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Nikon SB R1C1 review: Nikon SB R1C1

Nikon SB R1C1

Phil Ryan
5 min read

The Good

Wireless i-TTL operation; compact size; comes with plenty of accessories, including mounting rings for lenses, stands for the flash units, filter holders, and more.

The Bad

Kit available only with two flash heads; flashes and trigger powered by CR123A batteries; slightly clunky case.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon SB R1C1 is one of the most versatile macro lighting solutions we have seen to date. When paired with a Nikon SLR and macro lens, it can have you creating incredible macro photos in no time.

One of the most difficult lighting situations you can encounter in photography is a macro shot. Since the depth of field becomes so shallow when shooting close up with a macro lens, you often end up having to shoot at very small apertures (the ones with higher numbers, such as f/22 or f/36) if you want more than just a small sliver of your subject to be in focus. This means you need a lot of light on your subjects. At the same time, since you're usually so close to your subject, it's easy to block the light from whatever you're using to illuminate the scene. The typical solution for macro lighting is a ring light, which mounts to the front of your macro lens and is tethered by a cable to a controller unit mounted in your camera's hot shoe.

However, with ring lights you're limited to a handful of ratio settings between a pair of strobe heads built into the ring light if you want to vary the look of the lighting. Nikon's R1C1 Close-up Speedlight Commander Kit includes a pair of small SB-R200 flash units, along with an SU-800 wireless trigger, so you can place the lights wherever you need them, including the mounting ring that comes with the kit, and control them from the trigger that mounts on your SLR's hot shoe.

A simple, but effective, set of controls on the back of the SU-800 makes it easy to set lighting ratios between groups of Nikon Speedlights or to control their output manually.

One of the nicest parts of this kit is that the SU-800 trigger that comes with it can also control Nikon's larger SB-800 and SB-600 flash units. That makes it very easy to use one of these larger flashes to illuminate the background in your shots, which often goes dark in macro photography. Of course, you can also add more SB-R200 flashes to the pair included in the kit. In fact, as many as eight R200s can fit on the kit's ring, though Nikon doesn't recommend mounting that many on some lenses, since too much extra weight can affect the ability of certain lenses to focus properly.

If you don't want to use the ring to hold the R200s, you can also mount them on the stands included in the kit. The stands won't work with larger Speedlights, but they do have tripod sockets in the bottom, so you get an added level of versatility in placement, especially if you mate them with a GorillaPod or other similar device. The kit also includes other accessories, including adapter rings for various lenses, a set of four colored filters, filter holders, a flexible arm with clips at either end, a diffuser panel, clip-on angled diffusers for extreme closeup work, a panel to block an SLR's built-in flash (more on this later), soft cases for the flashes and trigger, and a case to hold all the pieces. While the big case is a bit clunky, it does include room for a third SB-R200 and all accompanying accessories for it, should you choose to add one.

Small stands included in the R1C1 kit let you place the SB-R200 Speedlights on a surface or any stand with a standard tripod screw, while the SW-11 Extreme Close-up Positioning adapter lets you direct the light toward your subject.

Since all of Nikon's current SLRs are compatible with the company's i-TTL flash system, you can use the R1C1 with any new Nikon SLR. If you want to use it with a Nikon SLR that isn't compatible with Nikon's wireless flash system, the company offers the optional SC-30 TTL cord to connect the SU-800 to as many as two SB-R200s, thereby converting the R1C1 into a wired system. Some of Nikon's SLRs (the D70s and all models further up the line) include a built-in wireless commander mode, which means you don't need the SU-800 to trigger the kit's SB-R200s. However, since this mode also fires the camera's built-in flash, Nikon includes a panel that mounts in the camera's hot shoe to block the camera's built-in flash, so it won't interfere with the lighting you set up with the kit's strobes. When used without the RU-800, certain functions, such as the number of available groups or channels, may not measure up to what you can get with the kit's trigger.

The SU-800 can control as many as three groups of flashes on each of its four channels. For the uninitiated, the channels are there so you can work in the same area as another photographer that is also using Nikon wireless flashes; as long as you're working on different channels, you won't fire each other's flashes. The groups let you lump together multiple flashes and control their output separately from the other groups in your setup. So, if you have group A on the left, group B on the right, and group C behind your subject, each of those groups can output a different amount of light, so you can sculpt the light across your entire scene.

Snap-on filter holders make it easy to use the kit's colored filters or any third-party gel filters, once you cut them to fit the holders.

In our field tests, the R1C1 performed flawlessly with both Nikon's D40x and D2Xs bodies. The lack of wires let us achieve lighting configurations that would have been difficult with larger flash units, which would likely have overpowered our subjects anyway. Also, the lack of wires makes setup and breakdown of a set much less annoying. If you're shooting live subjects, such as frogs or bugs, some of the possible configurations may cause preflashes to help determine exposure, which will likely spook your subject. In this case you should modify your configuration to eliminate the preflashes, if possible, or switch to manual mode to eliminate them. Even with just the two SB-R200s included in the kit, we were able to make amazing images. Then, when we added an SB-800 to the mix as a slave to illuminate backgrounds, we were afforded another level of creativity. The SB-800 worked seamlessly with the kit.

While there are other macro lighting solutions on the market, Nikon's R1C1 kit is one of the easiest to work with and provides more flexibility in placement and control than any other kit we've seen. Add to that its expandability and compatibility with other Nikon flashes and it even becomes hard to fault it for its seemingly high price tag. If you already own an SU-800, or plan to use your camera's built-in commander mode to control the flashes, Nikon also offers a version of this kit, called the R1, which includes everything in this kit except the SU-800. However, I wouldn't recommend using the built-in commander mode instead of the SU-800, since I found it much easier to deal with its controls instead of the ones in the D2Xs (the D40X doesn't have a built-in commander mode), and wouldn't want to limit my number of groups or channels. Since no other manufacturer has seen fit to copy its concept, the R1C1 kit is one of the accessories that sets Nikon apart from the competition. For anyone who does a lot of macro shooting and isn't tied to one brand, or is considering a switch away from one of Nikon's competitors, this should be a major reason to consider a switch to Nikon.


Nikon SB R1C1

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Image quality 0
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