Best flash option for macro on the move

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by ian_watt|3, May 2, 2010.

  1. I would be grateful for advise on the best option for macro flash in the field. Subjects include plants and animals half to life size with D90 and 60mm and 105mm macros. Up to now I have relied on available light in the field and studio flash at home but need the option of flash for more opportunities outdoors, lizards, tree frogs at night etc. I tend to work quickly so want smallish, lightweight easy to use but without compromise on results. I have no experience with the Nikon flash system but have read that pre flashes and delay is an issue with wildlife. The choice as I see it is.... the Nikon SB200 x2 on the lens with built in flash as the trigger... the SB600 used wireless hand held close to the lens or where ever needed triggered with built in flash.... a third party ringflash with or without full compatibility? Without trying these options its a difficult choice to make so any help gratefully received.
  2. There are multiple methods for handheld flash work and different folks seem to prefer different methods -- to each his own.
    I have tried the following methods and they have all worked well for me
    • Small flash on butterfly bracket
    • Shoe mounted SB-26/80/600/800 with sto-fen diffuser
    • dual flash on brackets
    That said -- there's one setup that has really worked well for me -- I use a small flash on a bracket in manual mode (a Sunpak PF 20 XD - there's nothing else quite like this) to light the background and I use a wireless ring flash Metz 15 MS-1 (again, there's nothng else quite like it) -- in iTTL mode to light the subject. The whole setup balances beautifully and works flawlessly.
  3. BTW, the PF 20 XD works wirelessly and has an "ignore preflash" mode. The Metz ring flash supports wireless iTTL.
  4. Ian,
    I'm not doing much macro work these days; would I be, I am sure I would have gone for the SB200 solution already (the SB-R1 set). Having seen an extensive test on it (in a Dutch magazine, upon introduction), I'm just very impressed with what it can do, and how versatile it is. But it's not cheap, so personally, I won't invest that much, but when it's your main thing, I'd go for these.
    Typically, I've used a SB600 of camera, with either the Sto-fen omnibounce on it, with the wide-angle adapter really close to the object, or bounced of a wall/white card when possible. It works pretty well, but it's more difficult to get an even lighting.
  5. Thanks for the help on this, I didn't think about Metz or the ring flash fitting, I'll do a little more research. I'll also try to get a demo of the Nikon gear.
  6. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Ian, Nikon's own R1 set with two SB-R200 (or more) should work very well. Since your D90's pop-up flash can be the master, you do not have to get the SU-800 controller. The advantage is that you can individually control the flash strength from the two flashes to get different effects. I.e., you can specify that the flash radio to be 2:1, 3:1, etc. in favor of one side.
    BTW, that flash's model number is SB-R200, not SB-200.
  7. Looking at the Nikon R1 set and the Metz ring flash. The Metz is quite a lot less money. Any ideas on the pros and cons of the two? Also do the adaptors which are even cheaper do as good a job. I guess its now down to one of these 3 options depending on results, versatility and cost .
  8. Arnab will the Metz be triggered by infrared? Or more precise. Does the SB800 trigger it like using it on a D3.
    Did you ever compare the illumination to a true ringflash? I believe the Metzt uses no ring but 2 light sources?
    (may not be able to respond for 2 weeks - will leave in a few hours for a trip :)
  9. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Years ago I had some Metz flashes; I always associate expensive prices with the Metz brand name. Checking B&H's price, their ring flash is just over US$400:
    The Nikon R1 set is $459:
    If you also need the SU-800, the R1C1 set is a lot more expensive:
    But again since you have the D90, the SU-800 is not necessary.
    The advantage is that you get Nikon iTTL/CLS with the SB-R200, and those flashes come with little stands so that they can be used on table top for product photography. As I pointed out earlier, it lets you control the power from the two (or more) flashes individually so that you can adjust the ratio and control the amount of shadow. The SB-R200 uses those 123 batteries; they are on the expensive side athough if you buy them in bulk, there must be less expensive sources.
    I am not familiar with the Metz, which seems to also have two flashes inside as Walter points out, but generally speaking, ring flashes will give you a shadowless look since light is coming from all directions. That may or may not be the effect you want, but I don't like it.
    One way or another, having so much stuffs attached to your camera and/or the front of you lens is a bit of a pain to use, regardless of brand and flash model.
  10. "Arnab will the Metz be triggered by infrared? Or more precise. Does the SB800 trigger it like using it on a D3."

    Walter, I have been able to successfully trigger it with the popup flash and with the SB-800. I believe the SU commander unit can trigger it as well. The Metz 15 MS-1 is a smart piece of device, it supports wireless TTL for Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Alpha, Olympus and Panasonic and has an USB port for firmware upgrades to support possible future updates.

    "Did you ever compare the illumination to a true ringflash? I believe the Metzt uses no ring but 2 light sources?"

    Compared to the Dine ring flash and the SB29 -- the lighting of 15 MS-1 is not totally flat (as in case of true rings of the SB21/Dine) and I like it better that way. You can vary the light ooutput ratios from 1:1 to 1:16 and that gives you a lot of flexibility. I always use the diffuser. Remember that for subjects where the background is quiet a bit away you are more likely to get black backgrounds with about any ringflash/equivalent gear. That is the reason why I use a second flash on a bracket to light the background.
    Walter you may have seen this pic before but this was shot using a twin flash approach, However here both the bracket mounted flash and the 15 MS-1 were on manual since the camera I used does not have any kind of TTL flash. This is about as close to available light as you could get for this particular shot under deep shade of a tree.
  11. I agree with Shun's observations re. Metz price. However -- for some strange reason I noticed price of Mecablitz gear in Singapore were markedly less than that in US. I paid all of 320 SG$ for my 15 MS-1 in Singapore early 2009.
    Couple tips and tricks -- in addition to supporting iTTL this flash has a learn mode so it can be used even with digital compacts/bridge cams/superzooms that use propreitary preflash schemes.
    It comes with lens adapters for 52mm, 55mm and 58mm. Up to 72 mm dia lenses can be used. Adapters are available to 62mm, 67mm and 72mm but the OEM adapters are expensive. Here's what I do -- buy a cheap generic rubber lens hood at 5-6$ each and take off the rubber to leave the metal stub screwed on to the lens. The flash neatly clips on to the groove around the metal stub that used to hold the rubber.
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Arnab, is the Metz compatible with 77mm filter threads? Since a lot of the higher-end Nikon lenses, especially the f2.8 zooms, have 77mm filter threads, that is a critical point. But I shold point out that none of Nikon's macro lenses uses 77mm filters.
    The Metz uses two AAA batteries, which is a bit more convenient.
    Nikon's R1 set comes with 52mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm and 77mm rings to match various lenses.
  13. Nope Shun -- 77mm isn't supported :( I think this flash is primarily targeted to most common macro lenses from major Brands where 72mm is about the biggest it gets.

    To that end, this Metz is NOT the ringlight you'd want to use for fashion/glamour -- something like the RayFlash or Orbis fiber-optic based attachments for SB-800/900 would be more suitable for that purpose.
    I also tried a Sunpak 16R Pro "true-ring" flash but in addition to being bulky/wired I heard a couple horror stories regarding it's reliability so I backed out.

    I was considering the Sigma 140 DG or the Metz 15 MS-1 and I opted for the Metz because it will also work with the Panasonic m4/3 system that I am about to switch (at least for the most part) to.
  14. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Nope Shun -- 77mm isn't supported :(
    Bummer. To some, that can potentially be a fatal flaw, although it might not bother some other people.
    Why would Metz design it that way? A lot of the Canon f2.8 zooms also use 77mm filters.
  15. Which of the 2.... Metz or Nikon R1 set would be ready out the bag first? If your in the field or forest shooting landscapes and spot a close up opportunity which would be ready to go first. I am concerned that if either is too slow to set up you wouldn't bother.
  16. Shun, the clip on system is a spring loaded mechanism with two push buttons on either side and 4 "teeth" to clip on to the grove on the adapter.
    I think to make it compatible from 52mm all the way up to 77mm would introduce a lot of slack in the tolerences for smaller diameters and increase the risk of the flash being easily snapped off when using smaller adapters -- hope I am able to explain right ...
  17. "Which of the 2.... Metz or Nikon R1 set would be ready out the bag first? If your in the field or forest shooting landscapes and spot a close up opportunity which would be ready to go first. I am concerned that if either is too slow to set up you wouldn't bother."

    Ian -- if you carry your R1 kit as assembled (could be a bit bulky/fragile) it should be pretty quick. The Metz will likely still be quicker if you keep your adapter screwed on like I do -- it is just a quesion of clipping on the unit and popping up your built-in flash.
    The key advantages of the R1 kit is the ability to move (radially) the flash heads independent of each other and a bit more leeway in setting up lighting angles for each head -- which I don't miss much for my type of shooting. The light weight, compactness and portability of 15 MS-1 have more appeal for me.
  18. Arnab, I think the Metz could be the way to go. Just to confirm, it will work on a Nikon in iTTL as well as the R1 giving correct exposures and control over balance with daylight and modelling, compensation etc. Does it use pre flash and does the pop up interfere with the lighting?
  19. Seeing this posting got me to wondering on an inexpensive flash solution. I gave it a quick try this morning with the idea that it would be part of this article on inexpensive macro photography
    I bought a manual flash with a light trigger built in the flash new on eBay for about $40. I set the built in on camera flash to low power and then can hand hold the manual flash where ever I like. The on camera flash triggers the off camera flash (they are in sync).
    I also hold some bubble wrap over the flash. I have cut out a hole in cardboard and taped the wrap over the hole, I suppose tissue paper would work as well – perhaps it would not hold up that well.

    I find that the on camera flash at a low power does not impact the image. Off camera flashes are very inexpensive and give you a lot of control. Lookup Strobist and you will get the idea. The flash I used is Promaster FTD 6500M.
    This is a very quick example I did with this setup.
  20. Months ago I read an article on a flex-arm dual flash system for macro work that attached to the bottom of the camera. I analyzed it and realized that I already had the makings of something similar. Below is what I came up with.
    I already had one flat flash bracket, a mini ball head, an extra quick release system and two SB600 flashes. I bought a second flat flash bracket, ball head, and adapters to fit the ball heads to the brackets. It allows the use of any flash, is infinitely adjustable, and breaks down to fit in a pouch in my camera bag. I keep a quick release plate on both my cameras all the time, and the receiver units on my tripod, monopod, and now on this bracket.
    All the bracket parts cost about $85 US.
  21. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Michael, the set up in the image you are showing is just way too complicated. I already don't particularly like having two small SB-R200 flashes hanging off the rim of my lens.
  22. Granted, Shun, it is a bit of a Rube Goldberg, but in the words of Alton Brown, I like multi-taskers; this set up also allows me to use the brackets and flash independently when I shoot small clubs and lounges, hanging each fully adjustable unit from a light bar or speaker stand around the stage. Also, because of the quick release plate, the camera is easily removed from the rig, no flashes hanging off the lens.
  23. "Arnab, I think the Metz could be the way to go. Just to confirm, it will work on a Nikon in iTTL as well as the R1 giving correct exposures and control over balance with daylight and modelling, compensation etc."

    Ian, I had a very brief experience with the R1 so I cannot provide an in-depth comparison. Suffice it to say that the Metz has been very accurate for me in various ambient lighting situations and compensation modes. If it is possible for you to try out either system before buying -- I would encourage you to do so.
    "Does it use pre flash and does the pop up interfere with the lighting?"
    It does use pre-flash in iTTL, I have never seen the pop-up flash interfere with the lighting but the flash comes with an IR clip that you can clip on to the pop-up flash to block out visible light.
  24. Hi Ian, I had pretty much the same question as you recently. I hike a lot, so my decisions often come down to lightweight portability (and being a student, also $ unfortunately).
    I decided to go with the R1 kit. Each SB-R200 including a battery inside (they each use a single CR-123A) weighs 135g. The 72mm adapter ring is 21g, the mounting ring is 66g, and the flash shield for the pop-up if you use it is 15g. The entire kit mounted on the camera comes in at 372g.
    As well, everything is small and packs away neatly (as long as you don't use the giant suitcase that Nikon supplies with the kit!)
    One SB 600 is 300g plus 4 x 23g AA batteries comes in at 392g.
    I haven't had a chance to use the setup extensively yet, so I would not like to comment too much on that, but so far I have liked it, and found it simple and effective.
    When considering the weight combined with the flexibility of lighting options, the R1 scores a lot of points.
    I have no experience with the Metz 15 MS-1, but it looks pretty slick, and lighter than the R1 if used by itself. I'm guessing you would want to add another flash unit however to light the background unless you like it black.
    Arnab mentioned he keeps the adapter ring for the Metz mounted on his lens. Unfortunately I cannot do that with R1 adapter ring (the cap doesn't fit with it on) and I sure wish I could. Having to screw an adapter ring on and off is a bit of a hassle.
    He also mentioned possibly carrying the R1 kit mounted together (i.e. the flashes mounted on the mounting ring), but he is accurate in saying that it would be pretty fragile/cumbersome, and is probably not recommended.
  25. Brian Valentine, who is a fairly prolific macro shooter (mostly of bugs), has some information on his setup here:
    and his Flickr stream shows the results he achieves with it:
  26. Ian, I am also starting to shoot macro. I do have a D300 with my SB-800 an so far it is good, but I do agree 100% with Shun about to get the R1 system. I tried at the store the ring flash and I do not like it. I will buy the R1 which lenses I can command either with my in-camera flash or I can mount the SB-800 and command the other two so this way I will have 3 available flashes and pretty available light to play with. The photo I am posting was taken with my SB-800 mounted on the camera; it is not that bad but could have been much better because I did not use the flash in GN mode which is the mode in which you can control the output light so the picture will not look too harsh, but this was my first with my flash and they will get much better once I get the R1 that I am planning to buy by the middle of May. Have a happy shooting !!
  27. I have taken the plunge and ordered the Metz. It was nearly half the price of the Nikon on a special offer so will have to see how I get on. I have always wanted to try a ringflash but the price has always made it hard to justify. This has always restricted me to waiting for the right light, and now with digital I can really go for it! Thanks to all for the advice.
  28. Arnab thanks for your comments :)
    I just came back from a trip so my apology that it took some time to come back to you.
    Best wishes.

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