In 2013, Profoto brought a new level of mobility to high-powered flash photography with the battery-powered B1 monolight. For its next act, Profoto has doubled down on the promise of greater mobility, delivering a smaller, battery-powered flash, the B2, which can be used on or off camera.
Like the B1, the B2 features TTL metering for Nikon and Canon cameras via Profoto’s Air Remote. Unlike the B1, the B2 requires an external battery pack, a design concession that makes the head small enough to be used as an on-camera flash—like a speed light on steroids. This 250W flash offers a recycle time of 1.35 seconds when shooting at full power or as quick as 0.03 seconds at the lowest power setting. Flash output is adjustable over a range of nine f-stops in 1/10th f-stop increments with flash durations as short as 1/15,000 sec. High-speed sync is available up to 1/8000 sec. There’s also a 9W LED modeling light, which is equivalent to a 50W halogen source.
The B2 will be sold in two main configurations. A B2-To-Go Kit will bundle the flash, battery, charger, a location bag and carrying bag for $2,195. A B2 Location Kit features all the above plus an extra flash head and battery for $2,995. The Air Remote is sold separately for $395.
We paired with frequent co-tester, the NJ-based photographer and director David Patiño to give a pair of B2s a trial run.
Like the B1, the industrial design on the B2 flash head is first class. It’s sleek, attractive and well constructed. The head (excluding the stand adapter) weighs 1.5 pounds while the generator with a lithium ion battery inside weighs in at 2.2 pounds. It’s a very portable package.
If you want to use the B2 as an on-camera flash, you’ll need a bracket, as Profoto’s Air Remote will be sitting on your hot shoe to enable TTL. It’s not terribly cumbersome to use the B2 on-camera, but it’s not as plug-and-play as your typical speed light.
In the Field
The B2 is a rock-solid performer, delivering consistent output at all power settings. Patiño used it on a total of six jobs and more than 3,000 frames and told us the experience was “flawless.” The battery was a marathon performer at lower power settings. Patiño shot a four-hour headshot session between f/2.8 and f/3.2 and didn’t completely drain the battery. At full power, Profoto claims you’ll enjoy 215 full-power flashes or up to 90 minutes of continuous modeling light. It takes about 45 minutes to recharge a completely drained battery.
For a large group portrait in a conference room, Patiño was originally set to use a pair of 800W monolights, but they failed on him. He turned to the B2s, bouncing them off a white drop ceiling at a 45-degree angle. “It wasn’t an ideal situation,” he said, but the B2s came through, enabling him to shoot at f/11 at ISO 800 while maintaining sharpness front to back. The B2’s battery pack features asymmetric power, so if you’re using two B2s, you can vary the power output settings on the flash heads individually, doling out the 250 total watts in whatever amount you need.
The B2 works with Profoto’s existing range of modifiers, but there are several new ones designed for the B2 that easily snap into place.
Speaking of easy, we were also impressed with how easy the system is to operate. Even if you’re not intimately familiar with the Profoto system, you’ll be up and shooting quickly. The battery features a large display for viewing and adjusting power settings and checking battery status and proved very intuitive to operate.
Not Light on the Wallet
The B2 will set you back $2,195, or about the same as the more powerful B1 monolight. That’s a hefty price tag for an on-camera flash, especially when you consider that other needed accessories—like the Air Remote and a bracket if you’re using the B1 on-camera—aren’t included.
The Li-ion battery used in the B2 battery pack is different than the removable battery on the B1. We understand why this was done—for one thing, it keeps the B2’s battery pack nice and small—but it also means that B1 owners adopting the B2 will have a second set of batteries to purchase and keep track of.
When the B1 was introduced, it broke new ground. The B2 enters a field with existing competitors like Elinchrom’s recently revamped Quadra and Quantum’s Qflash. The B2 is slightly heavier but more powerful than most of the Qflash family with roughly comparable battery life (though Quantum has a much larger selection of portable battery packs to choose from). The B2 is also more expensive than the Qflash kits. Stacked next to the updated Quadra, the B2 is lighter, though not as powerful. On the flip side, the B2 offers a nine-stop power adjustment range to the Quadra’s 6.9, with faster recycle times—and the Quadra lacks TTL. Price-wise, the two units are comparable.
In terms of industrial design, however, the B2 stands alone. Profoto is light years ahead of the competition when it comes to building products that look as good as they operate.
PROS: Superb design; consistent performance; light weight; easy to use.
CONS: Pricey relative to similar solutions; batteries not interchangeable with B1 system.
(© David Patiño)
(© David Patiño)