I’ve used Elinchrom Quadra packs right from when they first launched several years ago. For the kind of photography I do, they were revolutionary. I rarely get to use an assistant day to day, get little notice of a shoot and often only get 10 minutes to set up before a maximum of 5 minutes shooting with talent. So the portability, 400ws, no need for mains power, large range of modifiers and reasonable price made these little packs an amazing step up from speed lights.
But they were never perfect, too many times the cables or sockets have failed on me. What was probably intended for clean, boardroom environments didn’t stand up too well in the day to day heavy use. I could only ever use the sky port controllers reliably when it was connected to the cameras sync socket. For me, the real killer issue was the recycle rate. Too many times they left me stuck on a job where I had to be quick, but shooting at anywhere near full power was leading to awkward 5 second pauses between each picture. 400ws is generally plenty for me, I’m often only shooting at the lowest powers on the packs, but speed is the really important factor.
So to the Profoto B1. I picked up two last week along with the TTL- Controller before heading out on a couple of shoots, but unfortunately one had a broken flash tube on arrival. Hopefully they turn out to be as durable in the long term as they appear when first handling them, rather than this out of the box failure being indicative of anything more than a one off and bad courier handling. So left with one usable head, I mixed it with my Elinchrom Ranger and Quadra packs and gave it as much of a test as I could on a couple of corporate jobs – A quick set of business portraits, and the latest in my series of large shoots for Rentokil Initial’s Experts in the Essentials Campaign . I’ve now been shooting this for nearly three years, and have progressed from using a single quadra pack with two lights into scenes using up to 5 or 6 heads and three packs. This blog post may be a little light on pictures, the 2 shoots apart from the pic above are under embargo, but they were used with the same modifiers as I always use – so I couldn’t tell any difference in the type of light they produced. If I update my modifiers to Profoto, then I’m sure I’ll post any findings then.
SIZE – this thing is compact, all in all it takes up about the same size in a ThinkTank airport as a Quadra pack and head, but it means your only going to fit two of them in there, rather than the two packs and 4 heads I could get in with the Quadra’s.
On the job, having all of this in one unit means no more wires and packs trailing from stands, no more dragging multiple bits round every time you need to move a light. Is there a downside to having it all up there on a light stand? Yes, your not going to get away with a nano stand, your going to have to carry bigger supports, but unless your shooting indoors with large modifiers I can’t see this being a big difference from what your probably using now.
The build quality feels great, the LCD is clear and easy to read and the dial on the back makes turning the power up and down very quick. The only thing I need to research is whether Profoto soft boxes have any way of taking the small diffusers inside that Elinchrom ones do, they’re something I rely on quite heavily to take away the hotspot of a soft box.
SPEED – it is absolutely incredible how fast Profoto have got this light to be. Full power recycle only 2 seconds, at lower powers it easily keeps up with a 5d mk3′s continuous high shooting. Side by side with the other two kinds of light, it was a mile ahead on the recycle each time, even when providing the main light power.
BATTERY – A full days shooting, with over 1100 frames at differing power levels and the battery was only down to half power.
TTL Remote – I personally don’t think I’ll find much use for the TTL function, I gave it a try on my first shoot and it worked absolutely fine, but I’m so used to shooting with everything manual that I would struggle to go back to trusting the kit to work out what I wanted from it. The odd time I can see myself using this is on some kind of fixed spot news job, as an alternative to a speed light where the extra power would give me a clear advantage over someone using speed lights, quantum packs and pocket wizards. I would never dream of taking a quadra on a job like this, but the B1 could definitely come in handy sometimes.
For wedding shooters – the B1 should be an absolute dream for its portability and speed!
As a manual trigger, it works great. With a good screw action lock on the base, there’s no chance of knocking it off the hotshoe, you can see how much you are dialling the B1′s up or down, and modelling lights can be controlled too. The only thing I wish for was that it was a two way system – so that the current power of each head could be read on the controller.
CONCLUSION – While I am going to miss being able to pack 4 heads and 2 packs into a roller case for a shoot, I expect the Profoto B1′s qualities means I’ll be happy to make do with less heads, and instead use the power and speed of it to light scenes in a “bigger” way, rather than having to use lots of little lights to highlight pieces of a scene bit by bit. I suspect I’ll be picking up some of the nifty looking Profoto modifiers soon….A Fresnel Light, giant umbrellas, gridded striplights, and in the future, maybe one of their battery generators to replace my current “entire scene lighter”, the Ranger Free Lite. Having a generator to complement a pair of B1′s will probably provide the perfectly balanced kit for the shoots where I need lots of lights, or a smaller head perched on top of the stands.