When Profoto released the brand new B1, touting it as the Swedish company’s first “off-camera TTL flash”, it generated so much excitement that its website went down for a few hours. It’s not hard to see why. Profoto making a TTL flash? A premium strobe maker giving Nikon, Canon and a host of TTL flash manufacturers a run for their money?
Then came a variety of feedbacks. Some think it is the best thing since sliced bread, other bemoans B1’s size, bulk and price tag. So does Profoto B1 deserves all the hoopla?
Profoto held the B1 launch in Kuala Lumpur last Wednesday. The South East Asia area manager, Flora Chen, was kind enough to loan it to me for a shoot the next day. Here is my first impression of the flash.
I have over 5 years of experience working with multiple small flashes off-camera. In the studio, I work with Profoto D1s and a couple of Elinchrom monolights. I am comfortable working in TTL and manual modes. Profoto only has the Canon TTL triggers which does not work on Nikon cameras. I shot entirely in manual mode, triggering and controlling B1 with the Profoto Air Remote. So I can’t report on B1’s TTL capabilities until the Nikon trigger is released next year.
First of all, Profoto B1 identical to the Profoto D1. If you use the D1, then you will be right at home with the B1, which is swankier and cooler with a futuristic looking LCD screen.
Then I experienced the consistency of the power output and colour temperature that small flashes often struggle to deliver. I would take 30 frames in a scene and judging from my laptop screen Profoto B1 delivered the same exposure and colour temperature for each frame.
I also love the recycling speed of Profoto B1. The flash is ready before I go for the next frame. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. Even without checking the spec sheets, I notice B1 recycles a tad faster than the D1. It is advertised B1 can do 20 frames/sec. I haven’t found the use for that feature yet. I also own the Elinchrom Quadra for 3 years; Profoto B1 is light years ahead of the Quadra in recycle speed, consistency of output and colour temperature, and build quality.
Slow recycling time had cost me many great moments. You saw a sparkle in the eyes of the subject in front of you, and you squeezed the shutter release. You were ready, the subject was ready, but alas the flash wasn’t. Nothing more frustrating than having a massively underexposed frame of great expression and moment. I had been there many times with various battery powered strobes. These disappointing experiences ended with B1 in my bag. I never had a battery powered strobe that’s so fast and consistent. Was told Profoto Pro 8a, B4, B3 deliver such speed, quality and consistencies too, yet with price tags starting at U$6000 a unit, they are priced beyond my budget.
After being convinced of B1’s consistency and speed, I decided to push it to the limits. Set it to full power (500ws), so I could battle noon day sun at f11, ISO100. It chimed along effortlessly with a slightly slower recycling time. As the battery level drains to 66% and then 33%, B1 continues to recycle at the same speed it did when the battery was fully charged. This is in stark contrast to the Elinchrom Quadra which recycles slower when the battery level dips below 50%. What a welcome change. Again, the power output and colour temperature was consistent throughout the 100 odd frames I shot at full power.
After three hours of shooting (with about 100 pops at full power), B1’s LCD screen indicated it has 1/3 of power left. Profoto’s claim that B1 can power 220 pops at full power seems to be spot on. The battery was the size of my palm and it requires NO CABLES. When I used Profoto D1 on location, I also brought with me two drums of power cables. What a delight that B1 operates “cable-less”.
For this shoot, I worked the B1 bare and with a shoot through umbrella. I can imagine the potential of combining 2-3 units of B1 with an array Profoto light modifiers, and my existing collection of small speedlights to a location shoot.
Do I have any complaints? When working with small flash units and the Elinchrom Quadra, I usually get my assistant to hoist them on a Shureline paint pole. However hoisting the 3kg Profoto B1 strobe requires some serious muscles. It’s doable but I won’t recommend doing it for the whole day. A couple of Manfrotto 1004BAC stand should solve the problem. It’s a small trade off to change my work habits to gain power, speed and consistency of B1.
During the shoot, I also ran into intermittent wireless transmission issue. When the trigger was separated from the B1 unit by some walls, the flash had several misfires. It wasn’t clear what caused this. I was working with a beta unit of B1, so amount of kinks is to be expected. I shot about 700 frames, this issue showed up in about 20 frames.
Does Profoto B1 deserves all the hoopla and hype? It depends on our starting points and expectations. I’ve already invested into the Elinchrom Quadra which cost U$1800 4 years ago, Profoto D1 monolights which cost about the same, and half a dozen of small speedlights. So from my standpoint, the Profoto B1 is a no brainer and a dream solution for my location lighting and a great addition to the D1s in our studio. Short flash duration, battery powered, 500ws, modeling light, fast recycling time, consistent power output and colour temperature…what’s not to like? To be able to use Profoto light modifiers in studio and on location with the B1s just add more value to my investment.
When Profoto advertises the B1 as a “TTL off-camera flash” I can understand why many expected a juiced up SB910 or EX580. Weighing at 3kg, it’s equivalent to the weight of 6 speedlights; priced at U$1999 a pop, almost the price of 3 units of SB910 speedlights. It can be discouraging and shocking to many small flash users’ biceps and wallets. Yet it can deliver the the power, consistency, flash duration and recycling speed that 3 speedlights can’t.
There are cheaper lights and higher quality alternatives out there. Yet I cannot think of anyone else who can put so much power, consistency in colour temperature, short flash duration, quick recycling time in such a compact package for under U$2000.
Special thanks to Michael Heng for assisting me in this shoot.