Flash Of Brilliance
ON TRIAL
TTL flash control in SLRs has been around for over
three decades? Well, quite simply, it’s not as simple
as it looks. The protocols governing preflash-based
TTL metering are fiendishly complex and, worse,
different in just about every model of D-SLR, even
those from the same manufacturer. Profoto has put
a huge amount of R&D effort into getting the B1
to work seamlessly with various Canon and Nikon
models which is one of the reasons why there
hasn’t been a deluge of competitive models lining
up to challenge the B1. You simply can’t
rustle up a wireless TTL commander
unit overnight. Incidentally, Profoto doesn’t actually call
the B1 a monobloc,
but rather an
“off camera
flash”.
The B1 is based on Profoto’s compact
D1-series monoblocs, but is battery powered
so it’s fully self-contained. However, there
is no option for using mains power.
On
The
Move
Flash
Of Brilliance
PROFOTO B1 500 AIR TTL
The B1 is based
on Profoto’s current D1-series compact monobloc platform
with the key difference that
it’s battery powered which
obviously makes sense given
that portability allows the potential
of automatic exposure control to be
fully exploited. Consequently, the B1 has a
slightly different external casing to the D1 in or-
The world’s first flash monobloc with wireless TTL exposure
control adds a new level of convenience to shooting on
location. Finally the battery-powered monobloc has evolved
into an intelligent being. Report by Paul Burrows.
I
t’s always been the great divide between oncamera flash units and off-camera systems.
TTL exposure control. So, on-camera flash units
have it, but even the most powerful is still a
wimp compared to even the least powerful monobloc. Yes, multiple flashes in wireless TTL set-ups
help provide more grunt, but there’s still the issue
of the smallish light sources and, frankly, juggling a
brace of speedlights is less convenient in practice
48
than it seems in theory. So, the monobloc has the
power and the capacity to accept light shapers, but
exposure control is back in the Dark Ages with flash
meters or possibly just trial-and-error.
So a flash monobloc with wireless TTL flash
control is the answer to all our prayers and Profoto
has obliged with the brilliant B1. The first reaction to
the B1 is to wonder, firstly, why nobody has done it
before and, secondly why has it taken so long given
Battery packs clip into a
compartment on the side
of the B1’s casing.
ON TRIAL
der to accommodate a battery compartment, but it
retains the same basic styling, similar dimensions
and the novel built-in reflector arrangement.
In the interests of conserving battery power,
the halogen modelling lamp gives way to an LED
type, although this is likely to become a trend
across all monobloc design given the latter’s much
greater efficiency. For example, the B1’s 20-watt
LED source generates the same power as a 70watt halogen lamp. It also runs a lot cooler and can
be used as a continuous light source, at least for a
short period.
As with the D1 models, the B1’s compact
two-piece GRP shell neatly incorporates the carry
handle and the mounting bracket on the bottom
while the reflector brolly tube is integrated into the
top. The flash head’s diameter retains full compatibility with Profoto’s clamp-lock reflectors and light
shapers which can be attached anywhere along
the barrel, thereby creating a de facto ‘zoom’
adjustment for varying the light spread.
The built-in reflector gives a 77-degree
spread and, in terms of shooting on location,
particularly outdoors, is a much more convenient
arrangement than fiddling around with add-on
dishes. In fact, you can’t help but think that
something like the B1 was already in Profoto’s
longer-term plans when it was designing the D1
because so many elements of this design are
eminently suited to the applications which typically demand portability and onboard power.
Power Points
The B1’s control panel – located at the rear – is
also similar to that of the D1 so it’s again a very
tidy layout – but actually simpler – with mostly
push-button operations save for a rotary knob
which sets the flash power output. This is displayed via a large double-digit LCD read-out which
also shows the modelling lamp’s level setting when
it’s in the ‘Free’ mode. Pushing in the rotary selector switches the power adjustment increment from
1/10-stops to full stops for both the flash output
and independent modelling lamp control.
Alongside the power setting display – so you
really can’t miss it – is a very large battery power
As with the D1-series models, the B1’s head
incorporates a built-in reflector. Frosted glass
cover protects the flash tube.
level indicator which is important because the
B1 is exclusively battery-powered so you need to
carefully monitor consumption to avoid being left
in the dark. Realistically, most users are going to
buy a second battery pack to have ready to slot in
when needed. It’s also worth noting here that the
battery has been recharged inside the unit so you
need to manage this procedure in the down times.
Profoto says a fully-charged pack is good for
220 flashes at full power which means you’ll do
quite a lot better at the lower power settings. Given the B1 has a handy 500 joules on tap, there are
going to many situations where you’ll be running
it at much lower power settings, greatly extending
the battery’s life. The standard charger takes two
hours to pump it back up – which actually isn’t too
bad – but there’s an optional faster charger that
does the job in half the time. Alternatively, there’s a
car charger so you can be recharging the B1 while
on the move between locations. Incidentally, the
comparatively compact packs simply clip in and
out of the side compartment, giving one of easiest
and hassle-free battery changeover arrangements
“The B1’s
combination of
portability, battery
power and wireless
TTL control opens
up a subject area
that’s rarely been
able to be tackled
with studio flash
equipment, namely
sports and action
photography.”
A built-in cooling fan manages the unit’s
operating temperature with continuous
shooting (which is possible at up to 20 fps).
in the business. The packs also have their
own power level indicators which light up after
pressing the ‘Check’ button.
Up To Speed
The combination of portability, battery power
and wireless TTL control opens up a subject area
that’s rarely been able to be tackled with studio
flash equipment, namely sports and action photography. No doubt with fashion photographers also
in mind, Profoto has given the B1 some serious
speed capabilities.
In fact, there are two shooting modes called
Normal and Freeze. In the Normal mode, the flash
duration ranges from 1/1000 to 1/11,000 second
and colour temperature stabilisation is optimised.
In Freeze mode, the range is from 1/1000 up to
a dramatic 1/19,000 second. Obviously here the
power setting is down to just two joules, but that’s
still quite a bit more power than many of the smaller on-camera flash units. Also in Freeze mode,
the recycling is rapid enough to allow continuous
shooting at up to 20 fps. And, despite its compact
size, the B1 still incorporates a proper cooling fan.
There’s a choice of three low-profile, hotshoemounted remote triggers which are obviously
purchased separately. The first is the standard Air
Remote which is non-TTL and simply allows for
remote synchronisation via Profoto’s ‘Air’ control
system which is based on UHF digital radio – operating at a frequency of 2.4 GHz – to give a very
short delay (as brief as 375 μs) and a range of up
to 300 metres.
For the owners of Canon D-SLRs, there’s the
Air Remote TTL-C which allows for TTL automatic
flash exposure control via Canon’s current E-TTL
II metering system, and also control over various
settings, including flash power, modelling lamp operation and switching between first/second curtain
sync. It can also be switched to non-TTL operation
for radio triggering. By the time you read this, the
Air Remote TTL-N should be available for users of
Nikon D-SLRs and it makes the B1 compatible with
Nikon’s i-TTL flash metering system. These two
dedicated controllers have a USB connection, enabling firmware upgrades to accommodate future
The main knob on the rear control panel adjusts
the power output over a handy nine-stop range in
either 1/10 or full-stop steps. Max power is 500
joules, the minimum is just two joules.
49
ON TRIAL
models of D-SLR. In TTL mode, the wireless range
is reduced to 100 metres, although few users are
going to find this isn’t sufficient.
On Location
The TTL-N unit wasn’t available during our testing
so we tried out the B1 with a Canon EOS 6D and
it worked superbly well in TTL mode, delivering
perfect exposures every time. Snag is, it’s all so
effortless, it’s also highly addictive… going back
to the old way of determining exposure feels like
going back to the horse-and-cart.
There are other attractions too… such as
having 500 joules of power to play with which
means that you can stay shooting at the lower
ISO settings to optimise image quality. The unit is
“It’s all so
effortless, it’s also
highly addictive…
going back to
the old way of
determining
exposure feels like
going back to the
horse-and-cart.”
also fully self-contained so there are no cables
involved at all plus, of course, in many situations
you’ll be able to use it without any accessories
attached either which makes it very flexible in
terms of where it can be located… an important
consideration when shooting many types of
sports or extreme action. But then, for weddings,
portraiture or fashion – you can fit softboxes, grids
or a brolly to control your lighting as required.
Many wedding photographers don’t use flash
because it’s too much of a hassle, but you could
Standard Air Remote is non-TTL and allows for
remote synchronisation via Profoto’s ‘Air’ control
system which is based on UHF digital radio and
has a range of up to 300 metres.
50
Profoto B1 500 Air TTL
Maximum Flash Power: 500 joules.
Guide Number/f-stop: f45.2 (at two metres
and ISO 100).
Variable Power Output: Nine stops, adjusted in
1/10 or full stop increments.
Flash Duration (t=0.5): 1/1000 to 1/11,000
second in Normal mode. 1/1000 to 1/19,000
in Freeze mode.
Recycling Time: 1.9 seconds to 500 joules.
Modelling Lamp: 20 watts LED (equivalent to 70
watts halogen).
Model Lamp Control: Proportional, on/off,
free adjustment.
Triggering: Sync connector, switchable photo/IR
cell, radio frequency.
Main Features: Wireless TTL exposure control for
selected Canon and Nikon D-SLRs, built-in reflector
with zoom function, flash-to-flash output consistency of +/-1/20 f-stops and colour temperature of
+/-150 degrees Kelvin, Normal and Freeze speed
set the B1 up with a softbox to mimic window light
and then simply leave everything else to the TTL
exposure control… no need to check or change
any settings, look at read-outs or worry about the
colour temperature of the available light. And, in
any situation, if you need to adjust the exposure,
simply use the camera’s exposure compensation
control. Bliss! Similarly, if you don’t want your TTL
exposures wandering as you change shooting
angles, composition or framing, switch the Air
Remote TTL controller to manual mode and the
desired exposure is then effectively locked in. As
it happens, there’s an operating mode which uses
the auto TTL control to establish an exposure and
then allows for subsequent fine-tuning manually.
The Verdict
It’s hard not to be anything but thoroughly enamoured with the Profoto B1. It works so brilliantly
effortlessly that it’s no wonder Profoto is having
The Air Remote TTL-C which allows for TTL automatic
flash exposure control with Canon D-SLRs using the
E-TTL II flash metering system. TTL-N version for
Nikon’s i-TTL system due any time now.
modes, digital display,
auto dumping, cooling
fan, switchable audible signals,
accepts standard Profoto system reflectors and accessories. Air Remote TTL-C
is compatible with Canon D-SLRs with E-TTL II flash
metering. Air Remote TTL-N is compatible with
Nikon D-SLRs with i-TTL flash metering.
Power Requirements: Rechargeable and
interchangeable 14.4 volts lithium-ion
battery pack.
Dimensions (LxDiameter): 310x140 mm.
Weight: 3.0 kilograms (including battery pack).
Price: $2495 (includes custom carry case, battery
pack and battery recharger). Profoto Air Remote
TTL-C/N sells for $495. Twin light kits (including
fast and car chargers) in a custom backpack
sells for $4895.
Distributor: L&P Digital Photographic, telephone
(02) 9906 2733, www.lapfoto.com.au
trouble keeping up with demand. In the evolution
of the flash monobloc, it’s akin to walking upright
after aeons of dragging the knuckles along the
ground. Even if you still prefer to work mostly
manually, the TTL control is the 21st century
method of creating a starting point.
Not being able to use mains power is a bit
curious as is the absence of a stand-alone battery
charger, but these are pretty easily worked around
with a bit of planning. It’s also quite pricey for a
500 joule monobloc, even one that can be run
off battery, and especially when the cost of the
TTL controller is added to the bottom line, but the
convenience factor tends to balance things up a
bit (and, in fact, a set of TTL speedlights probably
isn’t far off the same sort of money in the end). If
you’re thinking about buying any sort of lighting in
the near future, don’t do anything until you’ve had
a good look at the B1… more likely than not, it’s
going to be what you’re really looking for.
The large LCD read-out panel includes a not-tobe-missed battery power level indicator.
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