Until recently, there were limited choices for taking supplemental light on location. First there were hot lights, which aside from the obvious drawback of being hot, required longer exposures for greater depth of field. Then speed lights came along, a viable choice unless a lot of power is needed. One could always schlep an A/C powered strobe on location, with a generator if need be. Things got better when battery-pack powered studio strobes were introduced. I used to own the Profoto Acute B 600R, reliable, with plenty of power. It had the advantage of a light weight head on the stand and the disadvantage of being tethered to a ten-pound battery pack which can make it somewhat ungainly in tight spaces and fed my propensity to trip over cords.
Enter the newest incarnation of portable studio power strobes, the 500 watt-second Profoto B1. Think of a speed light on steroids, this mono-light design with self-contained lithium battery on board, is simple to set up and move around, but be advised, this 7-pound head requires a substantial light stand.
Profoto's design team did a great job with ergonomics and the fit and finish is spectacular. With large hands I particularly appreciate the size of the positioning and light stand lock knobs. The controls on the back of the unit are also well spaced. The B1 also has the advantage of using most of Profoto's existing light modifiers, which is sweet if you are already invested in a Profoto system as I was. The system can be cable connected to your camera or with a Pocket Wizard set-up (both the transmitter and the receiver are needed) or as a slave. At two grand a pop, you would expect more - and you get it in the optional Profoto Air TTL control, the main reason for spending mega-bucks on a lithium battery powered strobe. Right now the E-TTL control is available only for Canon, but a Nikon module will be available mid-September.
One enjoys total control of the B1 with the Air TTL module. It sits on a gentle angle in the camera's flash shoe and offers up 8 channels in 3 groups for use with multiple heads, control of the modeling light, front and rear curtain sync and plus or minus 2 stop control in TTL mode or 9 stops in manual. What would I change about it? I would make the mount tilt-able so it could be read from various angles. I am sure that is doable
The B1 is sold both individually and as a two-head kit in a nifty back pack with some extra goodies; the 1-hr charger and a car charging cable. I considered it but I decided to go with the individual heads to have two chargers and two cases instead. The individual pack stores the head and has space for the charger and the TTL module and for my purposes, makes more sense than the backpack.
The first time I turned on the B1 my eyes lit up along with the LCD control display on the back of the head. There are four buttons, ready, test/on-off, model and sync and the variable control knob. The bright LED model light can be used at full brightness or proportional to the light output. The battery is rated 220 pops per charge, use of the modeling light affects that of course, so I turn it off when I can to save juice. I did buy an extra battery and a 1-hr charger to use on location, just in case.
Alright, enough of this tech and feature crap, how well does this fancy-shmancy TTL-E stuff work? I'm glad you asked, it's as simple as using an on-camera speed light. In high contrast situations I use the spot metering of the Canon 5DIII, in average contrast situations I use center-weight or evaluative settings. Camera +/- adjustments for flash exposure are available and I found that particularly useful for higher contrast lighting. Having individual control of power output for each head allows for quick changes in light ratios without leaving camera position.
Shot with Canon EOS 5D III, Zeiss 135MM, 1/80 sec, F11 on TTL ISO 200. 2:1 light ratio.
I have used the flash on manual with my Leica S2 tripping it with a small flash on the Leica using the slave setting. While I didn't have TTL-E use, I could use the control module to manually set power output of each flash without walking over to the heads to adjust and check them, a nice touch.
Do I have any complaints? Well yeah. The manuals are a bit obtuse, not very intuitive and some of the features, like control of the modeling lights on different heads, were harder to figure out without going to other sources such as You Tube videos. There are no illustrations showing how to access the battery compartment on the E-TTL remote for example. One has to rotate the flash shoe mount locking flange to see the tab that removes the door. Yes, it is a minor annoyance, but a pain in the ass if you don't know this ahead of time. Profoto isn't the only culprit in this, Many companies could spend a bit more money for well-written manuals.
I have been a fan of Profoto gear since I replaced my Speedotron systems 8 years ago. This kit fills my style of working almost perfectly. I'm deducting a few points over the manuals, so I give it a
Recommended 96 points