The Metz ‘mecablitz’ brand has a long history of flash manufacturing and their speedlites are high tech products: feature packed, deeply integrated into the camera makers’ digital TTL systems and with the reputation of a manufacturer who has been at the forefront of innovation for decades.
The Metz 48 AF-1 represents the last generation of mid-range flashes from Metz, and was replaced in late 2010 by its successor Metz 50 AF-1 that features some detail improvements (e.g. a metal flash foot).
The professional line of Metz flashes has been updated as well: the previous top model 58 AF-1 was replaced by the new 58 AF-2. A third new speedlite is the 44 AF-1, a simplified flash positioned below the 48 / 50 line, but still with dedicated wireless TTL mode (unfortunately this flash is hardly available in the U.S. and too expensive here to be of interest, but it’s attractively priced in Europe).
The 48 AF-1 is an alternative to the Canon 430EX (II) and the Nikon SB-700 (SB-600); Metz is the 3rd party manufacturer with the deepest knowledge about the Canon and Nikon flash systems; that’s why hardly any feature found on the “originals” is missing. It even has some unique features like the ‘extended zoom’ mode or sensor size detection (was missing on SB-600).
Metz 48 AF-1 Highlights
Intro: Flash Modes and Wireless Flash
Flash Head Features
Operation & Ease of Use
Test: Flash Recycling Times
Test: Guide Number
Speedlights.net Power Index
Test: Flash Duration
Tech Specs Table
Dedicated Remote Slave Mode
No Wireless Master Mode
Radio Triggering & Optical Slave Mode
AF Assist Beam
i-TTL Performance & Exposure Quality
Flash Sync Modes
Other Flash Features
Metz 48 AF-1 Review Conclusion
Where To Buy
Compatible Camera Bodies
The 48 AF-1 (and new 50 AF-1) is offered in dedicated versions for Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic/Leica, Pentax and Sony. The table gives an overview of camera compatibility for the Canon and Nikon models.
|Canon cameras||Nikon cameras|
For Canon, ETTL and ETTL (II) bodies can be used – this is the whole range of DSLR. The same holds true for the Nikon system: the 48 AF-1 is compatible with all current and recent Nikon bodies, from the professional series D3 down to the D3100.
Intro: Flash Modes and Wireless Flash
The Metz features the typical mid-market flash mode selection: TTL mode and manual mode “M”, plus the dedicated wireless TTL slave mode for Canon or Nikon.
i-TTL (ETTL II) Exposure Control
This section describes the Nikon version of the flash: i-TTL is the currently used flash protocol from Nikon. With i-TTL comes Nikon’s ‘CLS’ = Creative Lighting System with goodies such as wireless TTL for example. Metz flashes are very well integrated into the i-TTL system, imo better than any other third party brand.
i-TTL BL is a special mode within i-TTL. ‘BL’ stands for ‘balanced fill’. The Metz 48 AF-1 (in contrast e.g. to the Yongnuo models YN465 and YN467) supports also this special mode and lets the user switch between the 2. In fact, you can say that TTL-BL is the 2nd generation of i-TTL or “i-TTL II” although the term doesn’t get used by Nikon itself.
Nikon’s D-TTL was the first generation of digital TTL and is used e.g. by Nikon D1, D1x, D1H, D100, and Fuji FinePix S3Pro. If you are using a later camera model, you have no use for D-TTL.
Analog or film-based TTL was the flash photography standard before the advent of the digital age. It is not compatible with digital TTL and therefore of no use on a DSLR. But digital TTL is equally useless on film-based camera bodies, that’s why the Metz flash is one of the few modern-day speedlites still working on an old analog body. The old TTL is not present in current Nikon speedlights anymore – neither SB-700 nor SB-900. Luckily, there is Metz: the successor of the 48 AF-1 – the new 50 AF-1, also supports the old camera bodies.
You can find much more details in the TTL performance section and the following review parts.
Manual Flash Mode M
In manual flash mode M, the “plus and “minus” buttons give direct access to the 8 output levels between 1/1 and 1/128 (only full stops, no partial levels). In high speed sync mode the range is between 1/1 and 1/32 only, but this is no problem since HSS guide numbers are much smaller anyways.
The distance calculator on the lower left of the flash display is a plus. It takes the f-stop, ISO, zoom reflector position and any exposure compensation into account, so there is no further math required from the user. The distance shown on the LCD – e.g. “6.1 m” – is what you should maintain to the subject for neutral exposure (you can also select feet on the flash if you don’t like meters).
Full details about using the Metz 48 AF-1 in manual mode can be found in the wireless flash section further below.
48 AF-1 Wireless Flash Intro
For wireless flash 3 options exist. The most convenient way is to use the (1) dedicated wireless TTL slave mode which must be accessed through the flash menu system. Depending on the version of the Metz it works with the Nikon AWL (advanced wireless lighting, a part of the Nikon CLS creative lighting system) or the dedicated Canon wireless TTL system.
Note that this requires a commander capable of sending out the encoded light signals for controlling the flash. This can be a compatible built-in flash (e.g. Canon EOS 600D, Nikon D7000), a master-enabled flash, or a dedicated wireless commander such as the ST-E2 or SU-800.
Two more options exist for wireless flash. (2) there is the x-sync contact on the flash foot that works with normal radio triggers such as Cactus V4 or Yongnuo RF-602 for “strobist” photography. And (3) an optical slave mode was added with the latest firmware: for Nikon, it’s a simple slave mode. For the Canon of the flash it’s a “digital” slave mode with pre-flash filter.
Apart from these options, you can use a TTL remote cord, and the flash should also work with the more expensive TTL radio trigger systems. Read more about wireless flash in the Radio Triggering & Optical Slave Mode sections below.
|Compatible with Canon cameras (E-TTL(II))||yes (Canon version)|
|Supported Canon flash modes||ETTL(II), analog TTL, M|
|Canon wireless TTL slave / master||yes (Canon version) / no|
|Compatible with Nikon cameras (CLS / i-TTL)||yes (Nikon version)|
|Supported Nikon flash modes||i-TTL-BL, i-TTL, D-TTL, analog TTL, M|
|Nikon wireless TTL slave / master||yes (Nikon version) / no|
|Manual power settings (on the flash)||1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64 – 1/128|
The Metz 48 AF-1 comes shipped in a large white box that lets you expect quite a lot. Here’s what you find inside:
- the flash unit
- printed instruction manual in 6 languages
Yes, that’s it. While the flashgun is very safely protected within a big block of styrofoam in that box, it’s really coming with the instruction manual only. A flash stand is an optional accessory, the same holds true for a diffuser dome, or the USB cable you need to perform the firmware updates. But a soft case isn’t even available as an extra. Certainly, at least a soft bag should be standard for every flash on the market!
The same lack of standard accessories is true for the announced successor 50 AF-1, unfortunately.
The unit feels pretty massive overall, it is a bit bigger than the Nikon SB-700 or Canon 430 series, but clearly smaller then professional hot-shoe strobes such as a Nikon SB-900 or the 580 series from Canon.
In this photo you can see the Metz together with the Nissin Di-622 Mark II far left, the Canon 430EX II far right and Yongnuo’s YN-468 left-middle, and the photo below shows it between the Nikon SB-900 left and the SB-600 right.
The casing quality of the Metz 48 AF-1 is on a high level. It’s made of thick plastic with a nice finish. The parts fit together without any gaps, and there is no creaking when you press the flash body or head in your hands. I wouldn’t rate it at 100% of the Nikon SB-700, it’s somehow a bit lighter and not exactly as tight, but i think it’s very close to the build quality of the 430EX II.
The flash foot is made from plastic. I don’t think that the flash foot material plays such a big role, whether it’s metal or plastic. Both have their pro’s and con’s. The Metz 48 AF1 features a traditional locking wheel on the foot which is connected to a locking pin. The wheel is a little thin and small in diameter.
There is no real problem attaching and securing the flash on a camera body, but that wheel was easier to operate if it had a larger diameter and stood out more between the accessory shoe and the flash base.
There is exactly one external connector on the flash, and that is the mini USB plug on the left side, protected with a rubber cover. This socket can be used for firmware updates (byoc = bring your own cable).
The photo shows the Metz 48 AF-1 (far right; has the same dimensions as the current 50 AF-1) together with some of its competitors such as Nissin Di622 Mark II, Yongnuo YN-468 (far left), and the Canon 430EX II.
The Metz has an adjustable flash head. It features a release knob on the right side that must be pressed to move the flash head out of the default position. In the standard position and when locked, the flash head has a little bit of play when you move it around with your hand, just like on the SB-600 or almost any other flash I know.
After pressing on the release it rotates 180 degrees counter-clockwise and 120 degrees into the other direction, giving a total of 300 degrees radius.
Tilting upwards ends at 90 degrees, and there is a -7 degrees downward position as well – something the SB-600 does not have to offer. Movement in both axes feels solid, like the entire construction overall. Not like my old ‘potato masher’ Metz 45, but on or even slightly above the SB-600 niveau.
The zoom flash head covers a range between 24mm and 105mm with the following steps:
24mm – 28mm – 35mm – 50mm – 70mm – 85mm – 105mm
When – and only when – the flash is mounted on a camera body there is an auto zoom position available after the ’105′. When auto zoom is selected, the flash reflector will move with the lens focal length. There are 2 more zoom modes (sensor size zoom, and the unique ‘extended zoom’), but this will be covered in the TTL review part further below.
Manual zoom can be used in all modes, it doesn’t matter if the flash is mounted or not. Once powered on, the current setting is always displayed on the lower right of the display.
Changing the current zoom step is a complex task: to do so you must enter the flash menu system which requires simultaneously pressing the “plus” and “minus” buttons (needs some practice to get this done on the first try). When the zoom position starts to blink, you can zoom in or out with “plus” and “minus”.
Luckily there’s a permanent memory built into the mecablitz speedlite so that it remembers the last reflector position in manual zoom mode.
The complicated zoom adjustment is a consequence of the flash design using 4 buttons only: the Nikon SB-600 is not a usability-wonder either, but it uses a 5th button as a dedicated zoom key, and that makes life easier.
Wide angle coverage
The flash head overall and the front screen are both considerably larger on the 48 AF-1 than on the Nikon SB-600 and similar flashguns. There is a reflector card and a wide-panel built in that can be pulled out for 18mm (full-frame) coverage, which equals 12mm on APS-C (or ‘DX’ in Nikon speak).
The flash is operated with 4 buttons in total. The buttons have a good size and are easy to operate but feel a little bit rubbery. The flash is very responsive; there is no delay between the press of a button and the reaction.
The left-most button is labeled “Mode“, next to it are 2 buttons labeled “plus” and “minus” and an illuminated test flash button on the right side; this button does also serve as the ‘flash ready’ light.
That layout with 4 buttons only, paired with the feature richness of the unit, leads to some compromise in usability. Most features can be accessed through the menu system only: to reach them, you need to press the “+” and “-” buttons together, and then keep pressing the 2 buttons repeatedly to toggle through the various features. The sparse labeling does not help finding all of the features either, so that you won’t be able to learn the flash without reading the instructions first.
Difficult to find, and complicated to set, is the wireless TTL slave mode for example. You need to press “+” and “-” together 2 times, and then press “+” or “-” to activate or deactivate. The SB-600 from Nikon requires a similar exercise – and so does the Canon 430EX II – but the new SB-700 is a lot easier to use with its own “slave mode” position on the power switch (the Canon 320EX has that too).
On the back of the 48 AF-1 you find the LCD panel: it’s not huge, and there is not too much space between the different elements of information but it’s still easy enough to read. The letters and icons have a good size and the contrast is OK. There is a green display light that illuminates the panel as soon as you press one of the buttons.
On the display you see the current flash mode, the maximum range, the current zoom setting of the reflector and other information, e.g. an HSS icon for active high speed sync or an icon for the power saving feature.
As most other compact speedlites the Metz 48 AF-1 is powered by 4 AA cells. The battery chamber is located on the right side. To open slide the door forward first, and then it swings upwards.
Loading and unloading the cells is easy but it’s a bit odd that the polarity symbols are located inside the door and not in the chamber. It needs a bit of around-the-corner thinking to load the batteries the right way when you do it the first time.
There is no connector for an external battery pack, only Metz’ flagship models (58 AF-1 and now 58 AF-2) do have that as an option.
Test: Flash Recycling Times (3.4 / 3.9 seconds)
Modern flashes have full-power recycle times between 2 and 6 seconds, depending on their maximum power and battery type. Speedlights.net recycle times are tested according to ISO 2827; see details.
Flash recycling time tests are conducted with all new alkaline batteries and freshly charged NiMH cells. The Metz is set to full power in manual output control like all the contenders in that test.
According to the official Metz specifications the 48 AF-1 needs 3.5 seconds recycle time for all battery types, be it alkaline, lithium or NiMH. The Speedlights.net tests show actual values to be close to these specs, with NiMH slightly faster at 3.4 seconds and the alkaline results a bit slower with 3.9. The graph shows that there is not too much fading over time hence the curves are relatively flat which is good.
Test: Flash Output and Guide Number
The guide number (GN) of an electronic flash is a measure of the maximum light output – visit the test details page to learn more.
Official Specification: 29
On page 132 of the instruction manual you can find the complete guide number table for the 18 to 105 mm zoom range. There, the specs state GN 29 for the 35mm benchmark setting for speedlights.net. With this number the Metz strobe is in the range of the Nikon SB-600, SB-700 and Canon 320EX / 430 EX II.
The flash is called Metz ’48′ because if the guide number at the tele end, which is indeed 48 per the official table. The test will also reveal if this is number is achieved in real life, or maybe exaggerated.
Flash Meter Results
All flashes are tested using the same standardized method using a Sekonic flash meter in a controlled environment. Speedlites are never tested alone, but always together with re-tests of other models to guarantee consistent results between sessions.The image shows Yongnuo 467, the Metz 48 AF-1, a Sunpak PZ42X and the Nikon SB-600 together.
For the Metz the light meter reading at the 35mm reflector position comes out at f22 plus 1/10 (which corresponds to f23.4 in decimal conversion). As a comparison, I got f16 +9/10 for the SB-600, f11 plus 7/10 for the YN467, and f22 plus 3/10 for the PZ42X.
|Model||Light meter reading|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||f22 +4/10|
|Sunpak PZ42X||f22 +3/10|
|Canon 430EX II||f22 +2/10|
|Metz 48 AF-1||f22 +1/10|
|Nikon SB-600||f16 +9/10|
|Nikon SB-700||f16 +7/10|
|Yongnuo YN-465||f16 +5/10|
|Nikon SB-400||f16 +0/10|
|Yongnuo YN-468||f11 +7/10|
|Yongnuo YN-467||f11 +7/10|
From these numbers you can see already that there’s more light coming out from the Metz than you get from the Nikons, and also the Yongnuo speedlites. The Metz is almost a hald stop more powerful than the new SB-700, and very slightly behind the Canon mid-market flash 430 EX II.
Real World Guide Number: 33 – Guide Number Table
The calculated guide number is obtained by adding exactly 1 f-stop to the flash meter test results. Learn more about this method on the test details page.
The following table shows guide number test results together with manufacturer specs in brackets (please note that Metz does not publish partial output specs at 35mm but only at 50mm which explains the “na” entries).
The 48 AF-1 is stronger in the Speedlights.net lab than the official specs let expect, and the difference is not small. Instead of GN 29 the test unit was able to deliver a GN of 33.1. At the tele end where the official specs state GN 48 the calculated GN from the test says 49, so the unit is also a bit stronger at 105mm. Finally, at wide angle, there is also a stronger test result with GN 24 versus manufacturer specification (GN 21).
Speedlights Power Index
The light blue bar in the Speedlights.net Power Index shows the official 35mm-GN, and the dark blue bar indicates the test results. Go to the test details page for more information on the Speedlights.net Power Index.
Test: Effective Output Range
On paper the Metz 48 AF-1 offers a very good 7 stop range from 1/1 to the minimum output setting of 1/128. The test unit came close with a metered range of 6.7 steps, the decrements got only marginally smaller than full stops from 1/32 on and below.
|Output range spec||Output range from tests|
|7 stops||6.7 stops|
Test: Continuous Shooting Output
All flashes lose some power when fired with maximum frequency; read the test info page to learn more about the effect and the test procedure.
|Model||Calc. guide number at 60 sec wait||Calc. guide number at continuous fire||Difference in f-stops|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||36.8||32.0||-4/10|
|Canon 430EX II||34.3||26.0||-8/10|
|Metz 48 AF-1||33.1||29.9||-3/10|
In the case of the 48 AF-1 there is only a 3/10 stop loss in the rapid firing case. Instead of the full GN of 33.1 you still get a GN of 29.9 when firing as quickly as the unit allows.
Test: 48 AF-1 Flash Duration
Flash duration is the time between the beginning of the flash and the end of the light emission. Go to the speedlite test methodology page for information on t0.5 versus t0.1 flash durations and the method used here for reviews.
Metz 48 AF-1 Flash Duration Compared
Long flash duration times are one of the main points brought up against speedlites from Metz. You can see from the column with official data that the 48 AF-1 has a really slow flash duration indeed – with a time of 1/125 you would not even get an effective = real full power pop when using a 1/200 sec as the shutter speed on your cam.
However, and this can also be seen in the table, things are not that dramatic in real life. With the standard metering I get 1/230 seconds for the review unit, which is no real difference from flash duration with other comparable brand speedlites, and 100% identical to full power flash duration for the Nikon SB-900.
|Model||flash duration spec at 1/1 power (sec)||t0.1 metering result (sec)|
|Nissin Di622 Mark II||1/800||1/375|
|Canon 430EX II||unspecified||1/350|
|Metz 48 AF-1||1/125||1/230|
t0.1 Flash Duration Times Table
The following table shows specs vs metering results for all partial output levels. The official values were taken from the 48 AF-1 instruction manual.
|Output level||Manufacturer spec||t0.1 metering|
Tech Specs for the Metz 48 AF-1
|Guide number spec
(35mm, ISO 100, in meters)
|Guide number test result||33|
|Manual power settings||1/1 – 1/2 – 1/4 – 1/8 – 1/16 – 1/32 – 1/64 – 1/128|
|Flash duration (full power)||1/125|
|Recycle time spec
(at full power)
|3.5 sec alkaline, 3.5 sec NiMH|
|Recycle time test result||3.9 sec alkaline, 3.4 sec NiMH|
|Flash foot material, type||plastic, standard ISO|
|PC Sync Port||no|
|Optical Slave||yes (w/ updated firmware)|
|Other Trigger||wireless TTL slave sensor|
|Trigger Voltage||4.61 V|
|Flash Head Features|
|Swivel||-180 to +120 degrees|
|Tilt||-7 to +90 degrees|
|Manual Zoom Head||(18) 24 – 105|
|Auto Zoom||(18) 24 – 105|
|Bounce card / 2nd reflector||yes / no|
|LCD Display||yes (segment type)|
|Batteries Used||4 x AA|
|External Power Source||no|
|D-TTL||yes (Nikon version)|
|i-TTL||yes (Nikon version)|
|CLS Wireless Slave||yes (Nikon version)|
|CLS Wireless Master||no|
|E-TTL(II)||yes (Canon version)|
|E-TTL(II) wireless slave||yes (Canon version)|
|E-TTL(II) wireless master||no|
|Other Flash Modes|
|AF Assist Light||yes|
|Exposure Compensation in TTL Mode on the Flash unit||-3 to +3 EV|
|Rear Curtain Synchronization||yes|
|High Speed Synchronization||yes|
|Sensor Size Detection (DX, FX, etc)||yes (w/ updated firmware)|
The Metz 48 AF-1 can be used as a remote flash in these configurations: (1) using the Canon or Nikon infrared TTL slave mode (2) radio triggering through flash foot (no PC jack or via mini phone socket) and (3) with the non-TTL optical slave mode. TTL cables such as the Nikon SC-29 should also work but this hasn’t been tested.
Dedicated Remote TTL Slave Mode (Canon and Nikon)
Wireless TTL for Nikon
Your first option for wireless flash is the Nikon AWL = advanced wireless flash system. This system is Nikon’s own cordless flash solution, part of their creative lighting system ‘CLS’. AWL = or wireless i-TTL, lets you use your flash off camera without additional accessories like cables or receivers – at least as long as your camera body can work as a master!
With AWL, you can use your flash in automatic TTL mode or manual mode. AWL works with optical pulses rather than radio waves. It requires direct line-of-sight to work properly. It is due to the system design (relying on optical pulses) that it is never as reliable as a radio based triggering system, so learn to live with occasional miss-fires.
The Metz 48 AF-1 (in the middle between SB-900 and SB-600 in the photo below) has a dedicated sensor for Nikon’s AWL light signals on the right side of the flash bosy, which is the same location as on Nikon SB-600 and SB-900 as can be seen.
Unlike on the speedlights from Nikon there is no acoustic beep signal available for ‘flash-ready’ but there is a flashing LED on the front side as a wireless signal – very useful.
In terms of the output the flash works fine in wireless TTL mode, you can expect the same performance as you’d get from the Nikon SB-600. The photo below was taken with the Metz 48 AF-1 hand held and triggered with the built-in flash of the Nikon D90 via Nikon “advanced wireless lighting system” AWL.
The real difficulty is not using, but setting the wireless slave mode as it requires simultaneous button pushing and finding your way through the menu system.
Wireless TTL for Canon
In the Canon world, the same wireless TTL system exists but it is called “E-TTL Wireless Autoflash Control”. The respective model Metz 48 AF-1C is integrated into the Canon wireless system – it’s pretty much the same as for the Nikon version.
No Master Mode on 48 AF-1
The Metz 48 AF-1 can be used as a slave flash but not as a master or commander in wireless TTL – which means it can receive the commands but not be the master for other flashes itself. Withing the Metz lineup, you need to refer to the pro model 58 AF-2 or its precursor 58 AF-1.
Radio Triggering For Wireless Flash
A much cheaper way of doing remote flash are radio transmitters. Which is additional gear to purchase buy but they work with almost any flash – across brands, and they are an almost 100% reliable solution, unlike Canon’s and Nikon’s infrared systems. A set of Yongnuo RF-602 for example costs less than 40 bucks.
48 AF-1 Works With X Sync Radio Triggers
Low cost radio triggers do not support TTL mode, only manual mode flash. Which creates issues with some flashes that don’t feature a manual mode (Nikon SB-400, Canon 270EX / 270EX-II / 320EX) but the Metz 48 AF-1 is unproblematic in that sense – means it will fire with pretty much any radio trigger out there.
Radio triggers need to be mounted on the flash foot as there is no PC sync port on the Metz. The 48 AF-1 seems to have a very slightly thicker base plate than other flashes so that it requires a bit of force to get it into the Cactus V4 radio receiver while this is not noticeable with the RF602 from Yongnuo.
Manual Mode Operation Wireless Flash
Switching the 48 AF-1 into manual mode is easy. Just press the dedicated “Mode” button. The first press activates the LCD illumination and the currently selected mode starts flashing. Then, with the second press it switches into the next mode. In manual mode the “plus” and “minus” buttons are used for adjusting the output level.
The available range is 7 stops with 8 settings from 1/1 down to 1/128 with all full stops in between, but there are no partial output levels to choose from. The flash always displays its current power level on the LCD, the font is a bit small unfortunately.
There is also a permanent display of the current reflector position. Setting manual zoom was described before – unfortunately there are no direct buttons for this functionality so it requires a bit of finger acrobatics (aka simultaneously pressing two buttons).
The flash remembers it’s last settings when you power it off and back on so it starts up in mode “M” if this was last set. The same holds true for a battery change – also here it goes back to manual mode with the last power level and zoom reflector setting.
Now with Optical Slave Mode (Firmware Update)
Update from Feb 16, 2011:
Metz released a new firmware for the 48 AF-1 that enables non-TTL optical slave mode! According to their site, it’s a simple slave mode without pre-flash filter for Nikon (and other camera brands), and a ‘digital’ optical slave mode for Canon.
No Standby Problem With 48 AF-1
With radio triggers the power saving or standby mode of a flash can get into your way. Cameras are usually designed to wake up a sleeping flash in the hot shoe once you half-press the shutter release. Radio triggers don’t offer that option always – it depends on the trigger, the flash, and on how they work together.
The Metz has a 10 minute standby per default. Standby has its own icon on the back information panel (the watch icon visible on the screen above) so it’s always easy to see whether that mode is active or not. Luckily the power saving feature can be disabled completely as the Cactus V4 trigger is unable to wake the Metz up once it has fallen asleep.
The Yongnuo RF-602 however is able to wake up the flash, and it will wake up and fire at the very first press of the transmitter. This is where Yongnuo’s ‘instant wake-up and fire’ technology gives you the advantage. But anyhow, you can always disable the power-saving feature on the flashgun and won’t run into problems, even with simpler triggers like the V4.
Off-Camera Flash Must-Haves
The 48 AF-1 is a very capable “strobist” flash even though it was designed as a fully integrated TTL speedlite in the first place. A clear advantage is the slave capability for Nikon AWL/CLS shooting or the Canon wireless E-TTL system – that’s something you don’t get from the cheap competition today. Therefore, the flash receives an AA+.
- manual mode
- has manual mode: yes
- minimum manual power: 1/128
- all full stops from 1/1 to 1/128: yes
- X contact firing: yes
- flash standby mode: adjustable
48 AF-1 i-TTL / E –TTL Review
The 48 AF-1 was designed as a hot shoe flash in the first place, and specifically as an alternative to the middle class units Canon 430EX II and Nikon SB-600 (now: SB-700) . The Metz is not a low cost product, but follows the “quality made in Germany” approach and competes on the feature front.
As said before the flash foot is a tad thicker than on other speedlights but there is no issue with fitting into the Nikon D90 accessory shoe. The locking wheel is small in diameter and a bit sharp-edged, but once screwed down you get a very firm connection. What can be irritating is that it fires off a flash when you attach it to the camera hot shoe with “power on”.
In contrast to Canon and Nikon the Metz uses a green light for “flash ready”, not red. For power saving mode 3 options exist: standby can can be (1) deactivated in the 48 AF-1 custom menu altogether. Or it can be set to (2) 1 minute or (3) 10 minutes – which is the factory default. From standby, the flashgun wakes up immediately as soon as you half press the shutter release.
AF Assist Beam
There is certainly an AF assist beam built-in, located underneath the red plastic screen on the front side. It’s a single LED type beam but with a projected pattern that helps with poor contrast objects in low light or darkness. The AF assist is very effective and shows no weakness during the tests, it helps the D90 find focus fast and securely without “hunting” – as long as you’re using the center AF field.
It technically works with all 11 sensors in AF-S mode, but it’s not equally effective across the frame because the single LED can’t cover the whole field. For AF fields near the frame border the Nikon SB-600 (on the right in the photo above) shows a better performance with its dual LED’s, especially vertically. The Nikon SB-900 finally uses 3 LED’s for AF assist, depending on AF sensor used. But as said before: with the center AF field, there is no noticeable difference.
The AF assist can be used in modes AF-S, AF-A, but not in AF-C. This is exactly the same as for the Nikon SB-600 and the SB-900: no AF assist with AF-C.
In total, the Metz 48 AF-1 offers a record-setting number of 4 different zoom modes: In addition to auto zoom there is manual zoom, sensor size detection zoom, and ‘extended zoom’, a Metz exclusive.
- Auto zoom
The Metz 48 AF-1 zooms with the lens in the range between 24 and 105mm. It’s even smart enough to tell you when you leave that area, e.g. when zooming the lens to 18mm. In that case, the zoom indicator starts flashing on the 48-1 LCD screen. Unfortunately, there is no warning in the viewfinder (Nikon would need to implement this as a feature in their camera firmware, so Metz is not to be blamed for it). With the wide-panel flipped down all auto zooming stops, and the flash stays at the wide setting (18mm coverage).
- Manual zoom
Due to the lack of a dedicated ‘zoom’ button on the flash, you need to enter the menu system by simultaneously pressing the “plus” and “minus” button. This works OK with some practicing, but it’s not comfortable especially when you hold the camera in your hand. The zoom steps are 24 – 28 – 35 – 50 – 70 – 85 – 105mm and then ‘auto zoom’.
- Sensor size detection zoom
Metz is one of the very few brands mastering this feature to date. If the 48 AF-1 is equipped with a newer firmware version you can use the ‘zoom size function’ to get a bit more juice with APS-C (DX) camera bodies. With these, it will zoom the reflector to 70mm when using a 50mm lens, or to full tele at 105mm with an 85mm portrait lens. This gives you about 10% in effective guide number (GN 48 at 105mm vs GN 43 at 85mm). For ‘full frame’ cameras, sensor size detection does not make any difference so there is no power boost.
- Extended zoom
Exactly the opposite approach is extended zoom. There, the goal is not maximum power but a more even coverage. Therefore the flash will zoom to a position shorter than the zoom position of the lens. So with a 50mm lens it will move to the 35mm position, and with the 85mm lens it goes to 70. Result is better coverage in the extreme borders with less light fall-off. Like the other zoom modes, extended zoom is activated through the menu system.
In addition to the flash modes there is another specialty on the Metz. As soon as you move the zoom head out of the normal or close-up position, it will stop zooming with the lens on the camera body. Underlying theory is that for bounced flash against walls or ceilings the best compromise between spread and output power is present at 70mm approximately, so any zooming is counterproductive or at least a waste. This is an approach that Canon is using as well, while you always have the zooming with Nikon speedlights.
E-TTL / i-TTL Performance
The Metz 48 AF-1 is a very good performer in combination with the Nikon D90, It has dependable flash exposure and good consistent white balance shot after shot. Overall, it gives comparable output to the SB-600 speedlight from Nikon.
Balancing light = Fill Flash (TTL-BL)
The Nikon version of the flash sports TTL-BL as an alternative TTL mode, in an implementation similar to the SB-600 or SB-800 from Nikon. Fill flash works very well with the 48 AF-1 from Metz, but there are situation where it tends to under-expose, especially when the subject is at the extreme border of the frame. This is exactly the same as my Nikon flashes do, so it seems much more related to the flash metering of the Nikon D90 than the flash itself.
The following 2 pictures are fill flash samples with the Metz – there is a good balance between the harsh sunlight and light from the flash, especially given that this is with bare flash in the accessory shoe, not with a soft box or other light modifier.
The flash stops zooming with the lens as soon as you tilt it up or rotate to the side – that means in the typical bounced light scenario. This is one of the features where Metz has a smarter approach than Nikon itself. If you need a specific reflector position there’s always the manual zooming option available. By the way, for the close-up reflector position at minus 7 degrees tilt the auto-zoom does not get disabled, this is only for the other 3 directions.
Flash Sync Modes
Alternative sync modes are important as they lead to better looking pictures in many cases. In addition to normal sync there are 3 more sync options available with the Metz 48 AF 1.
Slow sync refers to the slowest shutter speed that is used by the camera with flash attached. In normal sync mode cameras use times up to around 1/60 seconds to limit unwanted motion blur. But this also limits the amount of ambient light in the frame.
With slow sync flash mode slower shutter speeds can be used, e.g. 1/16 or 1/2 seconds or longer. This leads to a more balanced exposure between background ambient light and the flash. Obviously, you need to keep the effect of camera shake under control. Please note that slow sync is a camera feature, not a speedlight feature (at least in the Nikon world) so it works without problems together with the 48AF-1.
Rear Curtain Sync
The same holds true for rear curtain sync: it’s a camera feature, so it works without problems together with the Metz 48. Rear curtain sync fires the flash not at the beginning of the exposure but towards the end, which helps with more natural looking light trails behind cars and other moving objects (picture taken with a Yongnuo YN-465).
High Speed Sync
In contrast to the other sync modes, high speed sync HSS (also called FP sync) requires a compatible flashgun. HSS allows the use of all shutter speeds the camera body offers, down to 1/8000 or whatever the shortest time is. Few speedlights apart from Nikon’s or Canon’s own models can be used in HSS.
Yongnuo, for example, have not figured out this mode to date. Nissin has it on the top-flash Di866 only. But Metz, which has been on the market for decades now, offer full high speed sync support, and the Metz 48 AF-1 is only one 1 of several models being able to do HSS.
HSS mode can be set on the camera only and not on the flash, but the 48 AF-1 shows a dedicated “HSS” icon on the display when high speed sync is set (the Nikon SB-600 uses an icon showing “FP”). HSS works in TTL, TTL-BL and mode M.
The picture below was taken with the combination D90 plus 48 AF-1. At ISO 200, 1/4000 seconds was used with f2.8. Without high speed sync the shutter speed needs to be kept at 1/200, which means an f-stop of around f11 is required, and consequently the nicely blurred background would be more in focus.
Other Flash Features
This review section talks about red-eye flash, modeling light, flash-off, and flash exposure compensation / flash bracketing settings.
The anti red-eye flash feature uses several smaller pre-flashes before the actual exposure. Since this leads to a certain delay between shutter release and the actual exposure the feature can’t be combined with rear curtain sync. Like the sync modes discussed before the red-eye flash feature can’t be set on the accessory speedlight but only on the camera body.
It depends on the particular camera model whether red-eye flash works with the internal speedlight only or even a special lamp, or also with external flashes. For the combination D90 and Metz 48 AF-1 the red eye flash works: there are exactly 3 pre-flashes fired before the exposure – again, this is 100% the same as for Nikon’s own speedlight 600.
Modeling light is another advanced flash setting that few third party flashes master, but – again – the 48 AF-1 from Metz is one of the few. In contrast to the Nikon SB-600, you can use the test flash button on the speedlight to fire the modeling light once the feature is set to “on” in the menu system of the 48 AF-1. For this to work the speedlight does not even have to be attached to the camera, so it also works hand held.
The depth of field preview button on the D90 that takes on the role of activating modeling light with SB-600 / SB-900 also works together with the Metz. The modeling light itself, by the way, seems to be a bit lower in frequency but burning longer than on the two Nikon flashes.
Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC)
Flash exposure compensation can be set very easily on the Metz. Just press “plus” or “minus” on the flash while in TTL mode and any value between -3 and +3 EV can be dialed in with third steps in between. Flash exposure compensation is displayed on the LCD screen, it replaces there the f-stop display.
Flash exposure compensation can also be set on the camera body. Both values – if set on camera and accessory flash – add up. If +1 is selected on the flash and -2 on the camera, the effective flash exposure compensation is is -1. The viewfinder of the Nikon D90 shows an exposure compensation if set on the flash with an icon, but it does not display the actual amount.
Flash Exposure Lock (FV Lock)
Flash exposure lock is available with the Metz 48 AF-1 and also the viewfinder display works as supposed: pressing AE-L sends out the pre-flash and locks the flash exposure value. The corresponding icon lights up in the viewfinder. Press again, and the lock gets released.
Flash Bracketing (FEB)
Flash bracketing uses varying levels of flash exposure compensation for a series of shots, usually 3. One is taken with normal flash exposure, one with positive and another one with a negative flash output adjustment. As expected, this works with the Metz 48 AF-1 when set on the camera. In addition you can also setup a flash bracketing series on the Metz itself, but you need to find you way through the complicated menu system.
Flash-off as an option comes handy when you need the AF-assist beam for focusing, but don’t want the flash light itself in your frame. This mode is not supported by the Metz; in the Nikon universe, you actually need to get the Nikon SB-900 if this feature is important to you.
There is a “no-flash mode” on the Nikon D90 itself where the flash won’t fire but the AF assist is still used so this might be a workaround. However, this no-flash setting is a point-and-shoot mode so you can’t set f-stop or shutter speed yourself and lose the creative control. Best problem solution is using a custom function to re-program the Ffn-key – if your body allows you to do this.
48 AF-1 Review: Conclusion
The Metz 48 AF-1 is a very capable flash and is positioned directly against the SB-600 (700) from Nikon and Canon 430EX II. It is well manufactured and built and harmonizes perfectly together with digital cameras in the accessory shoe and also in wireless TTL mode.
The speedlite is a bit more powerful than Nikon’s and Canon’s own flashes making it even more attractive as an alternative, but the ease of use is a weakness if you plan on using a lot of the custom settings or do a lot of “strobist” stuff with manual zoom; if you just stick on the camera and snap away this is less of a concern. Here’s the summary of the main strengths and weaknesses discovered during the testing.
Metz 48 AF-1 Positives
Get one of these flashes if you want full i-TTL (E-TTL) support but don’t want to buy a flash from the camera maker. For use with a Nikon APS-C camera body you even get a little bit of extra power compared to the Nikon SB-600, but expect also a price on the SB-600 level. But compared to the new SB-700 as well as the Canon 430EX II there is a price advantage.
If you’re on a tighter budget you get more bang for your buck from Nissin or Yongnuo – e.g. the YN-465 or YN-467, but don’t expect these 3rd party brands to be as perfectly integrated into the camera manufacturers’ digital TTL systems as Metz is capable of.
Where to Buy
The price of the 48 AF-1 has come down a bit as the successor 50 AF-1 has been released – there should be some good deals around. Metz flashes are not available everywhere in the US but can be found at amazon and esp. eBay.