Compatibility Note: The Nikon R1C1 Flash system works flawlessly with the new Nikon Z mirrorless cameras. If you are into macro or even portraiture photography this is a very good system to have in your bag.
With tight integration of flash with a Nikon camera body, the use of Nikon Speedlights has become an almost transparent and predictable endeavor, almost enjoyable! For Macro users, Nikon brings CLS to a smaller lighter solution, offering several setups to improve your close-up imaging while on location or back in the studio. Let’s dive into Nikon’s wireless solution for macro and explore some alternatives.
The Positives of Nikon CLS for Macro
Nikon has captured the essence of what macro enthusiast have asked for, an easy to use, lightweight, absolute best of the breed, creative lighting system. Nikon found a way to remove the drudgery and place you in control over your light, no smoke and mirrors here, only awesome!
- Better close up results due to flexible control over light
- Improved control of each flash output, dial in exactly what you need
- A flexible system that can be used for other work, not just macro
- Control flash groups using the SU-800
- Light and portable, easy to pack and carry
What is the NIKON Wireless R1C1 system: If you purchase the complete system, you will have what Nikon Calls the R1C1, a complete ready to go compatible using most Nikon Cameras perfectly matched for your macro work. The heart of the R1C1 “system” is the SU-800, which serves as the master controller for your speedlights.
Nikon Speedlights. R1C1 included system items are:
- SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander
- A set of adapter rings that screw into the front of your lenses, Nikon includes ring sizes up to 77mm.
- Two SB-R200 remote articulating flash heads
- One plastic flash coupler: attaches to the adapter rings on the front of the lens, holds the SB-R200s
- Flash diffusers, color gels, feet for the flash to use as a stand, can carry cases for each flash
- One bendable arm clamp, for holding things
- A large black box to carry & organize everything
Do you need the “entire” R1C1 system? Maybe not! If your camera has a pop-up flash and supports CLS in commander mode you’re in luck, and may forgo the full R1C1 and purchase an R1 system that does not include the SU-800 (you can add it later if you wish), this saves you about $200.00. What you miss is the ease of adjusting the flash output direct from the SU-800 vice going into the camera menus. Bottom line: basically get the same end results. If it is in your budget, I suggest you get R1C1 as adding a SU-800 later will cost more than your saving.
Camera Compatibility: In order to take advantage of the wireless remote flash system your camera must support CLS, otherwise you will need the SC-30 TTL cord, which provides TTL from the SU-800 to the flashes in a wired mode.
The Camera: If you own a recent Nikon camera good news, it is compatible with CLS. (check your camera)
Custom Camera Settings Locations: are located in the e3 or e2 menu for most Nikon Cameras
Set up and Using the R1C1: This is rather simple, a basic setup routine goes like this: Screw on the adapter ring and plastic collar onto the front of your lens, attach your SB-R200s. Set the channel for each flash, then set each flash to a group (a, b or c). You can have each flash operate in a different group, allowing independent control of the flash output. Fire up the SU-800 and match the settings as your SB-R200 flashes; adjust output settings from the back of the SU-800 and you are basically ready for action.
Depending on what you’re trying to achieve: With Nikon CLS you can overpower ambient light creating dark dramatic backdrops, or dial in just enough flash to accent ambient light using high-speed sync for your outdoor settings, or set a manual shutter sync speed and aperture, then let NIKON CLS figure out “how much” to make perfect exposures. The beauty of CLS is Nikon removes most of the drudgery of trying to figure out multi-flash exposures but still provides you an ability to control each flash output + other in-camera settings (rear/front) curtain sync & high-speed sync up to 1/8000 sec, depending on the camera model.
Flexibility: Because the Nikon wireless system is wireless you have awesome flexibility for a number of flash settings and for exact flash placement, you are not stuck with the flashes on the end of the lens. It is entirely possible to detach the SB-R200s and place them practically anywhere you require. Sometimes I like having one flash set to ½ underexposed and placed slightly behind and over of the flower, which will produce some nice rim lighting. You are limited only by your imagination, the Nikon CLS handles exposure precisely, leaving you to concentrate on the composition and effect you are looking for.
Ease of Use: As mentioned under flexibility, the Nikon wireless R1C1 or R1 is rather simple to use, once you have your flash set using the dedicated manual dials and the SU-800 set to match, It can be as easy as hitting the shutter button. Unless you change settings, the system remembers your groups and channel and is ready when you are. I normally make one test shot at the start of each session. Using this system you only need to go into the camera to set the flash sync speed.
Battery Life: Those darn batteries. A possible downside to this system is they use an odd battery, not bad just different, although easy to find in most stores it is not as available as AA or AAA. Nikon choose to use CR123A. You need 1 battery per device, and I recommend you carry spares when out shooting. I can shoot all day on one set of batteries and still have power, the side story is the following day, you really don’t have an easy way of knowing the charge but will notice the recycle time of your SB-R200s increase as the batteries deplete. You can find rechargeable CR123A batteries replacements, I bought a dozen and cycle them in the charger making it a little cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
What to Carry: As my basic outing carry, I always bring an extra set of batteries both for the camera and the flash system. I also bring along one foot and sometimes the clamp if I am trying to get really creative.
Durability: Three years of solid use with no issues, never had a failure or breakage.
Problems I encountered: The only minor problem I encountered is attaching the adapter rings, especially if you use filters – binding, or the opposite of binding working loose allowing the flashes to rotate down – these are very small issues and are easily solvable.
What if you don’t have a compatible camera: Nikon offers an SC-30 TTL Cord which bridges the SU-800 to the flashes using a wired connection, allowing proper exposure control.
Using The System in The Field: I currently have and use a Nikkor 105mm 2.8 Micro and a Nikkor 200mm f/4 Micro, + a Tamron 90mm, The Nikon system integrates perfectly with my Nikon D500, D810, D850, and now my Nikon Z7. Depending on your needs you can choose to set your rear / front curtain and sync speeds accordingly. But whatever you set your camera flash settings to the system handles the rest, simply turn on the flashes and SU800 when you are ready to take the picture. The SU800 is smart enough to go into sleep mode when not being used, saving battery, and wakes when you use the camera. As mentioned before, you can adjust the output of each flash separately, that is; one flash can be in group A and the other in Group B and you can set group A for 1:3 flash output, or even dial in something like -.3EV. The other neat thing is the SU-800 can be used with almost any Nikon speedlights, great for remote control of multiple flashes like the SB-700, SB900/910, or even the new SB-5000.
Why go full System: You get a SU-800 for about $200.00 additional, and when you get into multi-flash photography, the SU-800 is a wonderful compliment by reducing needless in-camera settings + some cameras simply do not have pop up flash. The SU-800 offers a more professional approach to flash photography.
The Up Side to the R1C1 / R1 System: It is easy to use, a portable, macro solution that will in almost all situations improve on your already great macro photography. Even if you’re just a casual shooter, this system is a pleasure to use.
The Down Side to the System: It is expensive and is by far the one reason it is not as popular $700.00+ (see alternatives), although light it does add some weight to carry, some folks prefer natural light and rather be free of the added burden. The one other thing I noticed about the flash output is that if you are not using the diffusers the output can be a bit hard, especially when doing insect macro and the insect has an exoskeleton, the flash output will be clearly seen on the insect.
Alternatives: With sophisticated camera exposure metering system now in most cameras; the introduction of LEDs offers macro lighting capabilities on-demand starting for as little as $30.00, and has various specialized interfaces for different camera brands. One issue with ring light is your kind of stuck with the one size fits all, and lose the flexibility of light placement, but these may be worth a try.
Who is the ultimate expert in Nikon Speedlight and CLS? Joe McNally! I refer to him as the light genius.
True Toad Recommends a Nikon R1C1 CLS For Your Photo Bag!
Do you like Donuts?
Support for other 3rd party Macro Lens: As great as this R1C1 system is for Nikon Macro lens, you may find it difficult to fit 3rd party lens who's front filter size is larger than 77mm, such as a The wonderful Sigma 180mm Macro Lens with a front lens filter size is 82mm, Nikon system does not support that size. what to do? I am not saying this is the cheapest way, but I purchased a Really Right Stuff FR-87-QR: Medium Flash Ring with Orbiting Tilt Mount, and used an Archatech Nodal Rail as the attach point for the RRS Ring and Flashes - perfect, all this can be used for other projects. See the Article Nikon R1C1 Customized Macro Close-Up