Profoto B1 – best buy of the year!

The Profoto B1 – the best bit of equipment I have bought this year (and the last year and maybe a few before that!!)

As a location photographer, the lighting kit I use for portraits is crucial. The reportage stuff tends to be using available light. I’ve used Profoto kit for over twelve years now, starting with the 7b battery pack system with two heads and an extension cable. Solid, dependable and great, powerful output*….but heavy. Profoto gear is not cheap but it’s quality. I used that 7b on beaches, atop Welsh mountains, in countless fields/woods and in the smart offices of executives in The City. It never failed me. But it was still heavy.

( * one of my first shoots with the 7b was photographing some executives on a rooftop in the City of London. Eventually a message came from the office block across the street, that the light was distracting them. )

My gear grew with the AcuteB 600. Smaller, lighter but a single head. For some shoots, especially outside, this was all I needed. As with the 7b, the output was manual with the packs triggered by Pocketwizards but this meant you had to use the dial on the pack to increase or decrease the output. This would interrupt the flow of any shoot, especially if I had no assistant with me. There was the crux. So many editorial budgets would not allow for hiring an assistant ( interestingly US titles do tend to allow for this more than UK commissioners ). Even some corporate budgets ruled it out! It was just me, my cameras/lenses, the lights, packs, lightstands  and whatever modifiers the shoot needed – softboxes, beauty dishes or big metal reflectors. So the problem..

1. The weight of all this kit, when traveling and working on my own. A weight substantially added to by the battery packs and cables.

2. Being able to control flash output from the camera.

Now speedlights are small, light and you can control them from the camera but…while okay in some situations, for portraits I prefer the power of big lights. To overpower the sunlight, fill a room, work at small apertures if need be with quick recycle times. I may be talking nonsense but I think you can usually tell what sort of light has lit a subject. From small speedlights, or small battery powered lights like Lumedynes or Elinchrom Quadras, to the king…Profoto.

For my City corporate work I bought three D1 500 monolights, less weight, plug into the wall ( once H&S is assured of their PAT tests and the office block won’t suddenly combust! ). With the Air remotes working to both trigger the lights and control the output from the camera, a great solution. But in the field….so to speak? What if I needed battery power? A shoot out in the sunshine? I had the 7b with two heads, the AcuteB and even Elinchrom Quadra Rangers but I wanted the D1’s with me. The Profoto Batpac  – a portable battery in a backpack will power the D1’s but that’s heavy, so back to square one. (Actually a disappointing feature is it has no indicator to show how much power is left.)

But then they came up with the B1 – gear lust from the first paragraph describing it!!

Now I shoot with Nikons, so with no Nikon specfic remote yet available, the headline grabbing TTL ability of these lights is not the draw. Nor do I know whether it works or not. ( Update: Got one – it works! ) The same remotes I use on the D1, work the same on the B1, triggering the flash and controlling the output. I usually shoot on manual flash for portraits anyhow but I’m keen to get one of the TTL remotes and see how/if they do work. So I packed my lighting gear in the car and drove down to Somerset to see Andrew at AJ’s Studio and Camera Supplies. I drove home the owner of a new B1, spare battery, car charger and backpack. Oh, and a Profoto beauty dish. I haven’t looked back, in fact, I need to get a second B1 soon!!

The small batteries fit into the head – so no big, heavy battery packs and no long, thick cables. For what I shoot it’s perfect. For example, this was a shoot last week for The Independent newspaper. A portrait of a Harlequins rugby player, shot at their training ground in Surrey. From start to finish the shoot lasted 8 minutes. Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2.8 lens, Profoto B1, air remote, Magnum reflector and grid and lightstand. It didn’t miss a beat. It’s the perfect lighting kit for the location photographer without sherpas or minions!


Photo of Harlequins rubgy player Ugo Monye commissioned by The Independent newspaper and shot with a Profoto B1 light

Harlequins rugby player Ugo Monye photographed for The Independent with a Profoto B1

Portrait of Ugo Monye shot with the Profoto B1 light


Ugo Monye photographed by Martin Beddall


Profoto B1 lighting a portrait of Ugo Monye

 It’s sad I know, but look how nice the LCD display is on the back!

Close up of the Profoto B1 LCD display

Here is the B1 a couple of days ago, connected to a Photek Softlighter, in the offices of a big City firm. A quick portrait of the Chief Investment Officer there for a US publication.

Profoto B1 light with a Photek Softlighter attached in situ in offices for a corporate shoot



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