Metz 52 AF-1 Hands-On Demo

Touch-screens are quickly becoming the user-interface of our everyday lives. Gone are the days of buttons and knobs. The cellphone is the clearest indication of this. Introduced at Photokina 2012, the Metz 52 AF-1 is the world’s first touchscreen hot shoe flash.

If you’ve never considered a 3rd party flash before, the Metz is 100% compatible with your current TTL flash system. High Speed Sync, master, slave, eTTL, iTTL, auto-zoom, these heads have it all. Unlike its predecessor, the Metz 50 AF-1, the Metz 52 AF-1 is capable of acting as a master or slave flash, as well as a general on-camera eTTL flash. They are also inter-compatible with manufacturer’s own proprietary flashes (such as the Nikon SB-800/SB-900 or the Canon 580EX II). The system is based on the usual line-of-sight pre-flashes, so don’t expect to use it with the new Canon 600RX system based on radio communication, although it will work in eTTL mode with the 600EX-RT.

Technical Data At a Glance:
Max. guide numbers at ISO 100, zoom at 105mm: 52
Flash modes (for Canon as tested): ETTL, ETTL II, Manual, Automatic High Speed Sync
Manual Output Levels: 1/1 – 1/128 in 1/3 stop increments, 1/1 – 1/32 in High Speed Sync

Flash Duration:

Power Duration
1/1 1/125
1/2 1/900
1/4 1/2000
1/8 1/4000
1/16 1/6000
1/32 1/10000
1/64 1/15000
1/128 1/25000

We tested the 52 AF-1 against the Canon 580EX II with the good old fan test. These numbers were pulled from the Metz manual, but the numbers at full power seemed a bit slow. It would seem they are quoting t.1 numbers rather than t0.5, but they don’t explicitly state it in the manual. You will notice a slight difference in the exposures between the to flashes. In our test we had the camera’s aperture settings the same for each shot series and manually changed the output of the flash to different powers. (1/1, 1/2, 1/4 & 1/8) Given the 580EXII is about 1/3 stop more powerful that is why it appears brighter in the test shots.

Power: The Metz is powered by 4x AA batteries. It’s capable of accepting all of the usual variations of AA types including alkaline and NiMH. Occasionally manufacturers will not leave enough space for NiMH batteries causing a tight fit, but they worked great for us. Unfortunately the Metz does not have a high voltage / turbo port available, so you will be limited to the 4 AA batteries for power.

The Touchscreen: Alright, the big selling point of this flash, the touchscreen! As far as touchscreen’s go, we found the Metz to be quick and responsive to our fingers. It features a one-colour, illuminated screen that was a pleasure to use in dark environments over the usual button and scroll wheel design. The layout was much more intuitive than the Canon 580EX II when it came to controlling Master and Slave flashes. As a nice feature, the screen will rotate 90 degrees left or right depending on the orientation of the camera/flash, such as shooting in portrait mode. One quirk, if you are scrolling through a list (such as -1, 0, +1), you need to keep scrolling through the list to the item you want to select, then tap it when it is highlighted. You can’t skip ahead in the list.

Performance: Metz has a fantastic flash on their hands with it’s performance as an on-camera eTTL/iTTL flash, an on-camera master, or an off-camera slave. The flash guide number of 52 puts it 1/3-stop below similar flashes like the Nikon SB-910 or Canon 580EX II, a negligible difference in real-world scenarios. Recycle times were within a second of the Canon / Nikon and were certainly acceptable.

Wireless Communication:
We found the wireless communication to be similar outdoors to our Canon and Nikon TTL systems… after we read the manual. We were firing the flash at the side/front of the flash, the usual suspects for TTL communication. Turns out, the rear of the flash, under the touchscreen, is translucent plastic, and that is where the communication happens. User error! RTM! The flash was successfully firing from 30+ feet once we adjusted the position of the sensor relative to our position.

Connectivity: Unfortunately the Metz 52 AF-1 only has the hot shoe for connectivity ports. Metz has said they will be creating an adapter for the hot shoe to provide for some type of sync with external triggers, like the Pocket Wizards, but it won’t be directly integrated into the flash. A minor inconvenience for the Strobist community.

Future-Proof: The Metz does have a mini-USB connection hidden inside the battery chamber, allowing for future firmware upgrades by the user. This is a nice addition when companies like Canon or Nikon come out with a new camera model and can make upgrades to allow for any issues that may arise.

Dimensions: 73 x 134 x 90 (W x H x D in mm)

Weight: 346g without batteries.

Included: Flash unit with integrated wide-angle diffuser, operating instructions, belt pouch T58, flash stand with 1/4-20 thread. The flash head features a pull-out bounce card and 12mm wide-angle cover. A diffuser dome would have been a nice addition but was not included.

Price and Availability: Retail price should be around $279.99 and it is expected to hit stores around the third week of October, 2012. Considering a Canon 580EX II or 600EX-RT retails for $599.99 and the Nikon SB-910 for $499.99 with each having a 1/2-stop more flash power, the Metz is certainly going to be a hit with the features it has under the hood!

Product Video from Metz:

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