Nope, that’s is not a miss-spelling, ‘Canon’ refers to my Canon 400d, which now sports a heavyweight, in all senses, Metz 58 AF-1 flash unit, more about the ‘light’ adjective later on. I drooled over this lovely piece of kit some months past, and now I’ve managed to get my hot little hands on one. Yum, yum.
Some of my initial efforts with this piece of kit can be seen in the sausage posts, especially the photos of sausage making and the sausage tasting evening at my favourite local, the 442, here in Milan.
I have never had a good quality flash unit before, and so I cannot really compare the Metz 58 to anything. First impressions were positive, the build quality feels fine. It does not have a metal hot-shoe connector, but the plastic one feels good and sturdy, however, from what I’ve read, picking your camera up by the flash unit is not a great thing to do.
The controls, which I had read about, are indeed not all that intuitive and getting to the settings tends to involve quite a few button presses, but with more use and familiarity, I imagine that operating the thing will become quite fast. There are only four buttons, which, from a psychological viewpoint, means that this complex unit does not totally overwhelm. Apparently, the Canon high-end models are slightly on the fiddly side to use too. I guess at the end of the day, using these things comes down to whether you prefer Canon fiddly to Metz fiddly.
This nice Metz unit (I was about to write ‘nice little unit’ but it certainly is not little!), comes with a built in diffuser and a little white pull-out card for bouncing flash. In fact, you can also point the flash just about anywhere you like, because the head swivels round and moves up and down. This means that you can bounce the flash from wherever you think will make your photo look better, and gives you plenty of room for creativity.
On the creative front, this flash unit (slight pun intended), has lots of features, such as modifying the ‘shape’ of the flash for different lenses, using a zoom function, and it has an interesting variable strobe ability too, which means you can get interesting shots of people and other things while they move. If you have ever boogied on down at the local club/disco, you may know a little about the ‘strobe’ effect. Should be fun to get the hang of, especially for those feverish Saturday night shots. Then, after disco mode, there is the interesting ability to use this flash in series with other units, or off-camera, with an adapter. It really does provide you with more power over your photographic efforts in my opinion – when used judiciously.
Make no mistake, this is one of the most powerful on-camera flash units on the market, so, just in case you do happen to find the light rather too overpowering, you can lower its output, which means that there is plenty of room for experimentation, and remember the built in diffuser! Indeed, on the subject of experiments, you can also set-up this unit to communicate efficiently with the camera and sophisticated features such as E-TTL are supported, but, so far, I have found that manual mode potentially offers more control, once you have got the shutter speed and aperture set up nicely.
If you want more features, then you will find that this Metz has no shortage. Oh, and it has the ability to accept upgrades via a USB port, which means that it is, to an extent, quite future-proof. Quite a big plus in my book.
The Metz 58 is my first venture into serious flash photography and I am still very much learning how to use this ‘light cannon’. It is very powerful, as one or two of my subjects commented when I was firing off a few shots down at the 442, but, so far, I like the results. I should also add that, despite the power, the ‘flash’ is very short, so people become used to it quite quickly. Thinking about this, if you are shooting people who are not used to being hit with a pro-style flash unit, then it might be an idea to fire off a few test shots before trying to do something more serious, then at least you won’t spook your subjects.
Although I was expecting this powerful unit to add rather too much harsh light to my shots, it does not seem to do this, unless, of course, you point the thing directly at the subjects. Incidentally, I have read that some photographers prefer the quality of the Metz flash light to that of the Canon pro-workhorse, the latest 580 EX.
More sophisticated flash-artists, such as those who read the highly informative ‘Strobist‘ blog, will add ‘snoots’ and other hoods to ‘shape’ the output of the flash. This is something I will have a go at at a later date.
Unusually, well, strange for me, bearing in mind the sheer power of this unit, it is still possible to end up with dark poorly exposed photos. But this, far from being the indication of a limitation, simply highlights that there is a little more to flash photography than simply bolting the biggest brightest unit on the market onto your camera. Good flash units can add another dimension to your image creation and allow you to use and compliment existing light to the maximum, not to mention allowing the photographer to shoot at night.
Any downsides? Well, one or two. This thing has quite a healthy appetite for batteries, and using good quality batteries helps keep things going longer. Rechargeables are quite possibly the best way to go. The other thing that I really seem to notice is the increased weight and bulk of my camera/lens combo with one of these things perched on top. Still, this probably means that it is more stable when taking shots at under 1/30.
As a matter of fact, today I was at a local electronics shop and I managed to hold one of those lovely new EOS 40ds, and it felt quite light! I remember holding an EOS 30d while I was hunting for a digital SLR and thinking, ‘Wow, this is bulky and heavy’. I suppose after several months of 400d ownership I have simply got used to the weight of these things.
If you feel as though you need to know more about this unit from someone who knows more about photography than my good self, you may like this review here. For another opinion, a site called ‘ShootSmarter’, also talks about the Metz 58, but they do not think it is so powerful. You will have to register to read their little review, but if you do and you have signed in, you can read about the Metz 58 here. They quite like it, and I think it was this review that persuaded me to get the Metz over the lower powered Canon 430EX unit. Yes, I would have liked the top of the range Canon model, but it was way over the top in terms of price for me, and in the Metz, I feel as though I have something that is not all that far behind either.
The Metz is quite a lot of flash for the money, even if it is not exactly cheap at around 370 Euros from my favourite supplier here in Milan – but you do need to be registered for VAT in Italy to get the good prices from this place – which, in the case of the Metz, was around €30 less than in most shops.
If you cannot quite run to the Metz 58, then why not check out the Strobist site for a cheap way to get into real flash photography, and search for Vivitar. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.