When you do research on gear, make sure you read the forums, not just the reviews (commercial or blogged). Reviewers compare features, take first impressions, run a product through its paces, and take its specs. Reviews are informative, but not comprehensive.

If you are in business or are careful with your money, one item is missing from most reviews that proves crucial: real cost of ownership. Most of the “one light” movement proponents gloss over this facet, largely because it is in the end the biggest argument for not investing in expensive on-camera flashes.

Packing all that lighting and electronic power in such a small package is a recipe for trouble. Anyone who has ever used a speedlight type flash knows that they heat up, many times shutting themselves off, eventually burning themselves out. They are great for situations where monolights and studio strobes are not practical, but in no way can they replace them, especially in terms of cost. No one discusses the Mean Time Between Failure on these units when you are buying them, but  if you take a look at flash discussion forums, it is a very prominent topic when the gear is actually central to a photographer’s work. They burn out. They break when dropped. They short out if wet.

I do not use my hot shoe camera flash unit very often – it is a great tool to have in a pinch, but not central to what I do, which does not include weddings and events.

So, when my Metz 58 AF-2 stopped charging up, I was in for a shock. When I went online, hoping the problem had a simple fix, I was shocked to find out that the repair cost other people about $175 and service was not prompt. I confirmed on the phone – they gave me a soft estimate of $171. The flash, even used, is worth twice that, so I decided to do it, but wait, as I heard that Manfrotto, who distributes Metz in the US was moving their repair facility. I had my trusty FL-36, less powerful and not IR-enabled, as backup, and it would do in the meantime.

What a mistake. CRIS Services, the new provider, turned out to be a complete disaster. I sent my flash out to Arizona on a Friday by Priority Mail, and it arrived the following Monday. I called on Friday, when I hadn’t heard anything, and they said I would hear “Monday or Tuesday.” What? It could take them over a week to do a diagnostic that takes 15 minutes at the outside? If 50 flashes come in a day, then 50 estimates should go out within a day; otherwise you are understaffed or incompetent.

I called late on Tuesday after I heard nothing, and the nice fellow in Customer Service said that he had my estimate on the computer. $278!!!!!! I can get one for $400 new, and for about the repair charge used. He said it was the cost of Metz parts (1 board and the tube) that drove the price. That’s a bit hard to swallow since the people who said they had the same components repaired a year earlier were quoted a much lower price. I know someone in electronics – printed circuit boards are cheap, and you pay for the R&D when you initially buy the flash.

Obviously, I told them to send it back. Their flashes are essentially high-priced disposables. BYW, it has been nine days since they said they shipped it and I haven’t received it yet.

To repair an equivalent problem with the Olympus FL50 would cost about $130. A Nikon $95-125. Canon $99-175. You get a range with Nikon and Canon because there are third party repair shops. None of them will touch a Metz, which should tell you something. One might quibble about whether the repairs quoted are equivalent, but many posters stated that they were told that either there was a flat charge for repair or a very narrow range of costs for a given unit. Flash repair is dangerous, and not recommended for consumers, so one expects it to be expensive, but more than one person has insinuated that costs have less to do with parts and labor than what the market can bear.

If I had taken into consideration all the real costs of ownership, including product life and repair cost, I would have saved myself a whole lot of grief and money. The Metz looked great on the front end, but the back end was a killer.

I complained to Vitek/Manfrotto about the service, and they have given me the direct number to call about this issue. I’ll keep you posted.