Hands-on with the Profoto D2 AirTTL, the “World’s Fastest Monolight”

When Profoto added TTL, High Speed Sync, and studio-level power to the Profoto B1 battery-powered monolight, it was revolutionary. But the newest flash, which the company describes as the “World’s Fastest Monolight,” is built to take the Profoto AirTTL system to the next level with even faster and more powerful lights. The Profoto D2 500/1000 AirTTL monolight may set the new standard for power and speed in studio lighting from everyone’s favorite Light Shaping Company. 

The Profoto D2 has a super short flash duration of 1/63,000th of a sec. enabling perfectly frozen motion.
The Profoto D2 has a super short flash duration of 1/63,000th of a sec. enabling perfectly frozen motion.

I say studio flash because, unlike the Profoto B1 and B2 flashes, the Profoto D2 needs to be plugged-in to a wall outlet or other a/c power source. The B1 and B2 both utilize a lithium-ion battery system, allowing them to be extremely portable. The D2’s lesser mobility will not affect shooters that tend to shoot in a studio or a controlled environment; there are always outlets to plug in your lights. The design of these heads make them just as small and easy to set up as the B1’s, just with a cord that you can run into any outlet or generator. Still portable, but way more powerful.

The new Profoto D2 is available in 500 w/s and 1000 w/s models.
The new Profoto D2 is available in 500 w/s and 1000 w/s models.
How about some black and white water...
How about some black and white water…

The original Profoto D1 is a workhorse studio light that is known for it’s consistent power and color output, and reliability. The Profoto D2 will most likely be no different, except…

The Upgrades!

Here is the upgrades and feature list for the Profoto D2, highlights in bold:

  • Available in 500 and 1000Ws adjustable in 1/10 f-stop increments over a 10 f-stop power range to give you both power and precise control.
  • Bursts up to 20 flashes per second with flash durations up to 1/63,000 of a second.
  • High Speed Sync up to 1/8,000s.
  • Shoot in TTL or manual mode.
  • Fully integrated with other AirTTL flashes like B1 and B2.
  • Built-in reflector for maximum output and minimizing of stray light.
  • High-resolution display with a superior, intuitive interface.
  • Optional Quartz flashtube for high-volume pack available.
  • Compatible with 120+ Light Shaping Tools from Profoto’s renowned light shaping system.

Behind the impressive specs of the D2 is the same solid build quality and a pretty familiar menu system to any that has used Profoto lights. Profoto knows what works and they keep it simple and effective. The Profoto menu may take a minute to get used to, but once you get the hang of it you are off to the races.

The new and improved back screen of the Profoto D2. Familiar to b1 users, but with a lot more options and features than the original D1 heads.
The new and improved back screen of the Profoto D2. The display is similar to the B1’s, but with a lot more options and features than the original D1 heads. The D2 allows 1/10 of a stop increments over the whole 10-stop power range.

The Profoto Air wireless receiver is built-in to the unit, so all you need to sync the lights is a Profoto Air Remote transmitter. You can get the transmitter in AirTTL or non-TTL versions. The TTL version allows for through-the-lens metering and power control and high speed sync for both Canon and Nikon users. Sorry mirrorless shooters, Profoto has not released a TTL trigger for any brands except for Canon and Nikon, yet. We shall see what the future brings. The non-TTL trigger will work from any standard hot shoe, so mirrorless shooters are left out completely, as all other other features of these lights are independent of the TTL systems.

So, what is flash duration?

Flash duration, in the simplest terms, is the length of time of the actual pulse of the flash. So, the shorter the pulse of light from the flash, the faster the effective shutter speed. Shorter flash duration equals better action-stopping ability.

When using flash, there are really two exposures happening in your photograph, and this leads us to why a short flash duration is so important when trying to freeze action. There is an exposure that comes from any ambient light in the frame, and the exposure that comes from the light of the flash. If you minimize the ambient light that enters your exposure then your effective shutter speed becomes the duration of the flash.  Flash duration is not always understood by photographers just starting out using artificial light, but essential to any photographer trying to freeze motion with light.

Profoto D2 by TJ Hansen
The Profoto D2 is able to overpower the daytime ambient light while still getting a fast enough flash duration to freeze splashing water.
Kind of obscene, really. Behind the scenes using the Profoto D2 and the Magnum Reflector. I swear we look cooler than this usually. I take that back. We don’t.

Below is a short video that I made using the new Morph Cut transition in Premiere Pro CC, allowing the frozen water shots to morph into one another. The mannequin really adds a strange dimension to it, for sure.

View the images in the gallery at full size to see all the detail.

In the short time I had with the Profoto D2, I did have the chance to shoot one other setup, this time without Ken the Mannequin. I simply dropped an apple (the fruit, not the phone) and a can of Coke into a blue bucket filled with water and clumsily attempted to photograph these objects at ‘maximum splash’ and minimum flash… duration. The blue bucket provided a cool tone to contrast with the warm red of the Coke can and the yellow of the apple. I quickly realized that someone more experienced in ‘splash-photography’ might have a better solution for timing the shot as it hits the water, as I missed quite a bit. I guess I could have googled it.

Profoto D2 by TJ Hansen

Profoto D2 by TJ Hansen

BTS in the splash-zone.

For all of the shots in this article (except BTS shots), we used the Profoto Magnum Reflector because it provides a beautiful, specular light that really makes the water glisten and sparkle. The Magnum Reflector can also help maximize power output when trying to overpower the sun or another bright light source focusing the light and ensuring you don’t waste a photon. The Magnum Reflector is a must-have modifier for any Profoto user, whether you own or rent. If you only rent Profoto lights, still, rent a Magnum Reflector, too. There is always a use for them once you are used to having it in your bag.

The front of the Profoto D2. 77 Degree built-in reflector and opal protective glass.
The front of the Profoto D2. 77 Degree built-in reflector and opal protective glass. The front of the light kept any water from entering the flash bulb housing, which was a great relief.
Profoto D2 by TJ Hansen
Some red food coloring added to the water changed the color of the light quite a bit.
Profoto D2 by TJ Hansen
Although I hate to advertise for Coke, I liked the color combination. Don’t drink soda, kids. You’ll rot your teeth.

While I will need more time with the Profoto D2 to make any final judgements, my experience with it was nothing short of impressive. I don’t need to exaggerate, since it really is doing things that no other flash on the market can do. It covers all the bases for a studio flash, and stays pretty portable when taking it on the road. Plus, as always, when you shoot Profoto lights you get to use the myriad Light Shaping tools that really make the lighting work. The only thing that would hold anyone back from owning this flash would be budget. With Profoto’s track record, the serious shooter would make a worthy investment for years to come with this monolight. If you are looking to bring your studio into the 21st century or are simply looking for a light that does almost anything you would need it to, than this is your flash.

Pre-order the Profoto D2 now by clicking here!

Gear used for this post:

Profoto D2 by TJ Hansen

TJ Hansen

Photographer at MPEX.com

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