a 50mm, 105mm, and 135mm EL-Nikkors. I mostly use the 105mm and 135mm. The EL-Nikkor N, and A are the most recent models with the best coatings.
If you want to go this route you need an M39 Lens to Nikon F mount adapter for attaching the lens to the bellows. The EL-Nikkors were designed to go on lens boards for enlargers and have a Leica 39mm thread. Adaptors are available on ebay for about $8. That usually includes shipping from Hong Kong or China. I've purchased a couple of them, and they take about 10 days to two weeks to arrive. Choose a seller with a 99%+ rating.
I have an older 60mm and 105mm macro, and they're magnificent to work with on bellows. More fun (but way more complex) is reverse mounting a 20mm 2.8 on the bellows... gets you to about 11x or 12x magnification.
I've used the AF 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor reversed with a Fotodiox adaptor. It gives a rather large magnification and close working distance.
The other approach you can take is to buy a micro focusing rack. ... The Novoflex stuff - all of it - is gorgeous, but the couple pieces I've owned (one of their ball heads, a couple of tubes, lens adapters) weren't sufficiently better than cheaper brands, and since my use is sporadic, not cost effective. If I did nothing but macro work, I could justify the costs.
I bought a Novoflex rail before anyone imagined there would be digital photography. It is still quite functional and works well. I rarely need it though, as I have other solutions.
Another option is to use a 4x5 camera in place of the PB-4 bellows. There are a lot of 4x5's on the use market. Advantages (depending on model) are more swing, tilt, shift, rise, and fall options. Models with rear shifts can be used for shooting multiple shots to be stitched together for ultra-high res images. I've used this method to create 100+ MP images with a D700. Since the back slides, the lens to subject relationship is fixed. The images fit together without having to be altered.