I love Profoto. I think they are one of the most innovative brands in the photo industry currently. Last year they released the groundbreaking product that is the B1 monolight. After my first experience with the B1, I fell in love. I use them on almost every shoot now due to their versatility and power. Recently, Profoto announced the B2 250 Air TTL Location Kit. Instead of the monolight design, they went with a newly designed pack-and-head system. The battery pack for this system is about the size of a small cereal box and packs 250-watt-seconds of power. The interface on the pack is virtually identical to that of the B1 and other Profoto products. Those that love Profoto will not be disappointed with this product! When the B2 was announced, I was instantly excited to get my hands on it and give it a go.
I also love Sony’s mirrorless line-up. Back in December, I jumped ship from Canon and got an Sony A7, mirror-less full frame camera. The camera is well under the size of the 5D Mk III (5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9 in. for the A7 vs. 6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 in. for the Canon) and the weight difference is definitely noticeable. Sony has packed a 24 megapixel full-frame sensor into a body that is smaller than most of Nikon and Canon’s crop sensor systems. The A7II started shipping in December and this new model offers serious improvement over the original. The A7II now has weather resistance, a full metal frame, autofocus to rival Canon and Nikon’s full-frame line, and in-body stabilization. Did I mention that it’s all packed into a body that is about half of the size of a 5DIII?
The shoot that I did for this compact gear was in downtown Columbus on the Scioto Mile. I was equipped with the A7II, the B2 pack with one head, and Profoto Soft White Beauty Dish. I also brought some of Sony’s sharpest lenses.
I had worked previously with a friend from school to plan the look and location of the shoot. We discussed make-up and wardrobe prior to that day so that we knew exactly what we wanted. She and I discussed potential locations and settled on this bridge and the surrounding area due to the contrast it would create with the hair, make-up and clothing. I arrived early to set up and organize my gear. By the time the model arrived, we were ready to shoot with no delay.
I decided that I wanted to under expose the natural light by a few stops in order to place emphasis on my subject. When using flash, the shutter speed has no effect on the power of the flash that the camera sees, but is key for controlling ambient light. The aperture and ISO is what controls the power of the flash.
I was looking for a shallow depth of field in order to place even more emphasis on the model; this means using a wide aperture. A wide aperture means more ambient light as well. So, if my maximum sync speed on my camera is only 1/200th of a second, and my aperture is wide open, what can I do to bring down the ambient light without losing my shallow depth of field? I can use a neutral density filter.
A neutral density filter is simply a color-neutral filter that blocks a specific amount of light from passing into the lens. This allows me to properly expose my subject, while taking the ambient down just enough to add emphasis. On this shoot I used my two Vu 4×4 1-stop ND filters, blocking two stops of the ambient light. The Vu filters and their accompanying holder are incredibly well made. There is no color cast or vignette to distract the viewer. Regardless of what I am shooting, there is always a Vu filter in my bag.
The camera itself, also performed great for this shoot. Sony has placed a focus system in this camera that is a huge departure from the sluggish (in comparison) A7 and A7R. In order to make the selection process easier and to ensure a wide variety of posing, I decided to shoot off a burst every time she walked down the stairs. The A7II’s new 5fps burst and brilliant tracking focus made this a breeze. Out of roughly 30 shots, there were only two that missed focus. A fast buffer is necessary for this kind of rapid-fire shooting, and the A7II was able to keep up with no problems.
The camera isn’t the only incredible product that made this shoot possible. Sony’s partnership with Zeiss has certainly given them an upper hand over other manufacturers by complimenting an incredible camera system with equally incredible lenses designed by one of photography’s most revered lens makers. The 55mm f/1.8 stayed on the camera for most of the shoot. The level or sharpness, color reproduction and build quality is paralleled only by Zeiss’s own Otus series or Sigma’s Art series. Sony’s 70-200mm f/4 is not a Zeiss design but incredibly sharp nonetheless, also made a few appearances when I really wanted to compress the scene together. These two lenses are a perfect pairing for portraiture.
As far as the B2 flash system, it made the entire shoot progress easily and was hassle-free. I placed the B2 flash head on a Kupo boom arm so that I could have absolute freedom in the direction of the light. Adjusting the light was effortless, and the pack was able to hang off of a locking knob on the stand with no problem.
The build quality of the B2 system is up to Profoto’s high standards. The power pack and head are encases in a dense plastic and the power cable is a thick, heavy-duty rubber. It also has a brilliantly designed interface for easy, intuitive control, which is great for fast-paced shooting. This set-up really shines with run-and-gun shooting, like weddings or event photography. Also, the TTL built in to the B2 system makes getting correct flash exposure easy in rapidly changing lighting conditions.
Power is something that a lot of Profoto users were concerned about when the B2 was originally announced. I’ll admit, that I was one of them. One thing to remember is that a flash’s watt-second rating has no real bearing on its actual output. 250 watt-seconds on the B2’s isn’t necessarily half the output of the B1’s 500 watt-seconds. Truthfully there wasn’t a huge difference to my eye. Macro, or large product shoots might need more power than available with these lights, but for most off camera flash users the B2 has plenty of power. I was able to fight the setting sun with this little beast, so, just because you’re getting fewer watt-seconds for a very similar price ($2,195 for the B2 To-Go Kit VS. $2,094 for a B1 head), it doesn’t mean the B2 is underpowered or overpriced by any means.
Overall, the light weight of the A7II, combined with the B2’s small size, power, and ease of use were quite impressive. Profoto has made yet another hit product and I look forward to using it in the future. This whole kit may very well be my new go-to setup for on location portraiture.