First Look at the New Profoto A1 Flash

I’ve been a Profoto user for quite a while now, loving my B1s and B2s for wedding photography, and my D1s for studio photography. I’m a huge fan of off-camera flash, especially when it can be easily manipulated into looking like natural light when I need it to. After all, that’s what 99 percent of my wedding clients want: natural light and a golden-hour glow regardless if it’s raining or we’re shooting in noon-day sun. What I’ve been missing, however, is the portability of a small flash, and being able to use it on camera.

Well, the answer is here and Profoto has really done it this time with the brand new release of the Profoto A1. They’re calling it the world’s smallest studio strobe, and with this hotshoe-mounting, flash-like light bragging features like an LED modeling light and 76 Ws flash energy, I can certainly see why.

For me, this light really bridges the gap between flashes and studio strobes. Which, in a lot of ways also helps shorten the divide between natural light photographers (NLPs) and those that use OCF. Because most NLPs do know how to use an on-camera flash, the Profoto A1 will be somewhat familiar to them. Naturally the A1 communicates seamlessly with other Profoto lights so it’s now easier than ever to learn and work with OCF lights.

I could go on about the million reasons why the launch of the Profoto A1 has changed my world, and you can see it in action in the video above. Here are my top six points when considering adding this gem to your arsenal.

What I Like

Lithium Batteries

This may seem like the silliest thing to write about first, but I’m a practical person. If you’ve ever shot two day-long gigs in a row, then you know the utter pain of having to charge dozens of AA batteries overnight, or even on the job-site. No more. I haven’t changed a single AA battery in the past month I’ve had to play with this new toy. After last weekend’s triple-header, I’m really very, very grateful for that.

The lithium battery gives you 350 flashes at full power and takes just 80 minutes to charge. For me, that’s more than enough for a wedding day. It also eliminates the need for battery packs that help quicken flash recycle times. I haven’t had a single misfire yet thanks to the 0.05–1.2 second recycle time and I’m happy to be lugging around one less thing around my waist all night.

Portable

I love my Profoto B2s, but they still have a battery pack that can be heavy, especially when lugging gear around on engagement sessions. The A1 weighs only 1.2 pounds so it’s easily earning its tagline as the world’s smallest (and lightest) studio strobe. I typically bring two with me on a shoot: one for off camera use, and one on camera to control the off-camera light and/or have a fill light as well.

Easy TTL/Manual

Hands down this is the winner not only for me, but for a lot of NLPs as well. One of the ways I was able to learn on and off-camera flash was through TTL. Sure it’s not the traditional approach and I’m sure there are a ton of photographers that can better spew the inverse square law math than I can. But, without first understanding TTL, I wouldn’t have gotten over the OCF learning curve which then helped me understood manual power from there. I know there are a lot of other photographers that can relate to that method of learning and the A1, again, helps bridge that gap.

Just like other Profoto strobes, you can get your roundabout flash power setting by using TTL, and then the A1 will hold that setting for you when you flip to manual power to adjust it up and down. Of course, you can change not only the on-camera A1, but every other light it’s connected to right on the back of the light as well.

Snap-on Attachments

The light shapers that are made for the A1 are equipment with magnets for easy-to-attach functionality. The one that I’ve used the most is easily the gels. I use the orange gel to simulate the sun and create that golden-hour feel, and the green gel to light my subjects during sunset to essentially bring out the magenta in my background like in the picture below. I can see NLPs easily becoming attached to the CTO gels letting them create that warm and airy look whenever they’d like.

The other attachments are a soft bounce, bounce card, gel kit dome diffuser, and wide lens attachment (last two are included with the unit), all of which are light as can be. The two latter modifiers even fit right into the top of the A1 case making them easily accessible and portable in addition to their quick-mount ease of use.

What I Don't Like

Price

This is not going to be an entry-level flash with its higher price point. However, I can see photographers going from their very first flash (not including pop-up flashes of course) to the A1. Why? It’s just like anything else, you get what you pay for. More power, more functionality, more reliability, more ease-of-use, and more features like connecting to big-boy Profoto strobes when you’re ready for them. Side note: it's currently available for Canon and Nikon.

Bright Light Display

I’ve already submitted this request directly to Profoto and I have my fingers crossed that it’ll be in the next firmware update. The back of the light has a ton of great functionality, but even at the lowest setting, the guy across the room can see my power settings (not that he cares). In addition, the on-off button is super bright and since I’m often using this light on-camera in dark reception halls it can be a little blinding when I put the camera/light up to my face. Again, fingers crossed that’ll be fixed.

Summary

I have two.

I really wanted to just end it there, but I suppose I should give you an “official” overall statement about the light. How about, I have two, and you won’t be able to pry them from my cold, dead fingers. No? OK, tough crowd.

The Profoto A1 hasn’t left my side and I don’t plan on going on a gig without it. I even brought it into the studio to see how it interacted with my D1s (beautifully of course). It’s an incredible piece of equipment allowing the photographer incredible control whether using it on or off camera, and the ridiculously easy menus on the back will give NLPs yet another reason to start learning to master non-sunlight light. It’s a robust and versatile flash with the power and functionality of a strobe. Hats off to Profoto.

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42 Comments

Felix Wu's picture

It's a great addition but unfortunately at a great cost! I have a lot of profoto gears and I still find this expensive given what the light can do.

"the world’s smallest studio strobe"

I guess that's one way to put a spin on a speedlight to try to get people to pay a thousand dollars for each. LOL! This is just an absurd product. I'm sure it's reliable as hell and built to high standards and quite frankly, I'm also sure that you're not going to notice a difference in results between this and a Yongnuo speedlight with a MagMod system or something of the like.

It's great that Profoto wants to step into the speedlight world, but the pricing is really difficult to justify given the amount of competition in the space.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

Looks really nice, but I can't help but think about the ten Yongnuo speedlights I could purchase for the price of one of these units... Ouch.

Ultimately physics is physics- a small low powered speed light is always going to be a small low-powered speed light. Calling it 'the smallest studio strobe' does NOT make it so!!. (And I love my Profoto D1's BTW!)

Maybe a bit better made. Maybe a bit better interface. But NEVER worth 3-4x the price of similarly sized and priced units.

The AD-200 on the other hand is actually something more akin to a portable studio strobe...

Everyone who are complaining about these, you do know that these have a built in flash commander tool also?

Felix Wu's picture

hmm...Profoto should add wifi units in their lights and make free to public apps to control them (just as what Bron offers). Air is good but having that one extra option is welcomed.

I don't think it should be called a review if the reviewer gets the product for free and in advance of the public.

Interesting advert.
Does seem a little disingenuous to refer to the A1 as a studio light, appears little different in performance to a speedlite
It is nice how the A1 can control other Profoto heads; however, when on-camera without controlling other Profoto heads don't quite see the advantage over a Canon system speedlite
The Canon speedlite will zoom with the lens; also, the Canon 600EX-RT has the same degree of weather sealing as a top-level canon camera, it does seem the A1 is not weather sealed.
As for changing batteries, no great issue changing four AAs, and a lot cheaper than the A1 pack.
The A1 battery is £90 and 11.84Wh, a set of AA are 4 x 1.2(volts) x 2.5(Ah) = 12Wh for ~£5

Robert Bell's picture

wow they sure are expensive speedlights

Ben Smukler's picture

I don't think the price is that steep, especially when you take into account that the unit replaces the Air remote (standard, or Nikon or Canon dedicated).

Just went to the product launch in Toronto. I must say it is a great product. Light is great. Controls work well if you already have profoto gear. The price is just ridiculous though. As many have already stated the Godox AD200 is comparable, but definitely not as good but I don't know if anyone can justify that additional cost at 1000 USD or 1300 CND. A few things I learned...the accessories are priced just as ridiculously. Not compatible with Fuji or Sony at the moment but they did mention that it was coming. It's not weather proof if that matters to you. No grids available just yet bit expect the price for the grid kit to be at least another $150.

Canon addicts listen and wait: after 3 days and 2 different A1 Profoto flashes (first unit was replaced) this is my conclusion:The hot shoe is 2mm less wide than the original Canon one therefore the flash is slightly loose. The top part of the flash is slightly loose as well so the whole thing becomes really loose that one fears the whole flash detached from the camera when doing strong moves. AirRemote does not work fully with the flash, switching between first or second shutter curtain and HHS does not work. HHS controlled from the flash works only partially, shutter times less than 1/250s result in pictures underexposed significantly. The zoom of the flash cannot be controlled through the remote as well. When attaching or removing magnetic accessories or the camera hangs on its strip around the neck and one touches just lightly the ring for selecting reflectors the flash changes to manual zoomreflector. Now it's quite complicated to select through the menu again the automatic mode. The small wheel for adjusting +/- TTL is easily accidentally moved just by having the flash and camera on the body and moving normally. Battery indicator on flash does not show full despite it is charged fully. Worst is that many times and completely out of the blue the flash simply stops flashing...power cycling and pushing some buttons restores normal operation...I can only recommend to wait as the flash in its present form is neither worth almost 1000€ nor is suitable for professionals. It seems one more product that is sold still in Beta status. I will return the flash next week and may give it another try when it is a bit more mature...