Why I Bought Ancient Flash Kit in 2024

Why I Bought Ancient Flash Kit in 2024

One of the biggest tendencies I see among photographers is the pursuit of the latest and greatest kit. I, however, did the very opposite and invested in some truly ancient equipment. Not because I intended to write an article about it, but because there is a valid reason behind my choice. Let's delve into it.

The growing trend for vintage technology in photography often centers around capturing images with film. When delving into vintage technology, photographers typically aim for the specific aesthetic of that era. Even when shooting film, modern technology is still utilized in the workflow. However, concerning flash equipment, the transition from '90s flashes to the latest units available today isn't as drastic. In fact, many of the flash heads sold for Broncolor and Profoto in the 1990s are still compatible with the new packs, for the most part. Do you see where I'm going with this? I acquired '90s Profoto equipment, and I'd like to share why you should consider such gear for yourself.

I am not sponsored by Profoto or any other brand; much of the equipment you see has been purchased with my own funds. The same applies to the kit I'm about to discuss. While I wish some warehouse wizard would unearth a stash of unused heads and generators, the reality was much more mundane. I stumbled upon a fantastic deal online for some generators and heads, and I seized the opportunity.

When purchasing old flash equipment, initial concerns may arise regarding its age and relevance. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. The core functionality of flash remains unchanged: it needs to consistently emit light with good duration. The demand for pack and head systems has remained constant. Consequently, you can use old heads from Broncolor and Profoto with the latest generators and vice versa. This is particularly advantageous for those of us engaged in studio work, seeking a reliable pack and head system with optimal power and accuracy. While a brand-new Broncolor Scoro or Pro-11 may offer superior performance compared to older units, they also come with a significantly higher price tag.

If you're in the market for old generators, allow me to suggest a few options. If Profoto is your preference, consider the Profoto Pro-7a 2400/1200. This is the system we will delve into in this article. For Broncolor enthusiasts, explore the Grafit, Verso, Pulso 4, or Primo models. These generators can often be found for well under $1,000 and frequently come with accompanying heads. Moreover, the Profoto ProHead and the Broncolor Pulso head have undergone minimal changes over time, ensuring compatibility and upgradability. If you eventually upgrade to a new Scoro pack or a similar Profoto model, you'll still be able to use your existing heads.

For those not using Profoto, Broncolor offers excellent alternatives. However, I personally find Profoto to excel in modifiers and performance. Nonetheless, both brands can deliver outstanding results.

Why Use Pack and Head Systems?

A pack and head system represents the traditional format for utilizing flash. In this setup, all controls are located on the ground, while the head serves essentially as a flash tube with a modifier holder and some fans. Pack and head systems aren't the most portable option, making them less suitable for on-location shoots. However, in the studio, they reign supreme. I would choose my pack and head system over a monobloc any day. The power output from a pack and head system is unmatched by monoblocs. Not only do you get significantly more power, but also excellent duration and consistency. The closest alternative to a pack and head system would be the Profoto D2, which offers excellent duration and consistency but lacks the same power output. If, like me, you prefer shooting at ISO 100 and f/11, a pack and head system is often the most suitable option. That said, I do own a few portable flashes such as the B1x and the B2 for location work and travel. In the studio, I favor mains-powered flash units for their faster recycling time and powerful modeling lamps, which allow me to preview lighting setups without taking test shots.

The Profoto Pro-7a

Regarding the Profoto Pro-7a, I appreciate its features. It offers 2,400 W of power split over three semi-asymmetrical sockets. However, I rarely utilize it at full power to preserve the capacitors and flash tubes. Typically, my generator operates at around 700-800 W, depending on the modifier used. With the Pro-7a, you have three sockets: A, B1, and B2, with A and B being asymmetrical and B1 and B2 being symmetrical. While theoretically, all three flash sockets can be used, I recommend starting with only A and B1, especially for those new to flash photography. This allows you to understand how much power your modifiers consume, ensuring consistent lighting setups. If you require additional power for certain lights, the B1 and B2 sockets are ideal. Typically, I assign the light requiring the most power to socket A, as it offers power settings from 1/8 to 1/1. This could be a large softbox or any modifier necessitating extensive diffusion. The fill light is also typically assigned to this socket. The key light is then connected to socket B1, offering power settings from 1/16 to 1/2. Of course, this approach varies depending on the specific requirements of the shoot. The master knob controls the total output of the pack, providing an additional 1 1/3 stops of control. This grants ample control over power output and consequently flash duration. In terms of flash duration, the Pro-7a surpasses the performance of both the B1x and the B2 in freeze mode. Furthermore, consistency-wise, it maintains a high standard, ensuring reliable results for compositing and complex shots.

The Heads

The heads can be somewhat confusing with the Pro-7a. Profoto manufactured various heads during that period, potentially causing confusion for newcomers. The recommended heads are the ProHeads, as they are compatible with any generator from the Pro-7a series. Even if you upgrade to a Pro-8 or Pro-10 generator, these heads remain compatible. Generally, it's advisable to look for a kit with a minimum of two heads, though more is always better. Another head compatible with the Pro-7a is the Pro-7a head. My assumption is that this head was introduced to distinguish it from older heads designed for the Pro-6 and earlier generators. What I can confirm is that the wiring on the Pro-7a is different, necessitating the marketing and sale of heads compatible with the new generator. I haven't observed any significant difference between the Pro-7a head and the ProHead, aside from a few minor tweaks. While I haven't tested the Pro-7a head on a Pro-8a generator, I predict it will function adequately, given their similarities.

Buying Advice

For those considering purchasing a Pro-7a, while I recommend the 2,400 version, the 1,200 version is also a viable option, particularly if the price is favorable. Ideally, the generator should be acquired as part of a bundle with heads, as individual heads can be quite expensive. The key to buying such equipment is finding an excellent deal. I managed to procure mine for around $1,000, which included six heads, a Pro-7a, Pro-5, zoom reflectors, grids, snoots, and softboxes. Admittedly, there were some caveats; some cables were slightly damaged, resulting in one head not firing, while others had broken fans. However, considering the overall value of the deal, these drawbacks were negligible. I invested a considerable amount of time researching the Pro-7a and compatible heads, so if you have any doubts, feel free to reach out, and I'll assist you in selecting the best option!

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.
LIGHTING COURSE: https://illyaovchar.com/lighting-course-1

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I hope you bought two. Spare parts for old lights can be very difficult to source. Failure of a seemingly simple part can turn these old lights into doorstops when you cannot repair them.

I actually did! I have a second Pro-7 I can cannibalize for parts :)

Amateur photographer here. I have the Speedotron 400W brownlines that I bought used back in the 1980s and they still work.

Often the older power packs use high voltage triggers which will damage new digital cameras. You should use something like a Wein Safe Sync adapter to isolate the high voltage of the flash from the digital camera's circuitry.