The Metz 58 AF-1 is the current premier flash from Metz.de. This particular flash is a dedicated unit intended to be matched to your camera platform. It is available for Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony per the Metz firmware download site. This review will focus on the P-TTL version marketed for Pentax and Samsung and will also show some side by side compares to the Pentax flagship, the AF540FGZ.
The box contains the flash which is shipped in its case. The Manual (Multi-Lingual), and the flash stand. There is no USB cable or batteries supplied with the flash.
A word about the batteries and USB updates. I did not need to update the Firmware of this flash as it is already at the latest as shipped. I'm just showing you where the USB port is. Note the position of the batteries. There is no diagram showing how to put them in and the manual is somewhat unclear about it. Inside the battery compartment, 2 of the contacts are marked with Red. Those are the Positive terminals for that battery location.
The Metz P76 Power Supply is currently $377 and you have to buy the cable to connect the power supply to the flash separately ($44). About the USB cable. It is not the same one that fits the Pentax cameras (that would be too easy). Photos below show the different USB Plugs and Part number. The camera USB is on the bottom, flash USB on top. If you have an External USB hard drive then chances are you have the proper cable. The one shown is from a Western Digital HDD.
The flashes are similar in size, but apart from that differently significantly.
The Metz, shown on the left, is slightly thinner all around than the Pentax flash. Both flash shoes feature the locking pin that drops into the hole on the camera hot shoe. The Metz has a standard type locking screw while the Pentax sports a Lever type locking mechanism. Both cinch down on to the hot shoe to hold the units steady. The Pentax lever is a little easier to use because of accessibility. The Metz features a Second reflector that can be adjusted in quarter steps of for output from full to one quarter. This feature is disabled when the flash head is at its normal position. In order to use the second reflector, one must have the flash head tilted up, or turned.
On the rear of the flashes, we see the displays. The Metz, is completely menu driven, using an LCD Matrix type display. The Pentax uses a Segmented LCD that is somewhat easier to read, especially for those with less than perfect eyesight. The Menus on the Metz are selected by pressing one of the 3 left buttons. Each is mapped when a specific function is pulled up. To activate a button, you press it twice or simply hold it down. The button on the left is the Mode button. This is the one that will select P-TTL, P-TTL HSS, A, M, etc. Within each of those modes, there are both Para and Sel buttons. The Para button will cycle through the parameters shown on the screen. For instance, to manually adjust the zoom you will select that and use the up/down arrows (will show above the buttons) to adjust the zoom head. The SEL button will allow you to select the secondary functions of each mode. That is, this is where you will set the Second Reflector to activate and adjust its power. Pressing nothing for a few seconds will return the flash to ready mode, With the last parameters you set stored. There is also a 'Keylock' feature that will lock in your settings to prevent resetting the flash with your forehead and changing the settings.
Note that Holding the MODE button for 3 seconds will RESET the flash to factory defaults.
The Pentax AF540 has buttons and switches for most of the functions. Where a parameter must be changed the S button (lower left of key panel) is pressed followed by rotating the dial that surrounds it. This reviewer has always had difficulty turning that dial due to its size. Setting flash output power for instance in Manual mode.
Where the Metz 58 Really separates itself from the Pentax flash units, is that all user settings are Remembered when the flash is turned off and back on again. That is, if you've set the flash for 1/128 power in manual mode for instance, and turn the flash off and back on again, that setting will be the entry point.
Here we see the flash head rotated to both extremes and the flash head tilted at 45°, 60°, 75°, and 90°.
When in the normal position, pointed straight forward, the flash head is locked in position. You must press the button (looking from behind) on the Right side to BOTH unlock for Swivel as well as tilt. While it may seem a good idea at the time, this may be a bit dangerous to the flash as one may forget to press the button. Thus, breaking something trying to force the flash head past the lock.
Shown above are the heads of the two flashes. The Metz is on the left. Two items should jump out. First, the Metz is slightly smaller as is the rest of the flash body. Second and more important, is the diffuser and reflectors. You will note that the Diffuser on the Metz is pushed in. This is a feature that the Pentax also has. With my particular Pentax, the operation is quite stiff but it works. On the Metz we can push the W/A diffuser back into the flash head leaving only the reflector card exposed. The Zoom head however remains zoomed at 18mm (35mm format) but can be adjusted by pressing the Para button and changing the zoom. On the Pentax, press the zoom button. You can also push the Reflector in leaving the diffuser out. Talk about Options!
For all photos of my foam person, the camera was set at M mode, f6.3 1/160 second. Due to the proximity of the camera to subject as well as flash to ceiling, the Flash Exposure Compensation was set down to -2.0. The camera (K5) is mounted on a tripod and the lens used is the Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1:1.4.
In the tables below, you can compare the different settings. Compare flash head angle (-7°,0°,45°,60°,75°,90°) tilt, 0 or -2EV and:
The Variable Output Secondary Reflector is a feature that every flash should have. It is quite useful as a fill flash when you want to bounce the main flash light off of a wall, ceiling, card, etc. Very simply put, it assists in getting your subject fully lit (if that is your goal). Stated earlier and here again, the output of the Metz 58 secondary reflector is adjustable from full to 1/4 power. Below are samples with the main flash bounced off of a white ceiling (no reflector card), Normal zoom, and each setting of the secondary flash. Note, that the Secondary flash will not fire if the flash head is in a normal front facing position.
In the tables below, you can compare the different settings. Compare flash head angle (45°,60°,75°,90°) tilt. 3 columns are presented.
|Full Power (EV-2)||Half Power (EV-2)||Quarter Power (EV-2)|
In addition to the multiple possibilities of the tilt, swivel, reflector card/diffuser combo, second reflector possibilities the Metz 58 AF-1 will also perform Flash Bracketing. Just like shutter speed bracketing or aperture bracketing, the Metz 58 will automatically set (once set up) to expose at 0 flash EV, and +/- 3 flash EV, in 1/3 steps. Cameras that use TTL/P-TTL can take take advantage of this as long as they allow bracketing the flash output (the K5 goes from -2 to +1). For cameras that do not, the flash must be set to A mode for flash bracketing. Below are 3 shots. -1 flash EV, 0 flash EV, and +1 flash EV respectively. When setting, the plus and minus side will be the same numeric value. That is, you cannot go from -2 to +3 for example.
The StroboScoptic Mode. THIS is a nice feature to have. Not everyone will use it but it is there for use if you choose to make use of it. What it does is fire the flash multiple times during a single exposure. With the Metz 58 you can go from one flash per second to 50 flashes per second. So if you want to do a 2 second exposure with 4 flashes you would set the flash to fire 4 times, with a frequency of 2 Hz (hertz) so you are cycling the flash once per half second for 2 seconds. This is available in P-TTL mode so that the overall exposure should be correct. The flash output will maximize with the Total of the combined flashes. The maximum output will be 1/4 power in this case. You can adjust for a weaker output but you cannot total more than the maximum output for the given shot. The photo below was taken with these settings with the flash head aimed at the subject area. The Secondary Reflector will not fire in this mode. The rail car was pushed through the frame while the shutter and flash were firing per settings. You can see by the decreasing space between the rail car images showing that it is slowing down (moving from left to right).
The Above, discusses and demonstrates Metz 58 features not found on the Pentax AF540FGZ. Below are some of the features that are shared between the two units, showing the limit or specification of each.
Wireless P-TTL works quite well on both units. With a couple minor exceptions I'm unable to find a situation, simulated or real, where it doesn't work. Wireless operates by the camera sending a singnal via the onboard (shoe mounted or built in) flash. The only requirement for wireless to work is that the slave flash must See the control burst from the camera. This can be bounced if the slave flash is close enough. When it comes to which works better, the Pentax AF540 has a slight edge over the Metz 58 AF-1. It seems to be able to see on a wider range than the Metz. In most situations, this won't matter unless one is setting multiple flashes in a large hall or something of that nature. In that case, I would suggest Radio triggers or pocket wizard devices for most reliable operation.
Here we see how the Metz-58 compares with the AF540 in terms of features.
I can spend all day praising the Metz 58 AF-1. It is a flash that does exactly as advertised in my short term experience with it. With the review above I've shown off what I like about the flash and the features I think most will find most useful. Rather than rehashing those I will touch on the few negatives I listed above.
The Menu driven system. It makes for a nice clean looking unit and its true advantage would probably be seen in a firmware update. That is since there are no specific buttons, it would be a simple matter for software to reassign them or add features to them. That said, some of the features are 3 menus deep and if you are always changing settings, it can get a little tedious. Rapidly changing settings and functions is more direct on the Pentax AF540 (and AF360). However, to the credit of Metz, if you turn off the flash or it powers down for standby, the functions and settings you used last, will be there when you turn the flash back on. The menus are easy enough to navigate once you know what a Para(meter) is and what the Sel(ect) button does but I still prefer the buttons on the AF540FGZ.
The cost of external power. To most users, this won't matter. A good set of AA batteries will last a long time and the recycle is about 2 seconds with my NiMh 2500mAh rechargables. Lithium batteries may be even faster. If however, you want less than a second recharge, you may find yourself needing the external power supply. While it may be a fine unit, $422 total is a little pricey in my opinion, considering that the flash itself retails for about $370. Also, note that the Pentax battery pack only costs $135 with the cord included to connect to the flash. With the largest advantage to the external supplies being longevity, one can purchase a lot of batteries or cycle a lot of AA recharges for $422 (And buy a second unit as well).
The locking flash head and dodgy tilt stops. I predict a few threads here at the forums, "Help, I've broken my Metz flash". The locking button to release the flash head is almost a 2 handed operation. For some, it will require just that. For those use to not having a lock, such as on the Pentax flashes, This will take some getting use to. The tilt stops on the Metz are not very positive. It isn't a big problem, one just has to make sure that the flash head is in the desired position if it's important to them.
No SCA support. Again, to most this won't be a big problem. I've been a Metz user for years and one of my favorite things about it has always been multi system support. That is, the ability to swap out the flash shoe to use the same flash on another platform without buying a whole new flash unit. With the ability to change the firmware in the flash, I don't think it would have been a huge stretch to include this feature in an already great flash.
This article was written for PentaxForums.com by Jeffrey Siladi (JeffJS).
Review originally published on August 26th, 2011