Just the other day, I saw on the B&H website a new Metz flash that just came out sometime this month, the Metz 58 AF-1. I read the specs for it at www.bogenphoto.com and liked what I read so I hopped on to the Metz site (www.metz.de) and downloaded the manual. The Metz 58 AF-1 really looked impressive. It had all the functionalities and the flash output power of the Canon Speedlite 580EX plus a few extra things like Auto mode. And, on top of that, the firmware is field upgradeable via a USB cable and firmware which, when available, can be downloaded from the Metz website. I was very impressed. So much so that I went back to the B&H website and ordered me one Metz 58 AF-1C (C for Canon, N for Nikon).
My Metz 58 AF-1 arrived this afternoon, a day after I ordered it online. I spent a couple of hours trying it out and here are my first impressions of it.
Since I had heard so many good things about the Metz flashes and how well they are engineered, I was expecting this unit to be solid and well-built. I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t overly impressed by it either. Build-wise, I’d say the Metz 58 AF-1 is comparable to the Speedlite 580EX but personally, I like the design and the ergonomics of the 580EX much better.
A lot of people complain about the way the battery door of the Speedlite flashes was designed. Yes, it’s hard to open until you get the hang of it but it seems to be built to take a lot of abuse.
The battery door on the Metz flash is very easy to open because it is hinged on two plastic cylindrical rods on the sides of the door at the top that stick into the body of the flash. Looking at it, the hinge doesn’t seem to be as robust as that of the Speedlite flash. But because the door does opens so easily it is unlikely that you would end up applying too much force to break the Metz hinge off except by a freak accident.
Physical comparison of Metz 58 AF-1, in center, to Speedlite 580EX (left) and 550EX (right)
LCD and Controls
At the back of the 58 AF-1 is the LCD screen, four control buttons and an On/Off switch. The four control buttons are used to control all the functions and settings of the flash via menu options displayed on the LCD. If you didn’t like the way the settings were selected on the Speedlite 550EX, you are going to absolutely hate the way the Metz 58 AF-1 does it. Here’s an example of how you would switch the flash from ETTL mode to Manual mode.
1. Press the Mode button twice. Pressing it once only turns on the LCD light.
2. Press the Down Arrow button until “M” appears. From the ETTL mode, that’ll be 3 presses of the button. If you go passed the “M”, use the Up Arrow to go back.
3. Once you have your option selected, either press the Set button or wait 5 seconds for the flash to automatically save the option and exit out.
Since changing from ETTL mode to Manual mode is one of the easier tasks to perform on this flash, you can imagine what you would be up against if you wanted to do something a little more complicated like, say, setting the ratios of the slave flashes in ETTL wireless remote mode.
BTW, the functions the different buttons are used for can change depending on what mode you are in so the buttons are not externally labeled. The button functions are displayed in real time on the part of the LCD screen directly above the buttons. This saves you from having to memorize what the different buttons do for any particular mode or option.
The two buttons on the right are translucent and also serve as status indicator lights for Flash Ready and Exposure OK.
ETTL Wireless Remote Operation
Before I got my 580EX to use with my 550EX and 420EX in a wireless remote configuration, I bought the Sigma EF 500 DG Super because it was more affordable than the 580EX. However, as good as it was in stand-alone mode, the EF 500 Super had failed miserably in a wireless remote configuration test with the 550EX and the 420EX. So it was with abated expectation that I put the Metz 58 AF-1 through a similar test. Surprisingly, the Metz 58 AF-1 passed the ETTL wireless remote configuration test with flying colors and then some!!!!
So here’s the scoop. With the 580/550EX flash as the master, you can have a slaves in Group A, Group B or Group C. The Master flash is always part of Group A.
With the Metz 58 AF-1 as the master, a slave can also be in Group A, Group B or Group C. BUT the master flash is in it’s own group, the Master group. You can turn the master flash on and off, just like you can when using the 580/550EX as the master. But you can control the intensity of the master output independently of the slaves in Group A. So that, in effect, gives you 4 groups versus 3 groups when using the 580/550EX (or two using the ST-E2).
There is a difference in the way flash ratios are set on the Metz. On the Speedlite, ratios of slaves are set relative to the Group A or, in the case of Group C, relative to Groups A and B, i.e. A:B or (A:B):C.
On the Metz, ratios of the slaves (and the master) as set relative to what would be the proper exposure for the shot. For example, if you set the master (Group M) to -2 (fill light), Group A to 0 (main light), Group B to +1 (hair light) and Group C to +2 (background light), Group A will fire for normal exposure. The output of the other groups will be adjusted, according to the FEC set for those groups relative to the what would be required for a proper exposure.
In the end, both methods will yield similar results as far as flash ratios is concerned, (except that the Metz also allows the master flash ratio to be set independent of the other flashes in Group A). However, because the flash ratios are sets individually on the Metz, it’s more tedious and time consuming to set ratios on the Metz 58 AF-1 compared to setting them on the 580EX.
I did encounter a glitch of sort but it’s not really something that I would be concerned about. When all the slaves units are turned off so that only the master is firing, the output set for the flash does not coincide with the actual output setting. For example, when the master output is set to +2 or +3, the master will not fire. When set to -3, it fires as if set to 0. But, like I said, this only happens when all the slaves are turned off which should never be the case when you’re in a wireless remote configuration.
In the wireless remote master mode, the overall total flash output is controlled via the FEC on the camera because there is no way to set that on the flash with it in wireless remote mode. Not really a big deal unless you happen to have a 300D which doesn’t have an on-camera FEC control.
The Metz also plays nicely as a slave with the Speedlite flashes, too.
I also tested the Metz as a master and a slave in the manual wireless remote mode and it again passed without a hiccup.
Standard ETTL Operation
Since the camera controls the exposure setting of the flash in ETTL mode, I wasn’t expecting the Metz to behave any differently than the 580EX. But I soon discovered that was not exactly the case. To my surprise the ETTL exposures with the Metz were better than those of the 580EX by about 2/3 stop. Curious, I tried the 550EX and the 420EX and they faired bettered than the 580EX but not as well as the Metz, with the 420EX being closest to the Metz. Since the flashes were within 2/3 stop of each other, I think we can attribute the difference to tolerance variations in the manufacture of the flashes.
Auto Mode Operation
With the Metz in Auto mode, the exposures came out much brighter (about a stop or more) than when set to ETTL mode. Since the same thing happens with my old Sunpak Auto Zoom 333, the results were in line with what I was expecting. I personally think the exposure in Auto mode leans too much in the overexposure side and gives the picture that “shot with a flash” look that I don’t really care for. I much prefer the pictures shot in ETTL mode which have a more natural look to them. But that’s just me.
My Sunpak 333 has three auto mode settings (yellow, green and red) and the aperture used for these settings depend on the ISO used. With the Metz, Auto mode can be used with any aperture set on the camera as long as it does not cause over or under exposure. The aperture is automatically communicated to the flash by the camera so there’s nothing you really need to set other than putting the flash into Auto mode.
According the manual, the flash has a smart auto fill mode wherein the flash will automatically reduce the flash output for fill in Auto mode when it determines that the flash is being used for fill. I haven’t tested this but that sure is an interesting feature if it really works are described in the manual.
Secondary Flash head
Another feature incorporated into the 58 AF-1 is the secondary flash head which many of the Metz flashes are known for. The secondary flash can be turned on and off via menu settings. The output power can also be adjusted from 1/1 to ¼.
The features found in the Metz 58 AF-1 are what I think Canon should have built into the Speedlite 580EX in the first place. With the Metz 58 AF-1 listing at B&H Photo for $359.95 versus $379.95 for the Canon Speedlite 580EX, the Metz 58 AF-1 is a very attractive alternative to the Canon 580EX, assuming one can look passed the Metz’s quirky control ergonomics. Now, the Metz 58 AF-1 with the controls of the 580EX would be a really awesome flash unit!