On the prowl for Leica capable flashes. On camera flashes. Bounceable flashes.

I learned flash in the "old school" way. Guide numbers. Off camera with a coiled sync cord. Dismal batteries. But it worked. It mostly worked really well. When shooting film you aren't able to bounce around the ISO scale. You load a roll and you get a setting. Done. But over time I've gotten as lazy as everyone else. If you are shooting a lot of stuff fast and you are at a reception or in a ballroom it's nice to be able to point a digital camera at a cute couple and just press the shutter --- being mostly confident that the flash will go off and, while flashing will communicate with the camera which will then tell the flash when it's had enough. At least that's the way it's supposed to work. 

But then I screwed everything up and started buying Leica cameras. The one brand that no one seems to want to make dedicated TTL flashes for. Sure, there are the two re-badged Nissin flashes and I guess they are okay but geez, they cost a lot of money for something they stuck a logo on and increased the price by a factor of two... 

In the old days Leica had Metz make a flash for their mainline cameras and it was called an SF-58. Not only did it work in manual and full on TTL (including HSS) but it also came complete with an "old school" automatic setting. That means it has a sensor "eye" on the front of the flash and it's connected to a thyristor which measures the flash bouncing off a subject and quenches the flash when it's done enough. There's no connection to the camera other than the sync. An automatic setting is rare in a flash these days but it's a wonderful thing because you can use an automatic flash on any camera and still get a pretty proficient flash automation. Not TTL but not bad at all. And if you are shooting color negative film you'd probably never know you were over or under by much. (Film has latitude..).

The SF-58 is a traditional looking flash with a "cobra" head. Meaning you can swivel it up and bounce it off the ceiling or from one side or the other of the camera instead of just straight ahead. It has a bunch of modes. It can be used in a manual exposure slave mode, in full TTL, in TTL with HSS, in full manual with ratios down to 1/250th of a second and, of course, automatic. The flash takes takes four double A batteries and it's a model that seems to hold up well over time. I found one used at Camera West and snapped it up. Then I started looking for a second one. You know... for back up. 

I have two different multiple day events to cover on assignment in April and some more in May. I guess I'm over compensating for having been "out of the water" vis-a-vis event work since I fired several of my less desirable event clients last year. Now I'm rushing around trying to find the optimal solution for pairing eccentric Leicas with workable flashes. And I'm hoping that either the SF-58 is what I'm looking for or that I finally land on something even better. 

I'm not too panicked since I could use a Panasonic S camera with one of several dedicated flashes I have for that marque. And, if necessary there is always the Fuji 50Sii as a back up. I've got one of the Godox V flashes dedicated to that system... But in truth I want to find the holy grail of Leica flashes. 

One that will work across the SL, CL, M and Q2 series of cameras interchangeably. It was so much easier in the old days when the only real choice (pre-digital) was the Vivitar 283 or the slightly later 285. And then all those Nikon SB flashes. The SB-24, SB-26, SB-28 and finally the SB-800. All great and all fully rigged to shoot automatic on other brands of cameras. 

Right now I have several options. The SF-58 is the front runner. A Metz 58AF-2 is a nice automatic back-up. Any number of Godox on camera flashes still do fully manual flash --- and that's still a workable solution. 

Just wish that Leica would spend a little time and effort to up their game with flash. I know it seems antithetical to the M series cameras but would come in very handy to make Leica more competitive in the mirrorless DSLR replacement space. Right? 

Hey! Got any SF-58 flashes hanging around that you need to get rid of? I know a photographer in Austin who'd love a couple more....



Anonymous said...


For my vantage point it seems that Leica feels flash photography is too passé, and they have moved on to cinema.


Luke Miller said...

While my SF-58 works well on my M bodies it really affects the handling. Adding a grip helps, but when hanging by a neck strap the camera tends to hang lens down. Weight and center of gravity wise, I prefer the SF-40, although it is a much less capable flash. In order to tame the SF-58/M combination I often use Sean Reid's technique of hand holding the flash connected by a Nikon sync cord. A short wrist strap mounted to the threaded hole on the flash end of the cord lets it dangle while focusing the M. Then I can grab the flash and use it from various angles to light the subject directly or bounce it. Auto Thyristor mode works too as long as the flash sensor points towards the subject.

The M240 TTL flash metering is pretty basic and overacts to light sources in the frame or bright backgrounds often producing significant underexposure. In these situations, auto-thyristor works beautifully. The camera sends the ISO setting to the flash and one only has to make sure the shooting aperture is entered.

Anonymous said...

I've never found a flash system that works since digital came along, Nikon in particular changed a great TTL system into a crap one when they went digital, so I've given up on TTL and use my ancient SB-24 with every camera I own, works a treat.
Mind you, never occurred to me to use flash with a rangefinder, don't know why not, it would let you see the flash...
All the best, Mark

Flash said...

For off camera both Godox and Profoto make triggers. The Godox one should work with any of the recent wireless flashes, regardless of the hotshoe. You could buy the trigger(remote) and use your existing Godox hotshoe flash on a cheap bracket ala Metz 45CTZ style.

The little SF60 are obscenely priced but they work relatively well and there's a remote trigger for them. I don't mind them because they're so small you can pack a couple without even noticing them.

I really didn't like the older Metz units.


Gato said...

If you get desperate I have a couple of Vivitar 283s in the closet. They might still work.

John Krumm said...

I vaguely remember a product that allowed you to shoot other flashes. But it was probably hokey.

Perhaps what Gordon said will work, and if you want on camera, get one of those side mount flash holders so you look like paparazzi. You can attach it with one of those curly phone type cords that dangles. Retro is in!

Robert Roaldi said...

Use the Panasonic. It's a paid gig, why worry about it.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Robert, Because paid gigs are also fun gigs. If they weren't we wouldn't do them. Same mindset for clients as for my own projects. Don't feel the same way? Commercial photography might not be a good fit.