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Profoto A1: First look

Posted on Sep 22, 2017

Will Cheung headed to the launch of the Profoto A1 in Stockholm, find out his first thoughts.

It is always a privilege to be at a product launch and it’s rare – I’m talking dodo rare here – to be invited to the unveiling of a lighting unit; all you normally get is an emailed press release. But there I was rubbing shoulders with around 100 specially invited journalists, photographers and influencers from 22 countries in Stockholm for the launch of the A1.

As the presentation began, the knee jerk reaction was that the new product was a speedlight, an expensive camera mounted flashgun, but as the Profoto team went through the thinking behind the product and showing its potential from photographers who had been trialing the unit, I soon understood why Profoto is touting the A1 as the world’s smallest studio light.

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It is true that it can be camera mounted but it is equally at home off-camera too, and what the A1 offers regardless of where you use it is impressive. It has a round head for studio light-like coverage, a magnetic ring for quick use of modifiers, TTL and manual lighting control, an LED modelling light and a Lithium-ion rechargeable battery for fast recycling speed and capacity. And that’s not all, output is 76w/s, its menu is structured to make setup and understanding the unit fast and easy, and the A1 is fully Profoto Air compatible. The last named is a big sell point as with the A1 you can use it as a commander unit with current Profoto lights that have Air built in. Current and prospective Profoto lighting owners will appreciate this feature.

Of course some features aren’t new – in a past issue of Photography News we tested the Hahnel Modus which has a Li ion battery and the A1 is not as powerful as units like the 200w/s Godox AD200 tested in issue 48. But other features are new and worth a serious look, and the whole package is more than a little appealing…

At the launch we got to use the A1 for ourselves in various scenarios. Out of the box, the first test was could I get shooting with it without referring to a quick start guide or asking the Profoto team. Actually, yes I could. Mounted and locked on a Nikon D810 I was up and running in a trice, although it took a few minutes longer to fully understand what the settings and the options were.

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TTL or manual light control is easy as there is a sliding switch on the A1’s side. The neat thing with Profoto’s TTL mode is that once the correct exposure is determined you can slide the switch to manual and the output stays the same.

Pushing the button at the centre of the control dial brought up the menu. This is large, clear and just two pages. I soon learned how to set up Air, choose groups and frequency to communicate with other Air units and how to adjust the strength of the LCD backlight, for example.

Outdoors in intermittent sunshine I started shooting in TTL mode at normal sync speeds using the control dial to adjust flash output when needed. Next it was time to explore high speed sync and I tried shots at a variety of shutter speeds including 1/8000sec for a blip of high speed sync fill-in when the sun came out. That seemed to work fine. The A1 coped well and recycling times were short, as promised.

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Next we had some indoor scenarios lined up where we got the chance to try the A1 in bounce mode and also with the modifiers that come with the A1. The wide lens diffuser, dome diffuser and bounce card/flag were all tried. In addition, we got to try the Soft Bounce which is an optional extra.

The magnet-fit accessories worked well, stayed put on the flash and did a great job of modifying the light for impressive lighting effects.

In the final scenario we used the A1 with its Air mode on with Profoto B2 flash heads. Again no problem and the whole system worked really well.

In the short time that we got to try the A1 it is difficult not to be impressed. It performed well, gave a lovely light quality and gave us more than an inkling of its potential, on its own and with members of the Profoto family.

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For a full round up of the Profoto A1 including a review and an exclusive interview with the company’s chief executive officer see issue 49 of Photography News, which will be available to read from the 19th September.

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