review: Profoto B1 off-camera TTL flash – 500 Ws
I’m a bit of a fan of Profoto gear. When I first started looking at the more serious on-location lighting systems, my initial purchase was the Profoto 600R. I was drawn by their reputation for reliability and features such as consistent color balance even when you change power settings. The wide variety of light modifiers, as well as the ease of use and setup also had me favor Profoto, even thought it is the more expensive system on the market. Of course, the sleek elegant look of Profoto gear also counted. As far as lighting gear goes, Profoto even looks sexy.
Profoto just released the Profoto B1 500 AirTTL flash units (vendor). With 500 Ws output, and various features which make them exceptionally suited for on-location work, Profoto really brought something exciting to the market. I believe this is going to kick them onto another level with photo enthusiasts.
Let’s look at some of the spec, and then how the Profoto B1 flashes performed during actual photo sessions.
Profoto B1 specifications
- 500 Ws power. How much light is that, you may well ask. I’ve used the AcuteB 600R for shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun. It is able to dump light equivalent to the sun .. even through a large softbox. The 500 Ws head is just slightly under that. In other words, 500 Ws is a serious amount of juice.
- TTL capability! This is quite unique in lighting gear of this calibre. Would you even want TTL with this kind of lighting? I think so. The way that Profoto has implemented it, might just save you a few steps when shooting under pressure. (More about this further in the review.)
- No cables! Since the B1 has a battery in the head, there are no connecting cables to a power pack. Yet, the battery and the light itself, remain light enough that it doesn’t feel too top-heavy when you use a solid light-stand.
- With the Air Remote TTL controller, you can set the power from your camera’s position. Often though, it’s still simpler to adjust the power on the back of the flash if you’re close-by. But when the light is further away, or up on a boom, then the remote control adjustment of the flash’s output makes life easier. If you already have the Profoto Air controllers, you can still use them with the B1 units, but without TTL functionality.
- Modeling light. This can be switched on and off via the Remote controller as well. The intensity of the modeling light can also be adjusted, or set to be Proportional to the flash’s final output.
- Light-weight. The bag with two of these units, are lighter than the Profoto Batpac alone. So the B1 units truly are portable.
- The battery is rated to give 220 full-powered pops.
- The power can be adjusted over a 9-stop range in 1/10 increments.
- Flash Freeze Mode is available, where the flash duration can be as short as 1/19,000 of a second. (I didn’t test this during any of the photo sessions where I used the B1 units.)
- For a more thorough description of the specs (and the price): Profoto B1 500 AirTTL flash units (vendor)
These units are easy to use, and easy to set up. The controls are mostly self-evident, and a few minutes scanning the instruction manual, will have you up and running. As you can see from the photographs, the B1 flashes are near-identical to the D1 units. The flash-head is flat in the front, which might make the use of gels easier, although the heat might be a problem with a gel.
The battery is truly light-weight and compact. There is also a check button to see how much power you have left.
using the Profoto B1 on photo shoots
When I got my hands on two of the brand-new Profoto B1 units for testing purposes, I was quite excited to try them out on various photo sessions that I was shooting for my next book on portrait photography.
Currently, the Profoto B1 500 AirTTL flash units (vendor) are only available for Canon, so for these photo sessions, I used both the Canon 6D (vendor) or a Canon 5D mark III (vendor) and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (vendor) and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (vendor). For most of these, I used the Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox (vendor) with the Profoto 50 degree 1×3 grid (vendor) to control how the light fell.
So what was the experience of using the Profoto B1 units on photo shoots on location? In short, they deliver! I am very impressed. I want!
For this photo session with Heather Berman, a New York actor and dancer (and previous Rockette), I wanted to use the dramatic sun and sky to off-set Heather’s vivid dress and elegant moves. I needed to match the exposure for bright sky. Unfortunately, I left my neutral density filter at home, so I had to shoot at f/14 … but the lack of control over the depth-of-field doesn’t bother me here with the final images, since it really is about Heather, her dress and the blue sky.
Here I shot in manual mode, at full power.
camera settings: 1/160 @ f/14 @ 100 ISO
The light on Heather was softened (and controlled) with a gridded Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox (vendor)
I’ve previously posted these images of the photo session with Carina and Carolina – controlling off-camera flash for impact – gridded stripbox / softbox. The delightful twins were energetic and fun to shoot, but on this cold day, it was imperative to set up fast and shoot fast. I used a bare B1 unit behind them for rim light.
For this next setup, I also wanted that rim-light behind them, therefore I placed the one B1 flash on the ground, propped up by a lens case to angle the flash upwards.
Ger is a cosplay artist who creates fantastic outfits, and has published a book on Cosplay. With a gridded Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox (vendor) behind her as a rim-light, and a large Profoto RFi 3’x4′ softbox (vendor) to give very soft light on her. To minimize the amount of light falling on the wall, I feathered the main light away from the wall. I used the units in manual mode here. Initial exposure was via TTL mode, and when I checked and saw the test exposure looked good, I flipped to Manual exposure mode via the Air Remote TTL controller, it retained the TTL exposure … but as a fixed manual setting now. And that’s the beauty of using the Profoto B1 … you can lock the TTL exposure by setting it to Manual.
I met up with my friend Mike Allebach at an intriguing venue in Philly, Tattooed Mom’s. Ideal for a more gritty look. Shooting inside, I didn’t need that full blast matching-the-sun kind of power, but a more delicate touch of light. Camera settings of 1/50 @ f/4 @ 400 ISO retained enough of the ambience of the place, but allowing me to spot-light Mike with the gridded stripbox. Exposure was in TTL mode on the Profoto B1. This is where I became impressed with how accurate the TTL mode of these units were, since the darker tones didn’t affect the exposure as I had expected. Somehow it just worked. This is the straight-out-of-the-camera JPG.
Here I started off shooting in TTL mode, but with ever-changing compositions, shooting wide and tight, the TTL exposure did vary. So with one of the exposures which looked correct on the back of my camera, I then simply set the Air Remote TTL controller to manual mode, and that locked the desired exposure.
As mentioned in the article on controlling off-camera flash with a gridded stripbox, I really like the smaller Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox (vendor) along with the Profoto 50 degree 1×3 grid (vendor) to control the light, and thereby accentuating my subject and the mood.
I had very limited time with my friend David M, and when he showed me this artwork on a garage door, I quickly set up the two lights. The lights were set to TTL … and somehow the exposure was spot on, despite the predominantly dark tones. I angled the second Profoto B1 flash upwards by propping it up in the carry bag. That’s part of the beauty of the B1 units. No cables means it is portable and easy to maneuver like that.
The incredible Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens was the backdrop for photographer Jaleel King and his wheels. The gridded stripbox and a 10 degree grid on a reflector made up the lighting here, helping to give a gentle spot-lit effect.
Mike Larose, is a New York actor & musician friend of mine. You might have seen him on the Tangents blog already in a completely different guise. This time, photographing headshots and promotional photos for Mike, we worked outside along a pathway in a wooded area.
The gridded stripbox on him lights him selectively, and a 10 degree grid on a reflector from behind gave the rim-light. This was the one occasion I shot with the Nikon D4 and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II and triggered the Profoto B1 units with PocketWizard Plus II sets. (I had run down the battery of my Canon 6D, so reverted to my main system for the rest of the shoot.)
Ken Raftree is a musician and singer, and we worked on a variety of promotional photos for him. With this sequence I wanted that spotlight effect. A single Profoto B1 unit and a Profoto 7″ Reflector with a Profoto 10-degree Honeycomb Grid, gave that harder spotlight look, with the dramatic fall-off.
The pull-back shot shows again the sheer simplicity of the setup with the Profoto B1 – no cables. Just the unit on a light-stand.
One field that I think this unit will be very appealing is wedding photography. The ease of use, and quick setup and easy control, along with the amount of light this can push out, would make photographing groups and families so much easier.
Getting an initial exposure via TTL, and then locking it with Manual mode, makes exposure metering easier (if you’re okay trusting the back of your camera’s preview.)
Finally, it says something when a review sample of a piece of photo gear leaves you with that strong desire – I.have.to.have.this
- using the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding
- comparing flash power: Profoto B1 / D1 vs. speedlites / speedlights
- progression of an idea in a photo session – cosplayer (Ger Tysk)
- high-speed flash sync (HSS) with the Profoto B1 portable flash (model: Melanie)
purchase Profoto B1 and accessories
- Profoto B1 500 AirTTL flash units
- Profoto Air Remote TTL-C for Canon)
- Profoto Air Remote TTL-C (for Nikon)
- Profoto Lithium-ion Battery for B1 500 AirTTL flash
- Profoto Battery Charger 2.8A for B1 500 AirTTL
- Profoto Fast Battery Charger 4.5A for B1 500 AirTTL
- Profoto XS Bag for B1 500 AirTTL flash
- Profoto Backpack M for D1 Air or B1 AirTTL