When a new and innovative product comes out, it generally demands a higher price. But does the Profoto A1 really have what it takes to justify a $1,000 price tag?
At first glance, the Profoto A1 resembles your traditional hot shoe flash. The back has a set of buttons and dials that are used to control things like power, groups/channels, and other various settings. The front is where the lithium-ion battery is attached as well as the AF assist beam. On the side, it has a dedicated switch to control the flash's TTL and manual functions. I would have preferred this function have been dedicated to a button on the back, though. As you place the flash in and out of your camera bag, it's very easy to flip that switch up and down, especially if you are like me and end up cramming your flash into those small nooks and crannies of your camera bag.
Moving to the head of the flash is where some of the differences really become apparent. Instead of the traditional rectangular flash head, Profoto has instead used a round head. This is part of the reason why Profoto says this flash is so much better than the competition. The round head is designed to give the flash a better quality of light that is “both natural and beautiful.” More on this later.
Around the head of the flash, you will also see a plastic ring. This is actually how you adjust the zoom of the flash head since there is no dedicated button for that function. The problem I found with this is that when I have my Magmod system on the flash, it actually renders this ring unusable. Instead, you have to dive into the menu system in order to change it from the back of the flash. Another problem I have with this implementation is that they don't use the standard zooming nomenclature such as 24mm, 70mm, etc. Instead, they use a set of half circles that are meant to represent the zoom of the flash. This means that if you need to zoom your flash to cover a certain focal length, you need to remember which half circle represents that focal length or rely on the flash's auto setting. You also cannot control the zoom of the flash from the Air Remote.
The last features you’ll find in the head of the flash is a modeling light and magnetic ring. The magnetic ring is used to attach a set of Profoto modifiers such as gels and diffusion domes. The modeling light is meant to give you a preview of your flash and is actually made up of two small LED lights, one that is a narrow beam and another that is a wide beam. The flash uses these two lights in combination to represent the currently set zoom of the flash head. This is a nice feature since the zooming function doesn't actually give you a specific measurement to use. The only problem here is that you have to be in a pretty dimly lit location to even slightly see the light from the very small LED’s.
Now that we have talked about the build, let's talk about what really matters. How does this thing actually work? The first thing that comes to mind when buying a flash is the power output. Profoto claims this flash is the world's smallest studio light, so you would assume it packs a punch. But in reality, it only has 76 Ws of power. Compared to my four-year-old Neewer TT850, they seem to have the exact same power output.
The next thing to consider with a new flash is the quality of light. This is where the Profoto separates itself. The round head on the flash gives the light a much more pleasing look with a rounded beam pattern and gradient fall off on the edges. Compare that to my Neewer flash and the Profoto is a clear winner.
The problem here is that adding a simple set of modifiers to your flash can easily give this look. In fact, adding a Magmod grid and sphere gives a similar look that is actually better than that of the Profoto. You can obviously get the same look on the Profoto by adding the same modifiers, but that completely negates one of the selling points of the much higher-priced flash. Also, the swiveling head on the Profoto doesn't have enough stiffness to support modifiers being attached. Using my Magmod kit caused the head to flop and twirl around, making it difficult to place. While Profoto does have their own set of modifiers that can magnetically attach to the light, the selection is limited and expensive. At the time of this article, they still don't even offer any type of grid solution.
One of the last features to really consider is the recycling time. This is the amount of time it takes the flash to recharge between flashes. In this situation, the A1 really does set itself apart. When firing at full power, the Profoto didn't miss a single shot. While the Neewer struggled to keep up. However, it is worth mentioning that the A1 flashed at a lower power for all the images except the first exposure.
When lowering the flash power down to 1/4, things became more evenly matched, but the Profoto was still the clear winner. But keep in mind we are comparing a $1,000 light to a light that cost $100 four years ago.
What I liked
- Quick recycling times
What I didn't like
- Floppy swivel head after attaching modifiers
- TTL switch and zoom control
While the Profoto A1 is a nicely built flash, it definitely has some design quirks. Another thing that you need to consider with the A1 is that in order to trigger and control the light off camera, it requires the Profoto Air remote. This will set you back another $419. Now, if you are already invested in the Profoto system and need to add a hot shoe style light, then maybe you could consider it. But for $1,419, there are a ton of options that deliver equal if not better performance for a fraction of the price.