Profoto AirX Review

ProFoto AirX
Review

Our Verdict

There's no doubting that smartphones have long surpassed digital interchangeable lens cameras (DILC) as the most popular form of image capture device. While a smartphone is unarguably more convenient, the image quality, at least until recently, still lagged some way behind a DILC. However, today with the likes of the iPhone 11 Pro, the image quality seriously challenges that of traditional cameras. As we know as photographers, the camera is just a small part of what makes a great image. Light, especially flash, can be incredibly important when capturing all sorts of subjects from automotive, to portrait and even sport. The iPhone may have the image quality, but the small flash is woefully lacking. Now with the latest update to the Profoto B10 portable studio lights and the Profoto App with AirX technology, you can sync in professional lighting power with your Smartphone.

For

  • Professional flash lighting for iPhone
  • Improved image quality from a smartphone
  • Easy to use

Against

  • iPhone shutter delay
What is the Profoto AirX

Profoto AirX in itself isn’t a standalone product but a technology that enables the Profoto smartphone app to talk to the Profoto B10 series of lighting. It’s essentially part of the Profoto App that enables your iPhone to communicate with the Profoto B10 or B10 Plus units. In effect, it transforms your phone into a camera with built-in Air Remote.

Once the unit is connected through Bluetooth, you can compose and shoot images in the same way as you would if shooting with a more traditional DILC.

The Profoto app is free but you need a compatible light to use it.

AirX isn’t the first time that Profoto has ventured into the world of mobile photography; the company already has the compact C1 plus. But, what makes AirX different is that it utilises the B10 and B10 Plus portable flashlights.

It’s clever stuff, and a free download or update to the existing iPhone App includes all you need and is free. Of course, you also need a B10 or B10 Plus, which are far from free. At present, the AirX technology isn’t working on Android systems, but Profoto is working on this and hopes to have an update soon.

Essentially, what the AirX technology enables you to do is fully utilise the power of your iPhone to shoot using portable studio lighting. This means that you can capture images at a quality that would never have been possible before.

The question is, can the iPhone 11 Pro with a B10 Plus challenge the professional use of a traditional DILC?

Specification

  • Product type: Adds Profoto Air Remote to a smartphone
  • Flash compatibility: Profoto B10 or B10 Plus
  • Phone compatibility: iPhone 7 up
  • Control: Flash and constant light output
Features

AirX is a technology that syncs your iPhone with the Profoto B10 series of portable lighting and is part of the Profoto App.

To sync the App with the flash units, the Bluetooth feature needs to be selected on the back of the B10 lighting unit, then Bluetooth switched on on the iPhone and the App started.

Read our iPhone 11 Pro camera review

ProFoto AirX

Clicking into the App and settings and you can then add each light in turn.

How to connect the B10 lights to the Profoto App

  • Power on the B10
  • Click the adjustment dial
  • Scroll down to BLUETOOTH and select on
  • On your iPhone enable Bluetooth
  • Start and sign into the App
  • Click the menu and select Remote Control
  • Click the + symbol in the top right
  • Select the B10 and connect
  • Tap Menu and select camera

Once connected, all the controls for the lights that you would use to adjust the lighting units can then be reached through the App.

When it comes to taking a shot, the Profoto App utilises its camera feature rather than the phone’s native camera app or that from another app provider.

It’s fully comprehensive and offers plenty of control over the camera exposure settings and flash power.

Build and Handling

The time it takes to set-up and run a few test shots is minimal. And once everything is set, you can get straight into shooting.

Using an iPhone on a shoot does initially feel wrong, and there’s no getting away from the slight shutter lag, but you soon align to the difference in timing, and shooting with the iPhone starts to feel a little more natural.

It does take a while, but after a short time, it feels disturbingly natural to shoot with a phone coupled with the Profoto B10s. The slight lag is almost forgotten and in its place is the ease and convenience of the large touch screen control offered by the iPhone that enables you to preview and adjust the lighting as you go.

It’s fast and responsive and quickly enables you to get the type of shot you want. Older phones that don’t quite have the breadth of camera control make things a bit thicker and there’s a slight increase in lag than when compared to the latest iPhone 11 Pro.

Camera Controls

The App’s layout is intuitive and easy to use, it’s far from a gimmick.

In the main camera screen, there are five buttons across the bottom in two groups: Flash and continuous and then Exposure, White Balance and Timer.

Starting with Flash, tapping gives you the option to switch the flash on and off and adjust the power from 1 through to 10.

The next option is Continuous (light) and again it enables on / off, and the ability to adjust the power of the LED from 1 to 10.

The first of the next group is Exposure, and this is where things start to get interesting.

At present Auto, TTL isn’t available, so you only have a manual option, which I feel is what most Profoto B10 owners will go for, although TTL is sometimes handy in fixed location set-ups.

The top slider adjust the sensitivity, for the iPhone 7 this is between ISO 20 and 1600, then the bottom slider adjusts the shutter speed from 1/3.2 seconds to 1/32,000. Going for the high-speed sync option automatically flips the lights into HI-S mode.

The high-speed sync kicks in on the iPhone 7 at anything above 1/40th of a second, and its use in the test was flawless.

White balance control is enabled when the continuous light is used and enables you to adjust the colour temperature. There’s a fair amount of control here and with a bit of time its very easy to match in the temperature of the constant lights with the ambient light. It’s a really handy feature.

The final option is the timer; this is like any other self-timer and fires off the flash after a set period.

Performance

Over the test period, I use several iPhones to see what the difference was with each and to assess the performance of the lights.

It’s instantly apparent on a side-by-side test that you need the iPhone 11 Pro to make full use of the AirX technology. The results are beyond what you would expect from a smartphone by itself and when looking at portraits and other subjects images, it’s hard to see initially, which is from phone and which is from a Sony A7III.

ProFoto AirX

The clarity and quality of the iPhone image is further boosted by the flashlight, and the results are good, far beyond what you would usually expect.

The quality was exceptional but what stood out for me was the level of control, the process of taking and adjusting the shutter speed for the camera app to get the desired lighting effect.

ProFoto AirX

Shot with the iPhone 7

Using the AirX technology with the Profoto App gets outstanding results using all iPhones from the iPhone 7 up.

However, the B10s can be used for more than provide flash lighting with the App. You can also use them as constant lights for video.

I used two B10 Plus’s as video lamps and it’s great to be able to adjust their colour temperature from the phone. This feature, along with the volume of control offered by the App all adds to the AirX technology making the B10 Plus once of the most rounded lighting products out there.

Verdict

Profoto AirX is a technology rather than a hardware product, but the effect that it has on how you’re able to use the B10 product line is profound.

Using the iPhone 11 Pro in your pocket as a professional tool is suddenly a real proposition, although your clients might question your professionalism.

ProFoto AirX

Shot with the iPhone XR

Only on real close inspection of the images are you able to see the real difference in the depth of tone and colour but up to a size even then you’re hard pushed to tell.

Of course, you’re stuck with the small lenses and lack of options, but still, if you get stuck in a spot, then you really can fall back on the iPhone with the B10’s.

From the iPhone 7 through to the iPhone 11 Pro the quality and professionalism of the images that you can shoot with a mobile device nothing more than a huge photographic leap.

I still use an iPhone 7, but after this test and seeing the results and features offered by the iPhone 11 Pro with the AirX and dual B10 Plus that phone upgrade is now imminent.

The quality of the images the iPhone 11 Pro was able to capture was already excellent, but add professional lighting into the mix, and you’re instantly on another level.

I’ve worked in and out of photo studios, on magazines and been shooting professional video for over 25 years and there have been many products that I’ve wanted. Still, with AirX I’m completely blown away and now completely broke.

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