Stuff - abbreviated English version (back to German)

Books and other reading material (updated 2010-03)
The Überblitz
Pimp my Metz! (updated 2010-03)

Books and other reading material

About everybody who is into photography will at one time reach a point where he's striving for even more information on how to make their lighting better. While there are quite a few flash photography sites out there, most importantly the Strobist Blog by David Hobby, there is only a handful of lighting books I can recommend. And to be honest, while my selection has a few overlaps with David's, mine is narrowed down to the very essential ;)

Light, Science and MagicYes, it's only one book. I've paged my way through quite a few, and Light, Science and Magic is the guidebook to recommend, and it's affordably priced at that, too. LSM gives insight into the physical principles of light and reflection and shows the effects of apparent size, position and angle in easy-to-follow practical application. It's less about showing fancy portraits of famous actors to drool about, concentrating instead on the basic principles photographic lighting is based upon – once the reader has understood them (and this shouldn't take too long, considering the way the book is written), he or she should be able to conceptualize practically any lighting setup in their heads before setting up their flashes.

This book is more or less the Bible of Lighting. If you want to buy one book to improve your lighting skills, this should be it. You won't be dissatisfied. If you are, drop me a mail, and I'll change this paragraph :)

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The Überblitz

If there's one single photo equipment brand I can recommend without hesitation, it is Metz.

Metz have been renowned for years for the outstanding build quality, the value and usability of their products, and last but not least their excellent customer service. If you need to know the necessary SCA adapter for your vintage camera, or if you don't understand a feature of your flash and mislaid your manual, no matter what - Metz's customer service will help you. And that's just terrific.

The US strobists prefer the older Nikon speedlights and Vivitar, but since especially the latter are hard to come by in the EU, I have a favourite of my own: The Metz 45-Series.
Introduced at the Photokina 1976(!), the 45 CT-1 features mostly one thing: Power. GN 45 at a (fixed) reflector setting for 35mm (full frame) focal length is quite a lot for a battery powered strobe off the shelf. For comparison, the Canon 430 EX is rated with a GN of 43, but only when the reflector is zoomed in all the way. Set on 35mm - like the Metz - there's only a GN of 31 metres left. (Source, german). Those flashes work the old-fashioned way, too, without TTL magic. An aperture is dialled in on the settings dial, and a photo cell regulates the necessary light output according to the selected aperture. The more sophisticated models' output can be fixed to ½ or ¼ power. The really big deal about the 45s though is the range of accessories which greatly enhance their versatility. Especially the external mecamat sensor makes your 45 a small studio strobe, allowing you to dial in several more automatic apertures and - drumroll - manually regulating the output between full power and 1/64. Yeah, I knew you strobists were gonna like that ;-)

Especially the simple 45 CT-1 models can be bought used for less than 50 EUR, sometimes as little as 25 EUR. Be careful when using the old CT-1 models with older digital cameras, since they make use of a high voltage triggering circuit. There are ways to surpass this problem, though (see farther down this page). Be careful when shopping around for mecamats as well: The different models have different connectors and will only work with the mecamats designed for them.

ModelApertures1/1½¼WmecamatComments
45 CT-1 (old)5, dep. on ASA+---45-20Until serial no. 534.000, high voltage circuit
45 CT-1 (new)5, dep. on ASA+---45-43From serial no. 534.000
RevueTron C45005, dep. on ASA+--+noneOEM-Version mfg. for Quelle, high voltage circuit (thanks to Robert Alberding)
45 CT-36++++45-46SCA 300, Variodistance
45 CT-46++++45-46Wink light, SCA 300, Variodistance
45 CT-56, dep. on ASA+--+45-30Wink light, uses the (de facto extinct) SCA-500 system
45 CL-15+---?
45 CL-36++++45-46SCA 300, Variodistance
45 CL-46++++45-46Wink light, SCA 300, Variodistance

Note: The automatic apertures on the CT-1 vary according to the selected film speed (2.8 at 100 ASA becomes 5.6 at 400 ASA, etc). The CT/CL-3/4 Variodistance allows you to use f/2.8 with 100 ASA as well as 400 ASA. Effectively, this expands the range of available power ratios. The Winder mode sets the flash to 1/40 power (Thanks to Stefan A. Deutscher for the hint)
The SCA-300 enabled models can be used in conjuncton with the appropriate SCA-300 adapter for most cameras, enabling TTL exposure (the old fashioned way). The adapter cord SCA 3000 C allows the use of modern SCA-3000 adapters as well.

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Pimp my Metz!

Now that we know the 45 Metz to be a kick-ass flash, let's have a look at its drawbacks and how to live with them ;-)

Umbrellas, soft boxes etc. with your Metz

One question that is rised more or less on a weekly basis is how to use light formers in conjunction with a Metz potato mashers. There are several possibilities to do this, each with its own advantages and drawbacks.

If you remove the camera mount at the bottom of the protrusion at the side of the handle, you will find another ¼" thread like there is on the upper side. A standard threaded spigot helps you to fix the flash to any umbrella swivel (my personal recommendation is the Manfrotto MA026 Lite-Tite). Drawback: The light won't be centered very well in your umbrella, and the center of gravitation can prove to be a pain in the butt when swivelling.

Second possibility: Leave the camera mount in its transport position and use the thread to fix it to the ubiquituous threaded spigot. The light is close to the center now, it is leaning rather far into the umbrella, though. Make sure the locking screw is fastened, if you mind your Metz falling down.
You can fix the flash in a horizontal position as well (see similar picture below).

 

Third possibility, which I like most: Leave the mount in its transport position, remove the camera screw and screw it back on reversed. Use a (female) threaded spigot and fix this contraption into your umbrella swivel. In my opinion, this is by far the most elegant solution. Mind you, you shouldn't try this when using regular battery packs -- rewiring an old accu pack to be used with external batteries is highly recommended.

If you forgot your swivel or if you don't have another swivel left (what with all of them currently sitting on other light stands or super clamps), just make use of the 3/8" thread of the camera mount... see picture ;-)

 

My soft box holder was first designed for my normal Speedlites. I came across a very cheap soft box (which I actually hardly use) and had to find a way to fix regular system strobes to it. The solution consists of removing all the unneccessary material (namely the "universal" adapter), and before I try to translate words like "e;Verschiebewinkel"e;, just have a look at the pictures. Your local hardware store will surely have all the parts. As you're english speaking, you will most likely even have access to ¼"-screws instead of metric only, so you can save yourself the trouble of using surplus spigot adapters to fix your coldshoe to this device.

This thing can of course be used in conjunction with a 45 Metz as well. As mentioned before, there is a ¼" thread at the top of the camera mount, so...

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DIY Safe Sync (Linkfix 2010-03)

As mentioned before, the first series of the CT-1 was built with a trigger voltage of 250 V -- way too much for some modern digital cameras. (If you're a Canon user, Chuck Westfall tells you whether or not your camera can take it). There are ready-made solutions to reduce the trigger voltage to a safe 6 Volts – and if you're handy with a soldering iron, you can tailor a safe sync yourself, using parts for about 5 Euros.

I used a circuit first published in (german) c't magazine, which uses only a optocoupler, a transistor and three resistors. A voltage supply between 3-6V is necessary to power the circuit, which can for example be drawn from the battery compartment of your flash. I chose to use a regular 3V lithium cell -- if you can find a smaller battery holder, or solder the cell directly to the circuit, you will most probably end up with a much smaller and more handy device ;-)

Ulf Lanz made me aware of it being possible to use the accu pack of a 45 series Metz to supply the circuit with power. All that is to do is to increase the resistor between Vcc and Pin 1 of the MOC3020 from 100 to 120 Ohms. I haven't tested this myself, but it appears to work ;)

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Proper accumulators (updated 2010-03)

The original Metz accumulators have two basic features: For today's standards, their capacity is laughable, and they are nevertheless way expensive. One way to get rid of them is to use rechargeable cells in the battery holder 45-39 (the holder sells for about 15 EUR). I used to recommend re-fitting spent NiCad packs to be used with RC racing packs. Michael Quack corrected me on this, since apparently the often-quoted resistor is not used to flare off the surplus voltage from the battery holder, but in fact to regulate the amperage of the NiCad packs.

I have recently started using Sanyo Eneloops in the 45-39 battery holder, and I'm not looking back. Recycle times are really low (some say the fastest recycle time you can get is with Eneloops – I did not try to verify this ^^), and most importantly the cells won't discharge by themselves like normal rechargeables do. Unfortunately, the cells aren't as cheap as in Germany, but if you shop around, you can get a pack of eight cells starting at around 15 USD.

Ideally, you'd make sure to only use the same six cells in one holder. For instance, if you have three packs of four Eneloop cells, the first pack and two cells from the second pack would build your first "set", the rest would build the second one. I have never experienced this myself, but apparently, when you don't use this technique, you might have a first hand encounter with thermal runaway, which is said to be an unpleasant experience.

To increase the life of your cells, you might want to use an "intelligent" charger that monitors each cell individually. One good entry-level model is the La Crosse BC-700, which can be had for less than 30 bucks " I own a re-branded version for the EU market of this charger, and it sure beats any other timer-based charger I have owned before.

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DIY Mecamat (update pending!)

Note: This is seriously old and outdated, new information will come soon! -- Building your own mecamat is not as easy as I suspected at first. Instead of just using a bunch of resistors to control the light output, the resistors serve merely as variables in the mecamat circuit which triggers the flash and quenches the light output after an interval between 1/300 second (full power) and 1/16000 second (1/64). A rudimentary circuit diagram, courtesy of Sven Wilksen can be downloaded hereplease note that this circuit is so far untested. Reproduce and use at your own risk. I won't give any warranty or explanation.

Florian Geiselhart, some other students and me are currently working on a microcontroller-based solution to this problem. As usual: It's done when it's done, so please don't expect any information here or via e-mail as to the status of the project.

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