Don't Buy the Hype: The Dome Attachment Mystery Solved!

Don't Buy the Hype: The Dome Attachment Mystery Solved!

There is a war going on in the lighting community: To dome or not to dome? Does the recessed front make a difference? Are the flat-front lights not usable anymore? Well, having had the privilege of owning a number of lighting variants, I did rigorous testing to settle the debate once and for all.

If you’re anything like me, you might be familiar with the problem photographers are facing in 2024. It’s not the know-how of marketing, or aesthetic skills; none of that. It’s the problem of having a recessed flash tube. While I am being sarcastic, and my point is that it barely matters, there are valid cases when it does. Currently in my studio, I have everything from tiny C1 Pro lights to ProHeads. With the lovely advantage of having every variant of light source possible, I decided to put them to the test and see how much of a difference having an exposed flash tube makes.

It’s already been a while since the recessed flash tube became a thing. While other lighting manufacturers are somewhat reluctant to make the switch to it, Profoto seems to be riding the wave. For good reason, if you ask me. There are valid instances where having such a design saves space and protects the tube during travel. However, there are times when having such a design limits the number of light shaping tools you can use. Plenty of users left the Profoto system because the claim is that such a design simply won’t fill up a softbox as evenly as an exposed flash tube. To counter this, Profoto released a dome attachment, which is supposed to make the problem go away. But does it? Is there even a problem? If there is a problem, where is it? Hint, it’s not with softboxes.

The Exposed Flash Tube

This is the so-called holy grail. Back in the days of compact lights, you would get an exposed flash tube whether you went monobloc or pack & head system. Then, the D1 came along, and the tube became hidden away under glass. You could no longer get the performance of an exposed flash tube in relatively inexpensive monobloc lights. While the users were quite unhappy about it, the benefits were obvious: more portability with little sacrifice for performance.

The exposed flash tube in a softbox doesn’t make a difference, as we can see. This is because in a softbox, the light does not need to go more than 77 degrees, and by the time the light has bounced around the softbox, it will be identical to that of a recessed front, or a dome. As far as using softboxes goes, all three lights will have the same performance.

RFi 3' Octa

The same cannot be said when using a hard reflector. The exposed flash tube is able to evenly illuminate the hard reflector surface, utilizing 100% of the material used to construct the reflector. This is because hard reflectors were designed to be used primarily with the ProHead. This is evident from the zoom positions on the light, too. As such, a classic zoom reflector is best used on a ProHead as it will give the results shown on the side of it. The same is said about the narrow beam reflector. Using it on a ProHead takes full advantage and lights up the whole surface of the reflector at position 4, and all the necessary surfaces at other positions. This is important because you want to make sure that your hard reflectors give full performance. When it comes to the ProFresnel, the same is true. You are only able to take full advantage of flood and spot on a ProHead.

Standard Zoom Reflector
Narrowbeam Reflector. Notice the entire surface being illuminated. 

The Dome

The dome is somewhat of an improvement over the simple recessed front. As we can see, it still throws light mostly forwards, but some of it does go backward, and makes the light more similar to a ProHead. In my opinion, the dome is a fairly pointless attachment as it offers a marginal improvement.

RFi 3' Octa
In a softbox, performance is the same throughout the range; however, it does offer a marginal improvement with hard reflectors. As such, on a zoom reflector, it lights up more of the reflector, offering more ProHead-like performance. Having used the B1X both with and without a dome on hard reflectors, I really can’t tell a significant difference, but it is there if you are analyzing the technical performance of the light. Given that a dome can cost anywhere around $200 used, I would say not to get it. It offers too small of an improvement for your lighting performance. Given that you will probably be using softboxes anyway, it really does not make sense to invest in a dome. It doesn’t make a difference, in my opinion. Moreover, the dome attachment is a little flimsy and can be damaged when taking off a heavy softbox improperly. It also adds quite a bit to your light dimensions, making it less travel-friendly.
Narrowbeam Reflector. Notice the entire surface not being illuminated. 
OCF Magnum Reflector
Standard Zoom Reflector

The Recessed Front

The recessed tube is the travel-friendly design that makes packing and protecting the fragile flash elements super easy. I never had a flash tube crack during travel, probably because of such a design.

RFi 3' Octa

This is the design I am a fan of, and it’s either recessed front or a full-on ProHead. The recessed front will be least efficient when it comes to things such as proper hard reflectors. That said, Profoto does offer an OCF zoom and magnum reflectors which are designed for lights with a recessed front. While the OCF zoom is a fairly useless reflector, the OCF magnum is a fantastic option for on-location work. I love my OCF Magnum because it can turn my fairly low-power lights into much more powerful units. So much so, I used to use it in the studio all the time before getting the ProHeads.

Narrowbeam Reflector. No effect at all. 
Standard Zoom Reflector
OCF Magnum Reflector

The Final Verdict

To dome or not to dome? Well, that is the real question. The answer is simple: don’t waste your money on the dome. The recessed front can fill up a softbox as well as a ProHead can. If you want to use the original hard reflectors on a recessed front light, you can, but the performance will not be the same. If you are finding yourself using hard reflectors a lot, I say go and buy a fairly inexpensive Pro-7a or a Pro-B2 system. The Pro-B2 is something that I will be replacing my B1X with in the near future, in fact. But that’s best saved for a different article.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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i LOVE the quality of light produced by an exposed flashtube. It really makes a massive difference. You'll lose a bit of licht compared with a recessed front. And also exposed flashtube deliver more contrstly light. Even compaired to PF equipet with only a dome accesaries. Especially when using reflectors, beaty disches and umbrella's. But my all time favorits are elinchrom softboxes with indirect speedring. Regardles Broncolor, Elinchrom or PF witch exposed flastubes to fill th eindirect softboxes.

In general, I do prefer the flat plate, and I do prefer the OCF Reflector and Magnum over the old ones, simply because of size and it's easier to narrow the beams down.

When using softboxes, the quality of light is identical, but there are some modifers where the plate simply doesn't work, at all. Hardbox, Giant 150, 210, the new Giant Reflector 120 and 180's, the flat plate just can't fill them correctly.

In my experience, the domes you can get for the D1/2/B1's work pretty alright to fix that, but they're less than ideal compared to an Acute, Pro, or ComPact head.

It was >10 years ago that I last checked. But the D1 didn't work as well in a 6' strip box compared to the Compact, that's the one softbox where it made a difference.
Also, my Mola beauty dish.

The main difference I've noticed is the double shadow when using a hard modifier like the Profoto Magnum or Zoom reflectors with the recessed tube. When using Pro-heads with the dome that effect can be minimized.