Flash on the left, natural light on the right, ISO 160, F1.4, 1/500s
Profoto is a Swedish company that produces photographic lighting equipment as well as a host of light modifier accessories for their range of studio lights. Their products are known for being high-quality, well-designed and are well-regarded amongst fashion and wedding photographers.
Profoto, which has traditionally produced larger, higher-powered studio strobes, launched in 2017, their smallest ‘studio light’ – the A1. Marketing terminology aside, the A1 was their first ‘speedlight’ and at the time only compatible with Canon or Nikon cameras. Fast forward to today, they now have the A1X, an updated model which is slightly smaller but with a larger battery capacity and faster recycling time. Most importantly, compatibility now extends to Sony and Fujifilm cameras.
The Profoto Off Camera A1X and Connect kit was kindly loaned to me by CameraPro for 2 weeks. While I was delighted to be able to test this out, I did not receive any financial, or any other, compensation for this review. All views expressed here are purely my own honest opinions.
The Profoto A1X Studio Light
The elegant Profoto A1X.
The Profoto A1X is a 76W flash that can be used on or off-camera (with a remote trigger). It has a 9-stop power range, running from 2.0 (minimum) to 10.0 (full power). Profoto uses a decimal system to denote their power range. Moving the value by 1 equates to 1 stop, and the dial allows you to move in increments of 0.1 (ie. a tenth of a stop). It has a cycle time range of 0.05 to 1 second.
The features of the Profoto A1X at-a-glance:
TTL and HSS- capable, round flash head
Li-Ion battery (450 full power flashes, full charge in 115 mins)
Magnetic mount to attach various light shaping tools
0.05 to 1 sec recycling time
Integrated AirTTL remote trigger
LED modelling light
The Profoto Connect Remote Trigger
Say hello to my little friend!
The Profoto Connect is a tiny disc-shaped, button-free remote trigger, slightly larger than a 50-cent coin. It’s an easy-to-use trigger for any Profoto flash that can be triggered remotely like the A1X and it’s larger siblings like the B2, B10 and B1. It has only 3 settings: OFF, AUTO (TTL) and Manual. The operational range is 300m but reduces to 100m if you’re using High Speed Sync (HSS). It has an internal Li-Po battery chargeable via USB-C. The Connect remote also has a smartphone app (paired via Bluetooth) which provides an exposure compensation dial on the app if you need one.
The Profoto Off-Camera Kit
When folks at CameraPro kindly offered me the opportunity to test out the Profoto Off Camera Kit (containing both the A1X and Connect) for a couple of weeks, I delightfully accepted! The bundle is cheaper than buying both items separately and is a great way to start your journey in off-camera flash.
The kit includes:
One Profoto A1X flash with Li-Ion battery
A carry pouch for the flash
Dome flash diffuser (stored in carry pouch)
Bounce card and attachment
Two magnetic grid attachments (10 and 20 degree)
One Profoto Connect remote trigger. It’s an unobtrusive disc that looks unlike any other remote trigger out there. Very sexy and mysterious! Which brings us to….
Enter the Black Widow
Bring me Thanos
I decided to enlist a cosplayer for this shoot to test the Profoto A1X in real-world conditions. I love shooting cosplayers because I’m a huge geek but also because it allows me to shoot in a more adventurous way than I would with standard portraiture. Imagining an urban setting I decided upon a carpark as the shoot location.
With cosplay shoots, I approach lighting more dramatically, using hard light more than soft light. The stronger contrast brings more drama to a cosplayer’s poses and shows off the detail in their costumes better. This is very important as cosplayers take great pride in their costumes, spending countless hours perfecting their outfits. Using a flash also adds that glint of life to the eyes – a subtle but effective way to make your portraits pop!
The cosplayer who kindly agreed to work with me is Krissi, who cosplays the Black Widow character from the Marvel series of films. She also cosplays various other characters like Spider Gwen, Raven and Poison Ivy. Krissi’s outfits are amazing – authentic and detailed. She’s also friendly, enthusiastic and easygoing – an absolute pleasure to work with! You can see more of her cosplaying on Instagram: @krissi.q
The Game Plan
Knowing who I’m going to shoot and how I want to light, I chose to use:
I wanted to see how the A1X would perform in a single-light setup. While the quality of light would be important, I also wanted to see how easy it would be to use.
I also brought along a 2nd Profoto A1X flash which I already own (Sony compatible) to attempt some shots with a two-light setup. The Connect trigger is compatible with any Profoto A1X flash, regardless of the brand compatibility (eg. Canon, Nikon, Sony).
For the shoot, I also had two other photographers (Natalia & Rob) join me who were relatively new to flash photography. I wanted to see how easy it was for them to pick up and run with the A1X and Connect trigger. The shoot was scheduled for 9am and I had under 2 hours to shoot. I wanted to get at least five poses from Krissi, in both flash and natural light so I arrived earlier to set up and give Natalia & Rob a quick run-down of the A1X and Connect.
These images were all taken with the Profoto A1X, set up off-camera.
Key flash on the left, fill flash on the right, ISO 160, F1.4, 1/800s.
Flash on the right, ISO 320, F4.5, 1/125s
Key flash on the left, fill flash on the right, ISO 160, F1.4, 1/800s.
Flash on the left, bounced off a reflector, ISO 320, F2, 1/800
There’s some conjecture between the quality of light between a square-head flash vs a round-head flash. My personal view is that it’s not noticeable once you start shooting in real-world conditions and start using light modifiers like diffusers, softboxes and grids. I have never had a shoot, reviewed my images and thought “Hmmm, I wish I had a round-head flash…” or vice-versa. Regardless, the quality of light from the A1X is beautiful.
Regardless of brand, I expect a flash to produce light that is consistent in output and colour temperature over and over again. This is something the Profoto A1X does reliably well.
The Profoto A1X and Connect trigger both performed flawlessly. Initial set-up and quick and easy. I really can’t stress enough how easy it was to use this flash and trigger.
The A1X kept firing without missing a beat. I was shooting at various power levels, between the minimum of 2 up to the maximum of 10. To keep things consistent, I was shooting in manual flash mode. Cycle times were very quick – at power level 6, the flash could keep up with the X-T3 in it’s fastest burst mode (CH). Even at power level 8, it could keep up with the medium burst mode (CM). In a 6-image burst, all images were lit exactly the same with no changes in exposure or temperature. Colour me impressed!
The flash head itself tilts and swivels like most speedlights. One unique feature though is the ability to control the spread of the light via a zoom ring on the top of the flash head. This allows you to go from a wide spread with smooth fall-off to a narrow focused beam with a twist of the ring.
The rechargeable Li-Ion battery also performed well on the shoot. I wasn’t shooting in burst mode, and I fired off around 100-150 shots with the flash and the battery indicator registered around 75%. I’m not a heavy flash user and I don’t shoot in burst mode unless necessary so battery life is not usually one of my concerns. Regardless, I will always carry a spare battery in my bag.
It’s a thing of beauty.
The other strength of the A1X (and the Profoto system in general) is the user interface. While there are several buttons on it, during the shoot I only needed to operate one button (on/off) and the dial (to vary the flash power). Simple! The white-on-black LED display is a joy to behold. The current power setting is displayed in large, clear bold numbers. Other pieces of information like battery life, channel/group setting and light angle are also present but minimised. Quickly understanding the current state of the flash with a glance was very easy. Navigating the other features of the flash like setting channels and groups, turning on/off the remote trigger capability, etc is also easily done with the single dial and button.
Finally, the included light modifiers are also easy to use. They clip magnetically to the top of the flash head and the magnets are strong enough to keep them there during use but not too strong that they are difficult to remove.
Say Hello to My Little Friend!
Look Ma! No buttons!
The Connect trigger caught me by surprise. I was already using the Profoto Air Remote TTL trigger which is a larger device with an LCD screen and numerous buttons. The Connect remote is an unremarkable disc with one LED in the middle. The only control available to you is to twist it between 3 modes: Off, Auto and Manual. To be honest, when Profoto first announced it, my initial thought was “Are they nuts? Who would use such a simple device?”.
After using it, I’ve changed my tune slightly. The beauty of this trigger is its simplicity. You connect it to your camera’s hotshoe, turn the dial to Auto or Manual, turn on the A1X flash and you’re good to go. It’s that simple! No worrying about channels, or other settings that I used to obsess over with the larger Air-TTL trigger. I don’t want to say it’s a remote trigger for dummies (that would be demeaning and I would be pointing the finger at myself!) but it’s the perfect remote trigger for newcomers to flash photography, or for photographers who don’t need complicated channel setups and just want to keep things simple.
The Connect remote also has a smartphone app (paired via Bluetooth) which allows you to access an exposure compensation dial if you need one. I tested that it works but I did not end up using that feature for the shoot.
The A1X also comes with the following modifiers that attach magnetically to the top of the flash head:
A 10-degree and 20-degree grid
Easy as 1-2-3
Before the shoot I spent around 20 mins showing them how to operate the A1X and Connect as well as a crash course on shooting with flash. During the shoot, I tried to give ample opportunity to Natalia & Rob to shoot with the flash and they took to it like a duck to water. While they shot, I played the assistant and moved the light around and changed the power settings as they directed. After the shoot, they both agreed it was an elegantly simple system to shoot, the got beautiful results with it and they found it easy to dial in the correct amount of power and switch out the various modifiers as required.
Time to Switch?
I currently run with 2 lighting systems:
For larger more complex shoots, I use the Profoto B1 and B2 off-camera flashes and the Air Remote TTL-F trigger. I’ll usually use 2 to 3 lights for these shoots with various modifiers like softboxes, gels and a beauty dish. I love about Profoto products because they are reliable, consistent, thoughtfully designed and easy to use. During a shoot there are many things vying for my attention. Having a lighting system that is high-quality and rock-solid allows me to concentrate on being creative which is the most important thing.
For smaller jobs like corporate headshots and events, I’ve been using the Godox V860IIF flash with my Fujifilm cameras along with MagMod modifiers like the MagBulb diffuser. I also use the Godox XPro-F remote trigger if I need to use the V860IIF off-camera. By and large, the Godox system works really well with Fujifilm cameras and many swear by them because they are affordable and they just work.
With the advent of the Profoto A1X, I was keen to see if it could replace Godox in my current setup. The quick answer? Yes it can! This would allow me to consolidate my lighting into one system. With the Profoto Air Remote, I can trigger the B1, B2 and A1X. If I mount the A1X on-camera, it can also trigger the B1 and B2 flashes.
I can’t conclude this review without addressing the elephant in the room: the Godox V1, a direct competitor to the A1X. I don’t own it, nor have I ever used one. However my experience with the V860IIF has been positive so the V1 should be similar. There are plenty of other reviews out there that have compared the Godox V1 to the Profoto A1X and by all accounts, the V1 performs similarly to the A1X at a third of the price.
It’s fairly obvious that Profoto’s target market is high-end professional fashion, wedding and commercial photographers and their products are priced as such. For those already invested in the Profoto system, the high-price tag of the A1X should not be surprising. But what is it really that you’re paying for?
Example: Shot-To-Shot Exposure and Colour Consistency
Fujifilm X-H1, with flash mounted on-camera.
Camera was mounted on tripod, and shots taken indoors.
Exposure set to manual (ISO 200, F5.6, 1/160s)
Both flashes set to manual power. Profoto at power level 4, Godox at 1/128 power.
A series of 6 images taken in the fastest burst mode (CH)
If you’re interested in the results of this exercise, please download each of the images in sequence so you can flip quickly between them to see the differences.
The shot-to-shot consistency for the A1X is almost flawless. If you download the 6 images and flip between them, you’ll see that the exposure is more or less the same. The colour is also almost perfect, where the histogram only shows the tiniest of movements. If you look closely, you will see a very slight colour shift moving from image #4 to #5.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the Godox V860IIF. Even without looking at the histogram, there are obvious inconsistencies in exposure and colour from shot to shot. Looking at the histogram, you can see it shifting significantly from shot to shot. If you’re a photographer who takes a large volume of similar shots into editing, the inconsistencies with the Godox would drive you insane!
Does exposure and colour consistency warrant enough to pay the extra premium for the A1X? That really depends on your circumstances and your budget. If your work depends critically on colour consistency, then it justifies the investment in a Profoto system. For fashion, wedding and commercial photography where this consistency is mandatory, it’s not a difficult decision and you would choose the correct tool for the job.
If you’re an amateur photographer, that shot-to-shot consistency probably isn’t critical so it then comes down to other features and price.
Price and features are probably the two most important criteria. That’s the simple reality for most of us. But there are other factors worth considering such as ease of use, build quality, range of accessories, dealer and community support, etc. When I purchase a major piece of gear, I view it as an investment over a period of years and items like cameras, lenses and flashes should be able to last for many years. From that point of view, the higher price of the A1X can be justified if those things hold value for you.
Could I have gotten the same results for this shoot if I had used my Godox V860IIF instead? Of course. A cosplay shoot doesn’t require critical shot-to-shot colour consistency. But which one would I have preferred to use? The A1X without a doubt. These are the reasons why I would buy/use it:
Well-designed interface, easy to use
Reliable performance and colour consistency
Great build quality
Well-thought out accessories
Supplements my existing Profoto system and I can use one remote trigger for all my strobes
I can’t side-step the fact that it is an expensive piece of gear that will be unjustifiable for many people. But as photographers, we make that choice in all categories of our gear, from camera bodies to lenses to tripods. And if there’s a piece of gear we want bad enough, we will save up for it! I prefer to buy once and buy well.
At the end of the day, flashes, like cameras and lenses, are tools to help us achieve a creative vision. The fact that there are many options for photographers to choose, and at various price points, is something that should be celebrated. No matter what you shoot, there is a product that will do the job at a price point to suit you – and that is marvel-lous!
However, if you’re willing to pay for the quality, ease of use, features and the other intangibles that the Profoto brand embodies, then I can heartily recommend the Profoto A1X and Connect remote!
Got questions about Profoto or other flash photography gear? Ask one of our staff photographers in store, online or over the phone.