By Stan Sholik
The field of photography encompasses many disciplines, and each has its niche. Manufacturers support those niches with products to simplify the technical side of photography and allow the photographer to concentrate on the creative side. For close-up and macro photographers with Nikons, Nikon created the R1C1 Close-up Speedlight System.
The R1C1 with two SB-R200 Speedlights with ultra close-up diffusers and the SU-800 Commander attached. Product photo courtesy of Nikon
I captured this female Monarch butterfly with a 3:1 ratio and the camera hand held. I pointed the flash unit on camera right as far as I could to the left to feather it off the wing, and set its power the lowest. ©Stan Sholik
At first glance, the 30-plus pieces in the kit seem impossible to sort out, even when placed in the case supplied with the kit. But all you need to do in order to start taking beautifully lit close-up and macro photos is screw the adapter ring onto your lens, screw the attachment ring to the adapter, attach the two SB-R200 Remote Speedlights, slide the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander into your hot shoe, make a few simple settings, and shoot.
For most of the photos I took this day I used a 3:1
lighting ratio. But for this photo of an adult and
juvenile milkweed beetle on an open milkweed pod,
I dropped the ratio to 2:1 to better see the juvenile.
You can use the R1C1 with any Nikon that triggers through its hot shoe, but camera models that do not support the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS), my N100 film camera for example, require additional connection cords and manual operation. The system takes advantage of Nikon’s i-TTL through the lens metering system in CLS-compatible cameras and requires no connection cables. The SU-800 is not needed for cameras with a Wireless Commander built into the camera’s onboard Speedlight system, and Nikon offers the R1 system for those cameras.
With a ringlight, this monarch butterfly pupa would
be flat and dimensionless. With a 3:1 lighting ratio,
the shape is defined and the texture of the pupa is
accentuated. ©Stan Sholik
The R1C1 adapter, attachment ring and two flash units add surprisingly little weight to the lens, about 6 ounces. With these attached to the lens and the subject framed, you position the flash heads where needed on the attachment ring. They securely lock into place, and tilt forward through 60 degrees with click stops every 15 degrees.
Now you power on the flash units, your camera, and the SU-800 in your hot shoe. The SU-800 display shows you are in wireless close-up mode with a CLS compatible camera. The Select (SEL) button on the SU-800 is the main control button. You press this until the channel number flashes if you want to set the wireless channel to a channel other than channel 1, the default. Set the channel on each flash unit to the same channel you set on the SU-800.
The SU-800 can control multiple flash units in three groups. With just two flash heads, set the rotary switch on one head to A and on the other head to B. Press the SEL button on the SU-800 and the display of the output ratio of group A and group B flashes. Pressing the left-facing arrow to the left of the SEL button changes the lighting ratio from the 1:1 default. The options are 1.5:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 6:1, and 8:1 ratios, with the A flash unit increasingly more powerful than the B. Pressing the right-facing arrow to the right of the SEL button, changes the lighting ratio in the same way, with the B flash gaining the power. Optionally, by pressing the A – B button above the SEL button, you can set the lighting ratio using exposure values (EV), from -3.0 EV to +3.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps.
(1.) With the camera, Speedlights, and Commander powered on, the Commander LCD screen confirms wireless close-up i-TTL operation on channel 1 with the speedlights set to a 1:1 ratio. (2.) Pressing the Mode button switches the Commander from i-TTL mode to Manual mode. In Manual, you can adjust the power of each group from full power to 1/64 power. (3.) With a third group, you can adjust the power of speedlights in that group from full to 1/64 also. (4.) By pressing the left arrow button, you adjust the lighting ratio. Here the speedlights are set to a 3:1 ratio. The bars show which group has the higher power. (5.) The lighting ratio are adjustable from 1:1 to 8:1, with either flash unit having the greater power. (6.) Each SB-R200s must be set to a group, and all of them must be set to the same channel number. ©Stan Sholik
And that’s all there is to it. Take pictures. Adjust the lighting ratio at will for different looks. It’s that simple.
But the creative capabilities of the R1C1 system only begin here. There are diffusers in the kit, filters the for the SB-R200 flash units, and stand mounts for using the flash units off the attachment ring. And by pressing the Mode button of the SU-800, you can control the power level of each flash unit from full power to 1/64 power. Since the SU-800 controls other Nikon Speedlights such as the SB-910, these can be added into the lighting for additional effects. The creative possibilities are endless, but the simplicity of its basic use, two light sources with easy ratio control, makes it the ideal tool for close-up and macro photography.
Street price of the Nikon R1C1 Close-up Speedlight System is about $720.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. He is currently working on his second book about close-up and macro photography for Amherst Media.