Testing the Profoto B1 AirTTL with High Speed Sync

Overpowering sunset with the Profoto B1. © 2015 Gary Allard

Normally I am big speedlight guy. I love ’em. Compact, lightweight and relatively powerful, they’ve served me well in remote locations where power and portability are an issue. So, when Tony from Nelson Photo Supplies suggested I take the B1 kit for a test drive, I wasn’t sure how they would fit into my work. Would these be as easy and portable as my speedlights? I wanted to truly put it through the ringer and see if it could stand up to the hype.

I’m not a techy photographer. Bring up things like hacking sync speeds or going full TTL, my eyes will glaze over. That changed when I learned that the B1 TTL system had recently been upgraded so accommodate high speed sync for Nikon. This changes everything. Where I used to need to use multiple speedlights and ND filters, I could now sync my D4 at low apertures and unbelievably high shutter speeds — in some cases shooting at the max 1/8000 of a second. You read that right, no extra zeros there. And Profoto knows their demographic here; they are aptly calling this system their “off-camera flash” kit. These are like speedlights on steroids.

Running photography by Gary Allard

High Speed Sync with Nikon D4: ƒ/4 at 1/8000 of a second. © 2015 Gary Allard

First impression is its extreme portability. The whole two light kit fits nicely into a medium backpack. This particular rental kit comes with 2 heads, 4 batteries, a quick charger, a car charger, and the TTL control units for both Canon and Nikon. Each battery is rated to 220 full power pops and will recharge in under 40 minutes.

Besides its compact size, the TTL component is what really makes this kit valuable for a location photographer. A recent firmware upgrade enables the controller and lights with high-speed sync (HSS) with practically limitless abilities. In normal TTL you have full control of both heads (or more, if you have them) on 3 separate groups with a full +-2 stops of power. This is very convenient when shooting alone.

Dance and Action Phtoography by Gary Allard

Simple two light setup with dancer Sarah Navarrete © 2015 Gary Allard

Other wiz-bang features include up to 20 flashes per second (on lower power settings) and the “freeze” mode in which the flash duration is suppressed to lessen any blur in fast movement. A variable LED modeling light keeps the unit nice and cool, and it comes with standard slave mode and sync inputs for non-TTL radio triggers.

All in all, this kit thoroughly impressed me. Obviously these carry a steeper price tag than speedlights but Profoto is proud of their gear for good reason. The upside? It’s widely available to rent. Talk to the good folks at Nelson Photo and they’ll set you up. And if you’re an APA member like me, you’ll get some special pricing there too.

For some behind-the-scenes video, check out this little piece from my session with runner Jennifer Magallon:

This is where I have to be transparent and tell you that Nelson let me use the kit pro-bono in exchange for the rental department mention (Thanks, Tony!). But that’s where the deal ended. The glowing review was all my idea.

Check out more dance and running images from the sessions on my site here, or follow along on Instagram and Facebook.