I’ve been a Profoto user for quite a while now, loving my B1s and B2s for wedding photography, and my D1s for studio photography. I’m a huge fan of off-camera flash, especially when it can be easily manipulated into looking like natural light when I need it to. After all, that’s what 99 percent of my wedding clients want: natural light and a golden-hour glow regardless if it’s raining or we’re shooting in noon-day sun. What I’ve been missing, however, is the portability of a small flash, and being able to use it on camera.
Well, the answer is here and Profoto has really done it this time with the brand new release of the Profoto A1. They’re calling it the world’s smallest studio strobe, and with this hotshoe-mounting, flash-like light bragging features like an LED modeling light and 76 Ws flash energy, I can certainly see why.
For me, this light really bridges the gap between flashes and studio strobes. Which, in a lot of ways also helps shorten the divide between natural light photographers (NLPs) and those that use OCF. Because most NLPs do know how to use an on-camera flash, the Profoto A1 will be somewhat familiar to them. Naturally the A1 communicates seamlessly with other Profoto lights so it’s now easier than ever to learn and work with OCF lights.
I could go on about the million reasons why the launch of the Profoto A1 has changed my world, and you can see it in action in the video above. Here are my top six points when considering adding this gem to your arsenal.
What I Like
This may seem like the silliest thing to write about first, but I’m a practical person. If you’ve ever shot two day-long gigs in a row, then you know the utter pain of having to charge dozens of AA batteries overnight, or even on the job-site. No more. I haven’t changed a single AA battery in the past month I’ve had to play with this new toy. After last weekend’s triple-header, I’m really very, very grateful for that.
The lithium battery gives you 350 flashes at full power and takes just 80 minutes to charge. For me, that’s more than enough for a wedding day. It also eliminates the need for battery packs that help quicken flash recycle times. I haven’t had a single misfire yet thanks to the 0.05–1.2 second recycle time and I’m happy to be lugging around one less thing around my waist all night.
I love my Profoto B2s, but they still have a battery pack that can be heavy, especially when lugging gear around on engagement sessions. The A1 weighs only 1.2 pounds so it’s easily earning its tagline as the world’s smallest (and lightest) studio strobe. I typically bring two with me on a shoot: one for off camera use, and one on camera to control the off-camera light and/or have a fill light as well.
Hands down this is the winner not only for me, but for a lot of NLPs as well. One of the ways I was able to learn on and off-camera flash was through TTL. Sure it’s not the traditional approach and I’m sure there are a ton of photographers that can better spew the inverse square law math than I can. But, without first understanding TTL, I wouldn’t have gotten over the OCF learning curve which then helped me understood manual power from there. I know there are a lot of other photographers that can relate to that method of learning and the A1, again, helps bridge that gap.
Just like other Profoto strobes, you can get your roundabout flash power setting by using TTL, and then the A1 will hold that setting for you when you flip to manual power to adjust it up and down. Of course, you can change not only the on-camera A1, but every other light it’s connected to right on the back of the light as well.
The light shapers that are made for the A1 are equipment with magnets for easy-to-attach functionality. The one that I’ve used the most is easily the gels. I use the orange gel to simulate the sun and create that golden-hour feel, and the green gel to light my subjects during sunset to essentially bring out the magenta in my background like in the picture below. I can see NLPs easily becoming attached to the CTO gels letting them create that warm and airy look whenever they’d like.
The other attachments are a soft bounce, bounce card, gel kit dome diffuser, and wide lens attachment (last two are included with the unit), all of which are light as can be. The two latter modifiers even fit right into the top of the A1 case making them easily accessible and portable in addition to their quick-mount ease of use.
What I Don't Like
This is not going to be an entry-level flash with its higher price point. However, I can see photographers going from their very first flash (not including pop-up flashes of course) to the A1. Why? It’s just like anything else, you get what you pay for. More power, more functionality, more reliability, more ease-of-use, and more features like connecting to big-boy Profoto strobes when you’re ready for them. Side note: it's currently available for Canon and Nikon.
Bright Light Display
I’ve already submitted this request directly to Profoto and I have my fingers crossed that it’ll be in the next firmware update. The back of the light has a ton of great functionality, but even at the lowest setting, the guy across the room can see my power settings (not that he cares). In addition, the on-off button is super bright and since I’m often using this light on-camera in dark reception halls it can be a little blinding when I put the camera/light up to my face. Again, fingers crossed that’ll be fixed.
I have two.
I really wanted to just end it there, but I suppose I should give you an “official” overall statement about the light. How about, I have two, and you won’t be able to pry them from my cold, dead fingers. No? OK, tough crowd.
The Profoto A1 hasn’t left my side and I don’t plan on going on a gig without it. I even brought it into the studio to see how it interacted with my D1s (beautifully of course). It’s an incredible piece of equipment allowing the photographer incredible control whether using it on or off camera, and the ridiculously easy menus on the back will give NLPs yet another reason to start learning to master non-sunlight light. It’s a robust and versatile flash with the power and functionality of a strobe. Hats off to Profoto.