This starts my 2 part review of my Profoto System consisting a B1 and B2. This post will round up the Profoto B1 Air TTL while in the next part I will be covering the B2. This review will touch on the key features of the unit, followed by field experience and some pictures. To me, on field performance is the most important part of any photography equipment and as such there will be no charts and more actual output in this review.
Before I start, the B1 has been with me for about 10 months and the B2 for approximately 1. Before the Profoto, I owned a Jinbei and numerous speedlites which I use for outdoor shoots. In studio environments, I have so far come in contact with Bowen, Profoto and Elinchrome lights. Profotos’ had one of the best output and mount, as such when the battery unit appeared, I bought it without much hesitation.
The B1 is an off camera flash designed for on-site flash photography. The unit is relatively large as shown above, weighing around 3kg with battery attached. That puts it around 5-6 times the weight of an average speedlite and more then 30% heavier then the B2 pack and head system.
The great thing about the B1 is that it is a true all-in-one head. You can even call it a giant speedlite with a profoto mount. The battery is directly attached to the side, the flash is triggered remotely by the Profoto Air Remote TTL, making it a true wireless unit.
You can control the B1 in 2 means: Via the back of the strobe or through the wireless remote. The B1 has a power settings from 2-10 (2-500w) with 1/10 increment. Residing within is also modelling light that could be used in various modes such as % power or proportionate to the current setting. The B1 comes built in with the Profoto Air system allowing it to be controlled and fired remotely via the trigger. The B1 also features TTL and High Speed Sync which I will cover in the field experience.
On the output, Profoto claims the B1 contains the power of 10 speedlite. Maybe that is true compared to a 43GN unit. Compared to a 58GN (580EX, SB910), it is closer to around 7-8 base on my experience. In terms of flash duration, I have no meaningful way to test it but below 1/4, no motion blur was detected thus far on my photos. The reload speed, for all the light it outputs, refreshes in less then 2s from empty to full power!
One of the key reason of buying a branded strobe is for consistency. The B1 shot to shot has little variance both in color and output. This is great especially when in studio environment or doing multiple shots for merging. However when the strobe enters into HSS, exposure constancy based on field experience fluctuates up to a third of a stop.
One final note is the B1 is an IGBT strobe. In simple terms, it utilizes similar circuitry as a speedlite but on a larger scale. This allows multiple triggers as long as the unit is not on max power. The flash duration also gets shorter as the power is lowered.
Now the most important thing is how does the B1 work on field? To me: Fantastic!
The B1 is one of the easiest to work with in terms of color output. Blending easily with the surrounding natural light.
It has lots of power too. The above shot was done around 10am in the morning with the light placed 3m away using a zoom reflector. The B1 on HSS can overpower morning or early afternoon sun easily affording much flexibility on its usage. Do note that HSS do lose approximately 1-2 stop of light compared to using an ND and reducing the light to the shutter sync speed. As such using a leaf shutter camera or ND filter still results in significantly more usable light per shot.
With the ability to trigger multiple times and a short refresh, shots with moving objects are a whole lot simpler. The above was done with a RX1 utilizing a leaf shutter and the B1 approximate at power 7.
As a full size light, it could utilize various modifiers while retaining the power to par the harshest sun if placed not too far from the subject. The above was shot with a softbox in mid-day light approximately 1m away from the subject.
It could mix well with speedlites, allowing the usage of 1 large light and multiple small ones to create the ambience needed without lugging multiple large units.
As a wireless unit with the ability to be remotely controlled and fired, the light could be placed almost anywhere. The above shot was done with a B1 almost 15m away at a doorway utilizing a zoom reflector.
Such a great light do still have its issue. For one, at power 8, it cant do quick multiple triggers without significant variance in exposure. HSS only works from power 8-10, making it overwhelming for cloudy days or in the late evening. It is heavy so you need a pretty heavy duty stand and lots of weights. There is no way it can run off mains, which means you need 2 batteries if you want to use it for a studio environment. Luckily the batteries recharge in less then 2hrs with the standard charger. Lastly, it is costly, with a price of $2950SGD + $480SGD for the trigger today. However for all the above issues, it delivers in a way that changes the way outdoor shots could be done!
With this ends my first round of review for the Profoto B1. Next up will be the B2!