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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #1
aroundlsu
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Default Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

Overview

So I was ready to replace my old White Lightning X800 setup. I grew up shooting with wired sync cords and flash triggered slaves and trusted that system. Back in the day, I shot tens of thousands of school photos with a pair of Photogenic Powerlights and a sync cord. Never had a problem with that system.

Today, my shoots are a little more complex and I have found myself running wires and wire splitters around corners where flash triggering will not work reliably. While it works, this is obviously not much fun.

I wanted to get into radio triggers but was highly skeptical of pretty much everything on the market. The complexity of Pocket Wizards and similar clones was a turn off. Having to keep track of separate transceivers hooked up to each light and working was not something I wanted to deal with. A more elegant solution had to exist so I started researching the Calumet Travelites and Profoto Air system. I eventually ruled out the Calumets due to the quality of the lights, recycle times, and the only wireless control you have of the Travelites is triggering.

But before dropping $2500 on one set of Profoto monolights I rented two heads and a controller from borrowlenses.com for the bargin price of $150. After the very first day my assistants were ready to toss the White Lightnings into the trash. While I thought the WLs were top quality in build and design, the Profotos simply take it to the next level. After a week was up I couldn't bear to return them and asked for another week rental.

On Location Photos

Dialing in power in 1/10th stops makes light setup a breeze.

Despite some internet reports, there is in fact a jack for a sync cord there behind the power cord. It's visible in the photo below.

With this setup and my eye fi wireless SD card I have wireless control of lights and file transfers to a neighboring computer.

The controller is the weak link in the system, but it works.


Reliability

The Air system works perfectly. Every time. Exposure is dead on. Every time. With the White Lightning system it was normal to see a slight variance in exposure from shot to shot (maybe 1/10th stop, not enough to complain about). However with the Profoto lights the exposure is EXACTLY the same from shot to shot.

Using the Air

Actually using the Air system from the controller isn't so easy. The light gives a short beep when you change 1/10th stops remotely and a long beep when you change full stops. That's great when you are in a studio and when you have the proportional modeling lamp on to see the energy changes. When the lamp is off or set to full power and when you are in a loud building it's hard or impossible to reliably change power settings without walking over to the light and verifying it changed to where you want it. I wish it had an LED screen on the controller so I could see the power settings remotely.

The button system on the controller is a little confusing. After two weeks I am still pressing the wrong buttons at the wrong time. I am sure in a few months I will be able to do it without thinking, but for now it's not really working out. This is coming from a guy who can fly through the menus on a 1Ds2, so I know awkward button systems.

Build Quality

The lights seem like a little too much plastic for my taste. I think the knobs where the light pole attaches aren't very tough. I am betting it's going to break eventually.

The controller is definitely too flimsy. It just slides onto the camera with no kind of lock and I am pretty sure the least little bump is going to break it off. I will be buying an extra transceiver and will keep a sync cord in the light bag for emergencies.

Conclusion

I will be buying a set of these. At $1250 per light they are about double the price of a WL + PW (not to mention the price of the Profoto accessories). I know Paul Buff is coming out with his own integrated solution, but I still don't see them matching the performance of these.

Any questions? Yes, the Profotos work perfectly with my Vagabond II.

Some pics from the last two weeks:

Profoto + Vagabond II on location.

Running two Profotos at full power off one Vagabond II:

Two Profotos + White Lightning all working together:
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Last edited by aroundlsu : 28th of October 2009 (Wed) at 11:38.
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #2
k_strecker
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

I wouldn't be so sure about parts breaking off of these. Profoto is amongst the best out there, and I work for guys who's profoto heads are 20 years old and all the original plastic bits remain intact and perform like-new.

I can certainly sympathize with your assistant. A few of the other guys I work for use ancient lighting systems that seem to do nothing but create more work for everyone, but it's what they've been using forever and they'll continue to do so till the end of time . . .
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #3
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

Quote:
Originally Posted by aroundlsu View Post
After the very first day my assistants were ready to toss the White Lightnings into the trash.
lol!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by aroundlsu View Post
Build Quality

The lights seem like a little too much plastic for my taste. I think the knobs where the light pole attaches aren't very tough. I am betting it's going to break eventually.

The controller is definitely too flimsy. It just slides onto the camera with no kind of lock and I am pretty sure the least little bump is going to break it off. I will be buying an extra transceiver and will keep a sync cord in the light bag for emergencies.
That's disappointing to learn that Profoto is now following other brands in cost cutting on the expense of build quality.


Regarding the built in 77 degree reflector, did you find it limiting at all? I saw from the picture you were using the D1 with umbrellas. Did you use it with the zoom reflector?


Thanks for the review its very nice.
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #4
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

Quote:
Originally Posted by aroundlsu View Post
Some pics from the last two weeks:

Profoto + Vagabond II on location.


forgot to say, awesome picture, how did you light it?
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #5
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

Plastics are used in everything and the advancement in plastics engineering and technology is pretty significant. Some things that look flimsy are but many are not. I'm wouldn't be too sure that Profoto has lowered their standards or is compromising durability and quality by using plastic.
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #6
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

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Originally Posted by abdul10000 View Post
lol!!



That's disappointing to learn that Profoto is now following other brands in cost cutting on the expense of build quality.


Regarding the built in 77 degree reflector, did you find it limiting at all? I saw from the picture you were using the D1 with umbrellas. Did you use it with the zoom reflector?


Thanks for the review its very nice.
I don't have the zoom reflector. Just the built in reflector with the umbrellas. I plan to get some light modifiers including a beauty dish and the zoom reflector. The 77 degree built in reflector seems to work fine for my purposes.

I might be overreacting to the plastic parts on the head. It's just when I tighten down the head it creaks and gives a little bit. In my experience, if it gives a little now, it will only get worse in time.

The photo of the married couple was shot with a single head shooting through the umbrella just out of frame. I wanted to wait another 30 minutes for Magic Hour but the art director from the ad agency that hired me saw the shot on the camera screen and said "That's it! We can wrap."

The shot settings were 1/160th f2.8 @ 75mm with the 70-200 2.8L IS.
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #7
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

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Originally Posted by TMR Design View Post
Plastics are used in everything and the advancement in plastics engineering and technology is pretty significant. Some things that look flimsy are but many are not. I'm wouldn't be too sure that Profoto has lowered their standards or is compromising durability and quality by using plastic.
exactly. Those knuckes on profoto heads have always been plastic.
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #8
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

These are the two areas that concern me:




If you guys say they have always been designed like that and still hold up after 20 years then I will retract my bet on them breaking and not worry about it.

Here is the face of the controller if you haven't seen it yet:



I keep pressing the head -/o button to change the energy level. All that does it turn the head on/off. That's not really the fault of the controller. It's more of the fault of my brain wanting to press the wrong buttons. I also keep pressing the On button instead of the test button when metering with the Sekonic. I am not sure why my brain keeps doing that. I wish the test button was a big button on the side or something. The other problem is I never know what light is which without turning them off/on. When I buy my own I will need to clearly label the heads A/B/C/etc.
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #9
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

Is the light stand mount made only of plastic or is there is a metal tube inside the plastic?
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Old 28th of October 2009 (Wed)   #10
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

Quote:
Originally Posted by aroundlsu View Post
I don't have the zoom reflector. Just the built in reflector with the umbrellas. I plan to get some light modifiers including a beauty dish and the zoom reflector. The 77 degree built in reflector seems to work fine for my purposes.

I might be overreacting to the plastic parts on the head. It's just when I tighten down the head it creaks and gives a little bit. In my experience, if it gives a little now, it will only get worse in time.

The photo of the married couple was shot with a single head shooting through the umbrella just out of frame. I wanted to wait another 30 minutes for Magic Hour but the art director from the ad agency that hired me saw the shot on the camera screen and said "That's it! We can wrap."

The shot settings were 1/160th f2.8 @ 75mm with the 70-200 2.8L IS.

The shoot through umbrella was slightly to your right, correct? You have done a good job balancing the light, and that's one thing I really like about the D1 they are easier to balance at wider aperture. They go down 6 stops which is some times all you need instead of having to use a ND gel.

Thanks
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Old 25th of May 2011 (Wed)   #11
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

thanks for this review.. it is a great read..

i am currently looking into this 2 head set up.. B and H has them for around $2300 and profoto has them listed on the website with air around $1700 sounds like a great deal to me..

is there a place to plug in the 1/8 mono jack if you don't want to use the Air Remote?
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Old 25th of May 2011 (Wed)   #12
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

Yes there is a place to plug in a 1/8 sync cord. They will also work off of regular slave mode like any studio strobe. I continue to use them all the time under many different conditions. I have three and am wanting a fourth. Maybe a large 1000 w/s would be a good addition to the team. I have been using them movie production style by bouncing off of large 12x12 foot silks for very soft key light and fill.

I did the shot on the right in that manner (I hate the magazine printing):

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Last edited by aroundlsu : 25th of May 2011 (Wed) at 12:27.
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Old 25th of May 2011 (Wed)   #13
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

@ Aroundlsu, looking forward to building my lighting system for my studio.. and i dont want to go with anything other than quality lighting..

i just don't know enough about profoto's line up yet. so lots of research for me in the next 3 - 4 months.. but this lighting kit is first on my list..

don't know if i need the AIR control series...

did you consider any other series from profoto or elinchrom? maybe the BXRI's?
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Old 25th of May 2011 (Wed)   #14
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

I considered everything on the market at the time. While the Profoto line was certainly the most expensive, it wasnt by a wide margin. The air system is really great and works flawlessly. I don't like having too many points of failure and a pocket wizard setup introduces many points of failure. I have watched several very high end photographers shoot with a pocket wizard and Profoto setup and have to stop to let an assistant figure out why the strobes stopped firing. I don't know why they don't go to air. I have never had to stop a shoot because the air wireless system went down.

Anyway, regarding other brands, I know the equipment doesn't make the photographer but all the major high end guys I have worked with use Profoto. Often they ask to rent my Profoto gear (they rarely want the monos but they usually want the modifiers). High end agencies are smarter than you think and know to look for Profoto. I am talking on the level of Jeep and Express, two brands I have worked for as an operator in the last few months.
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Last edited by aroundlsu : 25th of May 2011 (Wed) at 15:06.
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Old 25th of May 2011 (Wed)   #15
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Default Re: Two Weeks with the Profoto D1 Air Monolights

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Originally Posted by phamster View Post
@ Aroundlsu, looking forward to building my lighting system for my studio.. and i dont want to go with anything other than quality lighting..

i just don't know enough about profoto's line up yet. so lots of research for me in the next 3 - 4 months.. but this lighting kit is first on my list..

don't know if i need the AIR control series...

did you consider any other series from profoto or elinchrom? maybe the BXRI's?

Dude...you dont need profotos....profoto need you!
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