High-speed flash sync (HSS) with the Profoto B1 flash
The already impressive Profoto B1 flash (B&H / Amazon) became even more awesome in Dec 2014 when high-speed flash sync (HSS) capability was added through a firmware update.
The photo above was taken at 1/2000 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO. I wanted that super-shallow depth-of-field, and I wanted the light to be more flattering than you’d get from a bare speedlight. In this case, I used a Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox (affiliate), with the Profoto B1. (I kept both baffles on the softbox.)
The summary: it works! But there are a few minor limitations or quirks though that you have to be aware of. (More about this in the summary at the end of this article.)
For the photo of Melanie at the start of this article, I didn’t want any of the dappled sunlight on her. I just wanted the light from the softbox & Profoto B1 on her. Crouching down low in the middle of the road, my car shaded the sunlight.
I used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG here, since I knew I’d get crisp images, even wide open. Check out the review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens to see just how well it performs.
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used
- 1/2000 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO … with Profoto B1 off-camera flash
- Nikon D810
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG (for Nikon) /equivalent Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG (for Canon)
- Profoto B1 flash (B&H / Amazon)
- Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox
- Manfrotto 1004BAC – tall light-stand
The winter sun coming through the barren trees next to the side of the road, made for a stark backdrop. I wanted that f/1.4 aperture again to isolate her from what could’ve been visual clutter at a smaller aperture. Here I pulled the power down on the Profoto B1 to level 8 so I wouldn’t over-expose. I had to pull the light a bit further back to make sure the flash exposure was good.
- 1/800 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO
- 1/800 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO
The Profoto B1 is now a formidable portable light source for any photographer who shoots on location. There are a few quirks with the Profoto B1 in high-speed flash sync:
- HSS is only available over a 2 stop range. (From power level 8 to 10.)
- there is a slight color shift as the shutter speed is increased.
- there is an initial 2-stop light loss as the flash goes into HSS mode. However, this means only a 1-stop loss in practice. (The reasoning behind this is left as a bit of homework at the end of this article.)
- during repeated tests, I occasionally noticed that the flash exposure was slightly uneven at the long edges of the frame. (This is for the image left-to-right in vertical position / top and bottom edges when in horizontal position.) This has very little effect in practice, especially when shooting on location where you would actually use HSS.
Even with these few limitations and things you’d have to adjust for, the Profoto B1 500Ws AirTTL flash (affiliate) has now been improved to the point where it truly is an exceptional on-location light.
- Tutorial: high-speed flash sync
- Lighting and design: (de)-constructing a photograph (model: Olive)
- Comparing output: Profoto B1 vs. speedlites
- Using the Profoto B1 flash at a wedding
- review: Profoto B1 flash
- On-location headshots and promotional portraits (headshots: Jonathan)
- controlling off-camera flash for impact – gridded stripbox / softbox
- review: Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash – photo shoot
- review: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens
- Model Mayhem portfolio – Melanie S
A little bit of homework
As one would expect from a flash that goes in to high-speed flash sync, there is a linear change in output as the shutter speed is pushed up. For every stop over 1/500th and up, the output drops by a stop. This is discussed thoroughly in the high-speed flash sync tutorial, and in my book, Off-Camera Flash Photography.
With the Profoto B1, there is an approximate 2-stop light loss initially as the flash goes into HSS mode. Just as you go from 1/250th to 1/500. (Or whatever your camera’s max flash sync speed might be.)
However, this actually means only a 1-stop loss in practice. The homework part – figure out why a 2 stop light loss only means 1 stop change when used on location with bright ambient light?
35 Comments, Add Your Own
Going from 1/250th to 1/500th would kill ambient by 1 stop anyway, so you’ll only lose an extra 1 stop over the ambient when the strobe drops by 2 stops. At least, that’s what I think.
1.1Neil vN says
That’s exactly it. Nice logical reasoning there.
Years of Tangents, Neil. Thanks!
2Peter Salo says
If you were shooting in low light or a dark studio you would loose 2 stops from the flash’s output and that’s that. But the bright ambient light in this situation gives you back some light because it’s constant.
Now there really is no logical reason to not want one of these Neil! I guess just the $$. Neil, is this unit easy to use in manual as well as titl? Also, any idea how many speed lights in Hss it would take to equal the B1’s full power output in Hss mode? I think I may have to have one of these soon!
4Neil vN says
Jason … here is an article discussing how a speedlight and a 500 Ws Profoto D1 compares.
Neil, is there a reason you’re using the softbox horizontally instead of vertically? I’d imagine it’s making the light harder from where you’re shooting. Or is that the look you were going for?
6Neil vN says
In the photo at the top, I used it horizontally because I wanted little light on the ground. Also, her pose is definitely horizontal.
For the photos in the forest, the softbox was vertical.
In this article about on-location promotional headshots, I had my assistant rotate the stripbox like that so that we could control the light that fell on his face, compared to the rest of his body.
With this photo shoot with cosplayer, Ger Tysk, I kept the stripbox vertical for the vertical portraits.
It is this combination of versatility and compact size, that makes this my favorite light modifier on location.
7Andrew Van Beek says
Did you have a situation where you had to take a lot of photos in HSS mode in a short time? I would be curious to know how this light handles over-heating. I have used other lights that will over heat after 20 1/1 HSS flashes. This isn’t practical for wedding work so I started using ND filters instead.
8Neil vN says
Andrew … I can’t help you with this one. I haven’t had need to shoot that many photos in quick succession while in HSS. I also haven’t tested it like that yet.
9Rick Bracht says
Been following you for several years but this is the first response to one of your postings. I am not in a position to afford the Profoto products, but I did recently purchase a pair of the Rovelight 600’s. These are fully self-contained 600ws lights with the battery pack in the head and are capable of HSS. This past Monday, I finally had the opportunity for a shoot very similar to this post, morning light, woods, etc. and loved the HSS on these. Had no problems and the batteries held up very well. I am shooting with a Canon 6d and I was able to sync up to 1/4000 sec with all power settings from 1/1 to 1/16. Cost is about a third of the Profoto offering.
How bulky and heavy is that Profoto compared to SB-900/SB-910? Do you have a photo will you could put the two devices next to each other? Based on the first photo in this blog post, it appears that the Profoto isn’t significantly larger than a SB-900/SB-910 (although it might be heavier). I’m curious if I could just drop a speedlight or two from my kit and use one of these in the future. I shoot cosplay photos, so I don’t usually have to move a lot for those shoots.
11Neil vN says
A quick iPhone shot of a speedlite next to the B1.
In terms of bulk, I think you’d have to pack 4-6 speedlights to fill the same volume as a B1. (I’m not sure if that’s a meaningful way to compare.)
The Profoto B1 is heavy. You’d have to feel its weight compared to a speedlite. Or 4 speedlites.
I would really suggest first trying one out if you’re interested.
Thanks for taking the time to take the quick photo and explaining the bulk of the Profoto. This information was very helpful. I will definitely visit a store to see the Profoto in person in the future to decide if I should get it or not.
12Julian Avram says
Neil, I this article you used 4 Canon 580 speedlights for HSS. Just wondering how the B1 compares to the 4 flash setup. https://neilvn.com/tangents/using-multiple-speedlights-with-high-speed-flash-sync/
13Neil vN says
Julian …. if you look at this article – comparing the power of speedlites vs studio lights, you will see the Profoto D1 / B1 delivers about the same output as 6-8 speedlights.
I haven’t directly compared the difference in HSS output of a speedlight vs the Profoto B1 … but I think we can safely assume that the Profoto B1 delivers at least the same as 4 speedlights in HSS mode.
Where the Profoto B1 would have a very obvious advantage over 4+ speedlites, is in the ease and speed of setting it up. Wiring up those 4 speedlights and radio transmitters was a pain. Using the B1 isn’t a pain.
14Patti Hale says
Great article, Neil. A few months ago, I had an opportunity to assist another photographer who also uses the Profoto B1, and yes indeed, it’s an awesome light source! It seems to me that the weight of it can actually be an advantage. It has a nice sturdy feel, and you’re certainly not going to knock it over easily, as is sometimes the case with a speedlight. I’m wishing I had put the B1 on my Christmas list. ;-)
15David Hall says
Neil… I’m a big fan of the B1. I just purchased my second unit this morning. I now have a two light kit of B1’s.. so to speak. My goal is a three light kit. Almost there.
Everyone seems to be concentrating on the light output of these lights and are forgetting the plethora of light modifiers you get be using these of speedlights: the quality of light just doesn’t compare.
I would get them with the domed frosted pyrex and the metal lockable covers from the ProDaylight HMI’s.
17Heina Dannemann says
the Sigma 1,4/50 Art is a great lens. But it just doesn’t work work properly with the 1Dx. I tried several copies and spent hours with the adjustment-software. But only at the shortest distance, which is noch practical for a 50mm lens and portraits you can rely on the af at 1,4. So there is only hope that Canon will come up with a 50mm like the Sigma.
On the other hand with Canon I have 3 stops with the amazing B1 in HSS, which is just fine.
What modifiers would you suggest for wedding photographers using the B1?
Thanks for the continued excellent reviews.
19Neil vN says
In one of the comments above I showed why the 1×3 stripbox is a favorite.
I use it with engagement photo sessions now:
I use the 1×3 stripbox (without a grid) at weddings as well, such as these two examples:
But the simplest is to use a shoot-through umbrella, especially because it gives a really wide spread of light, and isn’t bulky to carry around at all.
There are more examples in this specific article where I used a white shoot-through umbrella with the B1:
using the Profoto B1 at weddings
side note – This girl is so beautifull model ! :-)
22Valent Lau says
Strip box looks so versatile, great control of the light.
I have D810 and maximum flash sync speed (e1 in setting) is 1/250. How could you shoot faster with the B1 if the camera can’t handle it!? I currently have SB-700 but thinking to upgrading to the Profoto.
24Neil vN says
Change Custom Function e1 to Auto FP … and if the flash you are using is High-Speed Flash Sync (HSS) capable, you can just dial your shutter speed higher. You can do it with your SB-700 as well.
I was wondering what kind of wireless gear triggered the Profoto B1 flash.
26Neil vN says
The Profoto flashes use their own proprietary triggers:
What if I want to trigger a Profoto B1 flash and a speedlight at the same time?
27.1Neil vN says
You would have to add a second trigger of some kind to the speedlight, or have it be an optically slaved flash.
28Ralf Hettler says
To use the shortest Flash duration – can I use the YONGNUO YN622C or do I have to buy the one from Profoto ?!
29Neil vN says
With a speedlight, the less power you use (in manual or TTL modes), the shorter the flash duration.
30Dave Thompson says
Thanks for the great writeup Neil, very informative and well written as usual!
I own the Profoto B2 system with 2 heads, 2′ Octa and Air Remote and absolutely love them (except for one tiny annoyance, they won’t throttle back to below 7.0 output in HSS mode, which is troublesome at times).
Here’s my question, I also own 2 Nikon SB-910 speedlights that I’d love to be able to use at the same time as my B2 heads (for back lighting, etc…). I’ve not been able to find a trigger setup that will allow me to trigger the B2’s along with my speedlights all in HSS mode. I have tried sandwiching my Pocket Wizard TT1 in between my D600 and the Air Remote on the hot shoe, hoping that both transmitters would fire and trigger both the B2’s and SB-910 at the same time. But, this doesn’t work, for some reason the Air Remote doesn’t fire the B2’s or it fires them continuously….it seems as if the TT1 isn’t passing through the signal or somehow is interrupting the signal somehow.
Do you have any suggestions for getting B2’s and speedlights to both trigger in HSS mode?
31Neil vN says
Dave … I don’t know of any way to do what you’re trying to do here.
I remember from a conversation with a Pocketwizards tech person, that the TT1 / TT5 changes the timing of the pulses to interject their own signals into the stream – so I am not surprised that the Profoto doesn’t fire properly that way.