Since its beginnings in the analog photography to the present day, there was no real alternative to the German manufacturers Metz when it came to system flashes. I used flashes like Metz 45 CT-1 or Metz 60 CT-1 on cameras like Minolta X-300 and XD-7 for more than 20 years; and not just because the flashes were of solid quality, high stability and durability, but also because the company Metz was a role model in terms of customer service and still is. With the acquisition of cameras such as the alpha 99 and the ILCE 7 (also known as A7), both of which have the new multi-interface hot shoe, the current Metz flash units can only be used with an adapter. Reason enough to have a look at the flashes of Sony – the exact reasons for it and a little comparison between the Metz 58 AF-1 and the Sony HVL-F60M are found in the following thread.
Metz 58 AF-1
The Metz 58 AF-1 has been in my photobag since the first days with the alpha 700 and has proven to be solid. Only in use as strobist flash in combination with radio triggers certain problems showed (eg. the unwanted switching to full power flash in M ??mode), for which the flash is not found to be the root cause. The reason for this behavior will probably always remain a mystery, because the Nissin Di866 Professional Mark II actually works with the radio triggers without problems – but that’s another story.
Metz has replaced the 58 AF-1 with the AF-2, which is not yet available for the new multi-interface hot shoe and according to statements from Metz will not be before May – well, May is past and no news on that.
Here are a few pictures showing the Metz 58 AF-1 mounted on the A99:
Of course, the question is justified why I show pictures from one camera with attached flash – you probably know how this looks lilke. Well, to me it’s about this little piece of plastic coated metal with a couple of cables inside, which fits between the hot shoe of the a99 and the hot shoe of the Metz AF-1 and builds the connection between the two: The adapter with the name ADP-MAA. This adapter is a pain to me, because I left it home so often. Well, this is nothing I could blame either the adapter nor the Metz 58 AF-1 for but if the adapter would not be necessary, I would not forget it :-). One positive aspect is, however, it serves as a predetermined breaking point, which perhaps could save the shoe of the camera as well as the foot of the flash – but I think Murphy’s Law will prove the opposite.
We come to the new acquisition, the Sony HVL-F60M. Let’s start with the images showing the flash on the A7:
No suprise: It looks very similar to the images of the Metz on the alpha 99. However, you can see on the last image that something is different: the possibility of setting the flash head in portrait mode – but we come to this later on.
Scope of delivery
Well, I make it short in reference to what is in the boxiefly with showing two images (on the left picture showing the Metz the base plate is missing and the Sony on the right is missing the orange filter disk for the video light, which is of course part of the delivery):
But that would be too simple, because I do think that Sony deserves praise – especially because the higher price (+100 €) compared to the Metz 58 AF-2 (January 2014). Firstly, I would like to mention the stand that fold in half and stows away in an inner pocket of the case. Then there is the diffusor which fits in a second, smaller case that can be attached to the outside of the case (the diffuser holds 4 Eneloop batteries!). An ADP-AMA is found in a small velvet bag. Well, I admit that the total sum of the accessory delivered by a reliable third-party manufacturer would certainly not reached the value of 100 €, but there are these clever little things that please me again and again.
The Metz 58 AF-2, as the Metz 58 AF-1, is delivered with a belt case and stand. The stand has disappeared somewhere in the depths of one of my accessory boxes. Anyway, attaching the flash to this stand using a thumbscrew is a pain, which applies to all mounting mechanism of the Metz flashes for Sony. This is where Metz can learn from manufacturers such as Nissin (or Sony), which have built a pretty ingenious quick release for the Minolta and the new multi-interface hotshoe.
While we’re speaking of flash shoe and foot: The hot shoe of the Sony HVL-F60M is arguably more sensitive than the „old“ Minolta hot shoe because of the many small contacts of the multi-interface hot shoe, so that the little overcoat used as protection for the hot shoe is very useful. Such small plastic parts are quickly lost, especially when you least expect it: When unpacking and packing, or in the case. My recommendation: The plastic cap can not be lost when switching the mechanism to „lock“ with the plastic cap mounted.
Comparing weight and size
In a direct size comparison with respect to the packing size, the two flashes are very much the same size and weight:
Metz 58 AF-2:
Tilt and swivel flash head
With regard to the mobility of the flash head, the Sony HVL-F60M covers the same possibilities like the Metz 58 AF-1, but also offers the advantage of tilting the flash 90 ° left or right flash head for portrait shooting, which has an effect on the shadow using the direct flash as shown on the following two images:
On the front you can recognize two distinct differences: the Metz 58 AF-1 has a second flash, which serves while bouncing to create a small catchlight. Unfortunately, the strong 1200 lux Video Light can not be switched on in flash mode to create a catchlight, so I have to give a +1 to the Metz. Another plus point is awarded to the Metz for the USB port, which may serve for software updates, which I have used once so far to ensure compatibility with the SLT cameras.
Operation and display
Quite important points are menu structure and legibility of the the display. Let’s start with the operation of the flashes:
The Sony HVL-F60M has a power switch, 5 buttons and a thumb wheel with an OK button in the middle. Two of the buttons are for the test flash and the didplay-light, the other three buttons are labeled MODE, Fn and MENU. The Metz 58 AF-1 has a power switch and 4 buttons whose labels are shown in the display depending on the context. In TTL mode, the caption reads from left to right: Mode, Para, Sel and test flash. With the Sony, the display light has to be switched on; on the Metz it lights automatically when pressing any button (except test flash).
In TTL mode, both displays show a flash range up to approximately 14 meters when using the 55mm F1.8@F2.8 on the A7 with HVL-F60M and the 50mm F1.4@F2.8 on the alpha99 with Metz 58 AF-1, both with ISO 100. The Sony also displays an icon indicating that the flash head is adjusted in position for direct lightning. The icon changes depending on the tilting down, up and back and clearly shows that the flash head is not engaged in the „normal“ position. When tilting the flash head down, the distance in the display changes from 1.0 – 14 meters to 0.7 – 14 meters. The Metz does not change the distance value of 14 meters when tilting the flash head down, but shows the word „tilt“ in the display, thus the indication of a flash head position for bouncing is also given. One word to tilting the flash head: The Metz requires to push a button to release a lock for tilting the head, which is unnecessarily complicated and has been solved better by Sony with resistances at the different angles of tilting.
The operating modes are basically the same, except: The Sony does not have A-mode and it also lacks the slave mode of the Metz, which triggers the flash via a photo cell – a shame, because that should be part of a flash in this price range, especially when a fairly cheap Nissin Di866 Professional Mark II offers this functionality. And: I could have lived without the Video Light, which would have been a fair place for a second flash and a photo cell!
I will now not harp on other small details of the operation, but I have noticed the following:
When eg. changing from TTL to M the Metz requires 7 key operations: 2 x „Mode“ to activate the mode selection (why 2 x), 4 x button „down“ to select M and confirm 1 x „set“ button to. The same operation is carried out much faster at the Sony: 1 x „mode“ wheel (rotate one position to the left), confirm with OK. BTW: with the Sony you can set whether the manual flash mode is only available in M ??mode or also in PASM!
Another example? Well, the task is: Changing from TTL to M with a flash output of 1/64!
Metz: 28 key operations
Sony: 7 operations, I count turing the dial to put the output to 1/64 as 1 operation.
Any further adjustment of flash output is performed using the wheel. Doing that on the Metz you have to push the Para button twice and can then change the flash output. Hmmm ….
- The Sony flash remembers the setting of the manual flash output when changing to TTL and back to M and even when switching off and on; the Metz forgets the setting of manual flash output when chaning to TTL or switchnig off and on.
- The HVL-F60M turns off when you turn off the camera, which is probably due to the multi-interface shoe – but not when the camera is switched off from the standby mode.
- The Sony has two memory slots that you can access directly via the MODE button (that’s really awesome).
As described above under „Operating modes“ there is a difference between Metz 58 AF-1 and Sony HVL-F60M: While the Metz has the A(uto)-Mode in addition to TTL metering, the Sony „only“ knows the TTL metering. The following pictures show an issue which came up with the alpha 99 and was not an issue with both the alpha 700 and the alpha 850: In TTL mode, the Metz under-exposed about 1 EV, but the result of the A-mode is very well comparable with the result of the Sony in TTL. Only the hard shadow is a little softer when compared to the Sony Metz at the same distance of the subject to the wall, for which I do not have an explanation. This could be due to the slightly larger flash head and the slightly larger radiating surface – a diffuser was not used!
Using the direct flash is not really of an interest to me – apart from events in halls with high ceilings. More important to me is the flexibility of use with bouncing the flash off the ceiling and these are some comparison images:
It might not look like it, but these pictures are taken with the flash tilted backwards. The flash was in the position as shown on the picture (see right). The reason for the brightness variation is the fact that the half of the room on the left was lit in contrast to the other half of the room on the right and so the right half of the face is slightly darker. In fact, the difference in exposure between two flashes in TTL mode does not show when bouncing. Nevertheless, I feel the illumination by the Sony HVL-F60M significantly more harmonious and I also like the warmer tone much better. Again, as already mentioned to the direct flash, the shadows in the picture are slightly softer with the Sony than on the image taken with the Metz.
What remains is the image effect of bouncing in portrait mode. The flexibility of the Sony head allows a much better control of directing the light than with the Metz. Here are two pictures in portrait mode, one with the flash on the left and one with the flash right (comparison images with the Metz are not availble):
There are certainly some more differences than those mentioned for display, operation and exposure and many are certainly also due to the fact that I compare an old apple with a fresh pear. It remains to be seen whether Metz can take over some of the features with the transition to the multi-interface shoe and whether this affects the price, because Sony will certainly require licensing fees for the multi-interface protocol. I would recommend a better operation with fewer button operations for the new Metz.
Overall, both flash units have their strengths and weaknesses. The future will show whether the lack of USB port on the Sony will be a negative factor. The same revers to concrete experiences regarding life and stability in continuous use at the next party event. I think that the purchase of the Sony is worth the additional price of approximately 100 € compared to the Metz 58 AF-2 because of a better operating concept, sophisticated accessories and a more pleasing and harmonious exposure of the images.
I became aware of a slightly different opinion on the HVL-F60M and on Sony’s support policy by reading this post on Guldmann’s Blog which my be of the same value to you as it was for me.