Sunday, December 28, 2014

Metz Flash 45 CT-1, CT-3, CT-4, CT-5, CL-1, CL-3, CL-4, CL-4 digital. Mini Review and Comparison. Which one is Best? (Ciao 45er!)

The Metz 45ers are a range of very powerful handle mount flashes. Just after publishing the original blog post I realised that Metz filed for insolvency protection in November 2014. One of the first measures after insolvency was the reduction of their product offering and the last 45er in production - the Metz 45 CL-4 digital - was pulled from the program. As of January 2015 45ers can only be obtained second hand. Introduced in 1976 and produced up to 2014 the product was as iconic for Metz as the Beetle for Volkswagen. It saw a 38 year production run and had a reputation with professionals for ruggedness and delivering great light. Such a long production run, even when considering the updates, is no mean feat for any product in the fast moving consumer electronic world. All the more reason to look at the different models.

So which one is the best of the produced models?

Of course the answer depends on what you want to do with it. I will go through the main differences and the main advantages and disadvantages (from my personal perspective) for their use below.

The following descriptions are sorted in chronological order as the original naming and numbering is a bit confusing.

Metz 45 CT-1
The original model had a long production run and was actually produced in three different versions under the same name. The first two models with serial numbers  below 534000 have high voltage circuits for the flash trigger and should not be directly attached to a digital camera. (Unless you have measured your Flash to be safe, and received assurance from the camera manufacturer that the voltage is safe.)
The last model with higher serial numbers can be used in automatic mode on any camera. The flash can not be used for any TTL control. The earlier models can use the Mecamat 45-20 and the later models use the Mecamat 45-43. Both Mecamats can be found easily on the second hand market.

The flash offers 5 automatic apertures. However the ISO range that can be selected is - at today's standards - quite limited from ISO 25 to ISO 400, which is appropriate for the film photography 30 or 40 years ago. The measuring range of the flash metering cell is fixed and which Apertures can be selected depend on the set ISO value.

The following Table shows the available Aperture values when selecting an ISO value (possible in 1/3 steps):

25 = 1.4 / 2 / 2.8 / 4 / 5.6
50 =         2 / 2.8 / 4 / 5.6 / 8
100 =            2.8 / 4 / 5.6 / 8 / 11
200 =                    4 / 5.6 / 8 / 11 / 16
400 =                         5.6 / 8 / 11 / 16 / 22

From today's perspective that is quite unsatisfactory. In 2015 there is no more 25 ISO film around and you are hard pressed to find a 50 or 64 still available or expired on the second hand market.
Digital cameras native ISO is 200. And only some advanced models offer to select ISO 100 or even ISO 50 with a slight loss in dynamic range and quality. One of the biggest advantages of digital imaging has been the amazing improvement of low light light image quality. Shooting with acceptable results 1600 to 3200 is in 2015 possible for most if not all current digital camera models.

So what happens when you set the Metz 45 CT-1 to ISO 400 and simply use ISO 1600 on your camera? You will have to choose the 5.6  automatic aperture on the flash and "compensate" by further closing down the aperture on your camera; 11 for ISO 1600 in this example and 16 for ISO 3200. This is possible but it makes rarely a lot of sense.

Today I would in most situations of casual family and event shooting try to drag the shutter to record the mood and feeling of the ambient light while highlighting (literally) the main motive with a bit of flash. If the shutter time necessary to  record ambient light becomes to slow, you get ugly double outlines. Closing my aperture to 11 makes the shutter time very slow and negates the reason why I choose a high ISO in the first place. Not making a lot of sense.
Effectively the minimum ambient light level required by the Metz 45 CT-1 to execute this "drag the shutter with automatic flash" or "fill flash" if you like, is much higher than for modern TTL system integrated flash units.

Fill in flash in daylight on the other hand works quite well. With ISO 100 you can use apertures from 2.8 to 11 which should cater for most shooting situations. If you want the fill flash to not to be too obvious you can close the aperture accordingly.

The flash itself does only have two manual settings:  Manual which is full power and Winder which is 1/64 power. But the fitting Mecamat (45-20 or 45-43) is easily available on the used market and allows seven manual settings from full power to 1/64. That makes the Metz 45 CT-1 with Mecamat quite useful for any full manual set up. To use the Mecamat the flash should be set to manual mode.

The Mecamat also expands the number of usable apertures in automatic mode to a total of 9 but unfortunately all additional apertures are above the ones that can be selected on the flash alone. That feature is very useful for macro photography where small apertures are selected and the macro extension of a bellows or rings might further diminish the "effective" aperture. (Remember: no TTL means that you need to calculate the effective aperture caused by filters, extension or teleconverters manually)

The later model above serial number 534000 can be triggered with any third party wireless trigger and can be included in a wireless trigger manual set up nicely. For earlier models the same caution as for cameras will need to be exercised. Not every wireless trigger is able to handle voltage above 250V. Be sure to use heavy duty triggers for studio strobes, and check with the manufacturer what is the specified maximum voltage. (The Phottix Atlas takes for example 300V)

There are very early production models that can even exceed 300V but they are few and far between in the used market today. I guess not many have been produced. Unfortunately I could not find any reliable source to determine the serial numbers of the early models.

If you can not attach your model to any electronic trigger the Mecalux 11 optical slave can be used. It takes any trigger voltage so it will work safely with all Metz models. The disadvantage is of course that it is a "simple" optical trigger and it can only be used in a completely manual set-up without any pre-flashes being used.

Metz 45 CT-5
This was the first major update from the CT-1. It introduced three improved features compared to the older Model and it was sold for quite some time side by side with the CT-1 as the "luxury model".

It has a second flash reflector to get some direct fill when the main flash head is used to bounce light from the ceiling. The 45ers were powerful enough to give nicely illuminated rooms when bouncing from the ceiling and for many photographers this became the preferred method before TTL was introduced. This mitigated somewhat the disadvantages of not being able to capture ambient light mentioned above, as it created its own ambient light. Obviously you could not re-create specific light moods (without gels) but as shown in an earlier post the results were quite OK, and so much better than the "deer in headlight" look in front of a black hole that was prevalent at the time.  The second small fill in reflector improved the look by giving catch lights in the eyes and avoiding dark shadows on faces when the bounce angle was too steep.
For the ceiling bouncing automatic mode it was a very useful enhancement.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that the second improvement was the first step to make that mode obsolete: The SCA500 system introduced camera specific functions and for some cameras TTL metering. The SCA 500 worked well with most manual focus film cameras. It can not be used with any digital camera. For users of old manual focus film cameras like Nikon F3 or Canon F1new or Canon T90 the SCA500 works fully fine. (Or equivalent cameras from Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Contax or Leica).

The automatic mode was a bit enhanced by offering 6 Apertures. The additional aperture was at the useful lower end and with ISO 100 the apertures from 2 to 11 could be selected. One stop better than mentioned above for the CT-1 above. Also the ISO selection has been improved to cover ISO 25 to ISO 800.

Aperture values selectable have been improved to

25 = 1 / 1.4 / 2 / 2.8 / 4 / 5.6
50 =      1.4 / 2 / 2.8 / 4 / 5.6 / 8
100 =            2 / 2.8 / 4 / 5.6 / 8 / 11
200 =                 2.8 / 4 / 5.6 / 8 / 11 / 16
400 =                         4 / 5.6 / 8 / 11 / 16 / 22
800 =                              5.6 / 8 / 11 / 16 / 22 / 32

Using a Metz 45 CT-5 in automatic mode on a modern DSLR allows to cover neatly all apertures of the pro zooms at ISO 200. The effective 1 stop enhancement makes it a bit more usable for dragging the shutter.  But essentially the same limitations as for the Metz 45 CT-1 apply.

The Metz 45 CT-5 also has only two manual settings like its little brother (Full and Winder) it uses the Mecamat 45-30 which seems to be plenty in supply in today's used market. The flash has to be set to manual, and the Mecamat works like its earlier sister models described above.

It needs to be noted that the introduction of SCA500 meant that the electronics to provide special camera features and to communicate with the camera for flash ready and flash OK indicators had to be run at a much lower voltage. Therefore the high voltage flash circuit had to be separated from the lower voltage automatic and camera connection electronics.  Check before you attach one of these oldies to your DSLR, but all pro and advanced enthusiast models with a PC connector should be able to take the voltage of the 45 CT-5.

The Metz 45 CT-5 used a different cable connector than the CT-1

Metz 45 CT-3 and Metz 45 CT-4
The two are nearly identical and they only differ in that the CT-4 model has the second fill flash, while the CT-3 does not have one. I will therefore refer to them both below as CT-3/4. The two models replaced the CT-5 in the program. While the original CT-1 was continued to be offered as lower cost option.

The models introduced the SCA300 system that provided TTL including the first auto focus film cameras. And again a new connector was used.

The Metz CT3/ CT-4 brought major improvements to the electronics. They have what Metz called "Vario-distance". The flash has now the apertures of 2.8 to 16 marked on the housing. The main dial can be used to select any and the inner dial is used to select the ISO from 25 to 1000. The flash is able to deliver correct light output even for ISO 1000 and aperture 2.8. That is a great improvement of  2 1/3 stops over the CT-5 model and 3 1/3 stop over the CT-1 models. The automatic mode becomes kind of usable with modern DSLRs in lower light.

TTL is still not usable for DSLRs but all TTL-capable manual focus film cameras and the early AF models are fine.

The flash offers now 4 manual settings: Full, Half, Quarter and Winder (1/64). While that makes it somewhat more usable, It is still too limited to use the models properly in a fully manual set-up Except for blasting large objects or backgrounds. And here is the big bad news: While the models can use the Mecamat 45-46 to achieve manual control down to 1/64, it is extremely rare on the used market. The major part of a year might pass before one unit surfaces on ebay on a world wide basis. Clearly that is not a unit that can be counted upon to be available. The flash has to be set to TTL when the Mecamat is used.

The Mecamat 45-46 allows to set ISO up to 1600 and has 11 Apertures available. At ISO 100 setting the aperture range is from 2 to 64. Unfortunately the aperture changes with ISO like with the earlier CT-1 and CT/5 flash models so that the lowest aperture at ISO 1600 is again 5.6. The Vario-Distance of the flash unit alone without Mecamat is a lot better in that respect. It confines the usefulness of the Mecamat more to the macro realm. The missing vario distance together with the now available limited manual settings on the flash, and the emergence of TTL as a standard in cameras combine to explain why so few of these Mecamat 45-46 were sold. (Estimated from today's absence in the used market.)

While the enhanced automatic mode is a great plus for these units, the very limited manual output setting (in the absence of the elusive Mecamat 45-46) makes them less capable for a fully manual set up than the CT-5 with a fitting Mecamat.

Metz 45 CL-3 and Metz 45 CL-4
Again a nearly identical pair with the only difference that the CT-4 offers a second fill flash reflector. This pair replaced the CT-3/ CT-4 on the market.

The pair is in all respects nearly identical to the CT-3/ CT-4 and does offer only one major improvement over them: It introduced the SCA3000 system which depending on camera model now also allowed features like Red eye reduction, TTL Fill Flash and TTL Flash exposure correction. The SCA3000 adapters could receive updated firmware (by a service center) and have been somewhat useful into the DSLR area, however only the newer Models of the Metz 70, 76 and 50 series received all the necessary hardware to be fully compatible with all special functions.

The CL-3/ CL-4  models also work with the elusive Mecamat 45-46. 

One difference to the earlier model is the possibility to use the SCA3083 module as an external trigger that allows some pre-flash suppression. However it only allows to choose between one and two pre-flashes to be suppressed. More complicated TTL wireless protocols like Nikon's CLS can by far exceed this number.

Metz 45 CL-1
This Model replaced finally the CT-1 on the entry level. It offers SCA 300/3000 connectivity, but a limited set of features. No TTL, no Mecamat, 5 automatic apertures, no vario distance, no manual flash levels except full power not even winder level.

It is by far the most basic model in the whole line up, and the least useful. The automatic mode is as described under the CT-1 above, not really up to today's environment anymore, and that is the only mode it has that allows any settings.   

Metz 45 CL-4 digital
The Metz 45 CL-4 digital bears the CL-4 name, but is really a complete new model. It has again a completely new electronics, that allows together with the right SCA3000 module E/TTL i/TTL and other advanced DSLR TTL modes including HSS.  It is however NOT compatible to the Nikon CLS system and can not be used as master or slave in a Nikon or Canon wireless set-up. Metz has developed its own wireless TTL system. The Metz 45 CL-4 digital can be a slave with SCA3083 but not a master.

It can be used in a one flash set up for casual and event photography with almost all modern DSLRs and it has the advantage of delivering more power at wide angle shots and having the second fill flash for ceiling bounce shots. 

It has a new connector and can not be fitted with any Mecamat. However it is possible to set six  manual power levels from full to 1/32. which is OK for most applications.

The automatic mode has the vario distance apertures from 2.8 to 16 and the highest ISO level is unchanged at 1000.
 The change in electronics also allowed that the CL-4 digital is the first model where the input voltage of the battery pack does not matter anymore. (see my earlier post about it) 

That concludes my remarks about the 45er range. I want to mention the other hammerhead style models in the Metz program with some very short descriptions below:

Other Metz Handlemount Flash Models

Metz 60 CT-1 more powerful model with 45 CT-1 technology uses Mecamat 60-30
Metz 60 CT-2 the update to SCA500
Metz 60 CT-4 the update to SCA300/3000 very capable and versatile

The Metz 60 series is very similar to the 45ers. The two main difference is that they have 33% more power and use always an external battery pack. They are great for heavy duty shooting like weddings but there is the additional weight and hassle of the battery pack. If the stronger power is needed specially the Metz 60 CT-4 is great.

Metz 50 MZ -5 Zoom Head, second fill flash, SCA 300/3000, planned as replacement for 45er
Metz 70 MZ-5 Zoom Head, second fill flash, 12 auto settings, Metz TTL master/slave,  SCA 300/3000
Metz 70 MZ-4 same as above no second fill flash
Metz 76 MZ-5 current top model. Like 70 MZ-5 but can be used with i-TTL, E-TTL. A very capable unit with a 850 USD price tag to match.

The 50/70/76 series never saw the same success than the 45/60 series. That might have a number of reasons. The line was started when the photo industry was in a general downturn. Film was dying and digital was not yet there. A second reason has definitely been that the surviving manufacturers of digital cameras tried hard to insulate their systems, and digital also required a brand new TTL technology. Also Metz could not integrate the SCA models into the Nikon/Canon wireless systems, that became more and more mainstream. The shoe mount models of the camera manufacturers took a greater portion of market share.

Personally I was never a fan of the Metz original rechargeable power packs. They did not offer large capacity had a long loading time and were a pain to maintain. You would need to discharge and re-charge on a frequent basis to maintain the capacity of the pack. In reality all of the old flashes were resting for longer periods unused, after which you discovered that the rechargeable pack was spoilt either by deep discharge or memory effect.
One of the major attractions of the 45 is its AA cell Battery Basket. One in the flash and two spares of them keep you shooting a long time. They take not much room are easy to transport around, and are changed litterally in 2 seconds. Should you need even more power the batteries in the packs can be changed within one minute. And if you did not bring enough they are readily available at the next gas station or convenience store. The major discouragement for me to ever invest into the 50/70/76 series is, that they ONLY work with the rechargeable set.  So for any used 45er you buy, there is the additional cost of 6 AAA cells and you can fire away. For a 50/70/76 you most probably need to buy a new replacement rechargeable NiMh pack which retails for around 140 USD. Hmmmm.

Metz also had a long line of SCA capable shoe mount flashes that culminated in the 54 MZ-4 i digital. That is for another post.


So what is the best 45er out of these 8 official models?

It might be apparent from the descriptions above that the ideal 45er does not exist. The least useful in today's environment is clearly the 45 CL-1.

Overview of Advantages and disadvantages:

+ Mecamat available
+ Cheap
- High voltage (except late models)
- No TTL
- No manual mode
- No fill flash
- Automatic limited to lower ISO

good for
+ Macro shooting with Mecamat
+ Background fill
+ Manual flash setup with Mecamat 

+ Mecamat available
+ cheap
+ Some TTL for manual focus film cameras,
+ Fill flash
- Limited TTL
- No manual mode
- Automatic limited to lower ISO

good for
+ Macro shooting with Mecamat
+ Background fill
+ Manual flash setup with Mecamat

CT-3/ CT-4
+ Not expensive
+ TTL for film cameras with SCA 300
+ Fill flash (CT-4 only)
- Automatic limited to lower ISO
- Limited manual mode
- Meacamat very rare

good for
+ Background fill
+ Manual flash setup when high power is required

CL-3/ CL-4
+ TTL for film cameras with SCA 3000
+ Fill flash (CL- 4 only)
+ Automatic with sufficient apertures covered
- Medium price
- Limited manual mode
- Meacamat very rare

good for
+ As automatic on camera unit for DSLR and film cameras
   (high power, wide angle)
+ Background fill
+ Manual flash setup when high power is required

+ TTL for film cameras with SCA 3000,  
- Automatic limited to lower ISO
- No manual mode
- No Meacamat,
- No fill flash 

Not recommended except maybe for shooting with old film cameras
CL-4 digital
+ TTL for DSLR
+ Fill flash
+ Automatic with with sufficient apertures covered
- Expensive
- Somewhat limited manual mode
- No Meacamat

good for
+ As TTL or automatic unit for DSLR and film cameras
+ Background fill
+ Manual flash setup when high power is required

And as comparison the 

60 CT-4
+ TTL for film cameras with SCA 3000
+ Fill flash
+ Large manual range
+ Automatic with with with sufficient apertures covered
- External Battery pack required

good for          
+ As automatic Unit for DSLR and film cameras
+ Background fill with third party wireless trigger.
+ Manual set up with third party wireless trigger.

If you own a DSLR want one flash connected with the camera that has more power than the shoe mount, you shoot a lot of group shots with medium wide angle and need a TTL fill in ambient light, the 45 CL-4 digital can be an alternative.

If you need a unit just for automatic mode with some power in the wide angle area and for indirect fill, the CL-4 is an excellent choice.

If you own a DSLR that does not offer a remote TTL system The Metz remote TTL in SCA3000 could be an alternative, however there is really no 45er that fits well into that system. It is possible to use the 45 CL-4 and 45 CL-4 digital as slaves.

If you use the Canon/Nikon wireless TTL set-up with multiple flash units, none of the 45ers will really fit into your set up.

If you use third party wireless triggers with multiple flash units in manual mode or automatic mode the 45ers start to make sense.  Automatic mode has its pitfalls, so the flash should have a wide manual range.
Clearly the Metz 60 CT-4 is an excellent choice if you can live with the extra balls and chain of the Battery Holder. The rarity of the Mecamat and the limited manual range limit the CT/CL-3/4 models. So the best alternative to the 60 CT-4 is really the 45 CT-5 with Mecamat. Or a late low voltage 45 CT-1 with the fitting Mecamat.

The early CT-1 with Mecamat are good in a set up that is largely manual and if they can use optical slaves.

My current Inventory of Metz Hammerhead and SCA units consists of

2x Metz 60 CT-4
2x Metz 45 CT-1 (high voltage) 2x with Mecamat 45-20
1x Metz 45 CT-1 (late) with Mecamat 45-43
3x Metz 45 CT-5 with 3x Mecamat 45-30
1x Metz 45 CT-3 with Mecamat 45-46
1x Metz 45 CT-4 with Mecamat 45-46
1x Metz 45 CL-4 
1x Metz 45 CL-4 digital
1x Metz 45 CL-1   
2x Metz MZ 54 -4i

The only model missing is the CL-3, and I do not intend to get one. Also the Metz 45 CL-1 is relegated to reserve status. The rest fits into four medium size aluminium cases that also contain all the necessary spare battery packs, cables and connectors, wireless triggers, filter sets, color gels, diffuser cloth and some black tin foil. In a separate small bag I have the Teleadapters, a very useful tool that will be covered in a later post.

That was a very wordy post. Just one picture at the end to show how my 45ers travel: