Playing with the Nikon R1C1 wireless macro flash system in the garden

Today I was experimenting with Nikon’s venerable SU800 wireless (infrared) commander and two tiny SB-R200 strobes (Nikon calls them speedlights) that came together inside the R1C1 kit.

Closeup of a beautiful magnolia flower shot with a Nikon R1C1 wireless macro flash system on a Nikon D780. This is a 1:1 crop straight out of the camera, with a little sharpening applied.

I was skeptical about the R1C1 kit that’s been sitting in my drawer ever since I “re-appropriated” it from the lab where I work (nobody was using it anyway). The main reasons were:

  • The strobes and the commander use pretty rare CR123A Li-ion cells. The ones I got from Amazon were 1300 mAh (which is not a lot) and are not rechargeable. I don’t expect the strobes to go on for very long on these cells, and even if they were rechargeable, it’s another piece of equipment, unique to this kit to travel with.
  • The system is wireless, but it’s infrared. Modern strobes (I use the Godox X-pro system) use a high frequency radio system, which is much more robust, allows for a high shutter speed sync, and more range, and less delay.

On the other hand, what’s nice about the system is that it includes a mounting ring, which screws onto the lens (different adapters are provided) and allows a comfortable 360 degree rotation of the strobes that are attached to it. Alternatively, strobe stands with tripod screws are provided. I’m not sure how well this would work with the limited infrared signal from the SU800 commander. I expect it to work well indoors (e.g. for product shots) but poorly outdoors in bright light as soon as the tiny SB-S200 strobes are separated.

Closeup of a beautiful tulip flower shot with a Nikon R1C1 wireless macro flash system on a Nikon D780. This is a 1:1 crop straight out of the camera, with a little sharpening applied.

I mounted the kit onto the fantastic Nikkor AF-D 35 mm f/2 with a +2.0 D macro filter attached to it. What a macro filter does is it makes the lens “myopic” by shifting its entire focusing range closer by +2.0 diopters. This means that the far end, which was at infinity is now at 1/2.0 = 0.5 meters, and the near end which was at 25 cm (which is 1 / 0.25 = 4.0 D) is now at 6 diopters (4.0 + 2.0 = 6), which is (you guessed it) at 16.6 cm. This lens has a magnificent and smooth bokeh and is very sharp even at F/11, which is what you need to expand the depth of field which is razor thin in macro photography.

As soon as I started shooting I realized that the communication between the commander and the strobes was a hit or miss. Without having read the manual I couldn’t figure out whether it was good for them to blink green, red, or both. The strobes would just turn off at whim and refuse to fire at random. Sometimes it was necessary to remove the commander from the camera and attach it again. Yet other times it was enough to fire a test flash for the system to start talking to itself correctly.

Closeup of a beautiful tulip flower shot with a Nikon R1C1 wireless macro flash system on a Nikon D780. This is a 1:1 crop straight out of the camera, with a little sharpening applied.

In spite of all the abovementioned inconveniences and reservations I have to say that when the kit chooses to work, the results are wonderful. I used the additional tiny diffusers on both the strobes which makes the tiny setup (flower, camera, and the two strobes) behave similarly as a studio shot with a model. Everything is just scaled down. Tiny subject, tiny diffuse lights, and the camera working at the very near end of the focus range. I shot at ISO400, using 1/4 flash power at F/11 and 1/160 second exposure time (this thing does not have high speed sync). The tiny diffused strobes can be precisely pointed at the subject, and freely rotated around the ring, casting delightful soft shadows on the petals. They are more than strong enough to overpower the sun and provide crisp and contrasty shots. As long as you’re not in a hurry and willing to look past the very obvious limitations of this quite vintage macro setup, you should absolutely give it a chance and spend a day or two with it in a garden.

The piercing beauty of rocky moors of the Peak District National Park

The Peak District is an upland area in England at the southern end of the Pennine Chain – a range of mountains and hills in separating North West England from Yorkshire and North East England.[Wikipedia] It is a wonderful place to discover. There are mountains to hike, caverns to explore, skies to glide, charming little towns and villages with teashops to visit and real taverns where the locals serve you free beer. You heard right – after you prove to have come down from the mountains (for example by showing the pictures you had taken) you are served a proper pint of the local lager. Or perhaps it’s just the case at the charming Old Nags Head in Edale.

The hike that my friends and I did started in Edale, and took us all the way up to the Kinder Scout – the highest peak of the Park at 636m (or 2.087 feet). If you’ve ever been to the UK you will probably agree that the weather there is somewhat unpredictable. “Fierce Mild” as Dylan Moran once coined it (you have to say it out load with a strong Scottish accent or it won’t work). As a photographer be prepared for mostly overcast days, with occasional glimpses of sunlight. Even without the sun the landscape is astonishing in all its barren, rocky and windy beauty.

Almost all of the photos in this gallery have been shot with the first version of Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 IF ED VR lens. It is heavy but its medium telephoto focal length range is perfect and versatile for landscape shots while hiking. The vibration reduction elliminates the need to use the tripod even with a high resolution, small pixel size body like the D800. The only reason to bring a tripod would be shooting at close apertures like f/8 and the day was very cloudy. On the other hand, the wide aperture of this lens makes it possible to achieve separation even in case of relatively remote objects (like trees) against far away background. Amazing!

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon path peakdistrict road travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape mountains nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict rocky travel uk

70200mm architecturebritain bridge hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict stone travel uk

70200mm animal goat hiking landscape nationalpark naturebritain Nikon peakdistrict travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon path peakdistrict road travel uk

70200mm hiking landscape mountainsbritain nationalpark nature Nikon peakdistrict stream travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark nature Nikon peakdistrict travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape mountains nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict rocky travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict rocky travel uk

70200mm britain hiking landscape nationalpark Nikon peakdistrict travel uk village

Street Photo: Man making a living by playing saxophone on the street in Murcia

I met this street saxophone player while waiting at the Cathedral Square in Murcia. In exchange for a few coins he agreed to pose for the photo. It was tricky because I had to go all the way down to the ground to take it, and also because of the very high dynamic range present in the scene. The cathedral was blazing in the sunlight while the artist was in the shadow. For the D800 this wasn’t a problem at all, and in fact I feel that it could still handle 1 or 2 more stops of light level difference, which is remarkable. The 20mm f/1.8 Nikkor is very good at separating the subject from the background, despite being a very wideangle lens. My lesson from today… never hesitate to ask strangers to pose!