Olympus Trip35 and Metz Mecablitz 38CT3 Flash Unit – a perfect match. By Ray Goulter
“The Metz 38 CT3 is also a gem of a flash unit ideally suited for coupling to the Trip 35 so maybe I’ll do a report on it at a later date.”
Now is the time for that report, albeit a little later coming than I originally envisaged.
The Metz Mecablitz 38CT3, introduced in 1976, is 19cm tall, 11.5cm wide and 7cm deep not counting the camera-fixing base arm, so it’s not as compact as a small flash unit when space is a factor when travelling, but it’s still compact enough that, allowing for its characteristics well above simple hot-shoe mounted flash units, makes it ideal for the travelling photographer. Notwithstanding, it’s much more compact than many specialist flash units, both after-market and proprietary units. It weighs in at 600g without the 4 AA batteries, so weighs more than the Trip35’s total 400g. Total weight of camera plus flash is a neat and manageable 1kg, the same as the weight of a single 90mm lens for a Mamiya RB67, Rollei 6006 and Hasselblad!
The base arm of the 38CT3 is 20cm long and 3.5cm wide set at right angles to the main flash body but a screw underneath allows it to be removed to reduce bulk when travelling. Alternatively pack it into the corner of a suitcase, camera case/bag or backpack. This same screw when loosened allows the base arm to be extended to reduce the risk of red-eye. This is something small flash units placed on a hot-shoe can’t do. This problem with small flash units can only be fixed by using a flash extension cord coupled to a Prontor-Compur sync connector nipple on the flash unit (if it has one) and connected to the standard Prontor-Compur sync connector nipple on most film cameras. The downfall of most small lightweight flash units is their inability to adequately illuminate subjects more than a couple of metres away. Using the 38CT3 with ISO 100 film gives illumination up to about 38 feet (roughly 13 metres) at f/2.8, the Trip35’s widest aperture, on manual full discharge setting. This is enough for a group of friends or relatives in a room where the walls and ceiling give average reflectance and will bounce-reflect the flash discharge.
Manufacturers of flash units calculate Guide Numbers (GN) for internal use. The flash-to-subject distance in the open at night requires greater power from the flash. In the case of 100ISO film you would need to set the flash to 50 ISO to double (1 stop) the intensity of the flash, or ISO 25 to quadruple (2 stops) the flash intensity depending on camera to subject distance. The settings in the case of this essay will be according to the automatic settings where the flash adjusts discharge based on reflected illumination inside a room.
The Trip35 positioned closest to the flash unit. The flash head position closest to the lens runs the risk of red-eye, and a compact flash unit mounted on the hot-shoe would almost certainly cause red-eye, especially in dimly lit conditions. Note the Mecablitz 38CT3 also incorporates a fill-flash, enabled by moving the red button beside it to the “on” setting. The flash head can also be swivelled 90 degrees left and right to give bounce-flash off a wall, as well as vertical rotation providing bounce-flash off a ceiling.
The next image shows the preferred positioning of the camera and flash unit to avoid red-eye. A flash extension cord would allow the flash to be positioned well away from the camera if need be.
The next image shows the flash head rotated 90 degrees vertically. The head can be rotated to any desired position from 0 degrees to 90 degrees, but there are two click stops at 60 degrees and 90 degrees. The use of a reflector when the unit is rotated 90 degrees vertically would soften the intensity of the flash if a single flash was used for portraiture.
There’s also a wide flash adapter that’s brought into position by rotating a built-in clear plastic cylinder. The following image shows this screen turned to its effective position. This would be very handy photographing a larger group of people, considering the Trip35’s fixed 40mm lens.
The speed of the film is set using the dial to the left, indicated in both DIN and ISO (ASA). This is viewed looking directly down at the flash. The settings range from 50 ISO to 1,000 ISO. In its time this would cover the majority of film types.
So why do I think this flash unit is an ideal partner to the Olympus Trip35 camera?
The answer lies in the relative settings of both the Trip35 and the 38CT3, plus the ease at which both are quickly selected. The next image clearly shows four output settings on the 38CT3:
• 0.5 – 4.5 metres (green button),
• 0.8 – 7 metres (red button),
• 1 – 9 metres (yellow button), and
• W for Weak
The Trip35, similarly, has four click-stop distance settings on its lens barrel: 1 metre, 1.5 metres, 3 metres, and infinity. It can be seen that the first three of these click-stop settings corresponds closely with the 38CT3 settings.
Let’s assume we have a subject 1 metre from the camera in a dimly-lit setting. We set the camera on the first click-stop of 1 metre as per the following image.
Normal lighting being too dim dictates flash is needed. The following text indicates settings for ISO 100.
When the left (green) button of the 38CT3 is pressed, the green indicator light illuminates on the flash head barrel, indicating f/8. This f-stop would change if a different ISO is selected.
It’s then a simple case of setting the camera’s aperture ring to f/8, and shoot. Note the image below shows f/11, for illustrative purposes only.
The next camera click-stop is for 1.5 metres, for several people or a subject at that distance. The second (red) button from the left on the 38CT3 is pressed, and the red indicator light indicates f/5.6. Select f/5.6 on the Trip 35.
The Trip35’s click-stop of 3 metres is next. The third (yellow) button from the left on the 38CT3 is pressed, and the yellow light illuminates for f/4. Select this on the Trip35 and once again we’re ready to shoot a group of people at the Trip35’s 3 metre setting.
The final button on the Metz is “W”, for “Weak”. Selecting this changes the 38CT3 to Manual mode, where the aperture to be set is selected from the calculator on the left side of the flash head barrel. This setting provides a weak flash output for use when full flash illumination isn’t wanted, such as for providing illumination to someone’s face under a hat in direct sunshine, where detail is needed in the shadow area.
There’s also a full discharge manual capability. Move the On/Off button to the far right then back to the “On” position to cancel any auto setting. Read off the aperture for the specific distance as per the scale, and set the Trip35’s aperture ring to the relevant setting and shoot.
The following images were taken using the Trip35 and Ilford FP4 35mm film, using the various settings for the different subject distances from the camera. I had to develop the film, make prints, and photograph the prints using the Nikon D300 to get these digital files.
I selected our dog Gus as my model for this photo shoot.
Note these examples were not taken for photographic excellence but simply for illustrative purposes.
For Image_1 following, the Trip 35 was set to lens focus click-stop 1 metre, the green button on the Metz selected, and my position about a metre from where Gus was lying on his cushion. It can be seen the exposure is well within acceptable limits. I took a low position and was slightly off in my camera to face distance, so Gus’ head is a little softly focussed. Even so I’m satisfied the overall exposure was correct.
The next image was taken with the Trip 35 lens at focus click-stop 1.5 metres and the Metz red button pressed. Once again it can be seen the combination has properly exposed the subject. The flash head, being offset as per the second image at the beginning of this article, has avoided red-eye, or in the case of dogs, blue-eye.
The final example is the result of the Trip 35’s lens focus click-stop at 3 metres and the Metz yellow button selected. This distance would accommodate the majority of groups of people being photographed. Gus, by this time, had migrated to the lounge, this being one of his favourite sleeping places. The tonal range in this image is very acceptable with good detail in the leather of the lounge and no harsh burnt-out light areas such as the wall behind the lounge.
The final image is an enlargement of Gus from the second image taken at 1.5 metres. Once again I’m impressed with the sharpness of the 40mm lens on the Trip 35, which, as I mentioned in my article on this little gem of a film camera, is comparable to the Leica equivalent. I’ve deliberately left it as a larger image to show, even with this amount of enlargement, the hair detail. There has been some softening of detail in the conversion from the print to digital but even so the amount of detail in the negative is clearly evident.
Film used was 35mm Ilford FP4+ developed as normal for 100ISO film speed in Ilford ID11 developer. The first three photos of Gus were exposed using a Durst M300 35mm enlarger and Nikon 50mm enlarging lens at f/8 for 8 seconds, filter grade 3, with the lens 24.5cm above the enlarging baseboard printed on Agfa Rapitone RC multigrade paper developed in Ilford Multigrade developer. The final enlargement had the lens to baseboard distance at 59cm, still at f/8 and exposure extended to 32 seconds, still using filter grade 3.
The coupling of the Olympus Trip35 camera with the Metz 38CT3 remains, in my opinion, one of the best combinations of a 35mm film camera with a specialist non-proprietary flash unit, and an ideal combination for taking on holidays where space and/or weight is a factor. Even today, with renewed interest in film, this is a combination a young backpacker should consider. The battery-less and electronics-free automatic exposure system of the Trip 35 with its brilliant 40mm lens and the closeness of the camera’s focus click-stops to the Metz 38CT3’s flash settings provides the photographer with a very quick and easy means of ensuring correct flash illumination with a much-reduced risk of over or under exposure.
What really puzzles me is why the Metz Mecablitz 38CT3, with its extendable camera arm, swivel head, quickly selectable ISO and distance flash ranges, built-in fill-flash, built-in wide-flash adaptor, and up to 90 degree vertical rotation of the flash head wasn’t more popular following its introduction in 1976. It can also be coupled to a range of cameras for TTL flash exposure using a dedicated SCA connector cord. It would therefore have been the ideal accompaniment to a wide range of 35mm cameras.