Nikon’s close-up flash system, the R1C1, is a great addition to a macro photography kit. It does have one drawback, however, the inability to use auto-focus with the flash attached to the front of the lens. Nikon recommends using only manual focus because of the weight of the flash and potential detrimental effects on the auto-focus motors. I find auto-focus useful for hand held macro photos of flowers and potentially insects, so I set out to find a way around this limitation. The final product is shown in Figure 1. (Click on Images to enlarge)
The modified R1C1 works extremely well, is stable, and allows auto-focus operation. The position of the flash ring is adjustable along the rail, allowing control of shadows. A bonus is the ability to securely grasp the assembly by the bottom rail for increased stability.
Having used a rail and clamp system based on the Arca-Swiss plates and clamps, I decided to use that approach as the basis for my modification. Several manufactures provide a wide variety of rails, clamps, and accessories. Hejnar Photo has a good selection at reasonable prices. They are well made and offer lots of features that some of the more expensive brands do not have.
The first task was devising a way to attach the R1C1 ring to the clamp. My solution was to make a fitted block that goes between a Hejnar 1.5″ clamp and the ring. A block of high density plastic was used, but a piece of hardwood would also serve. The block was shaped to fit the ring using a Dremel tool and hand file. This is not difficult, but takes a bit of time to get a good fit.
The clamp attaches to a Hejnar 8″ rail, as shown in Figure 2. The attachment block is held in place by a 1/4-20 flat-head brass screw. The key is to file a flat on the screw to fit the groove on the ring. The flat is not critical; it just needs to hold the block securely against the ring. The various parts are shown in Figure 3. A small L-shaped brass bar was attached to the front of the block to further hold the parts together. I found the ring was very securely held by this arrangement.
Since every camera seems to have a different base to lens distance, a spacer block was necessary to bring the center-line of the lens to the center of the ring. Since I have a couple of camera bodies, it is simple to replace the spacer for the other body.
Another clamp on the 8″ rail is used to attach the camera, yielding a nice quick-disconnect system, as shown in Figure 4.
I am very happy with this new arrangement – Figure 5. Perhaps someday Nikon or a third party will provide parts for this modification. Two examples of handheld macro images taken with this setup are shown below.