Photographing surfers in Águilas (Spain) – April 2024

I learned that one of the most important needs to shoot surf photos is reach. All of the photos below were shot with the Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 lens with the TC-14EIII teleconverter, fully zoomed in (making it a 700 mm f/8). The camera was a 24 MP Nikon D780 and most of the photos were cropped by a factor of approximately 2.0. This still leaves photos that are 4000 px wide.

The shutter speed I settled on was mostly in the 1/500 to 1/1000 range which freezes the surfers and waves and droplets giving a sharp image. Shooting surf is not unlike shooting dance photos. After a while you learn the flow of the sport (wait for the wave, turn around, get up to speed rowing, stand up, ride the wave, try some tricks, fall spectacularly, all of which are similar to different sequences of a dance) and it is possible to prepare and anticipate the next shot.

The lens and teleconverter fit and work great together (both made by Nikon) and compared to some other TC’s I used they do feel made for each other, fitting very snug and tight. Both include rubber seals in their mounts which helps around salty water. That said, one thing I had to discover for myself is that the 3d tracking continuous autofocus (AF-C) stops working on the 200-500 f/5.6 when the teleconverter is mounted. This is probably due to the fact that the camera’s autofocus sensor struggles to detect contrast with small apertures (f/8 with the TC). This is reflected in the viewfinder where the focus point loses the small dot in the middle and stops moving around to track the subject. The AF keeps doing a good job in good light, but the loss of 3d tracking is good to keep in mind.

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.