Saturday, June 25, 2011

Using the Metz 58 Second Reflector Well

Let's start with this: the Metz 58 AF-2 is a great hotshoe flash. In my opinion, it's the smartest flash out there.

I do, of course, understand why a photographer might choose the top-of-the-line flash from their specific camera brand. I think it's worth comparing, though, before a purchase -- it has some features that photographers might not even realize they need or realize are left out of the Brand Name flash.

I'll address the Metz 58's merits some other time, though. Today, I want to address an element I see presented badly around the web, and I just want to clarify a bit about this feature.

I'm talking about the Metz 58's "secondary reflector." Here's the deal: besides the main flash head, the Metz has a smaller, less-powerful flash tube ("reflector") that stays facing forward even when the main head is tilted up for bouncing.

So what do I want to clarify? Well, the typical discussion of this feature goes like this: "Hey, great idea, let's try it. Oh, tried it: it's too harsh."

So, let's look at this quickly. In the photo above, I set a camera bag down and made a quick shot by tilting my Metz up and bouncing the flash off the ceiling. Simple, and it worked well. But ... if we are really picky, and look at the buckle and at the shadows under the flaps of the bag, we can see the drawback of ceiling-bounce-flash: shadows. On a person's face, this can mean that the eyes get a bit dark: the brow ridges cast a shadow and "hide" the eyes.

Well, a quick solution can be to pull out the built-in white card on the head of the flash (similar to putting an index card on the flash held by a rubber band -- the old school solution). Alternately, we could bring in a reflector and redirect some of the light back into the eyes.

But can we use the Metz' "secondary reflector" to help us fill these shadows?

Yes ... and no ... and yes.

So, the Metz lets you sets:

  • Secondary reflector at full power.
  • Secondary reflector at half power.
  • Secondary reflector at 1/4 power.

Cool. Let's try those.

Above: the main flash head is titled up at the ceiling, bouncing its light. The secondary reflector is pointed at the bag, set at "full power."

Awful. It looks like the flash from a little compact camera. Essentially, the secondary reflector is about the same size, so that makes sense. But don't blame the flash: this is the photographer's fault. We need to adjust the power levels between the main bounced flash and the secondary reflector we want to use as fill. In that first shot, the direct secondary reflector was too powerful, so let's turn it down.

Above: the secondary reflector is now turned down to 1/2 power. Better, but the quality of light is still not great. We are getting too much light from the smaller, "harder" light source and not really doing what we set out to do, which was fill in shadows left by the bigger, "softer" bounced light. So let's adjust further...

Above: now we've set the reflector to 1/4 power. Not as bad ... but not good enough.

And usually, that's where the test ends, and why I think this secondary reflector feature has been treated a bit badly by reviewers. They tend to say "Hmm. If it would cut down to 1/8 power, that might work...."

Well, shucks, is it so hard to help the flash out a little?

Okay, that's better. If you look at this shot, and compare it to the original, you can see some positive improvement. The buckle in the first shot is too dark, and here we can see it. And we've done it without letting the little (and harsher) secondary reflector ruin the quality of the light.

How did we achieve this? The Metz only lets you use the secondary reflector on 1/1, 1/2 and 1/4 settings. So ... how did we go further?

Well, duh. I just attached a little diffusion over the secondary reflector. I took out my Honl Strap, put it on the head of the flash, then velcroed on a Heavy Frost gel. If I wanted to cut further, I could use more diffusion.

This could be a very easy and workable technique if one is photographing people and seeing shadowed eyes. Any diffusion material can work -- and you can vary it as you like. For someone shooting night club photos, or a wedding reception, a little refinement of this technique could be a very plausible solution for no-worries fill.


Kayvan Karimi said...


Great Review... Thanks,

Can we conclude that the 2nd reflector (like the one in Di866) is useless and the reflector card of the main strobe can do the same job?

It'd be good if you had one shot with the reflector card of the main strobe (w/o turning on the 2nd ref) just to compare the results.

Thanks again,

Kayvan Karimi said...


Great review, thanks.

can we conclude that the 2nd reflector is useless? and pulling out the reflector card of the main flash head can do the same job?

It'd be great if you had a shot with reflector card (with the 2nd strobe turned off) just to compare the results.


Ted Fisher said...

Well, I don't know about useless -- there's always some application where unexpected tools help.

In general, though, it's not a tool I reach for. If they made a Metz 57 which had all the main features but no second reflector, I would be happy with that.

I think the bounce card idea is fine -- though one plausible use for second reflector is if the main flash head is in a modifier (for example, a Gary Fong).

So ... I suppose if I was an event photographer I would consider finding ways to make the second reflector work for me. In general, though, it's an odd tool in its current implementation.