Metz mecablitz 26 AF-1
$129 / £90 www.metz.de
The Metz mecablitz 26 AF-1 is a compact flash gun that's small compared to standard hotshoe flash units, but still a good deal larger than those that come in the box with most mirrorless cameras. Metz's aim in the mecablitz 26 AF-1 has been to find an effective balance between miniaturization and usefulness to suit users of small cameras, whether DSLR, mirrorless or advanced compact - many of which lack an on-board flash.
The built-in electronic flash made its debut just over fifty years ago on Voigtländer's Vitrona 'compact' camera, but by the 1980's the pop-up or window flash was a standard feature of small cameras from every brand. Since then practically every compact has come with a flash of some sort, and with the demise of the popular compact, smartphones have taken up the mantel – albeit with a popping bright light rather than a real electronic flash.
While plenty of DSLRs also have a built-in flash the feature has been oddly out of favor with the mirrorless manufacturers, whose drive for miniaturization has often left this useful device out in the cold. There are exceptions of course, with Panasonic's Lumix GH- and GX- range and Sony's a6000 and a5100 cameras sporting clever little fold-away heads, but in the main designers have chosen to save space rather than provide this utility. With the small batteries many of these cameras run on, perhaps a no-flash diet is a matter of health as much as bulk.
As compensation many brands supply their cameras with a tiny hotshoe gun (perhaps 'handbag pistol' rather than gun), but while these dinky devices indeed produce light and are small enough to carry anywhere, they tend to be pretty underpowered and miniaturization leaves them extremely close to the lens axis – especially on the smallest cameras. This is where the mecablitz 26 AF-1 is designed to step in.
Specifications / Key Features:
- Olympus/Panasonic/Leica, Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony, Fujifilm, Samsung
- Guide Number: GN20m@ISO 100 and 35mm lens (GN26 with tele adapter)
- Colour Temperature: 5500K
- Modes: Hotshoe TTL auto/manual, Slave TTL auto/manual
- Coverage: 35mm - 24mm/85mm with wide and tele adapters
- Tilt: 0-90°
- In-camera display: Flash ready and correct exposure indicator in camera in hotshoe and slave modes
- Connections: USB for firmware upgrades
- Power: 2xAAA cells
- Weight: 115g/4oz
- Dimensions: 63x85x85mm/2.48x3.35x3.35in
How we view flash, and how we view compact system cameras overall, will determine whether we see the absence of a built-in flash unit in a positive or negative light, but there is no denying that there will be occasions when a burst of flash will be needed.
Most of the mini guns that come supplied with mirrorless cameras have a guide number of less than 10m at ISO 100, so the GN26@ISO 100 mecablitz 26 AF-1 offers a good deal more for those who prefer to keep their ISO low and their apertures small.
Another significant advantage of using this gun over the type generally supplied is the distance the source sits from the lens axis and the ability this unit offers to bounce its light from a ceiling. The head sits on a hinged body that offers a choice of click-stop angles at 0°, 20°, 40° and 90° to the lens axis.
|This 0° position is designed for on-camera macro and close up work.||The 90° setting aims the flash upward to bounce the light.|
The first two positions are for on-camera macro and close-up work, while the 40° position is 'normal' and the 90° setting aims the flash upward when the camera is in landscape orientation and to the left or right when in portrait orientation. When in the normal position the middle of the head sits about 75cm/3in above the hot shoe, so on a DSLR-shaped mirrorless the light is a good distance from the lens axis.
The gun comes with a built-in flip-up wide angle diffuser, and a clip-on teleconverter in the box, giving us coverage options for 24mm, 35mm and 85mm focal lengths (full frame), while the guide number shifts from 14m/46ft to 20m/66ft to 26m/85ft at ISO 100. You might feel it is a bit of a con to call the unit the 26 AF-1 when the guide number of the naked head is actually 20m, and only 26m with the telephoto adapter – and I'd be inclined to agree.
While the Metz mecablitz 26 AF-1 is powerful enough to balance out hard shadows on a bright sunny day, owners of compact system cameras that don't feature an ISO 100 setting will find it a little more difficult to get the most out of the gun. I was using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 for this part of the test and, although it has a maximum flash sync speed of 1/320sec, its lowest real ISO setting of 200 meant using the sort of small apertures outside that render more background detail in focus than is ideal. I found myself looking for shade the whole time so I could get away from using f/11.
While it is difficult to make out the effects of flash exposure compensation when the gun is used in slow sync mode, the differences are there to be seen, however subtle. Without the influence of ambient light the work the flash is putting in becomes much more obvious. When the Metz was mixed with the built-in flash of the host camera again the effects are subtle, but they are supposed to be. Having the flexibility to operate the Metz in TTL or manual mode is extremely useful and opens the possibility to have widely varying power ratios.
For the white bluebell set-up shown below I was able to create a range of power ratios between the built-in flash of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 and the Metz meccablitz 26 AF-1. I used the gun in slave mode and controlled both the Metz and the built-in flash from the camera's menu system. Each of the two flashes are gifted up to +/-3EV of exposure compensation in TTL mode by the menu system, and when manual mode is selected the Metz can be adjusted from full power to 1/128th power in full stop steps. In the GH4 menu system the built-in flash can be set to communicate with the Metz but not actually fire during the exposure: a feature I made extensive use of.
|Metz mecablitz 26AF-1 (background) and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4.||On-camera flash only.|
|Balanced with mecablitz flash from behind.||Mecablitz flash from behind only.|
The flash unit has user-updatable firmware, and while I was in possession of the test unit new firmware became available to make the gun compatible with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100, DMC-FZ72 and Leica D-Lux cameras. Having downloaded a small program and the firmware itself, the process is easy if you can concentrate long enough to read the on-screen instructions. In my magical fantasy land it would be nice if we could switch firmware to allow the gun to be used with different camera brands. The gun is obviously not only for small cameras, though it is the smaller models that it suits best, as versions are available for all the main DSLRs too.
If you are into video you will appreciate the built-in LED light that outputs a maximum of 30 Lux/m and which is switchable to a lower setting. The light source is really pretty small so it creates hard shadows and squinting humans, and is thus somewhat less than ideal. It does make a handy focusing aid though in dim conditions for stills photographers.
While coverage from the video light is nicely even, the same can't really be said of the flash. The lens of the flash head seems quite large, but on closer inspection you can see that the light output area occupies only a fraction of the lens face. So the source and the mirror box are quite small, and the light has to pass through a dramatically scribed Fresnel lens.
The result is that the coverage is pretty uneven, with a dark wave at the bottom of the frame in wide angle shots when the diffuser isn't in place. Even with a 35mm lens the coverage isn't completely even, and the dark area still peeks into the bottom of the frame.
With the diffuser in place coverage is even enough for all but the most technical copying work – for which you wouldn't be using this kind of gun. A bright area appears across the middle of the frame, but it isn't drastic and in most natural subjects it will not be visible. The answer then is to use the diffuser most of the time. The tele converter is also less than perfectly smooth in its illumination, but again the variations in brightness are only really visible when you photograph a white wall in the lab to see if the illumination is even. In real life the slightly brighter stripes won't show up.
The Metz Mecablitz 26AF-1 is an extremely useful little gun. Small enough to carry in a pocket and to marry nicely with flat topped or prism styled compact system cameras, it is at the same time large enough to pack a decent punch and flexible enough to give some control. As a hotshoe gun it does just what it is supposed to do with consistent results, and with the ability to bounce it allows us to escape the harsh flat light of a direct burst.
It is out of the hotshoe though that this little gun comes into its own and becomes really useful to the creative photographer. The wireless control worked extremely well on most occasions, and proved perfect for macro and still life. A pair of these guns could be ideal for adding shining edges, backlit petals and some 3D modeling to plants, bugs and macro detail as well as for larger objects and portraits. The gun is easy enough to use in its own right - how fiddly it is to control is a matter for the menu system of your camera, not the gun itself.
It would be nice to have some swivel as well as the bounce, for upright portraits, and ideally I'd be able to adjust output individually when using more than one unit. However, when you look at power, convenience, size and features, overall the Metz mecablitz 26AF-1 makes a pretty attractive proposition that will lend an extra element of function and creativity to your small camera photography. And at $129/£90, it isn't too expensive either.
- Small and reasonably powerful
- Great slave control for off-camera work
- Body keeps source well away from lens axis
- Four head positions
- No swivel function
- Video light is hard
- Not as powerful as the name suggests
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