Profoto B1 Review – Is it worth your money?

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The Profoto B1 500Ws battery powered light with TTL capability is possibility one of the best strobes out there. Despite of its high price tag, plenty of photographers are still jumping on board and there is only one reason for it; it is that good. At $2000 USD a piece, it is not going to be affordable for everyone. There are a couple of alternatives that are more affordable but they are not in the same league as the Profoto B1. Flashpoint Rovelight is a popular battery powered monolight  but it does not offer TTL capability. Phottix Indra 500 TTL on the other hand is TTL capable but it operates with a battery pack, so it is only “semi cordless”. Both options are popular amongst many photographers. For those who can afford the Profoto B1, it is the best there is.

Build and Design

If you are familiar with Profoto, you will find the Profoto B1 and Profoto D1 look fairly similar. The Profoto B1 offers fewer buttons and a larger LCD display for easy operation. They both have an elongated body with the flash tube behind a protection glass and the digital controls at the back. This really shows Profoto design doesn’t obsolete, even the Profoto D1 which was introduced back in 2009 still share the same elegant design as the Profoto B1 five years later. Unlike the D1. the modelling light on the Profoto B1 uses a 20W LED which has an output equivalent to 70W halogen. The use of LED for modelling light is common these days as it saves a lot of battery power. It can be adjusted proportionally or to any level (5-100%). At the back the power level is adjustable in 1/10 increments over a 9 f-stop power range (2-500Ws). This is a huge range compare to 7 stops from most strobes. At the lowest power level, the output is equivalent to about 1/32 power from a speedlight. The means you can use the Profoto B1 indoor to balance with the indoor ambient or outdoor at full power 500Ws to overpower the sun.

The build quality on the Profoto B1 is top notch, it has a much better build than Elinchrom which I have had it cracked and broken under normal use. Despite having a superior build quality the Profoto B1 weights only 3kg including the battery and the size is not much larger than any AC powered strobes.


General Specifications

  • Max energy:500Ws
  • Energy range:9 f-stops (2-500Ws)
  • Energy control increments:1/10 or full f-stops
  • Recycling time:0.1-1.9 (Quick burst up to 20 flashes/second)
  • Max modeling light (W):20W LED (Output equivalent to 70W Halogen)
  • Modeling light control:Off, Proportional, Free (5-100%)
  • Mode control:Freeze (shortest flash duration) or Normal (color balance) mode
  • Flash duration Normal mode (t0.5):1/11,000s (2Ws) – 1/1,000s (500Ws)
  • Flash duration Freeze mode (t0.5):1/19,000s (2Ws) – 1/1,000s (500Ws)
  • Energy stability Normal mode:+-1/20 f-stop flash to flash
  • Energy stability Freeze mode:+-1/20 f-stop flash to flash
  • Color stability Normal mode:+-150K over range; +-20K flash to flash
  • Color stability Freeze mode:+-800K over range; +-50K flash to flash
  • Energy control increments:1/10 or full f-stops
  • Guide number @ 2m / 100 ISO with Magnum Reflector:45 2/10
  • Input power supply:Exchangeble Lithium-Ion Battery 14.4V/3Ah
  • Battery capacity:Up to 220 full power flashes

Syncronization and Control

  • Sync socket(s):1
  • Wire sync voltage:Compliant to ISO 10330 standard
  • Wire sync connector:3.5mm Mini-Phono
  • Photocell/IR-slave and switch:Yes
  • Radio sync & control:Yes, Built in AirTTL supporting wireless sync control, TTL and HSS. (Requires Air Remote TTL. Sold separately.)
  • Radio sync range:Up to 300m (1000ft)
  • MAC / PC control:Yes, via optional Profoto Air USB transceiver and Profoto Studio software.

Miscellaneous

  • Function display:Multifunction LCD display
  • Fan cooling:Yes, thermally controlled fan speed for low noice level.
  • Ready signaling:Yes, ready lamp, dim and/or switchable beep sound.
  • Auto dumping:Yes
  • USB interface:Yes, USB Mini port for FW upgrading
  • Quick burst:Quick burst capability of up to 20 flashes per second.

Measurements

  • Diameter:14cm (5.5″)
  • Length:31cm (12.2″)
  • Height:21cm (8.3″)
  • Weight:3kg (Including batteries) 6.6 LBS 3kg (Including batteries)

Battery

On the side of the B1, there is a battery compartment and a USB connectivity for firmware upgrade. The amount of pins in the compartment shows the extensive functionalities that the B1 has. The Profoto B1 battery is rated for 220 full power flashes at 14.4V/ 3000mAh.  The ability to power a 500Ws strobe without any cable is amazing. Each battery has its own battery gauge to show the battery level, so you can check the battery level without putting it into the B1, a fine touch from Profoto. Speaking of fine touch, Profoto B1 comes with a 2.8A charger that charges up the battery in just two hours and if this is not fast enough, there is a fast 4.5A charger that can charge up the battery in just one hour. I have never seen a battery in this capacity charges up so quickly, normally the charging time is at least 3 hours for other similar battery pack.

Profoto Mount

When you are investing in the Profoto B1, you are not only investing in the strobe but also in the Profoto mount, modifiers, charger, trigger system as a whole. I have found Profoto’s mount to be the best. The speed ring simply slides in and clips onto the strobe head. You can adjust the mount position of  the modifier, thereby focuses or defocuses the light. For example, you can change the beam angle of a hard reflector by adjusting the mount position of the reflector.  A handy scale on the side of the B1 (as shown above) helps you to mark the position.

Profoto is legendary in light shaping modifiers, it offers an extensive range of collection. Apart from the standard RFi modifiers, the OCF modifiers are tailor made for easy to setup which are perfect to use with the Profoto B1. A good thing about Profoto modifiers is that they work with any strobe heads, so you can share them with other system.

Air TTL Remote Trigger

Another distinct feature on the B1 is its TTL capability. Unlike Nikon or Canon flashes which are designed to operate for one system only, the Profoto B1 works for both Nikon or Canon cameras, but it does require to pair up with the right Profoto Air TTL remote, Profoto Air Remote TTL-C for Canon or Profoto Air Remote TTL-N for Nikon. While the Air Remote TTL remote is sold separately and fairly expensive, potentially there are some savings if you want to use the same B1 with another system too. All you need is another Air Remote TTL trigger that is compatible with other camera system.

You can expect nothing less from Profoto, the Air Remote TTL is possibility one of the most beautiful remote triggers on the market. It is elegantly build and the LCD display is white on black which gives it a very cool look.The Profoto Air Remote TTL can control up to three groups and eight channels. It has a range up to 300m, that’s 60m more than the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5. TTL and HSS functions can only be enabled from the remote, so you will need one to work with the B1.

In Use

Let’s start off with how easy it is to setup the Profoto B1, don’t underestimate the convenience of having no cables. Moving the light around is so much easier, there are no cables to tangle or laying on the floor. Using the Profoto B1 with OCF modifiers is even faster, it took me less than 5 mins to set up everything. TTL on Profoto B1 may seem to be more useful for outdoor environment, but it can be used in a studio in Hybrid Mode. It lets me to first shoot with TTL to get a perfect exposure (or close to), and then switch to manual mode which the Profoto B1 will remember the last TTL power setting and from that I can fine tune the power in manual mode if needed. It is a huge time saver by giving me that initial power setting.

Changing from Elinchrom to Profoto B1 has definitely speeded up my workflow from the point I setup the light to moving the light and controlling the power of the light. Changing the power of the B1 can be done from the Air Remote TTL, I can check the power setting from the LCD, something I can’t do with Elinchrom and Broncolor. There is a minor limitation with the Air Remote TTL though, you can’t  mix the groups with TTL and M, it is either all M or all TTL. This is a bit of a disadvantage especially when working with multiple lighting setup. I prefer to have the rim light set to manual, this means I can’t use TTL on the main light. There is also a slight delay between each press of the +/- buttons when adjusting the power, so it feels a bit of a lag.

The set of photos in this post was lit by Profoto B1 and OCF Octa in TTL mode. It was a surprise to see Profoto TTL exposed the photos perfectly given the tonality of the images is on the darker side (darker than 18% grey). I shot in the studio for half a day and I swapped battery once for each strobe. Most of the time I was shooting at about 1/16 – 1/4 power. If you are shooting for a whole day, you will need to have some spare B1 batteries.

So is the Profoto B1 worth the $2,000 price tag?

Yes definitely, but only if you know your light. It could cost you a fortunate if you got the wrong light or modifier. When you are investing $2000 in a Profoto strobe, you are also investing in the whole system. Profoto’s extensive range of modifiers are amongst the best from deep umbrellas, deep hard reflectors, OCF quick setup softboxes to special application lighting tools.  Their rental network spread across the world, if you are travelling for a photo assignment, you can simply pick up a modifier at the destination. The attention to details, build quality, compatibility and all the nice little touches by Profoto are nothing short of amazing.  No one will argue the Protofo B1 is the best battery power TTL strobe on the market despite of its price tag. It is supported by an extensive range of Profoto modifiers. Its trigger system is the simplest and easiest to use. Its TTL works with both Nikon and Canon (all you need is a different TTL trigger). Its mount is one of the simplest and most reliable, you can adjust the mount position to focus or defocus the light changing the characteristics of a modifier.  Profoto design hardly obsolete, just look at the Profoto D1 monolight, after 5 years since it was introduced, it still shares a similar design with the Profoto B1. Last but not least, when have you seen a 14.4V, 4.5A one hour battery charger?

If you are adding  Profoto B1 to your lighting setup, check out the Location Profoto B1 kit, it comes with two B1, two batteries, one 4.5A fast charger, car charger and a nice Profoto backpack. It costs less than twice the price of a single B1, so you are basically getting the fast charger, car charger and backpack for free.

Order your Profoto B1 here

Profoto B1 500 AirTTL Battery-Powered Flash

Profoto B1 500 Air Battery-Powered 2-Light Location Kit

Profoto Lithium-ion Battery for B1 500 AirTTL

Profoto Air Remote TTL-C for Canon

Profoto Air Remote TTL-N for Nikon

Pros

  • Beautiful build quality and design, a design that will last for years
  • Battery powered cordless operation
  • Profoto TTL and HSS
  • up to 220 full power flashes per charge
  • Interchangeable battery
  • Super fast 1 hr charging with 4.5A charger
  • 9 Stops of adjustable power in 1/10 step (2-500Ws)
  • Sophisticated Air remote with LCD and up to 300m wireless range
  • Freeze mode offers up to 1/19000s flash duration
  • Compatible with both Nikon or Canon system (requires dedicated remote only)
  • Size and weight is as compact as other strobes
  • Profoto rental network available around the world

Cons

  • Delays with Air Remote
  • Air Remote is not included.
  • Can’t mix TTL and M mode in the groups
  • Price

 

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About Kent Yu

Kent is a professional wedding and portrait photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He and his team specialise in modern and contemporary weddings. Kent has his work published in international magazines and is a regular author to a number of photographic publication. He is fascinated by photographic equipment and enjoys showcasing the gear used in creating his images. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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