What is it?
The Profoto B1 500 AirTTL, a powerful flash you can take on location. It’s like a cordless version of the Profoto D1 monolight. Power comes from a lithium battery pack. 500Ws makes it approximately 10 times more powerful than a speedlight. Clever electronics allow you to control the output accurately over 9 stops (full to 1/256). The lithium battery gives enough power for 220 full power shots. It’s also capable of operating in TTL mode with certain cameras. Flash duration is also rapid. A Profoto radio trigger is integrated into the head. Accepts Profoto’s light shaping modifiers.
Why did you buy one?
Power and a fast recycle time so that on location I can balance ambient light with flash to create both the shot I want, and also capture the moment after.
The high capacity of the lithium battery means I’m not going to run out of juice during a standard shoot.
As with all Profoto equipment the head is designed around a cylinder approximately 10cm in diameter. This means all my heads from an ancient ProPact, through Compacts, to my ProHeads can use the same light modifiers. For Umi & Ryota’s couple shoot, I used the beauty dish I’d normally shoot with in the studio. I could have brought out the Magnum reflector, a small softbox, or even a giant octabox.
The B1 is small enough to fit in my Pelican 1520 case along with most of the other gear I need for a simple location shoot. For the shoot with Umi & Ryota, a beauty dish was carried separately, and I also used a voice activated light stand (aka David). I purchased a Profoto Air Remote to trigger the light, and I could also control the power with this trigger on the camera. ( I could also have used my PocketWizards on both camera and head.)
The B1 worked perfectly, giving me enough power to darken down the cloudy sky at F18 and yet still recycling quickly. I also liked the color temperature of the flash, in fact on this shoot it was just right, slightly warmer than the daylight.
Any other considerations?
Cost is an obvious issue. At close to 2000 dollars, it’s a significant amount of money. I’m not saying it’s more expensive than its worth, but there are cheaper options.
It weighs about three kilos. This is obviously much heavier than a speedlight, but it’s also heavy compared to most monolights, and far heavier than a head attached to a power pack. This is important, and might be a deal breaker, if you’re used to run and gun, solo location shooting with a speedlight on a light stand. The B1 without any modifiers is going to make an unweighted light stand top heavy. There are obvious remedies; a heavy light stand, sand bags, someone always holding the light stand, or foregoing the stand and having an assistant holding the light. The B1 is actually perfect for handholding with the chunky integrated handgrip. Balancing a 2000 dollar strobe on a stand outdoors and leaving it unattended is just asking for trouble.
Shooting in TTL. This is currently only possible with Canon camera, and you also have to purchase the new Air Remote TTL-C. I don’t shoot strobes in TTL mode so this isn’t an issue for me, but if you’re a Nikon shoot and want to shoot in TTL you’re going to have to wait. If you use Pentax, or any other brand you might be waiting a long while. I do however really like the look of the new remote that shows the power of the B1 on the remote. I’d actually like it if Profoto offered a slightly cheaper non-TTL version then you don’t feel like you are paying for something you’re not using.
Durability of a new product is an unknown. Profoto gear is renown for being able to withstand the rigors of professional use, and is a staple of rental studios. But this is usually indoors. From the safety instructions included with the B1: “Generator, lamp heads and accessories are only intended for indoor photographic use. Do not place or use the equipment where it can be exposed to moisture, extreme electromagnetic fields or in areas with flammable gases or dust!” However, the promotional images for the product show the B1 used on location for a skateboarder shoot. The outdoors where the B1 seems to be suited has wind, moisture and dust in varying degrees. Obviously shooting in the rain is a bad idea, but what about simply shooting on cliff tops at the coast. Will those sea breezes make the working life of the B1 as transient as cherry blossom .
In the past I’ve shot on location using speedlights, or with a Profoto compact monolight plugged into a bulky Innovatronix battery pack. Speedlights sometimes do not offer enough power, while the battery pack option is cumbersome.
The B1 offers an elegant solution, particularly for those already invested in the Profoto system. I’ll use it more in the coming weeks, but right now the future is looking bright both in the studio and outdoors.