There has been a huge amount of hype and media about Profoto's revolutionary lighting solution the B1. Pitched as not a mono-light and not a speed-light, but somewhere in between the two. It's certainly unique in the market place at the moment and I'm sure it will soon have a lot of imitators as other lighting manufacturers join the party. But how do they hold up in a real world expedition? We recently took 2 of them on a 3 week trip to the forbidden Kingdom of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang to find out!
I have been using Profoto's Acute B2 for the last 3 years and regard it to be the finest lighting solution in the world for a traveling photographer where weight, portability, light quality and 100% reliability are the most important factors. It is a brilliantly thought out piece of equipment.
If I'm honest, I was really nervous to be traveling all the way to Lo Manthang without it!
We took 2 B1's with us and also 6 batteries as we knew recharging could be an issue where we were heading. There was surprisingly very little drama at any of the airports we passed though as the small case that the B1 comes in from profoto looks very much like a golf shoe bag and attracts very little attention from security staff. We wore backpacks with camera's and lenses and hand carried the B1's onto the plane. Light stands / modifiers were in our checked luggage.
The landscape along the way was pretty challenging and involved 3 flights, 3 buses and 6 Jeeps and fair bit of boot leather due to broken roads / landsildes and flooding. The B1's are in the green bag precariously balanced on top of the below Mahindra Jeep.
There is no doubt after using the B1's in quite a challenging environment that they do produce stunning light, performed admirably and travelled very well. I would have no hesitation recommending them to anyone looking for a mobile lighting solution.
I did find however, a few issues in terms of everyday usage. Whether they are an issue to anyone else all rather depends how you shoot. Let me explain.
We were fortunate enough to be traveling with two Brilliant porters who after a few hours training became our bonafide lighting assistants and did a brilliant job throughout the trip. These are guys used to carrying 40kg's all day at 5000 meters and have levels of fitness I can't even comprehend. Herein lies the problem...
Put the B1 on a sturdy C stand in a studio not a problem its a great solution. The problem which was noticeably apparent in the field when working with an assistant getting your light where you want it by hand, is that there is too much weight and everything becomes really top heavy.
What Profoto have done by removing the cabling and adding the battery to their D1 mono-light is provide the photographer with a blessing and a curse at the same time - it's amazing to be cable free and using bigger C stands - fantastic. But C stands are really too heavy to travel with. When you start adding modifiers into the mix as well - things get really tricky.
In the above shot you can see the problem. Getting the light where you want it handheld is tough especially with a speed ring and a 3ft Octa added. With the Acute B2 the weight is in the battery back not at the end of the pole so in the above shot I would of been able to extend the pole to double the length shown here with one assistant and effectively get them out of the frame, to give me more framing options.
The light output from the B1 as you can see here is stunning, but because I was unable to extend the light pole any further it drastically limited the compositional options. In this shot the Octabox is only just out frame.
The multiple batteries that we took with us were essential as when working in bright sunlight outdoors they really need to be cranked up to full power especially when shooting through the double baffles of an Octa box. More often than not we had to remove the front baffle to get the output required.
On close to full power setting we were getting between 70-90 pops per battery which if you only take a couple with you is going to leave you wanting. My advice here would be to buy more than you think you will need.
Overall as a lighting solution the B1 is a great option, well built, reliable with great light output. You won't go far wrong if you buy one - just give some thought about how you shoot and how you will place your light. For me the extra 100 watts the Acute B2 provides makes it a better option and the much smaller lighter head is easily manoeuvred to wherever you need it. Yes it has a cable, but if you are using an assistant they can wear the weight on a strap over their shoulder and place your light exactly where you need it - otherwise you will need to keep a look out for someone with forearms like Popeye and keep a ready supply of spinach handy!
To view some of images shot on this expedition click HERE
To attend one of my photography tours in 2014 click HERE
To download your FREE copy of my book "The Adventure Photography Handbook click HERE