Metz Mecablitz 64 AF-1 digital, a speedlight Rolls-Royce

The Mecablitz 64 AF-1 must be a Rolls-Royce of speedlights. Its quality of build, feature set, controls, sounds it makes — everything oozes quality and professionalism. Made in Germany it says on the box and as cliché that may be, it shows. The Mecablitz 64 AF-1 is as dependable as its beautiful minimal, business-like design suggests. It’s probably a lot better than any camera-brand flash as well.

When I was a late teen and only starting to dabble in photography, Metz was already a well-established, well-known name in photography. That’s over 25 years ago and today Metz still is one of the top manufacturers of speedlights for professional photographers. The Mecablitz 64 AF-1 is a TTL flash — my test unit was the Sony model — with a guide number of 64, which is among the highest on the market.

Except for TTL mode, the 64 AF-1 offers a flash-ready indication in the camera viewfinder, automatic flash sync speed control, manual flash TTL exposure correction, pre-flash TTL and ADI metering, extended and spot zoom mode, automatic HSS for TTL and manual, wireless remote flash mode, programmed auto-flash mode, an elaborate Info screen and more.

You can power the Mecablitz 64 AF-1 using four AA-batteries or Metz’s own Powerpack. I used four eneloop Pro AA-batteries.

The 64 AF-1 has numerous unique features that make a photographer’s life more comfortable, allowing him to focus more on the process of taking the photo than on tuning the equipment. For example, instead of the LCD screens found on many flashes, the Mecablitz 64 AF-1 has a colour LED screen that takes up most of the back area and rotates with the orientation of the flash, holding only the information that is relevant for the shooting mode of the moment. Whereas with other flashes you operate the flash with buttons and knobs, the 64 AF-1 is operated entirely from this touchscreen.

The screen itself looks more like a smartphone screen than a flash screen. It’s a big, high-resolution screen with large characters and enough white space to easily see at a glance what you’re doing. The backlight isn’t really necessary, except when you’re in a brightly lit environment.

As most Mecablitz models, the 64 AF-1 comes with a smaller reflector underneath the main flash head, which serves as a pre-flash or fill flash — you can turn it off completely using the idiot-proof menu system on the screen or by positioning the head slightly lower than 90 degrees. By the way, the 64 AF-1 comes with a concise user guide that you probably won’t need if you’re not scared to experiment a bit.

Performance

The Metz Mecablitz 64 AF-1 performed as expected. There’s absolutely no difference between the first flash and the last flash in terms of output and flash duration. The flash output curve was identical at full power and half power. It’s the only speedlight I tested in the series I’ve been reviewing this month that has 0% variation in output. That makes the flash the most dependable of the ones I tested.

The 64 AF-1 is also the only one to have a lockable head. Once you put the head in a 90 degrees position — with the fresnel lens facing forwards — the flash head locks in place and cannot be rotated upwards again unless you push an unlock button at the side. The flash head can be set to this 90 degrees position, but there’s also a position slightly further down. That one is to turn off the secondary reflector, a state that is reflected (no pun intended) in the icon that appears on the colour screen.

As with some other flashes, the 64 AF-1 shows you the values for minimum and maximum distance range in TTL and TTL SSH modes. Unlike other flashes, the Metz also shows you a value in manual mode — this time it’s the distance from the subject you should be for a correct exposure. The result of all this information is that there’s little to guess in order to get a perfect shot from the first take.

The menu system on the Mecablitz 64 AF-1 is simple and user-friendly. However, it does take some getting used to because everything about this flash is controlled by scrolling through menu options with some options invisible until you have pressed the down/up buttons several times. Meanwhile, there is a scroll bar on the right with a visible indicator to show how far down you are in the menu. There’s no option to drag the scroll bar up or down, while in my opinion, there is room enough. Dragging the scroll bar would allow for speedier scrolling through the menus, but perhaps also more hit-and-miss situations. After all, you’re handling a flash, not an iPad or iPhone.

By the way, the 64 AF-1 supports an output as low as 1/256 — most other flashes stop at 1/128 — which is great for freezing fast moving subjects.

With the four eneloop Pro AA-cells I used throughout my review and testing at full power, the 64 AF-1 was ready to fire again within 2 seconds.

Unique features

The Mecablitz 64 AF-1 has an automatic flash mode. When you select ‘A’ in the mode menu, the flash will work out itself when the subject has received enough light to be properly exposed. To accomplish this feat, the front of the flash has a sensor covering a focus circle of about 25 degrees. The flash cuts off as soon as the exposure is correct according to the sensor. For obvious reasons, the sensor must be aimed at the subject.

In strobe mode, the power level of the flash can be no higher than 1/8 and can go down all the way to 1/256. Stroboscope shooting is a manual flash setting, so you’ll need to work out the details, such as the number of flashes, frequency and on-camera exposure time yourself as with all stroboscope flashes, but the Mecablitz 64 AF-1 does make it somewhat easier to set the numbers, thanks to its large screen.

High-speed Synch mode can result in thermal issues quite quickly, but the Mecablitz 64 AF-1 is much more robust in this respect than some other brand-name speedlights, including the Canon Speedlight 600Ex.

Some TTL flashes can adapt the zoom position of the reflector to the zoom position of your camera lens. With the Sony A700 set to ADI flash, the 64 AF-1 zoomed its reflector to the corresponding position. The position is shown on the LCD screen in a continuous manner, i.e. you don’t need to press the camera’s shutter release to update the flash; it all happens in real-time.

The Mecablitz 64 AF-1 for Sony — the one I tested — supports Sony’s radio transmission system for remote operation, both in CTRL and CTRL+ modes. To use it, you’ll use a master flash mounted on the camera and slave units that are controlled by the reflector of the master flash — it’s an optical system that even supports flash grouping. I couldn’t test that feature as I only had one 64 AF-1 at my disposal.

There are yet other unique features on the 64 AF-1, such as the modelling light, which is a 3-second high-frequency stroboscopic flash that is designed to help with the evaluation of your lighting setup, an extended zoom mode for softer light circles, flash bracketing in TTL mode (if your camera supports a manual flash exposure on the flash unit) and in automatic mode, and the availability of four programmable buttons that store a combination of flash parameters — which is very handy for recurring lighting setups.

Conclusion

The Mecablitz 64 AF-1 is a top-quality product. It has a bunch of features you’ll be hard pressed to find in other speedlights, a user interface that is idiot-proof and among the most informative I’ve ever seen and a perfect score when it comes to flash consistency.

This flash looks great, performs great and is made with the perfectionist care associated with the “Made in Germany” label. It costs €369 and is available in versions for Sony, Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic and Pentax cameras. For an older Sony like mine, you will need the Sony adapter because the Mecablitz supports the newer Multi-Interface hot shoe.

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