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Flash compatability and the Japan-Germany axis

Doug Kerr

Well-known member
No, I'm not speaking of one of the sides in World War II. I'm referring to a line passing through a flash shoe.

As many of you know, we have recently acquired a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 "superzoom" semi-compact camera for general use. We wanted to get a suitable flash unit to use with it, something fairly small (and of course understandably modest in potency).

We considered the smallest of the Panasonic flash units, the DMZ-FL220, but it seems as if it did not have a tilting head for bounce operation (and irritatingly enough there was no good information on that simple question available on the Panasonic Web site, and there was a long thread on DPR among ten guys who did not have one of them as to whether it did or not have a tilting head).

We ended up getting a Metz 24 A1 (in the Olympus/Panasonic/Leica personality flavor) - a very nice package (and 60% the price of the Panny), and with a very nice tilting head. Metz tech support assured me that this flash unit was fully compatible with this camera.

When it arrived, I did extensive initial testing to find out just how it worked, and found out that when I set the FZ200 to have the flash (if turned on) fire all the time (regardless of scene luminance and so forth), it in fact fired all the time all right, but always wide open - no evidence of the mercies of metering.

But after about a half an hour, this turned out to be of no concern - it wouldn't fire at all any more (even with the manual firing button, which thankfully I had located become the machine pooped out).

Amazon.com, from which I had bought the unit, shipped me a replacement a little after midnight that night (I reported the problem about 8:00 pm - great support), and the new one seemed to work OK.

But on our first big shoot (a charity awards dinner), I found that on about one shot out of five, the flash would fire wide-open, giving me frames of pure white. And when this didn't happen, the flash metering was what I would describe as "inconsistent".

The next day, I started a process of about 500 test shots to see if I could characterize the conditions leading to the malfunction, but there was no real pattern.

By then, I had discovered a few other irritating things about the mixed marriage at the shoe. For one thing, with the flash unit mounted and turned on, when the camera went to sleep (I had a ten-minute delay set for that), as soon as it had retracted the lens and said good-night, it awoke and extended the lens again. In fact, it turns out that it did that all night.

So today I decided that perhaps Metz hadn't fully deciphered the FZ200 interface, and I would order a Panasonic DMW-FL220. I was still interested in the tilt head issue. Panasonic customer service (doubtless reading from the vacuous Panasonic Web site for the machine) said, "sorry, no."

Yet I found a set of specs on the web site for a camera "store" that said it did have a tilt head. In fact it went on to say that the unit offered up/down tilt of 60° and left-right swivel of 88°. Well, "up/down tilt of 60°" sounded sort of meaningless, and then I discovered on another site that the beamwidth of the machine was - 60° vertical, 88° horizontal (cited as "vertical angle" and "horizontal angle", without further insight).

So the discussion of tilt (and swivel) capability was probably creative ad copy editing.

Of course, not having tilt for bounce is not a deal killer. Most of our work "out of the house" is in venues not really suited for that anyway (often restaurants with high matte black ceilings). But I like to use bounce for quick portraits done in front of the fireplace (I even made a spiffy "bounce card" for the Metz, a real necessity given that often the subjects are wearing wide-brimmed hats).

So we'll have to see how this plays out.

I'll keep you informed.

Best regards,