Written By: Tim Neumann – Soft Lite Studios
Images By: Tim Neumann and Lorie McQuirt – Soft Lite Studios
As destination workshop providers, instructors and guides, we don't get to shoot nearly enough studio images. So when an opportunity comes along to break out the studio strobes and craft some well thought lighting and imagery, we get excited. When Profoto sends us their new flagship portable strobe we get downright ecstatic. As we both love landscape images, what better product to test out, in the great outdoors and put it through its paces.
Any experience with Profoto gear will tell you that it's not the least expensive product out there, but long term experience will tell you that the quality is certainly present in all of their products and the system, as a whole, is pretty hard to beat when it comes down to your control over light shaping. Investments into Profoto gear are exactly that, investments and almost all investors will tell you that when looking at investing, think about the long haul. This is where Profoto really shines, it's always with you for the long haul, ready to be used over and over again, shoot after shoot, reliably each time…
First things, first, the Profoto B1X 500 AirTTL Monolight, is the natural evolution forward from the venerable Profoto B1 500 AirTTL Monolight. However, unlike evolution, which normally takes small steps forward, the newest generation shows significant steps forward. The specifications are impressive and the changes make considering them as an upgrade a very worthy thought indeed. Certainly if you are considering portable monolights for the first time, these should clearly be on the short list.
The Profoto B1X 500 AirTTL Monolight boasts the following specifications:
- 2 To 500Ws Of Power, Delivered Over A 9 Stop Range
- 0.1 to 1.9 (Burst Rates Of Up To 20 Flashes Per Second)
- Variable Power Modeling Light – LED MAX 24W (Equivalent To 130W Halogen)
- Flash Duration (t0.5) – 1/11,000s (2Ws) To 1/1,000s (500Ws)
- Flash Duration Freeze Mode – 1/19,000s (2Ws) To 1/1,000s (500Ws)
- High Speed Sync – Up To 1/8000s With 9 Stop Power Range
- Guide Number @2m / 100 ISO With Magnum Reflector 45 2/10
- Display – High Resolution Intuitive Interface
- Size – 14cm (5.5") X 31cm (12.2") X 21cm (8.3")
- Weight – 3kg (6.6lbs) Including Battery
- Radio Sync – Built In AirTTL Featuring Wireless Sync Control
- Available Triggers (Separate)
- 901039 Air Remote TTL-C for Canon
- 901040 Air Remote TTL-N for Nikon
- 901045 Air Remote TTL-S for Sony
- 901046 Air Remote TTL-O for Olympus
- 901031 Air Remote For Most DSLRs And Medium Format Cameras
We received, for testing, the new B1X Location kit, which comes nicely package in a convenient backpack and features the following items in the kit:
- 2 X B1X 500 AirTTL Monolight
- 2 X Li-Ion Battery Pack
- 1 X Battery Charger 4.5A
- 1 X Car Charger 1.8A
- 1 X USB Cable
- 1 X Documentation Set
- 1 X Backpack M
Unpacking the kit, reveals exactly what one would expect, high quality, well designed Profoto Monolights and their necessary accessories. Too be fair here, we have a couple of the previous generation, B1 500 AirTTL Monlights, that have served us well and proven to be well designed, quality units. We see nothing less than the same results here, a product that looks to be well designed, using quality materials. The controls and interface are as we expect them to be, well laid out, intuitive to understand and simple in operation. This is, as the past units have been, a product that's easy to pull out of the packaging and get immediately to work with. Overall the units look solid, make sense and the new features fit in well with the existing design elements.
The most critical observation here is, these units will continue to do what Profoto products have done for a long time, fit in seamlessly with a wide range of light shaping and modification tools, that allow for a myriad of ways to control the light being added to the image being created.
We wish we could tell you we tested these overlooking the cliffs of Santorini, whilst witnessing a Mediterranean sunset, but sadly that is not the case. However we can tell you that we located a field, full of yellow weeds, did time the shoot with some relatively strong, late afternoon sunlight and brought all the elements of color control and composition together that we could find on short notice.
What we did do is, challenge one of the long term issues that photographers have when shooting in bright, ambient light, the notion of using really wide apertures as a composition mechanism, while being able to merge both ambient light and strobe fill. If you have ever shot in this situation, you know that standard sync speeds are an issue. It's near impossible to shoot in bright sunlight, combining low iso (to maintain image quality), standard sync speeds (1/200 – 1/250 of a second, depending on camera model), and utilize a wide open aperture (for minimum depth of field, say something in the f/1.2 to f/2.8 range). Likely your only way of combating this combination was to sacrifice on one of the exposure parameters and that sacrifice came on the form of going with a much smaller aperture…killing of your hopes of bokeh in the background as well as creamy, non-distractive background elements. Photographers who came prepared for just such a situation, often carried neutral density filters in their kits, just to be able to eliminate enough light to pull of such a shot. And while that works, you are still potentially left with this issue of a shutter speed (that dreaded traditional sync speed) that eliminated the potential of stopping motion in some scenes.
Not necessarily a new feature to the Profoto B series of lights, high speed sync was certainly what we wanted to put through its paces in our test shoot. We wanted to freeze movement in the models clothing and hair, keep a wide open aperture to control depth of field, and shoot pretty much directly into strong sunlight. What we wanted to see was this, could we take a historically challenging lighting situation and make easy work of it. The answer, as you can see in the next couple of images, was a resounding yes:
Our observation here, in the above two images is, we are combining direct sunlight, an appropriate amount of fill light, naturally a low iso setting, and an aperture that is providing the depth of field that we want. The images show a blend of ambient and strobe light, that is natural and pleasing. The aperture selected, is the widest the lens has to offer and thus we are getting excellent separation between foreground and background. Our shutter speeds here, 1/3200 and 1/640 respectively, are made possible by the high speed sync feature built in the flash units.
Let's outline the gear we are using and the steps involved in getting high speed sync to work:
- Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR Camera
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens
- Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens
- Profoto B1X 500 AirTTL Monolight X 2
- Profoto Air Remote TTL-C
- Profoto OCF Softbox (2×3')
- Profoto OCF Softbox (1×3')
- Profoto Softgrid for OCF Softbox (2×3')
- Profoto Softgrid for OCF Softbox (1×3')
There are two aspects to consider when working through setup…
One, does your camera support high speed sync and if so what needs to be done to enable that feature for your particular camera body. New Nikons support high speed sync and a simple menu setting turns the feature on, Canons do as well and on our particular model the camera defers to the settings of the Profoto Air Remote TTL-C trigger, nothing to set there on the camera at all. Confirm, in your camera's manual, if high speed sync is supported and the settings required to use the feature if its available. Our only including Nikon and Canon does not mean that they are the only brands that do this, many do, it's just a quick list to get you thinking about your brand and model.
Two, setting up your Profoto system to communicate high speed sync information between itself and the camera. For you Canon shooters, press the SYNC button on the Profoto Air Remote TTL-C trigger until it say Hi-S, that's it…complicate huh? For Nikon shooters, the remote will sense the setting from the camera and will put itself into the correct mode, even easier. The triggers wirelessly communicate between the strobes and the camera, even allowing shooting in either the Manual Mode or TTL Mode. Very easy to set up and works seamlessly. If you are use to shooting Manual mode with a strobe system or speedlights, this is a natural extension of that process. Your already honed thought process of think light in layers works just the same way here; a, what do I want for ambient light and b, what amount of fill flash do I want to add to that light.
So back to our field shoot and a couple more sample images:
You are probably noticing similar results and saying nice shots, but tell me something new. Fair enough, while you are pondering over our images above, we would like you to think about this. The redesign of the lights and their batteries has created a power reserve that is purportedly twice the capacity of the previous version, with the ability to deliver an even greater number of full power flashes (325 to quote Profoto's materials). The modeling lights, of course not a whole lot of practical use in a brightly lit field, are now LED driven, meaning less power draw and significantly brighter, cleaner light. Can't wait to use those in the studio. Our observation, a combined 400 plus shots into the shoot and both lights are still showing over 2/3 battery capacity left. That's a lot of images to be grabbed on one charge, a spare battery (optional) and a car charger (included) and we could at this until the cows leave the field for the night.
One last image before we wrap this up:
The high speed sync has allowed us to chase the late as it has changed throughout the later afternoon until sunset and our last image, above, shows the results nicely. The Profoto B1X AirTTL 500 Monolights, coupled with the Profoto Air Remote TTL-C trigger are allowing use to still shoot wide open on the lens, providing really minimal depth of field here and heck even some bokeh on the sun rays. The razor thin depth of field works really well in this image and what it provides in the background is subtle and reinforces the mood of the image.
Bottom line, the Profoto B1X AirTTL Monolights are solid performers and they live up to their advertised specifications. Power management is a leap forward from the original units and those were pretty good to start off with. The interface is well thought out and the display provides all the necessary information clearly and concisely. The B1X Location Kit provides the essentials to get up and shooting quickly, with a light kit that provides the ability to shape the light differentially, with ease. All you need to do is add the appropriate Profoto Air Remote trigger for you camera system (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus are all currently supported in TTL / Manual versons).
- Powerful (500Ws)
- Fast Recycle Time
- High Speed Sync (Up To 1/8000s)
- LED Modeling Lights
- Short Flash Duration
- System Compatibility
Cons: (We had a hard time even putting these down)
- Weight (A comparison to a battery pack based system, with cords, probably kills this objection)
- Cost (It can be said, you get what you pay for)