Off-camera lighting has been a big part of the way I make photos since almost the very beginning. I've always loved lighting my shots well, and I can pretty comfortably say that no less than 95% of my work is artificially lit. Until just recently, I've been doing all my work with speedlights. In fact, 100% of the work on my website was done with speedlights. However, I recently decided it was time to upgrade, and invest in something a little more powerful and supposedly robust. Since the upgrade, I've been both impressed, and incredibly disappointed. Here's my story:
Introducing the Profoto B1 Air:
This light is an absolute game changer. It's a full-on 500W studio light, but it runs on a small battery that clips into the light. No packs, no mains, no nothing. Just a monster 500W light that can do 220 shots on full power. I hardly ever go above 1/8th power on a speedlight, so this B1 pretty much lasts forever with me. And at 500W, it's powerful enough to light a small fishing village.
It's solid, it's powerful, it's reliable, it's convenient, it makes it easier to get the job done. On paper, it's the perfect location light. I honestly couldn't ask for a better light. This light is the perfect, perfect light for the work I do. So I bought it. Here in South Africa, the light costs R27 000 (+- $2570). I bought it before a recent price jump for R25 000.
Just take that in: R25 000. That's enough to buy a cheap car. And that's R25 000 before the R4000 trigger, which is a standard platform independent trigger, by the way - not the regular awesome Profoto trigger that allows you to control the power of the light (there's no Nikon version yet). This is also before the R6000 - R7000 octabank I need to buy to replace the 5' octa I use at the moment, or the R1500 speedring I need to buy to make my current octa work. The trigger and the octa/speedring were purchases I knew I'd have to make, though, so I'm not complaining about that. I'm just emphasising that when I bought this light, I knew it was going to end up being a R30 000+ investment, one I was willing to make, because Profoto lights are supposed to be those lights you buy once and use until your arthritis stops you from pressing the shutter release.
So, how did I justify buying this light? Well, it's more power than I'll ever need on-location, it's a quick setup, and Profoto lights last forever, right? They're industry standard, right? They're some of the most robust, most solid lights in our industry, right?
Yeah, that's what I thought too, until I took it out of my bag one afternoon and found this:
Yeah, that's a crack. That's one big-ass crack. The light still works perfectly, but it's got one massive crack in the casing. I found that after having the light for about 6 weeks, and having used it all of about 10 times. Now, I'm the first one to admit that gear of mine has a bit of a rough life. I've had my gear ruined by being blown over by the wind or dropped before. In fact, my previous octa got so destroyed at a shoot I did that I took it off the stand and threw it in a bin right there on the sidewalk before grabbing another out the car. One of my speedlights is held together with two hair elastics because I dropped it on the first shoot I ever did with it. I've got no problem admitting this stuff, but I can tell you with absolute confidence that this Profoto B1 has never been dropped or taken a knock, let alone one that could cause a crack like that. It's never blown over, it's never been dropped, nothing. In fact, most of that light's life, it stood on a C-Stand in wedding receptions pointed at the ceiling because I haven't sorted out an Octa for it yet. The light is absolutely spotless apart from the crack. No scratches, no marks, no bumps, no nothing. Have you ever even heard of a cracked Profoto light? Aren't these things supposed to be tanks?
The only way that crack can exist is if the light has some sort of manufacture fault and that it cracked while being transported or something. I don't know exactly how, but I know for sure that there's no chance that the B1 experienced the kind of trauma necessary to crack it's casing like that. Now, I don't blame Profoto for a moment for having a light out in the wild that has a fault in the casing. That's going to happen to every company. But what absolutely grinds my gears is that Profoto isn't interested in fixing this thing. I took it back to the store I bought it from, and the guy at the store said that he'd "never seen anything like this", after which he took the light from me and sent it down to the local Profoto distributor, who says I need to pay R1241 to fix the light. I contacted a global Profoto rep who essentially told me "Yeah, sorry bro but we're happy with the assessment made on your light".
So here's my gripe. The light either has an incredibly poor build quality that is surpassed by the $140 LumoPro speedlights I had when I was starting out, or there's a fault in the casing and Profoto is not willing to accept it. In the case of the former - why the heck did I spend R25 000 on this thing?
Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm not going to fix the light or that I'm not going to buy a Profoto light again. Of course I'm going to fix the light, and I'm sure I'll buy another one sometime soon. Profoto has the reputation it has because it's products really ARE that good, they really are that robust. I was just unlucky on this one and got a bad light. I just wish Profoto would accept that.
So, if you ever decide to buy a Profoto light, know that you'll probably get a fantastic light. Also know that you might get customer service that'll make you want to throw the light at someone.