When the ProFoto A1 was launched there was a mixed response. There were people who just looked at the headline price tag and ridiculed. There were people who just looked at the power rating. There were immediate comparisons made to a variety of ‘cheap as chips’ and not quite so cheap Chinese designed and manufactured flash units. There were also some who openly welcomed its introduction. I had become fed up of endless AA ‘battery’ charging, changing and storing. ( Technically AA are cells, not batteries. PP3 are batteries made up of several cells). Another problem was the slow recycling time of standard hotshoe flash units. This slows even more as the batteries get lower in power and hotter. Then there is the lack of an effective modelling light and long full power flash duration. Apart from some TTL refinements and move over to radio control for off-camera use there has been little real development, let alone innovation, in camera flash units. The A1 gathers up technologies used in their B1 and B2 units in a small unit.
At the Digital Splash show in Liverpool back in October 2017 I had my first opportunity to try one. I’d done my homework on he specifications and needed to see how it felt and performed in reality. I left the show having purchased one and used it the next day on a maternity photo session.
Easy to use controls and instant integration with the ProFoto B series lights. Before the SB900 the menu system on my Nikon speedlights could Harry be considered quick to use. For reliable radio control additional receivers were required which means more bulk, more batteries and more controls to have to set. The A1 has set me free from the restrictions I was experiencing with my speedlights. Not only that but, whilst it might seem strange, that round source of light does give a pleasant error light on people that the rectangle of speedlights.
It hasn’t all been a bed of roses. I had been having some issues and concerns which needed resolving. At The Societies Convention in January 2018 I spoke in-person to one of the ProFoto UK staff about the A1 and my experiences so far. Below is a mixture of the issues I had, updated information and general comments about the ProFoto A1.
Mine had not always been turning on despite getting the white dot on the remote and the A1 display. I did not know if there was a thermal cut-out that was tripping or some other issue. It works out that there are two LEDs for the modelling light. One is dominant at the wide end of the zoom and the other is dominant at the tele end, cross fading between full and zero output. When I got back from London I found that the LED at the wide end was not working. I’d been told that if it was one of the LEDs not working then to let them know. Turnaround time for a quick replacement was about two weeks. My replacement A1 has fully functioning modelling lights.
Automatic switching off of auto-zoom on the head when the zoom ring is turned
Particularly at events I’ve been finding it is easy to unintentionally do this. When using the bounce card I have found rotating the head 90 degrees removes the need for me to change the bounce card’s position on the head when swapping between vertical and horizontal. Some gaffer tape will stop the rotation but it is inelegant. Apparently some others had been reporting this as a problem and it was being looked into. The B2 version of the firmware introduces a control lock. Enable this and the only back panel control that works is the option to remove the lock. This also stops the switching between auto and manual zoom. Not as ideal as just being able to turn off the automatic switching but it does give the opportunity to lock the zoom head settings. The Air Remote and Air TTL can still make setting adjustments.
My Nikon speedlight maxes out at 1/8000, F2.8 for a particular focal length / ISO / distance / subject combination. Before a firmware update that enabled a less consistent but more powerful HSS mode ( Hi-sync boost ) the A1 top end was 1/3000 at F1.4. Strangely, before the firmware update, if I use the A1 off-camera and control it with the TTL-N remote then I get up to 1/6000 at F1.4. Are the timings in the remote better than in the A1 ?. When I checked my B1 and B2 in the same setup ‘bare head’ I got up to 1/8000 at F4.8 and 1/8000 at F1.8 respectively. The A1 firmware update improves the power performance by about a stop and a half. The B2 result does imply that the A1, with its lower power, is possibly in-line with what might be expected with ProFoto’s current reverse engineering of the Nikon flash system. Clearly if I am going to be using HSS at the faster shutter speeds the B1 is going to have to be the preferred tool from my ProFoto lights but the camera maker’s speedlight isn’t too far behind and is a lot more portable. Whilst I do not frequently use HSS, it is something that for weddings and location portrait / model sessions I need to be able to have faff-free access to. With Canon having a simpler TTL flash system the performance with the a Canon version might well be closer to Canon speed lights.
Do I regret getting the A1 ?.
Apart from the HSS performance it has been a much better tool than my speedlight in terms of ease of use, performance and flexibility. No additional receiver to attach; no 1/125 first exposure to sync it; meaningful modelling light; very fast recycling; better quality of light; flash-to-flash consistency of power output and colour temperature; shorter flash durations at the more frequently used higher end of the power output; integrates smoothly with the other lighting that I use on location ( B2 and B1 ).
If I did regret getting it I would not have added a second A1 to my equipment pool.
Is it ‘for everyone’?.
No. Irrespective of its performance, the cost is prohibitive for many. Similarly the easy integration with other ProFoto flash units is only advantageous to those who use them. For me, it just all works. One system, choosing the parts of the system that I need for different situations.
Included with the A1 is a bounce card, diffuser and wide angle modifier. They also have some other options designed for the A1 such as the soft bounce reflector. And some gels. Standard Modifiers that can be used with speedlights can also be used with the A1. Umbrellas and softboxes as well as the Rogue Flashbender range can be used with the A1.
Gels / colour filters
At £90 for the gel set I decided to seek an alternative that was not visually or functionally untidy. My thoughts turned to the Manfrotto Xume filter holding system. The 67mm size matches the A1 head very well. With the magnetic lens fitting part on the A1, the filter ring can be used to either attach a colour filter to the A1 or to sandwich a gel cut down from a Lee sheet.
Gluing a Manfrotto Xume filter ring to the Rogue grids gives a quick to use grid option. Remember that you need the lens mounting adapter as well.
With no clip off/on plate for us when carrying spare batteries I had been seeking an alternative. I decided to convert a Think Tank holder for 4 DSLR batteries by snipping the stitching that separated the first and second and third and fourth compartments. Later I found that Think Tank do a ‘Pro DSLR battery holder’ that takes 2 batteries for a D4/5 1D etc. This is both a better fit and easier to pack.
Lowepro Street and Field utility pouch
This is a very good fit for two A1, spare set of batteries, Air-TTL, floor stands, bounce cards etc. The newer pouch will hold two A1 units but not as much of the extras given above.