A few days after our test unit of the Metz 64 AF-1 strobe arrived in the mail, the company announced it was entering bankruptcy. This put a decidedly morbid spin on the review process until news was released that the company would continue to produce its camera equipment while moving through the European Union bankruptcy process.
That’s good because photographers would be at a disservice without access to the excellent lighting and camera gear the company produces, a perfect example of which is the 64 AF-1, the highest-end model in the Metz Mecablitz lineup.
I’ve always been surprised by how few people have adopted third-party strobes, considering how affordable they are and how much more powerful they are than many manufacturer models. The 64 AF-1 has a guide number of 64, which is much higher than the top-end manufacturer models and at a price that’s the same or lower than manufacturer models.
Since the Sony has a lackluster array of strobe options, it seemed natural to test it with the Sony a7R. It’s a nice match, although the strobe is the same standard height of most professional strobe systems, and it looks a bit over-long sticking up above an a7R.
The 64 AF-1 has a unique touch screen color LCD display that on the surface seems like a gimmick but ends up being incredibly useful. I’ve never looked at the buttons on the back of a flash and thought “man, I need a better way to change the exposure compensation than this button” but working with a touch-screen LCD it’s clear that this is the way to go.
Since the LCD screen dominates the back of the flash there is plenty of room for text and for buttons and since the buttons are just dynamic graphics on the display they can occupy a much larger space on the screen. Take the aforementioned exposure compensation, on many flashes teeny buttons are dedicated to changing the flash output, even though this is a pretty important function. By contrast, selecting the exposure compensation button brings up large on-screen buttons for different settings and a scroll bar to move through the choices.
The back of the strobe has a power button and two left-side buttons, the top of which brings up the on-screen programming for special functions. None of the buttons are easy to press while wearing thick gloves, though the LCD screen is pressure-sensitive not based on electrical contact, so it is possible to make selections without removing gloves.
There’s also a PC cable port, a power connector and a USB port, which is used to upgrade the firmware. This is an interesting idea as it allows the strobe to add features via downloaded software.
The 64 AF-1 is available in a variety of mounts and TTL systems for different cameras, including Canon, Nikon and Sony. We tested the 64 AF-1 with the Sony a7r, as it has a particularly weak selection of manufacturer flash units.
The 64 AF-1 throws off an incredible amount of light. Even through a portable softball the light form the 64 AF-1 was very powerful. Thanks to the Sony-specific design of this version images were bright and showed great coverage. That’s partially thanks to the zoom that automatically adjusts from 24mm to 200mm.
The flash has all the features you’d expect on a powerful, modern flash system—rotating head, modeling light, reflector card, manual settings (from 1/1 to 1/256), high speed sync, etc.
The system can also be set up with wireless triggering for slaves, though the Metz system isn’t compatible with Nikon or Canon’s wireless system, which means you can’t mix and match devices with the Nikon or Canon systems and have them all work together.
With the excellent performance and the top-end Metz 64 AF-1 is a perfect choice for the photographer looking to get more power and easier operation than a traditional manufacturer strobe.