A long introduction
It’s a little bit difficult to understand why Leica and Metz have such a strange relationship. It is no secret that Metz makes Leica’s flashes, but it is surprising that when it comes to the SCA system and TTL operation, Metz is just as much a stranger to Leicas as it is to Nikons.
The Metz 45, like the Vivitar 283, is one of the most timeless flash designs that exists. Since the 45CT-1 of the late 1970s, Metz 45 series flashes have been the gold standard in light output. automatic flash exposure accuracy and light quality (meaning that the diffusers actually work, and the light has a nice warm tone to it). The massive 6 x AA battery pack and solid bracket add to the fun. These are flashes that mean business.
But since 1979, Metz has leaned heavily on modules rather than dedicated flashes. It actually did a remarkable job in adapting the 45 CL series to TTL cameras, and there was a module for every application, and for good measure also slave modules and even basic hot shoe modules. Digital, however, has presented its own challenges. Digital “TTL” systems actually do look through the lens, but they typically look at preflashes rather than cutting off the main flash. Because the architecture of the 45 series did not allow for multiple flashes in a cycle (also necessary for High Speed Synch), Metz introduced the 45CL-4 Digital, which has that capability.
The 45CL-4 Digital functions like a 45CL-4 in most ways. You need to add an SCA3000 connecting cord and your choice of SCA3000-series module to get TTL operation on a film camera. Automatic operation requires nothing but a PC cord. But to get E-TTL (Canon), i-TTL (Nikon), and GNC (Leica), you need an SCA3045 connecting cord and one of the latest generation modules (M10 for Nikon; M5 for Leica). If the title of this post seems complicated, that’s because connecting all of these things is.
The strange irony is that using older modules leads to additional (but erratic) functionality, all of which revolves aroud HSS (high-speed synch). A Nikon M8 module with a D700 will high-speed synch some of the time (but only, it appears, at 1/1000 sec and faster). A Leica M3 module with the M typ 240 gives you high-speed synch sometimes – but most of the time just shoots off a full-power flash blast. The newer versions don’t allow HSS. When I pressed Metz on this, I learned, at least for the Nikon, that the HSS synch protocol changed between the film and digital Ms, and that it’s just a coincidence that it works. Yikes.
But back to our story. The SCA 3045 M5 on the M typ 240 gives you GNC (Guide Number Control), which is a limited form of M-TTL. It shoots a pre flash, measures it, and then shoots the main flash. Although some deride it as not being “true TTL,” it is conceptually identical to how all M-TTL flashes work. The only catch is that it is slower between flashes and lacks exposure compensation capability. When the “GN” switch is set on the module, a green light on the module glows (odd – because the same module doesn’t do that on the 54MZ-3).
A short statement on performance
Let’s say this: it works. Automatic modes are generally accurate (if slightly underexposed – which is ok for digital), and GNC is right on the money.
The GNC system does not seem to be fooled by sun in the frame (likely because the Leica TTL sensor is too primitive to see things off x). The double flash should be fine for all adult subjects; children may react to the pop-pop and blink. Contrary to the instructions, the flash does work with GNC with bounce and/or the use of the secondary reflector (as seen in the shot above, which is even more remarkable considering that it was taken in a stainless steel box).
Using this flash in with the camera shutter set to A mode, once the shutter speed crosses the maximum synch speed, the camera does not fire the flash.
Versus the SF 58
The Leica SF 58, at least used, is about the same price as a fully configured 45CL-4 digital. The SF 58 is very well integrated, supporting fast TTL operation (preflash to flash), exposure comp for TTL, high-speed synch, and automatic zooming to match the focal length of whatever lens is on the camera (assuming 6-bit coding or manual selection). It should be a killer, right?
It’s not as much as you would think. The Metz is deficient in some ways, but it is considerably ahead of the SF 58 in terms of flexibility to use with other cameras, simple controls, putting the flash off the lens axis, and POWER, both in terms of the size of the battery pack and its output. The 45CL-4 is rated for 45m at at 35mm field of view; the SF 58 (like the Metz 58 it is derived from) only hits 58m at the 105mm reflector setting; it’s only GN 35 at 35mm. It is also very difficult to beat the 45 series accessory infrastructure, which includes two of types diffusers (pebbled and opaque white), a telephoto extender, a bounce card, colored reflectors, slave units, and NiMH battery packs.
For social use, indoors, the SF 58 has an edge because it can be taken down and set up quickly. Its balance still is a little awkward, since it seems to be designed for the much larger S series cameras.
# # # # #