A game changer? A review of the Profoto B10

12 September, 2018

Written by: Miguel Jacob

With the breakneck speed of technological innovation and advancement, it is rare for a product to come along that significantly alters the way we think and do things. When this occurs, we often use the epithet “game changer” to describe said product. Perhaps the best example of this was the launch of the iPad, a product that completely revolutionized the way we consume, purchase and experience music.

Calling a newly-released product a “game changer” is indeed a bold assertion and one that I do not take lightly. While I am an avid Profoto user, I have not been paid to share my thoughts about this new product and will share my personal insights and how they relate to the way that I work with lighting. In this, my first-ever product review, I will share my honest thoughts and will demonstrate why I believe that the Profoto B10 is the kind of product that will dramatically alter the way that we create images.

If you are handholding the B10 at the side of the road, don’t be surprised if drivers suddenly slow down as you may be mistaken for an off-duty cop holding a radar gun!

Shall we grab a pint?

When I first placed my hands on the B10, I was quickly struck by its small size and weight. If you place it on its side and on a bar counter, it is slightly larger than a pint of beer. To put its small size into perspective, the B10 (with its accompanying stand/umbrella adapter) weighs in at a feathery 3.3 lbs/1.5 kg, almost identical in weight (but slightly smaller in length) to the Canon 70-200 mm F2.8L IS II USM lens. This means that if you are used to carrying a medium to large-sized lens with you on location, you can easily carry the B10. Despite its diminutive size, the B10 is a small light that packs a powerful punch. At 250 watts per second, it is five times the power of an average speedlight.

From an “image creation” point-of-view, this opens up a multitude of possibilities when working in studio and on location. Like many professionals such as Annie Leibovitz, I have learnt the advantages of having a floating, handheld main light. There are many reasons why I prefer this approach to light shaping. For starters, handholding the light allows for the subject’s movements to be tracked. Even when the subject remains static, the light continues to move thus creating a wide range of lighting modifications quickly and effortlessly. For example, one can create a Rembrandt lighting pattern then switch to a sidelight position and back without interruption.

Given the substantial 6.6 lbs/3 kg weight (including battery) of the B1X, handholding it with a larger-sized modifier was always a difficult task. Just ask my assistants! At half the weight, the B10 and its handy stand/umbrella adapter can be handheld for long periods of time making it easier than ever to be creative with light. Additionally, it will allow for fast and effortless set-ups and take downs especially in “run and gun” situations when you are without location permits.

This is my assistant Fred during a photoshoot at Moraine Lake. He is big and strong. Unless you work with Fred or someone as strong as he is, forget about booming and handholding the B1X.  Photo: Taeho Style from Kallos Studio.

Simplicity allows you to concentrate on creativity

When it comes to lighting equipment, times have certainly changed for the better. With the advent of digital interfaces clearly showing the flash’s power range in 1/10th and 1-stop increments, Profoto has certainly made it easier than ever to adjust and fine-tune your lighting. In terms of design and ease-of-use, the B10 is on a league of its own. The new display and intuitive interface makes it easier than ever to control and modify the power and other functions. Out of all the Profoto products that I have used in the past, the B10 is definitely the most sleek and easiest to use due to its minimalist design with fewer buttons, menu screens, and large easy-to-read numbers. This means that I will spend less time on the technical and more time doing what I love: creating arresting images.

The design of the B10 focuses on functionality. There are no hidden menus. On the back of the unit, you have three dials each with its own function. From left to right: a continuous light dial allowing you to modify the power and colour temperature; a main dial that allows you to access the flash settings; and, a test button that turns the unit on and off and fires the flash. When the unit is turned on, only the essential items are visible including the power setting, channel and group, Bluetooth connection and battery power.

The B10 offers minimalist design at its finest with only the essential items visible on its interface when the unit is turned on.

Light shaping is where it’s at

When I read strobe product reviews, I have noticed that people often focus on the wrong things. While technical specs such as watts per second, flash duration, colour consistency and recycle rates are certainly important, they are not the only factors to consider when selecting a flash unit. Most people overlook the fact that it is the light shaping tools that you use with your flash that determine the type of light that you want to create.

When the Profoto A1 was launched last year, my biggest criticism was that the diameter of the flash was smaller than all previous products in the Profoto line-up. Let me explain why this matters. Since its inception, the diameter of all Profoto flash heads has always been the same: that is to say, 10 centimeters. This means that all flash units are compatible with the entire line of light modifiers, the only exception being the lightweight OCF range that can only be used with Profoto OCF flashes.

With the launch of the B10, I am very happy to see a return to the flash unit’s original diameter size. This gives B10 users access to a dozen light shaping tools in the OCF line and over 120+ light shaping tools in its main line. In this regard, Profoto offers a truly vast and diverse ecosystem that you can grow with. This allows you to create any mood you want with light. With Profoto’s zoom function, you can also adjust the light spread by simply sliding most modifiers back and forth along the head. As someone who is passionate about lighting, the ability to create a variety of lighting effects without having to change the modifier opens up a world of creative possibilities.

Finally, a battery that you can connect to AC power!

For the first time ever, Profoto has designed a wireless product that can also be used while connected to AC power! Imagine that you have corporate portraits to photograph at a location where you do not have access to AC power. No problem. Just use the battery, which allows up to 400 full power flashes, and then return to the interior location where you can plug in your unit and use it while the battery is charging: a feature that is both smart and convenient.

Lighting for stills and video with colour temperature control

Over the last few years, the role of the photographer has completely transformed beyond simply taking still images. More and more, photographers are seen as “image creators” who create visual content for their clients including still images and video. The new B10, with its bright and dimmable LED continuous light, offers image creators the unique ability to simultaneously shoot stills and video. With a maximum brightness of 2,500 lumens, the continuous light can be used with large, soft light modifiers that will still emit a sufficient amount of light for video use.

New to the B10 is the ability to control and adjust the colour temperature of its continuous light. With a simple turn of the knob, you can now warm or cool down the colour from 3000 to 6500 degree Kelvin. While this is a great new feature that allows you to easily blend the ambient light with the B10, there is currently no display that shows the colour temperature value in degrees Kelvin. For people with a background in video, this may be a missing feature that will sway people away from the B10. Perhaps this can be a firmware update, hint hint!

The Profoto App 

With the release of the Profoto App, Profoto becomes the first brand that combines remote control connectivity, complete wireless upgrades and offers a Profoto camera function, all in one. Design-wise, the Profoto App is very minimal, easy to use and intuitive. When you start the app, you are quickly directed to “connect device”, meaning your B10 flash. Up to three B10 units can be connected to your smartphone. As soon as you turn on the B10, the connectivity is lighting fast. By clicking on the three lines on the upper left hand side, you have access to the app’s menu (as shown below).   

There are three main functions of the Profoto app. Firstly, the app allows you to use your smartphone as a remote control. In addition to viewing and controlling your B10 lights, perhaps the biggest advantage for me is that I can clearly see exactly where I am on the 10-stop power range. This feature is particularly helpful when my lights are positioned high and the rear display is not visible.

Secondly, the Profoto app updates your firmware quickly and seamlessly through the air. Like all electronic devices, your flash requires software to work. Software updates are important as they allow the manufacturer to correct any possible bugs and introduce new and improved features. In the past, you receive an email informing you of a new update, register your products, download the file, connect your flash unit to your computer and update the firmware. This new feature ensures that your new B10 will work optimally at all times.

Thirdly, the “capture” mode allows you to use the app as a camera to sync with your B10 to light your shot. In an age where Social Media giants like Facebook and Instagram reign supreme, this is also a possible “game changer”. I really like how you can independently control and modify the background and foreground using intuitive sliders. In addition, there is a wheel allowing you to adjust the colour temperature in your scene. For the type of work that I do, I think that I will use the “capture” feature mainly for behind-the-scenes. Being able to adjust the power of the continuous lights will help ensure that my photographs are well exposed and balanced.

While I find the “remote control” feature very practical and easy to use, I was disappointed that you cannot trigger the flash from the app. As the leading flash company in the world, it is also surprising that the “capture” mode does not take advantage of the B10’s superior flash tube. The integration between the “capture” mode and the flash function would allow for sharper images as well as the ability to freeze motion. Android users will be disappointed to hear that for the launch in mid-September 2018, the Profoto app will only be compatible with Apple’s iPhone 7 and later.

Conclusion

To be a true “game changer”, a product needs to radically change the way we think or the way we do things. To be an agent of change, this product must challenge us to use it in ways we never thought were previously possible. In my opinion, the Profoto B10 is a “game changer” because it offers a myriad of opportunities to help you grow as an image maker.

As the smallest and lightest Profoto flash, the B10 is indeed a fantastic product. It has an aesthetically pleasing design that is easy-to-use. It is the size and weight of a medium camera lens and is five times more powerful than an average speedlight. In addition, it has a bright and fully dimmable continuous light with adjustable brightness and colour temperature for video use. It is compatible with the full range of Profoto’s more than 120+ light shaping tools including the lightweight OCF range making it a formidable tool for real light shaping. And to top it all off, it offers smartphone connectivity with the Profoto app allowing the user to control and adjust the B10 settings, complete wireless upgrades and offers a Profoto camera function.

With significant improvements in the technology of smartphone cameras, image creators are increasingly demanding more integration between their smartphone and the tools that they use to create and light their images. With more image makers dependent on their smartphones to communicate with the world around them, smart connectivity through the Profoto app is a smart move on the part of Profoto. While I have outlined some of the shortcomings of the Profoto app, I believe that the B10 and its smartphone integration will radically change the way we create and share imagery forever.

 

Thanks Miguel! To see more of Miguel's work, you can visit his website or follow him on Instagram

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Written by: Miguel Jacob