REVIEW - Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Macro Flash

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chrish
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REVIEW - Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Macro Flash

Post by chrish » October 12th, 2014, 10:34 am

I should start off by saying that I have "borrowed" the images of the equipment from the web rather than taking my own gear shots. Credit and/or apologies to the image owners. The critter images are mine.
I guess it is important to point out that this flash is often misrepresented in advertisements and reviews.

It is officially named the Metz Mecablitz 15MS-1 Digital Macro Flash.
But I have seen it sold as the Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Digital Slave and Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Macro Ringlight Digital Flash

The problem is it isn't a Ringlight nor (only) a Slave Flash. This is a dual head macro flash unit with two independent flash heads 180° apart.

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Now some of you will be thinking, "Ok, but Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax etc., already make similar flash units. Why buy the Metz?"

Well, for starters it is under $400. Those other camera units run $500-800 depending on the system and which camera model you have. It is also considerably less bulky than those other units and has less things sticking off it to get tangled in the underbrush as you slink towards your quarry at night.

No, it doesn't offer the flexibility that these independent head units offer, but it is a lot more field friendly because it is one solid piece with no wires. I also own the Sony twin head macro flash unit and while that is great, it is more cumbersome to use in the field. I will grab this unit more often than not when heading out into the field at night.

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In the Box

The unit is a single piece which snaps securely onto a lens mount. The lens mounts screw into the filter threads of your lens and are sturdy and out of the way. You can leave the mount attached to your macro lens at all times, although some of the mounts may alter the lens cap size.
The unit comes with mounts for 52, 55, 58, 62, 67 and 72mm filter sizes so it will fit almost any lens that a herper would want to use it on. Should you have an odd sized lens, inexpensive adapter rings are available online or from many camera stores to make it fit your lens.

One other cool accessory it comes with is a clip on infrared filter for your pop-up flash head. You can see it clipped on the camera flash head in the photo above. This is useful in some camera systems where the wireless flash signal is produced by the popup flash. If the pop-up flash is left exposed, you can see a third catch light in the eye of the subject (2 from the macro flash heads and one from the pop-up flash). By clipping this seemingly black plastic clip on the popup flash, it only allows the infra-red light from the flash through. That is enough to control/fire the Metz, but doesn't show up on the final image as a third catch-light.

There is a clip on diffuser that you can rotate in and out of position. To be honest, I have taken most of my shots with it in place so I don't have a feel for how well it diffuses or doesn't.

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Using the Mecablitz 15

To use the Mecablitz 15 couldn't be simpler. You pop it on the front of your lens, activate your wireless flash system, turn the Metz on and fire a shot.

Which leads me to another really strong point for this flash - it works with almost any camera body. So if you are in the field with your buddy (or husband, wife, kids, etc) who uses Nikon and you use Sony or Canon, you can pop the unit off your camera, hand it to them, they press a couple of buttons and in a few seconds it now gives full TTL flash control for their camera.

For those systems with wireless flash, it will respond to the wireless flash signals and fire with full TTL control. For cameras without wireless flash capability, it can be triggered as a slave flash. For camera with a PC sync cord, it can be connected directly to the camera for full PC sync control. Effectively, it could be used with almost any camera, although to get full TTL type control you would need a wireless capable camera or a PC sync socket.

Set-up is a breeze. You simply turn the unit on, tell it which camera system you have from a menu on the flash unit and you are good to go. If you have a system that doesn't offer TTL wireless flash control, you can train the unit to respond to your camera's flash system so that it doesn't fire in response to pre-flash, etc.. It is pretty sophisticated little flash.

Tweaking the light -
You can alter the power of each individual flash head with a simple slider system (operated by two buttons) that shifts the flash power from one head to the other. You can also pivot the angle of each flash to point it more into the center of the field of view. Although most people will use it with the heads positioned at the standard 3 o'clock / 9 o'clock positions, you can rotate the head so the two flash heads are position at 12 and 6 o'clock position. What you can't do is move the heads independently since they are fixed within the front ring of the flash unit.

Since it is controlled wirelessly in most systems, you don't actually have to have it mounted on the front of the lens. It can be easily removed and hand held for more precise control of lighting. I recently found myself with only this flash unit available when trying to shoot an Oxybelis through glass at a zoo. Mounted on the lens, it would produce reflections off the glass. Solution? Simple - take the unit off the lens and hold it flat against the glass. Voila, no reflections.

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In the Field -

I have used this flash in the field in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Costa Rica so far. My results have been very encouraging. I find the lighting very acceptable the unit has performed well in the dry deserts of the west to the rainy tropical and cloud forests of central Costa Rica.

It does provide nice even lighting for small subjects -

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Because the flash heads are on either side of the lens, you can get the light down into smaller areas than you can with an on-camera flash. This big Rhinella marina was hunkered down under the edge of a drainage culvert. An on-camera flash would have been blocked by the top of the culvert.

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The absence of cords and the one piece design make it very easy to carry and use in the field. It fits into a photo vest pocket and clips on with a single click. You flip it on, pop up your on camera flash head, set it to wireless and you are ready to shoot. There is only one thing to snap on the camera and you don't even have to point the heads.

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In Summary

Positives:

1. Affordable TTL field macro flash head that works with many camera systems.
2. Works on or off the camera and is easy to hold in one hand if you want.
3. It is field hardy because it is all one piece.
4. Uses readily available AAA batteries.
5. Doesn't seem to be as intimidating to wildlife as a larger double flash bracket.
6. No pointing/aligning of flash heads is necessary.

Negatives:

1. I wish it used AA not AAA batteries. I guess that would have made it bigger? The AAA batteries (x2) don't last a very long time when you are using it a lot. They will last a whole night in the forest, but you have to remember to replace/recharge them before the next outing. I guess that isn't a huge deal as an extra pair of AAA batteries doesn't take up much room in a camera bag or pocket. And you can change the batteries quickly and easily without even removing the unit from your camera.

2. You can't position the two flash heads independently like you can on most macro flash units. They are always 180° apart. But you can still alter the light balance between the heads very easily with the "slider" on the LCD screen. You can rotate the head so that they aren't always at 9:00 and 3:00, but they will always be 180° apart.

3. You do get two catchlights in the eye, which some people find distracting. However it is a very simple task to fix that with the cloning tool in PS/LR.

Here's a Smilisca baudinii's eye showing the three catchlights (and some extra reflections). The three lights are the two Metz flash heads and the flash of the camera body that triggered the Metz. I forgot to use the clip in IR filter over the pop up flash head.

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It is a pretty simple fix in LR/PS to clone out those unwanted reflections though -

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4. It is not as powerful as a full sized flash unit and so its range is somewhat limited, but that is also true of most macro flash units. The GN for this unit is 50 feet at ISO 100 (and 50mm). So at f/16 and ISO 200, the flash range is only 6.3 feet. But it is a macro flash and that's not really intended to have more reach than that. And with modern digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras, ISO 1600 or higher is readily usable. At ISO 1600, the max range is extended to a little over 12 feet, which is more than necessary for herp photography.
For comparison, a pair of Nikon SBR 200s have an effective guide number of 66 feet, the Sony Macro Flash has a GN of 79 feet, and the Canon MT-24EX has a guide number of 85 feet. But the 50 feet GN of the Metz is plenty for any macro work, IMHO. If you are more than 6 feet away, why are you using a macro flash unit?

So if you are in the market for a Macro Flash, this is certainly a unit worth of investigation. It is seamless to install and use, field hardy, and quite a bit more affordable than some of the other options. It can produce outstanding results when used correctly.

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