Review: Profoto B1X (Sony TTL Version)

If you’re a working photographer that uses studio lighting, then chances are that you’ve been considering a light like the Profoto B1X since first hearing about it. Profoto lights are already at the top of the game and all the studios use them, and what makes the Profoto B1X so special is the added versatility over the original Profoto B1 monolights. For example, the modelling light has 50% more power for video users. Then there’s the ability to do high speed sync at up to 1/8,000 and with a flash duration of 1/19,000. That’s pretty insane! And then you have to remember Profoto’s color consistency assurance, their Air Remote TTL system, and the solid build quality. I can go on and on about Profoto and how great their lights are and how little extra post-production work you’ll need to do because of how good they are, but the truth is that some folks still have no problems with extra long post-production that I sometimes find to be unnecessary.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Very color consistent
  • Well built
  • Powerful
  • Lots of power in the battery
  • Fairly simple to use
  • Lovely light output
  • Very bright modelling light

Cons

  • When working with individual lights, I wish that you could get a better reading as to what the actual output is via the Air remote. But Profoto didn’t do this because lots of photographers have multiple lights on a single group or channel. So the adjustments are done to cater to that crowd.
  • Pretty pricey, but if you want peace of mind and a light that will last you for years, you’re not going to complain at all.

Gear Used

The Profoto B1x was tested with the Profoto Air TTL-S remote, the Sony a7, the Sony a7r II, and various Sony and Lensbaby optics. Light modification was provided using the Impact Angler Parasail Umbrella

Tech Specs

Specs taken from our original blog post

  • Energy range: 2-500Ws (9 f-stops)
  • Recycling time:0.1-1.9 (Quick burst up to 20 flashes/second)
  • Max modeling light: 24W LED (Output equivalent to 130W Halogen)
  • Flash duration normal mode (t0.5): 1/11,000 s (2Ws) – 1/1,000 s (500Ws)
  • Flash duration freeze mode (t0.5): 1/19,000 s (2Ws) – 1/1,000 s (500Ws)
  • High Speed Sync: Up to 1/8,000s with 9 f-stop power range
  • Guide number @2m / 100 ISO with Magnum Reflector: 45 2/10
  • Display: High-resolution display with a superior, intuitive interface.
  • Size:
    – 14 cm (5.5”)
    – 31 cm (12.2”)
    – 21 cm (8.3”)
  • Weight: 3 kg (6.6 lbs) including battery
  • Radio sync and control:
    Yes, built in AirTTL supporting wireless sync, control and TTL. Fully integrated with other AirTTL flashes such as B2 and D2. (Requires an Air Remote TTL that is sold separately.)
  • Recommended Accessories for Air:
    – 901039 Air Remote TTL-C for Canon
    – 901040 Air Remote TTL-N for Nikon
    – 901045 Air Remote TTL-S for Sony
    – 901046 Air Remote TTL-O for Olympus
    – 901031 Air Remote for most DSLRs and medium format cameras.

Ergonomics

When you look at the Profoto B1X, you truly see a thing of beauty. For the most part, the exterior is pretty much identical to the original Profoto B1 lights and unless you knew better, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the differences between them. Honestly, I can’t! The Profoto B1X has the same back handle, top umbrella mount thread slot, rotating knob, battery slow, etc as the Profoto B1.

Look over on one side and you’ll spot more Profoto branding and a slot for radio receivers to plug into. But otherwise, you won’t really pay attention to this spot.

It’s when you start to focus in on what’s towards the rear of the Profoto B1X that you start to pay a bit more attention. For starters, there’s the obvious battery slot. The battery is pretty big but goes in securely. You’ll pretty much never have to worry about it falling out. I in fact never have worried and it never has failed me.

At the back of the Profoto B1X you can see a big LCD screen that displays all the pertinent information. You’ll also see the Profoto B1X branding at the back, sync button, modelling light button, test button which doubles for activating and deactivating the light, a knob to make selections, and a ready button. The latter I’ve honestly never used.

 

At the front of the Profoto B1X what you’ll spot most importantly is the frosted glass. I’ve heard it said best by a few photographers who have to get used to the fact that the Profoto B1X and the B1 don’t require an umbrella reflector. Instead, it’s pretty much built right in. I’ve used these lights completely bare with no light modifiers before and loved the output.

Build Quality

The Profoto B1X monolight is built very solid. They’re also pretty large. In fact, there are backpacks designed for these lights. If you’re travelling to a location, you’ll often put two of these into a backpack and then your camera and lenses in another bag then hold the light modifier packed away and the light stands. At least that’s how I do it. However, these lights aren’t all that heavy and they sure as heck beat needing to bring a battery pack with you. I can gladly say that there isn’t a single thing that feels cheap about the build of the Profoto B1X. But at the same time the options from Impact and Flashpoint don’t feel all that bad either. For most people, that build quality will suffice. But Profoto’s build is on a whole other level. I’ve never dropped the lights and I’ve never shot with them in the rain; but not a single part of this light feels cheap and there are less moving parts to worry about comparatively speaking.

Ease of Use

Here’s where I’ve been a little iffy about the Profoto B1X; and that’s something that I didn’t expect at all. When I first started using the Profoto B1X, I used it with the Sony a7r II and the Sony a7. During a shoot on a fire escape here in Williamsburg, I wanted to use the HSS mode. But I couldn’t get it to work. TTL was doing a decent job but as most photographers know, TTL will give you what the light and system think you want based on the aperture and the ISO (see How TTL Works) setting. The majority of the time though, it was so much faster for me to just go ahead and use my own knowledge and manual light control. Part of this is due to the light modifiers I was using and the light around me. Besides, the TTL system can’t figure out what I want. I need to tell the camera and the light system exactly what I want to get it to work.

To be fair, this is the case with any and every TTL system. They’re all flawed in my opinion.

But because HSS wasn’t available I had to go about figuring out why. I did some Googling; got nothing. I emailed my Profoto rep, then followed up, got nothing. Then I finally texted the absolute best salesperson and Profoto rep that I know. Over a period of hours and phone calls, we fixed the issue. The Profoto B1X light itself was just fine. But the remote wasn’t totally updated to the recent firmware. So I needed to create an account on Profoto’s website, register the remote and only then was I able to get the firmware update. Typically, since review units are on loan to me, I don’t like registering products but the rep (the legendary Cliff Hausner) assured me that everything would be fine this time around.

Then we went back to testing the remote and the light. In order to ensure that everything was working, I needed to do a number of button combinations to get all the information I needed. In the end though, the problem wasn’t the Profoto B1X or the Air TTL-S remote entirely. It was also in part of Sony and LensRentals who sent me a unit without the latest firmware update.

Once all the firmwares were updated (which isn’t that difficult of a process and Profoto has the simplest process I’ve ever seen) then everything worked seamlessly. Interestingly enough to go to high speed sync, all you need to do is go over the normal flash sync. The Profoto Air TTL-S remote will display a first curtain sync option and unfortunately you can’t do HSS and second curtain sync. To be fair, Sony’s own system can’t do this. The only ones I know that can do it are Impact’s Venture TTL and the Godox system–which is beyond what Sony’s own flash system can do because it seems like they create their own system that does this.

Further, if you’re doing standard flash sync, you still can’t do second curtain flash wirelessly. This is a problem leftover from the old Minolta flash system and algorithms. I completely understand and respect Sony’s drive to keep their acquired heritage alive, but at the same time I think that they can update that heritage without completely destroying it. At this point, they’re doing something that makes them look like Canon with an antiquated way of doing things when it comes to flashes.

Image Quality

With the Profoto B1X you can expect the absolute best in terms of image quality. Every time I use Profoto’s lights I’m always amazed. Godox, Interfit, Impact, and Flashpoint all have a beautiful quality to them. But there has always been something that inherently makes a Profoto image feel like, well, a Profoto image that I can’t put my fingers on. Flashpoint gets the closest; but perhaps what’s really make it is the inclusion of a frosted dome that requires no umbrella reflector.

Light Output

The Profoto B1X can output up to 500 watt seconds of power. That’s a whole lot–but there are options on the market at a cheaper price point that can output more power. To be fair, you probably don’t need that much power. If you’re a wedding photographer lighting up a hall, then 500 watt seconds works well. If you’re in a studio shooting portraits, you probably won’t need as much as 500 watt seconds unless you’re stopping down to f11 and shooting at ISO 100. On top of that, the larger the light modifier you’re working with is the more power you need. So if you’re using six foot umbrellas, then get this monolight.

The addition of TTL is also a very nice touch for many photographers. But as I stated before, I felt it was almost useless for me since the flash and camera basing everything off of the ISO setting and the lens aperture. If you’re using the Profoto B1X, it’s nice to know that you have the option of adjusting the power in tenths of stops. But more often than not, I found it better for me to just adjust the power output manually instead. Again, this is all due to how TTL works. If you’re setting the flash to fire at the ceiling over and over again, then you’ll be fine. You can absolutely, reliably have fun with the Profoto B1X. But I don’t do weddings anymore.

High Speed Sync

Now here’s what a lot of you care about: high speed sync. And if you don’t care about it, you’re really missing out. High speed sync (HSS) allows you to overpower the light output from the sun. So you can dim backgrounds, overpower ambient light that’s really strong, and still illuminate your subject. With the Profoto B1x, it works in both TTL and manual modes. You know when you’re in HSS when you go over the standard flash sync speed and the remote tells you that you’re in first curtain sync in the HSS section on the right side. When working in combination with TTL, you’re going to get pretty flawless results and using exposure compensation can surely help. But again, I still prefer to work manually unless I don’t mind the extra editing I’ll need to do in post. That’s honestly really nice because it means that you don’t need to set any sort of button to do it beforehand, you just go into it. Both Godox and Shanny do this; but they’re often doing it with smaller strobes. In the case of Profoto’s you just work as normal.

When using HSS, the Profoto B1x started to get warmer but didn’t overheat and in fact the battery power barely dropped any percentages. It’s marvelous–a standard strobe would have gone through at least one set of AA batteries.

The photographers who will most benefit from HSS are those who shoot during the day honestly or sometimes those who just need some extra oomph. To reiterate, HSS is not to be confused with a flash duration–though both of those are great.

No matter what, you’ll still need to check the back of the B1X’s LCD screen to see what power output or what compensation you’re actually at. Again, this is because apparently most Profoto users just want to see how much the power output is going up, and that’s it. So with that said, unless you’re very familiar with how strobes work, you may want to bring a light meter with you.

Color Consistency

Here’s what you should know about color consistency: as you change the power output of a flash, the color balance will also change accordingly. But what makes one flash or strobe better than the other is how well they hold that consistency throughout a set number of frames. I typically set my white balance manually to 5500K daylight on the camera and throughout my sessions, I observed the white balance settings from the Sony cameras. Everything was consistent from adjustment to adjustment and location to location. Of course, you’ll only really see this benefit when you manually white balance to begin with. If you’re going for the Profoto B1X, I’d strongly suggest that you do this.

As you can see in each session, everything is very consistent.

Flash Duration

The Profoto B1X is rated to do 1/19,000–which far surpasses the focal plane shutter of any camera these days. Flash duration is great for stopping fast moving motion but it’s also great in manual mode when it comes to you trying to overpower ambient lighting. In the case of this shoot, it did a great job but if I really wanted more cloud details then I’d probably need an ND filter.

Conclusions

The Profoto B1X is an extremely and highly capable light. Its capabilities will be most valued by the professional photographer that needs this kind of output so that they spend less time editing and more time getting actual gigs to pay the bills. Profoto continues to be great at build quality and overall fair simplicity vs many other manufacturers with a close exception perhaps being Phottix. Additionally, you can rest assured knowing that the color consistency is great, the power output is more than satisfactory, and the overall functionality and versatility will mean that these lights can tackle any job.

With that in mind, most photographers will have no problems justifying the price point of $2,499 for a Profoto B1X unit and a remote.

The Profoto B1X receives five out of five stars and our coveted Editor’s Choice award. Want one? Check out Amazon for the current prices.