Quite possibly the most exciting product announced within the last year comes from lighting company Profoto with the announcement of the Profoto B1 studio strobe. Promising TTL within a 500 watt/sec studio strobe is exciting all on its own, but they also announced that this device is cordless, with a built in battery pack. But does the light live up to its hype?
In short, yes. The Profoto B1 studio strobe is the best studio strobe I've ever used, and I've used quite a lot. Paired with its battery powered design and solid build that you've come to expect from Profoto, there is no better light on the market today. The Profoto B1 has managed to set expectations to a high and seemingly impossible levels, and meet each one with ease and grace.
Build & Design
Not much separates the Profoto B1 from the Profoto D1 in terms of the design. Both share the same elongated build, snub noised front with a digital back featuring dials, buttons and a handle. However, Profoto took the already simple controls design of the D1, and rebuilt it from the ground up with the B1, making it even easier to use and even more form friendly.
And the build is exactly what you'd expect. Like most Profoto lights, you can rest assured that it's going to withstand a beating. While cheaper brands like AlienBees work, they have a habit of breaking. The only thing I would worry about breaking with the Profoto B1 is the ground I've dropped it on.
Make no mistake however, this light is light. Weighing only 6.6 lbs, the Profoto B1 feels no different than any other studio strobe on the market. It's exceptionally lightweight, despite holding 220 full powered flashes in its contained battery pack armed on its side.
One of the most sought after features is also contained in the unit, which is TTL. That is right, this professional strobe designed for professionals, also has a mind of a professional contained within it, assuring your settings will be right, even if it means the light has to set them for you. For those unaware, TTL stands for "Through The Lens." In simple terms, it's used by on-camera flashes to assure your lighting is correct, by metering the ambient light with a short pre-flash. It then uses the data collected to make sure your image is properly exposed. Never has a feature been put into a studio strobe, restricting the luxury of TTL mode to those who work with speedlights.
But does it work? Yeah, kinda. I pride myself in understanding lighting well, and have always set my flashes to manual mode, despite the features of TTL contained within them. Never have I had TTL work perfectly for me, but the Profoto B1 does TTL every bit as good as a Speedlight can. While TTL mode is only available when paired with the Profoto Air TTL-C remote, a $400 remote in itself, the remote itself is every bit as good as a PocketWizard, or any other radio transmitter. The Profoto Air TTL-C lets you go above and beyond in fact, allowing you to individually adjust power settings of up to 24 lights (by my count), all while firing from up to 1000ft away (330 ft in TTL mode). Its LCD screen, simple controls and low profile make it the remote you want your camera to have attached to it - it's just sexy. While other systems work, they're often bulky, and not nearly as feature friendly. Currently the Profoto Air Remote TTL-C does not work with Nikon cameras, but promises to add capabilities to the system soon.
Also contained in the unit is a modeling lamp. By using LEDs, Profoto has managed to allow a modeling lamp within a battery powered system. Certainly using the modeling lamp drains the battery far more than not, but far less than using a modeling lamp on a traditional strobe with a battery pack. The modeling lamp is brighter than expected, pumping out plenty of power rather than heat, so no more burning your hands on a speedring attached to a modeling lamp for an hour or two.
Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most was the speed of the units. The battery powered units reach full power and recycle very quickly, much quicker than any other battery pack system I've used in the past. Perhaps this is one of the underlying features of having the battery attached to the unit, rather than plugged in using a DC power cable. While the 2 second full power recycle time is fast, like all battery powered lights, you can expect a slowdown on recycle when the battery is low. Still, I found myself not having to wait for the light to power itself back up, a luxury I hadn't experienced on location before.
The Most Asked Question
Now I'm a photographer, not an engineer. Most everything I've ever built has been held together by wood glue or duct tape. But one can't look at the design of the Profoto B1 and think, "Why can't they add a DC Adapter to this thing?" Sure, we might be asking too much for something like that. The recycle rates on this light are blazingly fast, and the battery is far from obtrusive. Even still, the design does leave you wanting more. The ability to clip in a battery of a power adapter seems genius, and so simple to implement. The only explanation I can come to on why not is that it might hurt the sales of the Profoto D1. But where the Profoto D1 is a nice BMW, the Profoto B1 is the Ferrari. One can only hope that an adapter will be built, and soon we'll have a battery powered strobe, that can plug into your outlets as well. Til then, we dream, we wonder, and we scratch our heads asking "Why not?"
Who Is This For?
The price tag on this light is enough to make many run away scared. At $1,995 a piece, the Profoto B1 is designed for those with a bank account larger than mine. However, I truly believe the features out weight the price. The ability to set this up at a wedding, put in TTL mode, and just shoot is something not to overlook. No cables for people to trip over, no constant setting up and adjusting. You set it and it works, plain and simple. I personally use it for all on location work. While editing out extension cables to my Vagabond Mini took only a few moments with the clone stamp tool, the ability to have a clean set without any orange cable distractions is nice. $1,995 nice? Maybe not...but admitting nice nonetheless.
What I Liked -
- Very Well Constructed Unit
- Battery Powered Strobe at 500 w/s - What's Not To Like?
- TTL Worked Well and As Expected
- Very Fast Recycle Times
What Could Be Improved -
- No DC Power Option
- ~$2,000 Price Tag
Profoto refuses to call the Profoto B1 a speedlight or monolight, but rather, an off-camera flash. What I like to call it, however, is exceptional. I was beyond excited when this light was announced back in November, and I'm only more excited now. I truly believe that the Profoto B1 is the best product to come out for photographers in the last year, and only makes me excited that wall powered studio strobes can someday be a thing of the past.
The Profoto B1 can be purchased at B&H Photo for $1,995. The Profoto Air Remote TTL-C is also available for purchase for $395.