Profoto A1 Review, “World’s Smallest” Studio Light
May 22, 2018
This 76 W/s flash features a round head and provides both TTL and manual exposure options, as well as High Speed Sync. Its rechargeable Li-Ion battery provides up to 350 full-power flashes and recharges in about 80 minutes. Other notable features include built-in AirTTL, a unique magnetic mount for light modifiers and a modeling light.
This $995 unit is currently available for Nikon and Canon, with a Sony model in the works. The flash comes with several accessories, including a bounce card, 180-degree dome diffuser, wide lens diffuser, carry bag, stand and micro USB cable. Other accessories, including gels and soft bounces, are also available.
From its round head to its turn lock, the Profoto A1 feels sturdy. It weighs in at 1.2 pounds with battery and measures 4.3 x 3.0 x 6.5 inches.
It is by far the most intuitive flash we’ve ever used, thanks to its simplified menu system. Just push the center settings button to activate a clearly labeled menu. Each individual box contains multiple settings for such functions as Modeling Light intensity, Zoom, Standby time, Sync, AF Assist light and more. This menu also provides access to Air TTL 8 Channel and 3 Groups (per channel) settings. Move the switch on the left side from TTL to Manual and the A1 remembers your TTL setting so you can seamlessly tweak the exposure from the base setting.
The head features a magnetic mount for effortlessly attaching light modifiers and filters. The pull between an accessory and the mount was so tight that it was a little difficult to remove the dome diffuser (which is our favorite accessory and is included in the bundle). At least you know it’s not going to fly off as you use it.
The flash head tilts and angles easily but securely locks into position for bounce flash. The zoom can be adjusted manually or automatically and you can focus the light beam to get a wide or more centralized beam. There’s also a focus assist light that can be activated or disabled and a small port is available for firmware updates.
The battery is external and just a quick press of a release button allows you to change batteries within seconds—a real bonus if you notice that the flash’s battery level is getting low at a critical moment. A word of caution, though: You may want to dial down the LCD brightness when shooting in low light as it’s fairly bright. And the Test button (which also serves as the on/off control) is very bright and doesn’t dim with the LCD, so it may be distracting.
The battery life on the A1 is excellent and delivers 350 full-power flashes on a single charge. Recycling is fast—1.2 seconds at full power and much faster at lower output settings. Better yet, we noticed no slow-down in recycling time as the battery ran out of juice. Color was also consistent across the board, as was TTL exposure.
Startup is a little slower than we’d like but only because you have to push and hold the large Test button and then turn the main dial a couple of times to power on the flash. The latter is a safety feature to prevent you from accidentally turning on the power.
The word “like” doesn’t describe how much we appreciated the you-don’t-have-to-read-the-manual menu system. And the rounded head, especially with the dome diffuser, produced beautiful light with soft, even fall-off and even shooting all day, we had plenty of battery juice to power us through.
Being able to retain the TTL setting when switching to manual was extremely convenient, as was the ease with which we were able to change (and even stack) light modifiers and filters thanks to the magnetic mount.
The Profoto A1 is not for everyone, especially considering its price tag. There are plenty of excellent flash units on the market for much less money than the A1 commands, though few with the combination of speed and endurance.
The $600 radio control Nikon SB-5000 Speedlight and the $580 Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT are both serious A1 competitors. Using 2600 mAh Ni-MH batteries, the SB-5000’s minimum recycling time is 1.8 seconds (slower than the A1) and slows to a minimum of 2.5 seconds with 1.5V AA alkaline batteries installed. The Ni-MH batteries deliver at least 190 flashes, while you’ll get a minimum of 150 flashes with the alkalines, both lagging the A1.
The Canon Speedlite can deliver a range between 100-700 flashes when using 1900 mAh AA/HR6 Ni-MH batteries, with recycling times of 0.1-5.5 seconds (and 0.1-3.3 seconds for the Speedlite’s Quick flash mode). We can assume slower recycling times and lower flash output numbers when using AA alkaline batteries.
If you’re a Profoto user and already have a Profoto Air Remote, then the A1 belongs in your gear bag, especially if you’re a wedding and/or event photographer. Frankly, though we’re not a Profoto user and already have about four speedlights, the A1 is very tempting because of its ease of use and the beautiful, soft light it produces. We don’t expect other manufacturers to completely change their design to a round flash head (although we’d love that) but they certainly should take a lesson from the A1 on designing a menu system that’s so easy and intuitive to use.
PROS: Fantastic menu system; quick recycling time; easy-to-change battery; round magnetic head makes it easy to modify.
CONS: Pricey; magnetic mount’s hold can be too tenacious.