In this review, we compare Canon Speedlite 580EX II and Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-1 flash units that are direct competitors on the market. Both flashes are of the highest quality and loaded with many useful features.
Weather sealing comes very handy when shooting outdoors in dusty or misty environment. Canon 580EX II is weather sealed to match the professional grade camera bodies and lenses and to be able to handle the bad weather. The construction of Metz 58 AF-1 flash body is tight and solid, but it does not feature the weather sealing, and it cannot keep up with the Canon unit in this regard.
The foot lock is another obvious difference between the two flashes. Metz 58 has a more traditional screw-on design, while Canon 580EX II features a lever lock for rapid locking and releasing. Also, the foot plate of the Canon flash is made out of metal while the Metz foot is plastic.
Head of Canon 580EX II can be rotated full 180 degrees to the left and to the right. Metz 58 is limited in turning right to 120 degrees. Some people prefer the convenience of full 360 degrees flash head rotation, whereas others find it to be inconvenient, because once the head is set backwards it's impossible to tell which way to turn it to return to the original position. For these people, this limitation of the Metz flash head can be more of a benefit rather than a disadvantage.
Both flashes have built-in wide angle diffusers to boost the wide angle light coverage. Canon's design makes the light spread up to 14mm angle of view (see Canon Speedlite 580EX II light coverage test), while the Metz diffusing panel delivers 18mm coverage. This can be important if you take ultra-wide on camera flash images, but in general, it is not a very significant limitation.
The build-in white card of Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-1 flash is almost two times smaller than the Canon one. Nevertheless, both cards seem to do the job of creating a catchlight and providing fill light quite well.
One of the unique features of the Metz unit is the secondary flash reflector (so-called, wink light). Its purpose is to create fill light while the main reflector is used for bouncing off of walls. Canon 580EX II does not offer this feature, and it has to be used with an after market flash light modifier to achieve similar results. However, it is been noted by many photographers worldwide that the secondary reflector of Metz flashes is not really useful due to the harshness of the light it creates. Our tests of the wink light confirm that the light is, indeed, rather harsh, but we believe it still can be of use in some situations.
Metz 58 AF-1C("C" stands for Canon version) flash is fully compatible with Canon wireless system. Both flashes can serve as wireless slaves or as wireless master control units. There are, however, differences in the ways they do that.
When used as a master, Speedlite 580EX II sets the output of slave units as master-to-slave ratio. For example, you can make a slave flash fire at 1/2 of the power of the master.
The Metz flash operates in terms of flash exposure compensation. Instead of setting the master/slave ratio, you have to set the exposure compensation in the relation to the ideal one measured by TTL. For example, to achieve the same 1/2 ratio, you have to set the slave compensation to -1 stop. The image below shows sample screen of both units in the wireless master mode.
Another difference of the Metz wireless system is that master flash has its own group. Canon 580EX II always belongs to group A while Metz 58 has a dedicated M (master) group. Thus, with Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-1, you have a little bonus in the form of an additional group.
The control buttons of Metz 58 AF-1 flash are very well sized and shaped. They are a bit easier to work with, compared to Canon 580EX II. The Canon unit, however, features a select dial, which is by far exceeds the ergonomics of a button-only design.
The Metz buttons are multi-functional, and their functions change depending on a selected menu. This is the reason why some users criticize Metz 58 AF-1. Having four buttons to do all the flash setting make the menus somewhat cumbersome. Canon's menus are more intuitive.
The advantage of the Metz menus is that any setting can be displayed as a text string. Canon menus are limited, and some settings are buried in custom functions, which are almost impossible to remember or recognize. (The newer camera bodies allow changing flash settings using camera display, so the custom function issue is not that significant.)
Also, please note that the first click of any button on Mecablitz 58 AF-1 lights up the display and only the second and subsequent clicks modify the settings. This is convenient because your screen is always illuminated, but it takes an extra click to begin changing your settings. Canon 580EX II reacts to the first click, but in the dark, you always have to light up your display before making any adjustments, which means a change in your workflow.
It's probably also worth mentioning that LCD of Canon 580EX II has more contrast and looks sharper than the Metz one.
A very nice little feature of Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-1 is a low battery indicator. It simply warns you when it's time to replace your batteries. The Canon flash lacks such an indicator, and the only way you know it's time to change the batteries is when you notice that the flash takes longer time to recycle.
Another bonus of the Metz flash is a beep function. You can turn it on and off depending on your preferences and the shooting situation. The beep function, when enabled, gives you an acoustic feedback about your flash performance. It signals, for example, when the flash is fully ready for the next shot, or when a correct exposure is achieved. Speedlite 580EX II is silent, and your only feedback is a "ready" lamp.
Canon 580EX II flash is commonly known for underexposing in the auto mode (light metering is done by the flash itself). In our quick auto mode tests, Metz 58 AF-1 demonstrates accurate exposure results, and Canon flash is underexposing. (The underexposure, however, is consistent and can be easily compensated.)
Extended zoom is a feature that is also specific to Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-1 only. In the extended zoom mode, the flash sets its zoom wider than it's necessary to fully light the scene. This makes some of the light bounce off of the surrounding walls and ceiling, and as a result, the shadows created by the flash become lighter. As we demonstrated in our extended zoom test, there is, indeed, an improvement in the lighting, but probably it's not significant enough to make this feature very useful.
PC sync port of Canon 580EX II can be used with radio triggers. The Metz does not provide such connectivity, so it requires a hot shoe adapter to work with those remote control devices.
Metz 58 AF-1 takes about two seconds to turn on after being switched off (turning on from "stand by" is instant). The Canon flash is ready to work as soon as you turn the switch to the "on" position. This may be considered as a minor issue, but sometimes, being ready to shoot instantly is important in order not to miss a valuable moment. So, if you find yourself in a situation when something worth capturing can happen at any moment, keep your Metz flash in the "stand by" mode.
The very last observation is about the accessories included with the flashes. Both Canon and Metz units come with a pouch and a stand. The Metz stand is bulkier and does not fit into the flash case. The Canon stand is slim and can be carried along with flash in a special pocket inside the flash case. Also, the padding seems to be thicker on the Canon case, which supposedly should provide more protection for your flash.
As a final note, please let us state the Canon Speedlite 580EX II and Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-1 are both great flash guns. They are equally powerful, similar priced, and deliver a lot of features for the money, including TTL, Manual, Auto and Stroboscopic modes, second curtain synchronization, wireless capabilities, and etc. The differences we outlined may be critical in some applications. However, for many photographers, both units may be equally good. No matter which of the two flashes you chose, it is very likely you will see years of great service.
For the summary of this article's content, please refer to Metz 58 AF-1 vs. Canon 580EX II: bullet points
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