A few weeks ago lighting specialists Profoto put out a teaser on their website that something big was coming, something new. Could it be…..? Was a major flash manufacturer finally going to deliver what I’ve been waiting for…….? In a word; no.
Profoto announced the B1 Air 500. Essentially a D1 with a li-ion battery in it and TTL capabilities. It certainly seems to have caught people’s attention judging by all the e-mails I’ve gotten about it.
First I have to talk about the TTL which they proudly put at centre stage. What photographer who spends $2000 on a flash head, is going to use TTL? Really? I think this is a pointless feature and I wish that companies like Profoto would listen to what we actually want, and not what they think will sound the best in the marketing blurb. *sigh*
The second thing I want to address about the B1 is that Profoto is touting it as a fast flash head when in fact it is not. They are quoting t0.5 times which grossly misrepresent the actual useful flash duration by probably three times. Their super-fast 19,000/s duration is also only at 2Ws which is a fairly uselessly small amount of power. Next, we’ll be seeing manufacturers claiming 1/100,000 second flash duration at 0.13Ws
The number we actually want to know is full power flash duration which is listed as a very moderate 1/1000 at t0.5. From this, we can estimate that the actual flash duration or close to it using t0.1 would be about somewhere in the region of 1/200 or 1/300 of a second. Hardly anything to write home about right? Yet all Profoto’s marketing blurb proudly tells us how fast the head is.
Now don’t get me wrong…I actually really want to try these things out. I love the idea of being completely cordless with the battery built into the head. What ticks me off is all the fluff and bull that they are spreading. If they really wanted to impress then they would not have shot their BMX photo promo at night and indoors. Those kinds of scenarios don’t test flash heads at all. Anyone could have shot those images with regular speedlights.
The Hypersync Question
Flash manufacturers I’m talking to you now so listen up. Here’s the deal; most sports photographers are using Pocketwizard’s Hypersync function with their strobed sports photos. “How well does it work with Hypersync?” is the number one question I get. People I know are downgrading their Elinchrom flash heads to the SLOWER ’s’ heads from the fast ‘a’ heads because the slower ones work better with Hypersync. So continually trying to create new strobes that have a fast flash duration is missing the trick! We want a flash that is DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY to work with Hypersync.
For those that don’t know, Hypersync is a function that allows you to shoot at a higher sync speed than your camera would normally allow. What this means is that the extra stop or two you gain in shutter speed allows you to more easily overpower the ambient light and to use less powerful, less bulky strobes. For example, I rarely use my 1200Ws Elinchrom Ranger now because I use a 640Ws Einstein instead. It’s half the power (1-stop) but I can shoot with a shutter speed of at least 1-stop faster because it Hypersyncs better than my Ranger. My net result is a win for the Einstein for the same exposure.
With my Einstein, I can sync at 1/1000 of a second with a full-frame, slow, camera like the 5D Mk3.
Hypersync works very simply, it’s not magic. It’s simply a pre-calibrated delay that ensures that the flash pulse fires during the moment when the camera shutter is open. How well it works for a particular strobe depends on the shape of the flash’s output curve. A flash has a small ramp-up time to get to full output and then a tail off after that. Every flash is different but these characteristics can be controlled. It should be possible to create a flash that has an output curve DESIGNED to be the perfect partner to Hypersync. Even if it meant the flash companies creating their own version of Hypersync…. it’s just a simple delay after all.
For action and sports photographers, this is what we want. We don’t give a crap what your crazy flash duration is when the head is turned down to the power of a baby glow worm. We want full power performance with faster sync speeds. The first one to figure that out will get all my money!
The silver lining
So there is a silver lining to the seemingly slow speed of the Profoto B1 head. It’s so slow that it should actually be quite good with Hypersync. Whilst it wasn’t specifically designed for it, I’ve looked at the power curve and I think it will work pretty well. I wish it was a little more powerful, but it seems like it might be able to achieve similar exposures to my Einstein, albeit in a package that’s 3X the price. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to give them a try if the nice people at Profoto don’t take this article too personally! The number of e-mails I’ve gotten this week certainly tells me that readers are interested in my thoughts.
Due to the great price point and the ability to work well at Hypersync, the number of Einsteins that people have bought after talking to me about them is quite staggering. It’ll be interesting to see if the B1 will steal some customers or whether the price point will put people off.
Dan, I know you’ve used the Einstein, iirc. (re: What photographer who spends $2000 on a flash head, is going to use TTL? Really? I think this is a pointless feature”) Having wireless control of multiple heads and groups, like the Commander for Einstein does, seems to be better to me. I agree, don’t need TTL, just a way to ratio/control power settings remotely once the heads are set. Heck many photogs shooting w/speedlights are using them on manual, not TTL! Plus as a Nikon user, that Profoto went Canon-only on this new head’s remote TTL unit sucks (maybe Nikon is coming, but what about other brands? The Einstein unit is brand agnostic). Yes, internal batteries are nice, but I can live with the Buff powerpack. So I agree with you … for $2k for this thing, I’ll get another 2 Einsteins and pocket the difference. My. $.02
My thoughts exactly on the announcement – TTL, gee that’s great for a single fill flash, but not much else. I agree on the Hypersync and use Einsteins as well. Since Canon/Nikon aren’t likely to release leaf shutters or anything else, this is the only solution to get beyond 1/200 or 1/250s. Maybe Paul C Buff is listening…he/they have been pretty quiet over the last year or so…making me wonder what’s next from them.
I completely agree Dan! And hopefully you will get your hands on some of
these soon for an in depth review. I recently purchased some Einsteins
myself and love them so far. What are you using to get 1/1000 sync
speed? PW TT5?
On the money Dan. I shoot a lot of action photography for clients and the best flashes I’ve found are the Tritonflash from Photoflex. With PW TT5 I can shoot 5 pictures/second at shutter speed of 1/2000 at half power(150W). Nothing I know of on the market matches that. Add its small design and amazing battery on top.
TTL?! Really? TTL is like shooting in A-mode. It will give you a descent picture, but that’s it. Strobes are meant to assist in manipulating light . Not to give you a freakin average based on your settings.
One thing that you forgotten to mention is that you need to buy their remote(expensive) as well. An enclosed system means you need to work with only Profoto flashes in order to fully use its capacity. There are many of us that uses 1-2 strobes and then add speedlights for, lets say, hair light or highlight a specific part of the image. Perhaps one can use a TT5 at the same time, but the control of the speedlight via AC3 is not possible. Which means that you are once again forced to walk back and forth and adjust anyway.
Closed system makes no sense to me, its so 90’s. Missing out on hypersync on a new release is….well its going to get back on them as the competitors starts to launch their answers to B1.
However, I would love to have a flash with integrated battery(no more annoying cables on location) and the ability to remotely set my flashes. Often when shooting action, especially in winter, its nerv wrecking to manually adjust each flash as you stand in knee deep snow. Mixing my lighting set up between flashes and speedlights is an absolut must. Hypersync at 1/2000 should be a future standard, at a least half power.
If anything, I see the Profoto B1 as the first step towards a flash that covers modern demands. I have a feeling that 2014 will reveal several similar flashes from other brands.
a use of TTL strobes.
consider a wedding photographer at an evening event.
position a flash in two corners of the room to bounce from the roof.
set a manual exposure on the camera and leave the flashes (in my case Canon 600EX-RT’s controlled by a Canon ST-E3-RT) on auto.
Then, as one moves around the room the TTL metering of the flashes takes care of the flash exposure without needing to worry whether one is too close (or too far) from a particular flash.
it works well.
Crybaby. It’s called a firmware upgrade… and it’s coming out this year.
You can’t fix flash duration with a firmware update. You’ve missed the point.
I have say that I agree and disagree. The speed/power matrix is a disappointment and the price tag is simply ridiculous. I disagree about the uselessness of TTL, however, and I think this makes the B1 worth strong consideration even in the face of the aforesaid downsides. Whenever you have moving subjects and conditions, such as, outdoor events, TTL is extremely helpful. Pocket Wizards are a pain to use and maintain and do not work well with TTL reliably. If Profoto can overcome the HHS hurdle and improve the power/speed matrix, they might just pry my wallet open. I use Einsteins now and would stick with them (and lug the battery around) if they can offer TTL.
Check out the Phottix Indra 360/500 TTL units. Very well made and a fraction of the price.
“What photographer who spends $2000 on a flash head, is going to use TTL? Really?”
Something that may have not been known at the time this post was written is that the B1s let you leverage your camera’s TTL ability, flip the B1s to Manual, and the B1s *remember* the TTL settings. It’s the fastest way I know to rapidly rough in strobe settings and then easily tweak them to perfection, all from the camera. I wish Speedlite manufacturers offered this. It would make their lights much more useful.
While I can’t speak for sports photographers, this TTL function is unexpectedly useful for run-n-gun wedding photographers. We’re always running from dark reception room to bright outdoors etc. We don’t have time to use a handheld meter.
Finslly someone in here that actually got the point.
And on the ”who would spend $2000” wuestion, the snswer is simple, hundreds of thousand of photographers that get that the A1 is not just another speedlight.
Firstly, this is a post from 2013 about the B1. 5 years before the A1 came out.
Secondly, if Profoto has sold “hundred of thousands” of A1s I’ll eat my hat. Yes, I know you have a connection to Profoto, so perhaps you can get the actual number 🙂
Thirdly… the post actually didn’t even ask “who would spend $2000 on a flash”. It asked “What photographer who spends $2000 on a flash head, is going to use TTL?” This is a VERY different question. I myself have spent well over this $ amount on flashes, so I know that people will.
Fourthly… when the A1 came out, I actually wrote very nice things about it! 😉
Thank you for the article, I am in the same boat. I downgraded one of my action heads to the standard head. I am getting into mountain sport photography and would love not to carry my 17lb generator plus light up a mountain. Have you had a chance yet to confirm that the profoto b1 head is able to hypersync, if so how fast? I currently am able to hypesync my elinchrom up to 1/6000 sec.
Those who do want TTL in a monolight should look at the Phottix Indras.
I actually have an Indra here for testing. Very impressed so far. The transmitter could do with an update but the head seems solid.
These are my exact sentiments so far. The Odin controller leaves a lot to be desired, but I think it is being replaced soon by a more modern unit that also has an AF assist beam.
I got the Odin II transmitter and receiver when they came out and I’ve been very happy with them. I don’t have an Indra but I use the Odin with 3 Mitros+ speedlights which is pretty much the same thing as the Indra technologically but at a fraction of the light power. It’s a good user experience. Grouping is handled on each light (assign from A to D), and controlling each group is done on the transmitter. I find TTL to be helpful at certain times, but inconsistent other times. It definitely has it’s place. Personally I like using this type of more advanced digital light system over my old manual head and pack because I can do things like HSS which are only coming to studio lights as derived from speedlights. I do hope global digital shutters change up the game overall though.
Thanks for taking the time to add all that detail!
A little late to the game, but all forms of HSS/FP/HyperSync are all incredibly inefficient. Rather than going after the flash manufacturers, we need to go to the camera manufacturers (particularly Sony, as they make the sensors for many), and demand global shutters.
In the HSS and similar, a lot of power is used so that all parts of the frame each get a little light. With a global shutter, everyone gets light simultaneously, so only a little light is required. This means faster flash duration can be used, as well as longer battery life, and faster recycle times. Also, no special timing is required.
Excellent points! I would happily pay for a global version of a camera
Have you had a Chance to test the b1 by now ?
I have not I’m afraid. I’ve been using the excellent Phottix Indra
its been a while but there is a Profoto announcement below mentioning a firmware update about High-Speed Sync (HSS). Is that the Hypersync lacking in b1s?
HSS and Hypersync are different things.
There are many valid reasons to use TTL. You’re an idiot.
You’re obviously entitled to your own opinion, Noah. But simply calling me an idiot makes you look like a grade-A ass. This is my blog and it’s a reflection of my opinion. You’re welcome to disagree with it, but next time why don’t you contribute to the conversation in a constructive manner? Perhaps tell me how you use TTL and find it useful, like the previous commenter “Stephen” did. Then maybe people will take your comments seriously.
Hey Dan, good points here. I know the article is a bit old, but… considering that the Broncolor Siros L is coming out, and you’ve been testing the Phottix Indra, what is your take on a good system to build up into?
I’m liking the Einsteins.. I’ve shot on them a few times, and the pricing is unbeatable. However, I can also go for a single Siros light/Profoto B1 with a Westcott Zeppelin or something similar. The main reason being that the Profoto/Broncolor mounts are more expandable and secure.
I am looking to use this with a large Mola beauty dish and/or a giant softbox inside the studio. I’d love your feedback. Thanks.
Yeah it’s a bit old, but still a good conversation. Since I wrote this post, Elinchrom basically did exactly what I was asking for and I immediately bought into their system with the ELB400 and the HS heads and HS trigger. They designed a head and trigger to optimize this whole situation, and it works great. That said, the Indra is also a killer setup. My main negative on the Indra is that it’s not a great location light due to the weight of the head. The Indra is SO well built, it’s like a tank, but that makes it top heavy on a lightstand outside, much like the B1 and the new Siros will be. Great for studio, though. Einstein is great value, but the build of the Indra is, for the price, unbeatable. I’m super happy with my ELB400, but since you say studio, the Indra is well worth a look for you.
I recently obtained the Sigma 300-800 + a Nikon D500 ( upgrades from 50-500 on D300 ). Obviously this new setup will be tripod only. Subjects are birds, from finches to Eagles and distances from 100′ to > 1000′ . I would like not to use an SB-5000 + an extender. I want to use ISO 100 at at least 1/1250s. At most f5.6. So, is there a light you would recommend? I had thought a prophoto solution but I guess not? Or point is for when not a sunny day, or flash filling a flying hawk or gull or larger bird. Handheld would be Nikon 200-5000mm on the D500.
Honestly I think what you’re asking for is not possible with any existing technology. 1000ft is an incredibly long range for a flash! And to do it with such a fast shutter speed… not possible.
Also how would you target a flash like that? You need it to be mounted to the camera so that it pans with you as you move the lens.
Also, why ISO 100? Your camera is capable of great images at ISO1000!
I can tell you right now that there is no wildlife photographer in the world using those kind of settings with that kind of flash requirement. You would need a barrage of studio flashes and the recycling time would be in the seconds, so you would get one single shot.
I think you need to adjust your expectations I’m afraid 😉
Maybe an Elinchrom ELB 1200 with the head mounted on a flash bracket and the battery on the ground? Then add a sports reflector…. Never heard of anyone doing this though.