The problem with macro photography is often getting enough light onto your subject to take a decent sharp shot, without creating shadows. A ringflash or dedicated macroflash is a common tool for creating shadowless lighting for close-ups and is commonly used in medical applications such as dentistry.
Here we will take a look at the latest offering from Metz, which takes advantage of the wireless flash capabilities included in many of the current crop of DSLRs, and as a result is compatible with most of the major camera systems available. For the purposes of this review, I will be using a Nikon D700 with its built-in Creative Lighting System, that allows remote triggering of any number of compatible flashes off-camera.
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Specification
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Basic Flash Functions
- Wireless TTL flash control
- Two reflector system, individually pivoting (0°, 10°, 20°) and separately controlled
- Ratio function (light distribution from left to right
- Horizontal (20°) pivoting reflector
- Dot matrix display
- Standard 50 mm illumination
- Enclosed bouncer disc for softer illumination
- Adjustable light (modelling light)
- Integrated autofocus auxiliary light
- Flash standby and exposure control indicator on flash unit
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Dedicated camera systems supported
- TTL remote flash operating mode (as slave unit)
- Slave flash mode with pre-flash suppression
- Slave flash mode with learn function
- Manual flash mode with 6 partial lighting levels
- 1st and 2nd shutter curtain synchronisation
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Flash output
- E-TTL – remote flash mode (Canon)
- i-TTL- remote flash mode (Nikon / Fujifilm)
- P-TTL remote flash mode (Pentax / Samsung)
- Four-Thirds TTL remote flash mode (Olympus / Panasonic / Leica)
- ADI remote flash mode (Sony Alpha)
- max. GN of 15 for ISO 100/21° and 50 mm
- High number of flashes (e.g. 200 full flashes with NiMH batteries, 1000 mAh)
- Flash recycle time 0.3 – 5 secs (depending on the energy source and flash output)
- Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash Features
Mounting the unit on the front of your lens is straightforward. Three adapter rings for 52mm, 55mm and 58mm are supplied and the flash simply clicks into place on the front of it. The fitting is secure and allows the unit to be rotated freely whilst shooting, which is handy if you wish to change the direction from which the light is coming from.
It's a shame it cannot be fitted to larger diameter lenses, as a flash such as this could be very useful for portraits, where the shadowless effect is required. It's fine if you're shooting on smaller lenses but many photographers I know shoot on 24-70mm f/2.8s that have a 77mm filter thread. The same thread is used on many pro spec lenses that would be used by people this flash would appeal to. While additional adapter rings are available as an optional extra, they only go up in size to 72mm.
Power for the 15 MS-1 is supplied via two AAA batteries, which fit into the compartment on the base of the flash unit. These batteries are fairly common and easy to get hold of. I used a set of rechargeable 1000mAh batteries whilst testing the unit and found the battery life to be more than acceptable when shooting macro subjects, but less so when more power is required for more distant subjects. Although it would add to the bulk of the unit, I would still prefer to use AA batteries as I do with my other flashguns.
Setting the 15 MS-1 to the desired mode is a very simple affair. Three control buttons are located behind a small LCD panel on top of the unit which correspond to different menu items. Whilst in use, these buttons change the power balance between the two flash tubes, allowing you to light your subject more strongly from one side if required. A clip on diffuser is supplied in the pack to help soften the quality of light, and the reflectors inside the unit can be angled towards the centre, to create harsher lighting or simply to direct more light onto your subject.
As the wireless capabilities of your camera are being used to trigger the flash, a black semi-opaque clip that looks a bit like a hair grip is included to cover up the on camera flash. This clip fits well over the front of a flash unit like the Nikon SB-800, but can be a bit cumbersome when used on a camera's built-in flash. I found the weight of it kept pulling the small flash down, preventing it from firing. Although the ringflash itself should be adequate in shielding your subject from the illumination of a built-in flash though, I still preferred to use Nikon's SG-3IR infra-red diffuser.
The build quality of the unit is very good, being made out of similar materials to camera manufacturers own flashes.
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Performance
|No lighting hotspots are visible across the image field.
If flat, even illumination is what you're after the Metz delivers. Taking a picture of a flat grey surface with a 50mm lens on extension tubes shows no lighting hotspots across the image field. Taking an image of a plant, using the same settings and equipment shows the shadowless look that you'd come to expect from a Macro Ringflash. Of course, this can be altered to a certain extent by altering the direction on the reflectors, and the balance of power between the two flash units. In use, I found the Metz had a tendency to over-expose light subjects by up to two stops. Although a problem at first, this can easily be corrected using flash exposure compensation through the wireless commander menu on my D700.
As the unit uses Nikon's Creative Lighting System, I thought I'd see how it interacts with other Nikon flashes. By placing an SB-800 in the background, I managed to illuminate the greenery behind my main subject. The 15 MS-1 fits seamlessly into the Nikon wireless flash system, as I'm sure it would do with other manufacturer's offerings.
|One to one illumination setting.
||Four to one illumination setting.
| Close up shot taken on the default settings.
| Taken with a SB-800 in the background.
While out and about with this Metz, I couldn't resist trying it out for portraits. Using default settings, the flash has a tendency to over-expose, but again this is easily corrected. Although the look created is fairly shadowless, it isn't the same as the classic ringflash look, which creates a single halo style catchlight. This one is similar but has more of a cross-lit effect, with two small catch-lights in the subject's eyes.
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Verdict
| Using default settings, the flash has a tendency to over-expose.
|| The shot after corrected.
The Metz 15 MS-1 is a very well designed flash unit, offering a decent solution for macro photographers and possibly even for some people taking portraits. The unit is limited with pro lenses due to the inability to mount it on a 77mm diameter lens.
The fact it can be used across different camera systems and fits in seamlessly with the wireless flash systems of many cameras opens a raft of creative opportunities, putting you in control of your lighting.
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Plus points
Simple to set-up and use
Integrates perfectly with existing wireless systems and works well in multi-flash set ups
Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash: Minus points
AAA batteries instead of AA
Tendency to overexpose
Lack of 77mm adaptor
The Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash costs around
£289 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
The Metz 15 MS-1 Digital Macro Slave Ringflash