Fstoppers Reviews the Profoto A1 Hot Shoe Flash: Is It Really Worth $1,000?

Fstoppers Reviews the Profoto A1 Hot Shoe Flash: Is It Really Worth $1,000?

When a new and innovative product comes out, it generally demands a higher price. But does the Profoto A1 really have what it takes to justify a $1,000 price tag?

The Build

At first glance, the Profoto A1 resembles your traditional hot shoe flash. The back has a set of buttons and dials that are used to control things like power, groups/channels, and other various settings. The front is where the lithium-ion battery is attached as well as the AF assist beam. On the side, it has a dedicated switch to control the flash's TTL and manual functions. I would have preferred this function have been dedicated to a button on the back, though. As you place the flash in and out of your camera bag, it's very easy to flip that switch up and down, especially if you are like me and end up cramming your flash into those small nooks and crannies of your camera bag.

Moving to the head of the flash is where some of the differences really become apparent. Instead of the traditional rectangular flash head, Profoto has instead used a round head. This is part of the reason why Profoto says this flash is so much better than the competition. The round head is designed to give the flash a better quality of light that is “both natural and beautiful.” More on this later.    

Around the head of the flash, you will also see a plastic ring. This is actually how you adjust the zoom of the flash head since there is no dedicated button for that function. The problem I found with this is that when I have my Magmod system on the flash, it actually renders this ring unusable. Instead, you have to dive into the menu system in order to change it from the back of the flash. Another problem I have with this implementation is that they don't use the standard zooming nomenclature such as 24mm, 70mm, etc. Instead, they use a set of half circles that are meant to represent the zoom of the flash. This means that if you need to zoom your flash to cover a certain focal length, you need to remember which half circle represents that focal length or rely on the flash's auto setting. You also cannot control the zoom of the flash from the Air Remote.

The last features you’ll find in the head of the flash is a modeling light and magnetic ring. The magnetic ring is used to attach a set of Profoto modifiers such as gels and diffusion domes. The modeling light is meant to give you a preview of your flash and is actually made up of two small LED lights, one that is a narrow beam and another that is a wide beam. The flash uses these two lights in combination to represent the currently set zoom of the flash head. This is a nice feature since the zooming function doesn't actually give you a specific measurement to use. The only problem here is that you have to be in a pretty dimly lit location to even slightly see the light from the very small LED’s.

In Use

Now that we have talked about the build, let's talk about what really matters. How does this thing actually work? The first thing that comes to mind when buying a flash is the power output. Profoto claims this flash is the world's smallest studio light, so you would assume it packs a punch. But in reality, it only has 76 Ws of power. Compared to my four-year-old Neewer TT850, they seem to have the exact same power output.

The next thing to consider with a new flash is the quality of light. This is where the Profoto separates itself. The round head on the flash gives the light a much more pleasing look with a rounded beam pattern and gradient fall off on the edges. Compare that to my Neewer flash and the Profoto is a clear winner.

The problem here is that adding a simple set of modifiers to your flash can easily give this look. In fact, adding a Magmod grid and sphere gives a similar look that is actually better than that of the Profoto. You can obviously get the same look on the Profoto by adding the same modifiers, but that completely negates one of the selling points of the much higher-priced flash. Also, the swiveling head on the Profoto doesn't have enough stiffness to support modifiers being attached. Using my Magmod kit caused the head to flop and twirl around, making it difficult to place. While Profoto does have their own set of modifiers that can magnetically attach to the light, the selection is limited and expensive. At the time of this article, they still don't even offer any type of grid solution.

Left - Profoto A1 bare flash
Right - Neewer TT850 with Magmod grid and sphere

One of the last features to really consider is the recycling time. This is the amount of time it takes the flash to recharge between flashes. In this situation, the A1 really does set itself apart. When firing at full power, the Profoto didn't miss a single shot. While the Neewer struggled to keep up. However, it is worth mentioning that the A1 flashed at a lower power for all the images except the first exposure.

When lowering the flash power down to 1/4, things became more evenly matched, but the Profoto was still the clear winner. But keep in mind we are comparing a $1,000 light to a light that cost $100 four years ago.

What I liked

  • Quick recycling times

What I didn't like

  • Expensive
  • Floppy swivel head after attaching modifiers
  • TTL switch and zoom control


While the Profoto A1 is a nicely built flash, it definitely has some design quirks. Another thing that you need to consider with the A1 is that in order to trigger and control the light off camera, it requires the Profoto Air remote. This will set you back another $419. Now, if you are already invested in the Profoto system and need to add a hot shoe style light, then maybe you could consider it. But for $1,419, there are a ton of options that deliver equal if not better performance for a fraction of the price.

Jason Vinson's picture

Jason Vinson is a wedding and portrait photographer for Vinson Images based out of Bentonville, Arkansas. Ranked one of the Top 100 Wedding photographers in the World, he has a passion for educating and sharing his craft.

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The article, if you sum it up is just three words. Nah

You mean three letters. LOL

"Nah no nope" could've worked, perhaps? :P

There are 3 types of people in this world; those who can count and those who can't.

It's only a matter of time before Godox kills Profoto as well...

For me they need to ship from Germany with warranty also in Germany. Don't want to wait potentially 8 weeks for a roundtrip in case of failure. Once they do I'll probably switch in a heartbeat (from Elinchrom).

If Godox keeps killing off all these brands, then there will be no one left for them to steal designs from...

You mean the same way Samsung "stole" rounded corners from Apple?

If AI am not mistaken, Godox is the first brand to offer a speedlight with Li-on battery.

Hmm, the AD200 looks like a what?

Exactly. Godox is doing great.

Broncolor took the design of the Godox X1-T.

No, broncolor partnered with Godox instead of releasing HS triggers that didn't work out of the box. But you could say that many elements of AD600 Pro resemble broncolor Siros ...

They are going to kill themselves. They could create better more reasonable priced products, but they keep doing the same thing over and over again. Strange. Maybe they are doing better than we think?

Pretty much the same (and in some instances, better) technology/features for a fraction of the cost?

I'm not going to say that Godox products are as rock solid as Profoto in terms of reliability, consistency, and servicing, but for the vast majority of users and even for the majority of professionals, Godox products are reliable and consistent enough for just about everything but the highest end professional work so there's little reason for most to spend the Profoto or Broncolor premium. It's also not like we're talking about a 10% or 20% difference in price either. The disparity in price is pretty absurd considering their relative performance.

I doubt that Godox (and its peers) will kill off these brands, but I do think that if the trend continues the way it has been, they're going to be purchased primarily as status symbols to impress clients rather than due to their technical merits.

"... but for the vast majority of users and even for the majority of professionals..."
I would say "for the majority of professionals" period, without 'even'.

Their stuff is solid, works well and in many ways better than the others. Not to mention a complete ecosystem triggered by the same radio...and a plethora of excellent modifiers.

All for a fraction of the price.

Their new AD600 Pro was made to compete with Profoto's B1X and it outperforms it for less than half the price.

$550 (plus $240 for the power source on location) for a strobe that doesn't have HSS, isn't cordless, no internal receiver, and a horrible mount.

Thanks for watching, man. I'm very fond of HSS so I prefer the xplor 600. I actually do own the alienbee 800 and Einstein 640 but used them a few times before realizing they weren't for me. Different strokes for different folks. I just go by experience and with the alienbees my fingers always ached from squeezing the mount latch. The very first time I used my Einstein on the beach it was windy and caused my 48" Paul C Buff octabox to detach. I prefer Bowens mount.

Btw, what were your settings on that shot? It looks like you went too fast on the shutter and got banding on the bottom.

Does it have built-in radios? Is it IGBT? What's it's color consistancy frame to frame? Can it do high speed sync? Can it run off batteries? Can you put a remote head on it?

Get back to me when it does. ;-)

I love Godox too and I'm switching everything over, It'll take some time but it is the right ratio of new tech and price.

No support/service in most EU countries... 99% of the time out of stock at local dealers... well not saying that the products are bad but without a proper support I will still avoid them for professional work.

It would make a lot more sense to compare this to a more recent affordable flash, such as the Godox V860IIN.

I used what I had access to, but if something old and cheap can keep up, then something new and cheap should at least be able to show simular results.

My thoughts exactly. The lithium ion battery of the V860II would have improved recycle time. Something that should have also been mentioned is battery life. The A1 has just 350 shots at full power. The V860II has 650. Huge difference.

The Neewer TT850 I used for comparison also runs off lithium ion. The battery power of the A1 worked fine for me and didn't die after a full day wedding.

The light being "fine" for you is not important if you're comparing two speedlites. It's omitting important information and comes off biased especially since something you didn't put in the cons was the extreme power shift in the light. Going from full power to what looks like 1/8th +0.6 is ridiculous.

I didn't find the battery power worth mentioning. Those stats are clearly listed in the specs and I didn't find them to be untrue. Also I did mention the power shift. Just not in the cons. The light always fires even if not fully charged so that's just the nature of the design. It can only be considered biased if I omitted the information and recommend people buy the A1. Which I clearly mention the shift and I clearly say the flash is not worth the money.

There is no power shift. The article is poorly worded and constructed in this area and confusing. It's just that this sequence of shots is at a frame rate that's too fast for both speedlites to fully re-charge their capacitor in between shots. In this case Profoto's strobes always fire, as Jason just answered you, even if, because of the partially recharged capacitor, power output won't match the power setting you've set the strobe to. It's a design philosophy. Other brands (Neewer here) choose to not fire the flash.

I agree with you about the expense and won’t be buying one, simply can‘t afford it. However your test shots are not very illustrative unless you are a background photographer. You should have used a model to show if they really are the same on people and not just throw roughly the same shape on a background.

My comment is really for photographers that are starting out. Don't believe in all this marketing. Light is light. You can give Mario Testing a big window and he can give you a Vogue cover. What does that mean? it doesn't matter. If you need expensive gear to shoot, people will just hire you for your gear and at the end you have no value. Profoto have been tested by many actual users and even their higher end products have prove to be overrated. I think for a product like this, it's rather simple.

People make it sound like using speedlites is something inferior, but in reality it is not and it depends what you are using it for. For example. Obviously a event photographer will not be using a Profoto B1 on a light stand chasing after a celebrity. Also if you are working in an environment where you need to travel a lot, I can see why some people prefer using a speed lite over a studio strobe. At the moment for me, I think the Best Buy is the Godox AD200. Has the portability of a speedlite but decent power (almost at 300W with the fresnel head), also gives you the option to be used with a fresnel head or a bare bulb.

I travel a lot with budget airlines and so carrying a battery pack and large studio heads is not an option. Also you want your setup to be quick and convenient. As for this Profoto A1, if you've got nothing to do with your money, share it with someone in need. Don't waste it on this. I am a commercial product and architectural photographer. If I needed something more accurate in terms of colour accuracy and consistency, I would go with Broncolor.

I shoot 35-40 weddings a year and have shot with the A1's for about 4 months now. The single lithium battery is such a huge jump from the AA Eneloop pro's I used in the past with the Canon 600EXII-RT. Before I might get 2 full power shots off during a bouquet toss...with these I get 5-6 shots. The recycle time is incredible. Also, they don't overheat! Too many back to back shots on the 600EXII and you get the red screen of doom. With the A1's you don't overheat and your flash always fires. Yes they are expensive, so definitely not for everyone...however if you shoot events like weddings and need reliability and consistency I feel like they are worth the investment.

Recycle time is amazing
Lithium battery has a fast recharge time
Modeling light is cool for low light focus assist
No overheating
No missfires

The built-in magnets are weak and I constantly have the attachments knocked off at events
Swivel head moves around too easily

I do still use my Canon flashes with the MagMod system for creative shots when I have time to use gels, snoots, etc.

For everything else I use the A1's. They really are significantly better than any of the Canon flashes I have used.

So what does the A1 gives you that a $180 Godox V860II does not? It also has Li-ion battery. In fact I believe Godox were the first to have speedlights with Lithium batteries. The recycle time is fake because it goes to 1/4 power to keep up.

You should really try the Godox 860II. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

I have never tried Godox but I've heard good things. I have the Profoto B1 and trigger already so it made sense to add the A1's instead of going to a new brand. For an extra $400, the A1's really are far superior to the Canon 600EXII-RT's that I was using previously. Still, I've been thinking about picking up a Godox AD200 because of the portability and power for off-camera flash moments when I don't want to lug around the Profoto B1. In my experience I still think the A1's really shine for indoor weddings and events versus any of the Canon speedlights I have used, but I'm sure there are cheaper options that can still yield great results.

Respectfully, it seems that a Godox Li-ion battery flash compared to the A1s would make more sense. The biggest benefits seems to be from the battery than the flash. Possibly. I might b getting a Godox Li-ion battery power flash so I hope it works out well for me.

All my other Godox speedlites I use for real estate so recycle time is pretty low so I went for cheap.

That being said, the AD200 is pretty awesome. I also use it with the MagMod sphere.

The flash I used for comparison is powered by lithium ion.

True, the AD200 is excellent with very good recycle time. Matthew, I would suggest getting a Godox, any one of the Li-ion battery one, and try them.

There is one HUGE difference between the A1 and Godox or even Canon (600ex)... and that is the quality of light. Had a chance to test A1 side by side with Canon speedlites and there is just an amazing difference in the quality of light that A1 outputs. Even straight on flash on hotshoe with just dome diffuser is capable to light up a portrait quite nicely without those well known harsh shadows you get with other speedlites.
So this is what it gives you that Godox doesn´t. All other things are probably better/cheaper on Godox so it´s the choice of what you need and can afford. As mentioned before in my other comment what Godox does not give me: no support/service in most EU countries, almost nonexistent stock at their local dealers in EU,... more than enough to not buy them for professional work.

I can understand service, or lack of it, and lack of stock, which surprises me because I can order any Godox (in Canada) and most likely will receive it within a day or two, since quite a few sellers (E-bay or Amazon) keep stock.

However, when it comes to "quality of light" that's where you loose me. I never just point a flash at my subject without some kind of diffusion. If I do that, it would be in a sunny day where I need every bit of light and then there is no meaning to quality of light. The harsh sun light and the overall bounce light easily overwhelms any light pattern.

When shooting indoors I always use a diffuser of some kind. The minute you put even a thin cotton sock the pattern changes.

If you are talking about color then every flash/strobe has its own. Custom white balance or/and just post editing is a must in any case.

I have used Godox for over two years now and when I initially bought the kit I figured that since a kit of three flashes and radio trigger was around the same price as my SB-910 (or the SB-9000), if something happens I am not loosing a lot.

Well, nothing happened. They work and work. Since then I bough two more speedlights, 2 AD200's and two new receivers (the X1 and the Pro).

In fact, they do better than my SB-900 that was burnt after two years and cost me $260 to fix (remember the overheating issue?)

Oh and speaking of support, I am a Nikon user and in Canada there is ONE service center. Yes, in the second land mass on the planet Nikon closed all centers save for one.

Since Nikon does not have the same Pro service that Canon users have, we have to pay for our own shipping and wait two to three weeks until we receive it back. Don't even try to ask for a loaner, lol.

The cheap Neewer TT850 flash I used runs on lithium ion and I have never had it overheat.

1. "world's smallest studio light", when first reading about the A1 around September, that was the sentence that made me laugh. They were obviously going after the AD200.

2. Good recycle time? If the first shot is full power and the others look like a 1.4 of that, what is the use of the fast recycle time? So although it seems the A1 has a great recycle time in reality the engineers at Profoto made sure it goes to (what it looks like) a 1/4 power, to be able to keep up. At 1/4 power just about any decent flash will do pretty well (as your four year old TT850 did).

I just did a test with my Godox 860II and it would not trigger until it is fully charged so it means the first and the 10th frames are good but all in between are completely dark.

Then I did the same with my SB-910 -a capable flash, right?- and out of 11 frames only the first was good. The fourth and sixth were very much under exposed. The rest were completely dark.

That because the flashes are trying to do what you expect them to do, shoot full power each shot. Not like the A1 that automatically lowers its power to keep up.

3. So at $1,000 and the magnet modifiers are still extra?

4. "But for $1,419, there are a ton of options that deliver equal if not better performance for a fraction of the price". I agree.

I'm going out on a limb here and say that its not worth it and no one should spend over 1000 on a speedlight...EVER. It blows my mind people will still it only for the name. Unless it can wash my dishes or get me a girlfriend - it's a hard pass.

I would encourage the author to publish the frame rate at which the power recycling shots were fired because people here are clearly not understanding well what those two last shots mean.

Was looking for that as well. Kind of important information.

Sorry about that. Was taken on my D750 so 6.5 frames per second.

Thanks. I would modify to article to mention that these shots are less talking about recycling times, than about two different philosophies regarding what happens when the shutter button is triggered while the capacitor hasn't had enough time to charge high enough for the chosen power setting. Profoto's philosophy, which is also to be found in their TTL strobes, is to empty whatever is in the capacitor at this time. The Neewer's philosophy is to not trigger the flash if the chosen power setting can't be met.

Very true! I mention that in a comment here but should have expanded on that detail in the article.

tl;dr: Betteridge's law of headlines. At that price quite obvious.

What I have been observing is that the Profoto A1 are marketed towards people who never used a speedlight before or gave it up because of it's "ugly flashy light". By buying the A1 they think it will (opposing the laws of physics) provide soft and natural light and solve all their problems. With that kind of marketing the price is no longer an issue it seems.

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