Lights are a crucial aspect of my work, because if the existing light isn’t great, then I augment that with a strobe light. If daylight is sufficient, then I normally try and use it for a more natural look, but there are many times where I have to make the picture rather than just take it. Since I don’t work in a studio, and seldom readily have access to AC power, the solution has to be battery-powered.
I typically use either a speedlight (proprietary external flash) or a studio strobe; depending on how much gear I can bring, and how much light is necessary.
Speedlights are plagued by their four AA batteries, slow recycle times, and general unreliability. Their best attributes are their smaller size (portability) and that they can also mount directly on the camera. I normally trigger them with Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5 units, which work, but still give me headaches with their occasional hiccups (which only seem to happen when I’m photographing something really important…). To improve the quality of light, it’s normally softened through some sort of reflector, soft box, or umbrella, BUT speedlights lack both the power and the ability to mount to many such light modifiers.
Studio lights can be battery-powered, and there are some great options for plugging monolights into lithium power packs. Then, there’s the TTL (and manual) flash control and triggering, which is typically done via infared or radio control. I use the Pocketwizard TT1, Einstein 640 moonlight, Vagabond Mini Lithium Pack, and Pocketwizard MC2. It works, but still leaves something to be desired. No company has been able to bridge the gap between the power of a real strobe light and the portability of a speedlight…until now.
If I were to dream up the perfect light, the Profoto B1 battery-powered strobe would be it. I’ve often stared at the battery for my cordless drill, and wondered if it would be possible to harness its power to charge capacitors for strobe lights. Thankfully, a team in Sweden did more than just dream: they made it happen in the Profoto B1. It’s like having FIVE speedlights, a high-capacity lithium battery, wireless triggering, TTL capability, as well as compatibility with Profoto’s extensive catalog of light modifiers! I made a redneck mock-up of the ingredients for my “dream light.”
As soon as I heard about Profoto’s new B1 flash, I knew it was the answer I was looking for! I clicked on the website for more info, but was unable to get it, as interest from all over the world crashed their website for the day! So, I called Steve Hendrix from Capture Integration, an awesome photo store in ATL, and he promptly got me the information, and then sold me a unit!
Yesterday, IT CAME! I must have looked like a 6-year-old at Christmas when the FedEx man arrived. I carefully looked everything over, and started charging the battery. It wasn’t until last night that I finally had the opportunity to test it out, as I was inspired by the driving snow in the darkness. That’s what new gear is for, right? Unbox it, then take it into 25° weather in the blowing snow and see how well it works… I normally read manuals before using anything, but decided to wing it. Despite cold hands, snow and darkness, the Air TTL-C remote and the unit itself were quite intuitive.
I set the light to shoot upwards at the snow, which was blowing quickly across the frame. I played with the TTL function (though I normally run in manual) and was thoroughly amazed: it effortlessly made a 7-stop exposure jump with no lost frames. I also loved the 2nd-curtain sync, and had fun playing with the modeling light as well! I was BLOWN AWAY!
I can tell that the flash duration is impressively short, and will easily be able to stop motion, especially at the lower settings. The snow shows a slight motion blur in the right image of the TTL comparison below, because it was shot at nearly full power. I’ll be interested to see how this light performs in the day, and with a live subject as well!
Now, I’m looking optimistically at all of the other lights in the closet, and it looks like they’re all headed to eBay! I definitely need at least another one of these awesome lights! This product is truly amazing, and is quite a game-changer! Kudos to the team at Profoto for making something I could only dream of!