Outdoorphoto Blog » Working Review of the Profoto D1 500Watt Air Units

Working Review of the Profoto D1 500Watt Air Units

BEGINNER

Continuing with our review of the studio lights, we look at the next “travel kit” – the Profoto D1 Air Kits.

Generally, you will not easily find us recommending lights below 500watt in output power. The type of work we do require that we have absolutely the best possible starting image to work on, and although the higher ISO capabilities of the newer DSLR cameras are nothing short of astounding, we prefer to keep our ISO’s low. This is still the best way to get the maximum dynamic range from a sensor, which means that it’s the best way to get the best and most accurate colour from a sensor as well.

The D1 kits we have been working with is the 500watt “Air” kits. That means it has the built in Profoto Air sync radio triggers in the light. This is pretty nifty if you do not yet have a radio trigger solution in your studio or if you have one of the medium format camera bodies/grips that have the trigger system built in (which is then, pretty darn awesome!) but as we are pretty happy with our PocketWizard solutions, 90% of the time, we used those as the triggering mechanism on our shoots.

The nice thing about the Profoto Air triggers are that you can set different channels and groups on the trigger itself, it’s not just a “dumb” trigger. However, on some of the generator packs (more radio signal noise and interference), we have found these to drop signal sometimes and misfire. Not something I like. That said, next to my PocketWizards, they are the best performing triggers I have come across. Unlike other trigger solutions, I have not yet found a photographer that have shattered Air Sync radio trigger units by throwing me against a wall… Just saying…

The Units

Not the biggest 500watt units we have come across but in no way are they small either. The units allow modifiers to slide in and out of an inner barrel, which means you can “focus” a beam to some degree, making the light output slightly wider or narrower, depending on how they are mounted.

Another major design feature which I really like is that the front part of the light is covered in a ground glass element. That means the flash tube and modelling light is in no way exposed, so you cannot accidentally knock them when changing modifiers or when moving or travelling with your lights.

The actual light controls are all manual and readouts are digital, so setting two lights to exact output values is pretty easy. It’s worthwhile to mention though, that some buttons switches between two options when you press them, but by pressing and holding, a third option becomes available. Impossible to know this unless you read the manual!

The actual light construction is sturdy, and designed to work. They are made pretty tough and the reps all claim that they are easily serviceable and upgradeable. I have not dropped one, but I think they will be able to handle the knocks and bumps of a hard working studio for many years.

Performance

The units perform very well and without hiccups. The output is consistent although trigger times with the remote triggers seem to be slow. The X-sync speed of my canon 5DmkIII is 1/200th of a sec, but at that speed, I get just a hint of a shutter ghost when shooting with radio triggers. As a rule, I drop 1/3rd stop in shutter speed when shooting with wireless triggers. This has been a phenomenon puzzling me since my 5DmkI, and I have found this on almost all lighting systems I have used. Cheaper wireless triggers are worse, and the effect is more pronounced at certain f/stops. I do not think it’s a problem with the lights per se, but still, something to watch out for, especially when shooting on even tone backgrounds. The reality is that 1/160th of a second is more than enough to keep everything cozy. Unless you are shooting full power, flash duration is well over 1/1,000th of a second.

Single 3×4′ softbox from front left. Close proximity to models to ensure quick light falloff.

Multiple D1 heads bounced on walls with a single 3×4′ softbox above the models.

Nude Bodyscape with a single, overpowered D1 head and 3×4′ RF softbox from above.

In Practice

I like working with these lights. They recycle fast and crisp. They fire every time, and we have never been able to overheat them, even when enclosed in a softbox.

To give you an idea of what we put them through: With some models, we work very slow and methodically. We pose them, give them breaks between shots to get a face or pose back, etc. But sometimes a model just clicks into a groove and every time she stops moving, the image through the lens is better than the previous one. We have timed sets of a few models, and when they click, and the action starts, we can easily average between 20-24 shots per minute! That’s 2-3 seconds between shots… as an average!

Obviously this is not full power all the way, but still, most other lights will build up heat pretty fast in such conditions, and either damage or shut down to protect themselves.

These lights are expensive, but they are good. If you are planning to buy lights for long and hard use, I can happily recommend them. If you have assistants and training photographers that will be using your lights. These will go the distance. I honestly think that they will last quite a bit longer than any other brand of light under hard use. There is a reason why many of the bigger rental companies stock Profoto.

Personally, I would be happy to go for the non-”Air” units and keep my triggering to PocketWizards. It leaves me with a single trigger solution for both flash and cameras, and a cheaper lighting solution. Also, I am often in a scenario where I need to trigger multiple light types (like speedlights in a cupboard or shooting in from outside through a window) in which case, I can just add another remote trigger. Also, they are pretty common if I need to pick up a few more, or even rent a few more for a specific shoot. The Air-sync units are more than capable, just not as common or versatile.

 

 Article and Photographs by Sean Nel – Shoots Imaging

About the Author:

Sean has been shooting since schooldays (started with a borrowed Pentax K1000 from His sister, also a photographer) but only became seriously involved with photography when he returned from living in Eastern Europe. While overseas he did shoot some non-profit editorial work and also made the big switch from Nikon to Canon. Today, Sean likes to shoot Stock. "Stock is the 'best of both worlds' industry, that requires creativity and very set guidelines to be successful..." Sean also teaches photography (basic, advanced & other Stock-related courses) and frequently arrange "shooting days" for photography clubs and individual groups.

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