Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Olympus FL-50R Vs Metz 44 AF-1

I had the chance to borrow an Olympus FL-50R flash gun so I can compare it against my Metz 44 AF-1.   The comparison is not a fair one as they belong to different segments.  The FL-50R is five times the cost of the Metz 44.  The last time I checked, the FL-50R is £499 at WEX Photographic and I got the 44 AF-1 for £99 from Amazon.  If you've not done so, please read my Metz 44 AF-1 review first.

FL-50R with its' pouch and stofen diffuser

The FL-50R comes with a pouch, a stand and a stofen diffuser.  The FL-50R can be operated in manual, auto, RC and RC manual modes.  It is a substantial unit operated by four AA batteries and is much heavier the the Metz 44.  With twin dials at the back, it is very easy to use.  I was disappointed to find the FL-50R does not have a built in white card reflector.  It is a useful feature found on the Metz 44 and are common place with high end Canon and Nikon flash guns.

The FL-50R compared to the Metz 44 AF-1

The first thing I did was to compare the power of the flash guns.  Just for information, I also compared the power of my Canon 540EZ as it is a flash I use for off camera work a lot.  Since I can not zoom the head of the Metz, I mounted it on my E-PM1 with the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens and removed it so I can be sure the zoom position and set the others the same way.  I set them all at full power and zoomed the head as close to 40mm as possible.  Then I fired them off manually and used my Sekonic L-308B flash meter at 1m away to measure the F-Stop to give the correct exposure.  Here are the results:

Olympus FL-50R  - F32.8
Canon 540EZ       - F22.8
Metz 44 AF-1       - F16.7

As you can see, the FL-50R has two stops more power than the Metz.  Interestingly it has a full stop more power than my Canon 540EZ.  I was expecting them to be very similar.

FL-50R on the left, Metz 44 AF-1 on the right

How does it compare to the Metz?  In term of control, there is no comparison, the FL-50R can be set up as you want it.  You can zoom the head manually, which is what I miss the most on the Metz.  In manual mode, the power can be set over a wide range, rather than four power settings.  Most importantly, having two stops more power than the Metz is invaluable when using it for off camera flash work, especially when mounted in a light modifier.  When mounted on a small camera like the E-PM1, it does feel unbalanced.

How does it perform in RC mode?  I found the FL-50R to work well indoor without any problem, same as the Metz.  However, when I was shooting outdoor on a cloudy day, the Metz 44 AF-1 did not consistently picked up the flash signal from the pop up flash of the E-PM1.  I found the FL-50R to have the same problem outdoor.  This is a common problem found with optical triggering systems.

At an event hosted by Olympus UK recently, I was able to try out a few cameras and lenses at a studio with models.  I took the FL-50R along and shot a number of images in RC mode.  I did not have any light modifiers with me at the time, so the lighting was quite hard.  A shoot through umbrella would have made the light a lot softer.  Here are a few examples, all images were shot using an OMD E-5 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7 lens, processed and converted using Olympus Viewer 2.

I really like the FL-50R, except the cost.  It is a power house and will come in very useful in bright condition.    For me, it would be hard to justify the cost.  For off camera location work, I have a Strobeam DL4 portable light which I use in manual mode, it has much higher output then the FL-50R.  Of course the FL-50R is much smaller and portable, but I would consider the Metz 58 AF-2, at half the cost, before the FL-50R.  If you want to stay with Olympus and can justify the cost, then this is a wonderful flash gun for Olympus MFT users, especially if you shoot with flash off camera.  For Panasonic users, it make less sense as they can not make us of the RC flash mode.

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