Every now and then a product comes along that raises some interesting questions, and the new Profoto A1 is just such a thing. Profoto are known for their high-end studio strobes and pricey portable lighting solutions like the B1X TTL monolight, but the A1 is their first foray into the world of hot shoe speedlights.
At $999, this is a considerable price for a small flash and I’ve seen a lot of people laughing at that price. I must admit that I had a little sticker shock when I saw it too at first, but then a did a little digging and considered all the specifications. Firstly I was pleased to see that the A1 actually comes with the Dome Diffuser, the Wide Lens, the A1 Carry Bag, the Bounce Card and the A1 Charger. I’d seen all of these items listed separately on B&H Photo and initially thought that you would have to purchase them this way. That took a little off the sticker shock, for the $999 price tag, you’re pretty much good to go right out of the box for on-camera usage.
So why would you ever want to consider the A1 instead of sticking with something like a Canon 600EX II RT, Nikon SB-5000 or cheaper 3rth party option from someone like Godox?
I watched all the videos that Profoto put out for the A1 and a lot of them talk about light quality. Personally I think that’s a really tough selling point for a flash because if you’re serious about your portrait work then you’ll probably be putting a modifier on it anyway. I have a hard time believing that the Profoto dome diffuser is going to be all that much better than the MagMod MagSphere which will work on any other flash. I certainly wouldn’t be sold on the A1 based simply on “light quality” and a bunch of superlatives thrown around by Profoto sponsored photographers in their own promo video. Honestly Profoto, it was really a bit much… *eye roll*.
At 76Ws, the Profoto A1 isn’t all that powerful either. It’s hard to compare directly to people like Canon and Nikon because they don’t publish speedlight powers in that way, but it’s generally thought that they all tend to fall roughly into the 65-85Ws range. In other words, the A1 isn’t any more powerful that a regular speedlight.
Ok, so what is really making this thing so special then?
The answer lies in the battery technology. For me there’s only two plausible reasons why I can think that someone might want to use a Profoto A1. The first is that they already have other Profoto gear, including an Air TTL controller which would otherwise set you back another $400+. If you had a pair of B1X flashes already, I can see why you might want a small light to hide in a corner somewhere as part of that system.
The second reason you might want the A1 is the impressive Li-Ion battery technology!
The removable battery on the A1 is capable of 350 full power flashes, and recycles from full power in just 1.2 seconds. THAT is impressive. To put things into context, a Canon 600EX II RT takes 3.5 seconds to recycle from full power with Ni-MH batteries, and 5.5 seconds on Alkaline batteries. It can also only deliver about 100 shots on that set of AA batteries, so the A1 is nearly three times faster and offers three times more endurance. These are some stats that could really make a difference to someone. All that light quality stuff… not so much.
Think about using speedlights to capture fleeting moments at weddings, or when using a flash as a fill light for wildlife photography. Unique moments can easily be missed when you’re waiting for a flash to recycle, and in some cases you might have spent thousands and thousands of dollars to create that moment, or are being paid thousands to capture it. Now when you think that the A1 is going to cost you an extra $500 over a 1st party alternative, it maybe doesn’t seem quite so bad.
I realize that this isn’t going to be a flash that amateurs really want to look at when making purchasing decisions, but if you’re a professional or semi-professional, I do think it’s worth considering the recycle time. Can you think of some times when this faster recycle might get you that shot? I bet you can. I currently use Elinchrom and Canon flash gear so I won’t be running out to buy one, but I don’t think it’s worth writing it off entirely just based on the high price.
Pre order your Profoto A1 at B&H Photo. Currently available for Canon and Nikon, with Sony confirmed for next year.
Another factor to consider, especially if you are just getting into the Profoto OCF system, is that the A1 INCLUDES an air controller (Canon or Nikon), meaning you do not have to purchase the regular controller if you have an A1 (unless you have only one unit and place it off camera).
I’m not sure of the use of that function though. It means you need at least two A1s (or another Profoto flash), and it means the “Controller” one has to be in the hotshoe of the camera. Who would buy a $1000 flash and then use it in the hotshoe? I mean I guess you could use it as fill, and use the second off camera one as the key, but it seems like you’re forcing yourself into a poor setup by having to rely on having one of them on the camera.At that point to me it just becomes a $1000 controller which seems pointless.
I shoot all the time with a speed light on camera and bounce it all over the place for window light feel having only my on camera speed light –
being able to also trigger another light in ttl and adjustable on the fly makes a quick journalistic coverage ie wedding and parties etc into a studio session fully exposure adaptable as if i had a 3 person crew yet im by myself — if i can power up and down a side light / room fill light/ outdoor shining into room light from my location and decrease or increase mood and exposure from my on camera speed light is worth its weight in gold —
That’s true, but you can already do that with regular speed lights. Canon, Nikon or third party flashes all have this ability to remotely control off camera flashes. That aspect of the Profoto is not new or unique.
It’s mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article the ad200. But I can find a true comparison anywhere on these two speed lights. I am a 100% profoto studio and have thought about adding a few a1 lights to my kits. But after reading about the ad200 price and wattage,I’m a little hesitant. Does anyone have or know of a true comparison between these two lights?
Sorry, Derrick. I have not mentioned the ad200 in this article at all. I think you are confusing it with another post you have read somewhere else. Or perhaps by some of the things other commenters have said. I have no personal experience with the ad200.
If you can, get your hands on one of these for a trial and you will understand in seconds what a useful piece of kit the A1 is.
The fresnel lens throws a beautiful light, the modifiers are subtle, the battery recycle is really nice to work with. I’ve used it one handed off camera with the Air remote and you can ‘draw’ light with it, almost like a pencil. Very simple dial to change the light level dynamically, plus the option of TTL.
My only gripe would be that the clean finish on the black surfaces of the A1 may mark quite easily with regular wear, probably more so than Profoto’s larger strobes since you will be handling it constantly. Apart from that, a very simple to operate unit that can work with all levels of gear and deliver beautiful lighting results.
Thank for your perspective. I would definitely like to use one and I’ll agree that Profoto does the best job when it comes to modifiers. I use the Elinchrom system and after about 7 years of the small Quarda heads being around, they still haven’t made more than two dedicated (and frankly awful) light modifiers.
I, too, use the Elincrhom system of lights. I actually would be interested if Elinchrom made an on camera flash that integrates with all the other elinchrom flash heads. That is what seems the advantage of the A1 is that it works with other Profoto heads. I have a Canon 600 but rarely use it because it doesn’t work with my off camera Elinchrom lights, it’s an either or situation. Just my perspective. (I don’t shoot weddings anymore but I think this would be a nice addition to the wedding shooter who owns Profoto lighting gear!
I’m a big Profoto fan, currently with four B1s and now a new A1. For all those doubters out there I have to say that after a few shoots I love it. Not only is it great to use, I would buy it solely for its recharging speed. Although my main work is architecture and cars, I have clients who request the occasional PR shoot. To have a recycle time that means I don’t miss shots is invaluable. It may be a few hundred pounds more than my speedlights (though the alkaline AAs add up) but missing a shot or not is my reputation as being a photographer my clients want to employ. I work with big corporate clients and they expect the best, but if I was employing a wedding photographer I wouldn’t want them missing shots by using cheap gear. I’ve always invested in the best (including Phase One) and it has paid back in the quality of my clients.
And if we put in this war the Pixel X900 flash that has a lithium battery with a 700-shot autonomy and a recharge of less than 1.5 seconds?
I had not heard of that flash. Looks interesting! 1.5 second recycle is decent.
Good review Dan, thanks. I’m considering the A1 over Nikon’s Sb5000 purely based on the wireless control. I own 2 b1’s and have the profoto controller. Currently I use Nikon Sb 910’s with pocket wizards when I need very portable light. This has its problems as I have to slot the flash and trigger together and also the pocket wizard control together with the su800 and hope that I don’t get any problems with the setup. Dialling in power is fiddly between different speed lights and when you need to move on this all has to be dismantled and placed back in the bag. The sb5000 would solve this but doesn’t integrate with profoto. The a1 for me offers the ability to shoot wirelessly straight out of the bag quickly and very portably while integrating with the b1 as needs arise. I hadn’t given the battery duration or recycling much thought. But I see now this is going to an great advantage. I wonder though how well the AF Assist performs? As this can be useful in some situations.
Thanks for adding your thoughts. I’m not sure about the AF assist and how beneficial that would be. Perhaps if you do buy one or two of them, you could come back and let us know!
While the A1’s look great, and probably work well too. The price is quite outlandish. Gotta admit I like the circular design of the head, much nicer when lighting people or using it as a background light. Nothing worse than square shaped lighting on a wall behind the subject.
That’s true, I like the circular design too!
I don’t own any studio or portable lighting other than a couple Canon speedlites (400EX RT and 600EX-RT II). I have felt like I missed many shots due to their recycle time. There have been several occasions where the batteries get bloody hot and I have to replace them during an event.
I am very intrigued and like the idea of a hotshoe capable speedlite than is able to control strobes. The li-ion battery, fast recycle time, and compatibility with other Profoto gear. Purchasing an A1 seems to be a step in the right direction for me since I generally have moving subjects. It might be a good interim solution while I save for a B1X or B2 kit and required accessories.
Seems like it might be a good fit for you, yes!
“I am very intrigued and like the idea of a hotshoe capable speedlite than is able to control strobes.”
Casey, get a couple of Godox AD200’s and a TTL speedlight like the V860II or even a simple manual Godox speedlight like the TT600 and you are set. All latest Godox speedlights have the ability to be maters or slaves. You then control every single Godox unit including the 2 AD200’s with a speedlight.
Godox has by far the most comprehensive lighting system on the market.
2 – AD200’s and a TTL speedlight (like the V860II) would be less than $800 total. You are getting two 200w/s strobes and a very capable TTL speedlight, all powered with Li-on batteries (much more capable than Profoto batteries), all have TTL and HSS, back curtain etc.
All that for less than ONE Profoto A1.
Agree. The Godox v860ii is on a par technically with the A1 and sub par on price!
The Godox ecosystem is well advanced and we’ll supported.
I use Godox and would pick them any day of the week. Not to mention I can get four for the price of one. For off camera flash nothing beats the AD200.
I’m hearing this more and more every week from people! Godox is really making a splash.
Have you a chance to get a Godox v860ii and test it against the A1 Dan?
Both give pretty much the same tech specs, just prices are differ.
No I haven’t played with any Godox gear yet.
I look forward to seeing a comparison between this A1 and a Rotolight Neo II.
Those are two VERY different products! Can I ask why you are comparing those?
The common thing is the recycle time. They said that no power would be lost and I can shoot continuously, I think that will be good when I shoot fast movements, such as 1st dance or something like that in a wedding.
I think you should do some very careful research about the flash power and the way this works. The Neo 2 is an LED light not really a flash. It’s basically a continuous light that you turn on and off. Not nearly as powerful as a flash, which would have a huge effect on the camera settings that are required to capture the shot. I saw one reviewer calculate that you would need 32 Neo 2s to recreate the same power of a single Godox AD200 flash. I really would not be comparing this Profoto A1 to a Neo 2.