Canon’s Speedlite 580EX II & Metz’s Mecablitz 58 AF-1C Digital;

I've been a long-time proponent of Canon Speedlites, and also an avid follower of Metz flashes. I always liked the Metz for its sturdy quality and reliability--I'd owned a Metz potato masher (handlemount, in the old vernacular). But when I switched to the Canon EOS system, I became a devout Canon shoe-mount advocate, finding these flashes dependable and robust. I watched Canon Speedlites evolve over the years, to the point where it seemed to make no sense to use anything else. When the 580EX came along, I immediately bought one to supplant my 550EX as my main flash. (I also keep the smaller, less-powerful 430EX around for less-demanding tasks, and because it's handy for multi-flash setups.) Then the Metz unit appeared on the scene, and I was tempted. But before I had a chance to act, Canon revamped the 580EX and came up with the 580EX II. With this flash, Canon finally had a shoe mount with an auto-thyristor control option as an alternative to E-TTL/E-TTL II (Canon calls it "external metering"--and there's a catch to the way it works). So, should I scrap my 580EX and replace it with the newer 580EX II, or switch to the Metz 58 AF-1C? After all, the two shoe mounts have much in common. Not an easy choice. (I should add that there is a Nikon compatible Metz 58 AF-1N. You can get more information at Bogen's website, or at www.metz.de/en.)

(Above Top): Flash Front--Shown seated in the included mini-stands, the two flash units have much in common, including an auto-sensor on the front--something new to Canon flash units, providing auto-thyristor control in addition to E-TTL/E-TTL II and TTL flash. (Center): Flash Foot--The Canon flash foot (right) is now metal for enhanced durability, in contrast to that on the Metz unit. You'll also note that the Metz features the traditional thumbwheel to secure the flash to the camera's hot shoe, whereas the Canon employs a locking lever with release for speed and added security. (Above): Flash Back--While the flash-ready signal is green on one, red on the other, more significant differences lie in the way functions are accessed on the two strobes. The Canon (right) clearly labels the basic functions. That said, such things as wireless operation are actually easier to set on the Metz flash. You'll also note that the battery compartment on the right side of the Canon flash has a release latch--something new that sets this flash apart as well.

The Good And The Quirky
Simply stated, practically anything you could ever want in a shoe-mount strobe is found in these two flash units. They both offer E-TTL II, E-TTL, and TTL control with compatible Canon EOS cameras (standard TTL is less reliable); flash exposure compensation and auto flash bracketing (remember: settings on the flash override those made on the camera); high-speed sync; flash coverage that corresponds to image sensor size; swivel and tilt (including macro tilt); stroboscopic flash; modeling flash; and wireless remote operation, to name some of the more salient features. However, there are some differences in the way each flash unit can be set up to deliver a few of these features or in the scope of these functions (see Table below).

Canon's Speedlite 580EX II Vs. Metz's Mecablitz 58 AF-1C
Choosing between these two flash units is not easy. Hopefully this table will help in the decision-making process. (Note 1: E-TTL and E-TTL II may not be available when either flash is used with older EOS models. Note 2: On the Metz unit, certain functions, such as E-TTL and high-speed sync, become available--and the settings visible on the display panel--only when the flash is connected to the camera and the camera is turned on.)
Feature/Model
Canon 580EX II
Metz 58 AF-1C
GN (in feet at ISO 100, max. zoom) 190 192
Flash Coverage 24-105mm (auto + manual zoom); 14mm with wide panel 24-105mm (auto + manual zoom); 18mm with wide panel
E-TTL II, E-TTL, TTL Flash Control Yes Yes (camera may need to be connected/on for certain functions to be displayed)
Auto-Thyristor Control Yes (activated via CFn button) Yes (activated via Mode button)
Manual Flash Control Yes (with ratio control to 1/128) Yes (with ratio control to 1/256)
Flash Exposure Compensation/Bracketing Yes (to +/- 3 stops) Yes (to +/- 3 stops)
Color Temperature Controlled through compatible camera 5600K
Flash Coverage Matches Image
Sensor Size
Yes Yes
Secondary Reflector No Yes (activated via Select button--with bounce flash)
Bounce Panel Yes Yes
Swivel & Tilt Yes (-7 macro tilt to +90Þ bounce tilt; 360Þ swivel Yes (-7 macro tilt to +90Þ bounce tilt; 270Þ swivel)
High-Speed Sync/2nd-Curtain Sync/ Stroboscopic Flash/Modeling Flash Yes (via various buttons) Yes (via various buttons--camera may need to be connected/on for certain functions to be displayed)
Wireless Control Yes (activated by holding down Zoom button) Yes (activated via Select button)
Custom Functions (to control various operating parameters) 14 (available via CFn button) Limited and not actually referred to as custom functions (available via Select button)
Backlit Digital LCD Yes (manually activated) Yes (automatically activated)
Hot Shoe/Locking Mechanism Metal/lever with release Plastic/thumbwheel
USB Firmware Updates Not applicable Yes (via USB terminal on flash--but without any actual firmware updates to date, this is a questionable benefit)
PC Socket (for conventional sync cord connection) Yes No
Water- & Dust-Resistant Yes No
On/Off Switch Two-position lever Two-position switch
Battery Compartment Adds locking latch Conventional
Size 3x5.4x4.6" 2.8x5.9x4"
Weight 14.3 oz 12.4 oz
Price (online retailer) $430 $375
Pros Simple interface makes it easy to access basic functions; weather/dust-resistant; automatically reverts to Normal Sync mode when seated in camera hot shoe even if previously set to Slave Sync mode; wide wireless sensor acceptance angle. Secondary flash head is really handy for fill flash when using bounce lighting (although it can cast a shadow on a nearby background); setting wireless flash is simpler on this unit; display automatically lights when any button is pressed--I love this feature!
Cons You may have to hunt down the more esoteric functions, such as wireless flash; display annoyingly blinks when flash head is tilted upward or swiveled--head has to be reset to basic position when making settings. Complex menu tree and interface: buttons are not clearly identified so you're never sure which button does what; manual is too big to carry conveniently and not user-friendly; needs a direct line of sight for wireless slave-sync.
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COMMENTS
mr_photek's picture

When it came time to replace my old 580 EZ flash I decided to compare the 580 EXII with the Metz 58AF-1C which is widely touted as a great alternative a lower cost. I'm all for saving money if there is no trade-off on performance! I already own 3 580EXII's so am very familiar with them, and when I compare them to the Metz it does stand up well in many respects. Ultimately I decided to stick with the Canon units though due to three factors significant to me:

Superior weather-sealing.

Same controls on all my units. The Metz is totally different and not intuitive enough to not slow me down when shooting.

Faster recycle time.

This last point is quite significant and I'm really surprised no one on any site I've seen has mentioned it! Maybe I got a bad Metz unit? Using the same set of new, freshly charged NiMh batteries in both units I consistantly got a blazing fast 2.5 seconds recycle after a full power dump of the capacitor while the Metz took just about exactly double at 5 seconds. This is no small difference when shooting action/candids so it's a no-go for me making a switch.

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