Profoto A1 Snap Verdict
Some speedlight or flashgun users may be surprised by the Profoto A1’s price and relative lack of power in comparison with some other flash units but the A1’s strong suit is its light quality and speed of operation. The lens and internal reflector have been designed to enable it to produce natural looking light with gradual fall-off.
It’s also well-built and designed to survive extended use of high speed sync mode.
- More natural light than from a standard speedlight
- Air TTL built-in
- Easy to use
- Expensive for the power rating
- Not weatherproof
- Screen not touch-sensitive
What is the Profoto A1?
Profoto is calling the A1 the World’s smallest studio light, but as many observers have pointed out, it looks a lot like a speedlight (aka flashgun) and it can be mounted in Canon and Nikon camera hot-shoes. However, Profoto’s high-quality studio light manufacturing heritage is evident and the company’s Air TTL system is inside allowing the flash to trigger other flashguns remotely and use the camera’s TTL (through-the-lens) exposure metering system. It’s currently available in Canon and Nikon fit and the Sony version will be along at some point in 2018.
Profoto A1 Features
Dating from 1968, Profoto has a strong reputation amongst professional photographers for producing high-quality studio flash units. In 2008 the company launched the D1, its first monolight – a studio light that uses mains power.
In 2013 the Profoto B1 light was launched, featuring a removable battery to make travelling to and shooting on location easier. This was followed by the smaller, lighter battery-powered B2 light.
The Profoto A1 is the next logical step for the company being smaller still than the B2, having a removable Li-ion battery and a speedlight-like design.
Unusually, the A1 has a round lens and its Fresnel design is very distinctive. It seems a small point, but the more traditional rectangular design of flashgun head was originally conceived to pump light out across a rectangular film frame to alter the exposure. Profoto is more interested in helping people work with and shape light for more creative images. The circular form is also a closer representation of the sun so that catchlights have a more natural shape.
With a power rating of 76 Ws, which is roughly equivalent to a guide number of around 40, the A1 may not seem the most powerful flash but the Fresnel lens and flash tube is designed to help make better use of that light than some other flash units.
Profoto introduced its Air Remote TTL with the B1 light in November 2013 to enable the studio light to be used in tandem with a camera’s TTL metering system. This technology has been included in the A1 so that an on-camera unit can be used to control and fire an off-camera flash.
High-speed sync (HSS)
A drawback of older or lower-level flash devices is that they can only sync with focal plane shutters at relatively slow shutter speeds, 1/200 or 1/250 sec is typical. In common with many new high-end flash units the A1 has a high-speed sync (HSS) mode that enables it to be used at very fast shutter speeds. This is especially useful with a light that is likely to be used outside where fast shutter speeds may be required to allow wide apertures to be used for shallow depth of field.
Heat generation can be an issue with shooting in HSS mode and with this in mind Profoto used a ceramic reflector. Some manufacturers warn that their flash should be allowed to cool after shooting 20 or so images in quick succession but the A1 can be used for around 50 full-power shots in a sequence before the heating protection system kicks in and reduces the recycling time.
A1 Battery and accessories
In a key departure from most speedlights the A1 uses a rechargeable Li-ion battery that clips onto its front. This gives a claimed life of 350 full-power flashes but there were a few hints at the launch that a larger capacity battery might be made available in the not too distant future.
In addition to the battery and battery charger, the A1 comes supplied with a soft case and three light modifiers; a diffuser dome, a wide-angle diffuser and a flag. These are attached via a magnetic mount.
There’s also a bonnet-like soft-bounce unit and a gel set available as optional extras. I’m told there are more modifiers in the pipeline.
Using the Profoto A1 with Fujifilm, Olympus or Sony cameras
Although the Sony version of the A1 won’t be available until later this year and we’ve not been told a date for Fujifilm and Olympus models, it’s possible to use non-dedicated A1’s (i.e. Canon or Nikon models) as off-camera flash units with a Profoto Air Remote TTL in the camera hot-shoe.
Further good news is that provided you have the right Air Remote TTL for your camera, you can use the off-camera flash in TTL mode whatever camera brand it is designed for. You can even use a mixture of different A1 types. Alternatively, if you have a dedicated A1 on your camera you can use it to control another A1 whatever brand it is designed to work with.
This is because of the way that the A1’s communicate between themselves and with the Remote is the same whatever version they are.
That means if you buy an A1 for Canon or Nikon now and later invest in a mirrorless camera from Fuji, Olympus or Sony, you’ll be able to use your existing flash off-camera in TTL mode as long as you buy an Air Remote TTL or (at some point in the future) a dedicated flashgun.
Profoto A1 Specification
|Energy range||9 f-stops (2.0-10)|
|HSS energy range||9 f-stops (2-10)|
|Energy stability||0.2 f-stop|
|Wireless connectivity||Profoto Air TTL|
|Wireless range||Normal sync and remote control up to 300 m (1000 ft). TTL and HSS up to 100 m (330 ft)|
|Battery capacity||Up to 350 full power flashes|
|Weight||560g/1.2lbs including battery|