Profoto has been on a bit of a tear lately, announcing two new products that have changed how photographers looks at lighting possibilities.
These are part of the new Off-Camera Flash family; the Profoto B1 and B2. They took their strobes, made them lightweight and portable and added TTL and HSS functionality.
This is my review of the Profoto B2.
Profoto B2 Review
Profoto B2 Specifications
I’m not sure why some reviewers include this information when you can get it straight from the source.
I’m assuming if you’re reading a review you’ve already looked at those key numbers and you’re actually looking to understand what those numbers mean in the real world.
On the move – size & weight
On-location photography is where the Profoto B2 shines.
Pared down to the basics (with one head, one battery and just a couple of modifiers) it really is amazing how lightweight the kit is.
However, when you start adding extras, their combined weights do add up. This is especially true when you work alone and have to bring a sandbag (at least 5kg extra) to stabilise your light stand.
If you have an assistant, you can leave the sandbag at home and have someone else carry the gear; which makes everything easier (and lighter) for the photographer.
If your assistant is acting as a voice-activated light stand, they will appreciate the lightweight B2 head and modifiers. It also means that you won’t have to use as much counterweight if you’re booming the head on a stand.
As each item in the Profoto B2 Kit and OCF Modifier family are lightweight, you can minimise the weight if you’re good at bringing only the gear you need.
However if you go on shoots and decide what gear to use based on conditions in the moment, you’ll probably bring more gear than you actually need which will make your kit heavier.
Either way, I’d suggest a good rolling case or hiking-like backpack option for carrying your gear around. The first will get the weight off your shoulders and works well if the terrain is smooth. The latter is your best choice in rougher terrain, because the padded, adjustable waist-strap can be used to transfer the weight from your shoulders to your hips.
Overall, I found that setting up the Profoto B2 is quick and easy. Plugging the cord from the head into the pack is straightforward and locks tightly.
In my experience the B2 is slower to set up than the Profoto B1, but faster to set up and control than a speed light.
The one thing that is a bit slow is changing the battery. This is because it’s a bit finicky to get the B2 out of the carrying bag, not because changing the battery itself is slow.
The new OCF modifiers were also quick to set up, and I talk about that and the drawbacks in my OCF Modifier review.
Interface & Ergonomics
Profoto should be commended for how quick and easy it is to change important settings on the B2. The display is bright and easy to read in most lighting situations.
Controlling the B2 is simple using dedicated buttons and dials on the interface. You could probably figure out how to do any of the following without looking at the instruction manual:
- Turn the B2 on/off
- Set light output for each head using the corresponding dial
- Change the Sync (AIR, SLAVE, or Blank/None)
- Turn modelling lights on/off for each head
- Change between “Normal” and “Freeze” mode
- Select “Ready” signal (BEEP, DIM BEEP, DIM or Blank/None)
The only button that requires a bit more understanding is the set button. That’s the one that allows you to change the channel that the AIR Remote will communicate with the generator on, and what group the light will be in.
The interface is an improvement on the B1. I really don’t like that you have to use two buttons to change between “Freeze” and “Normal” modes on the B1, especially since which two buttons isn’t clear by looking at the control panel (you have to remember which ones).
Air Remotes – Canon and Nikon
While I commend Profoto for the interface on the B2 generator, I’m not quite as glowing about their Air Remotes. Since I shoot both Canon and Nikon, I was able to test both the TTL-C and TTL-N.
The main difference is how to turn on High-Speed Sync. You use a dedicated button on the TTL-C remote for Canon Cameras. For Nikon cameras you have to set HSS in the camera menus as there is no button to do this on the TTL-N.
Both Air Remotes work as advertised. They’re consistent, don’t have to be in line of sight and work over the distances that I tested. I didn’t actually test to see how far the remote would work, so can’t speak directly to the claims of 300 m (1000 ft) range.
They both have TTL functionally and High-Speed Sync (HSS) which can open new creative possibilities.
- Delayed Response | when you press the button to change the power, there is a delay before it registers on the screen. This leads me to sometimes press the button too much and have to adjust. Sure I could be more patient, but I would expect that pressing the button would cause an instantaneous reaction.
- Relative vs Absolute Power | unlike the generator which shows the absolute power (i.e. 2.0 – 10.0), the TTL remotes show the relative power change (i.e. +0.1 or +1.0 or -1.0 etc.). Although that’s somewhat helpful, I’d rather know exactly what power I’m at so that I know what my options are.
I think the best way to test new gear is to put it through its paces. In the case of the B2, I set up four shoots over the course of a single weekend to try it out in a variety of situations.
Here are my thoughts on performance based on those shoots:
The big question I hear when it comes to strobes (B2 or otherwise) is “can it overpower the sun”?
The short answer for the B2 is: yes it can.
The longer answer is that its ability to do so is dependent on a number of factors:
- Type of light shaper/modifier – As Carlo Van Wyk correctly states in his Profoto B2 Review, “… not all modifiers are created equal.” Large soft modifiers tend to reduce light output, while some hard modifiers (like the Profoto Magnum) make the light brighter.
- Distance from the subject – Light follows the inverse square law, meaning that any time you double the distance you halve the power and any time you halve the distance you double the power. So if the B2 is close to your subject, you’ve got a shot at overpowering the sun. Put the B2 far enough away and it won’t be possible.
Neil van Niekerk used this property of light when testing out the B2 in manual power. Keeping his power level consistent, he could ask his assistant to get closer or further from the subject to get a bit more or a bit less power from his B2 to get the balance he wanted.
- Shutter Speed (when using HSS) – When using shutter speeds slower than your camera’s x-sync (usually around 1/200 sec), changing shutter speed has no impact on flash exposure (aperture does). However at higher shutter speeds that require HSS, the speed of the shutter can cut off part of the flash curve and so suddenly shutter speed does have impact on flash exposure. Neil explains this in is Profoto B2 review as well.
- Feathering – Feathering is a technique I learned from watching Joey L do his thing in his CreativeLive course. Since it involves using the edges of the light shaper to hit the subject, you won’t have as much power as if you were using the whole light shaper.
How does that power compare to a speed light? I didn’t do exact measurements because it would depend on what brand you use.
Zach Sutton over at Fstoppers mentions that the Canon 600EX-RT is around 70Ws. That means it would take between 3-4 additional speed lights to get the same power as one B2.
Sure it’s possible, but the B2 would be easier and faster to set up that that many speed lights.
One of the signature features of the B2 is its ability to fire at up to 20 flashes per second. Sounds great right?
In situations where you don’t need a lot of power, this is a really cool feature. However at higher powers, it won’t be able to keep up.
This is especially evident when shooting HSS. Since power is limited to the upper levels, the B2 can’t keep up with the frame rate of a Canon 5D Mark III let alone the 12 fps of a 1DX.
That means that when shooting action you’re stuck trying to capture a single decisive moment rather than being liberal with your motor drive.
I understand that building a light than can do that is next to impossible, but a guy can dream can’t he?
I’m not TTL expert, so I’m not sure what to look for to properly assess it.
Overall, I didn’t see the flash ever fire in a way that created overexposure or noticeable underexposure on the subject and so I feel that it worked as expected.
Just like when I tested HSS with my Profoto B1, I never had any banding issues when using it with the B2.
Although you lose a stop of power compared to the B1, the range of 7.0-10.0 on the B2 means that you can also go a stop lower if you need less power and still need HSS.
This power range is available for both Canon and Nikon users. On the B1, Nikon users can only use a power range of 8.0-10.0 with HSS. That means that unless you need to have full powered HSS with a Nikon Camera, the B2 is a better choice if you need flexibility.
B2 vs B1 Comparison
|Profoto B2||Profoto B1|
|Max Power||250 Ws||500 Ws|
|Power Range||9 stops (1-250 Ws)||9 stops (2-500 Ws)|
|Fastest Flash Duration (high power)||1/1,000 s||1/1,000 s|
|Fastest Flash Duration (low power)||1/15,000 s||1/19,000 s|
|Battery Capacity||215 Full Power Flashes||220 Full Power Flashes|
|Modelling Light Power||9W LED||20W LED|
|Weight||1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) generator & 0.7 kg (1.5 lbs) head||3 kg (6.6 lbs)|
When looking at the comparison head-to-head, you’ll notice that many of the specifications are similar. There’s enough of a difference between the two products that each would be better suited for different uses.
If weight is your deal breaker and you need super fast recycling times, then the B2 is the right choice.
If you’re looking for more power, faster flash durations and a brighter modelling light then the B1 will suit you better.
One thing to note is that the flat glass plates that cover the bulb are actually different sizes for the B1 and B2. That means any gels that you cut to size won’t be interchangeable.
Also, at this time the B1 glass plate can be exchanged for a glass dome, mimicking the spread of a Profoto Pro head. The B2 does not have that option as of yet.
The Cord Debate
Is it great that the B1 doesn’t have any cords? Sure is!
Is it terrible that the B2 does have cords? Not quite.
I don’t understand why people have such a hatred for cords. Having corded strobes gives you options that a cordless strobe can’t:
- A voice activated light stand (assistant) can more easily hold a small head on a pole at difficult angles while the weight of the generator is on his/her shoulder.
- Booming a small head is also easier and doesn’t need as much counterweight to stabilise.
- Using cords opens the opportunity for multiple output, so you can get two lights out of one power pack
- If your light stand falls over, your all in one head will be all destroyed. If you have a corded strobe, the head may get damaged, but likely not as much as the weight coming down isn’t quite the same. That means you’ll only have to replace/repair a head, not the whole unit. The generator is unlikely to get damaged as it will already be close to the ground.
- You can use the generator to help weigh down a light stand. Granted in the case of the B2 it doesn’t add to much weight, it still will make your stand more stable.
- If you don’t have a Profoto Air Remote, changing the settings when the head is up high is easier than with the B1 because the generator is still at a reasonable height.
So for the penalty of being slightly slower to set up and a slight trip hazard, you do get a lot of advantages as well.
Each photographer needs to decide what’s better for them based on what and how they shoot.
Let’s face it, professional photographers often own a lot of gear. So adding another piece of kit should take some careful consideration.
The Profoto B2 is a great piece of gear. It has good power, is lightweight, an intuitive interface, TTL and HSS (with the TTL remotes) with fast recycle times and mostly consistent colour. Your assistant will appreciate the weight or you can easily work alone.
The only flaw in the system is the some of the small niggles I have with the TTL remotes.
So if you’ve decided that it suits your needs, you just have to choose if you’re willing to pay for it (and it’s not cheap!).
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I bought the B1 when the B2 hadn’t been announced yet and I’m really happy with it.
That said, if I was doing it all over again and had the choice between the two, I would probably choose the B2. I love how lightweight it is and that it is a corded system with a lightweight head that can be boomed easily and safely.
I don’t tend to shoot at full power on the B1 so that I keep my recycle times low. That means that the B2 compares quite well in most of my shooting scenarios.
Sure I’d love to have a 1000 Ws system that does HSS and TTL, but it would still depend on the weight trade-off.
When looking at any new piece of gear, it’s important to consider what you shoot, how you shoot and where you’re planning on taking your craft.
If you’re considering buying a Profoto B2, I would suggest that you go to your local rental shop and take it for a spin. There’s no point in spending all that cash if it’s not going to work for what you’re photographing.
I hope that you found that review helpful. If you have any questions, please comment below.