Lightweight Portable Power: Profoto B2 250 AirTTL Off-Camera Flash
Profoto has done it again. A little over a year since the release of the revolutionary B1, the company is expanding its Off-Camera Flash System with the B2 250 AirTTL, a portable battery-powered pack with TTL operation for both on- and off-camera use. It has two fully asymmetrical outputs for connecting one or two of the extremely lightweight heads that can be easily mounted on a bracket with your camera, a monopod, or a stand for setting up the lights exactly as you see fit.
I was fortunate enough to try out the B2 Location Kit, and I can report that the performance of these lights created a level of excitement in me I had not experienced for quite some time. The 250 Ws rating puts it at approximately 5x the power of your average speed light, and the built-in reflector produces a wide, even spread of light. Perhaps the largest advantages over shoe-mounted flashes are the inclusion of an LED modeling light and the ability to accept more than 150 modifiers from Profoto’s line of light-shaping tools. This made it incredibly easy to hook up a softbox, grid, snoot, or umbrella, as opposed to the specialized brackets and fasteners I need for my speed lights.
Of note is the new OCF Speedring, which makes setting up a softbox or octa-box much simpler for a one-man crew. It allows users to easily slide in each of the color-coded rods (green for octa, blue for rectangle/square, and white for strip) and then pull up to snap them into place. Also, the new OCF softboxes have a fixed front diffuser that means you aren’t fumbling with extra fabric during quick on-location setups.
Photographs by Tom Kirkman and Shawn C. Steiner
Getting back to the light, the B2 offers nine stops of power adjustment from 1-250 Ws, and it can be set in tenth-stop increments. The recycle time of these units is incredibly fast, with a speed of 0.03 to 1.35 seconds. I didn’t have to stand there wondering or waiting for the lights to be ready, and the B2 has dimming and beeping options, as well. The rechargeable Li-ion battery can produce up to 215 full-power flashes on a single charge and it can be fully charged in about 45 minutes. Another element of note is the B2’s 3000K LED modeling light, which has a 50W equivalent output, can run for about 90 minutes on one charge, and can be used for video production, along with any of the modifiers to create a beautiful constant light source.
Besides the quality of the light, the most important test is handling and operation. The B2’s bright LCD screen displays all information clearly, along with soft buttons for changing settings, and two dials for independently controlling the power output of each head. Where the light really shines is in its wireless operation with Profoto’s AirTTL system, which also enables High-Speed Sync. I used the Air Remote TTL-C with my Canon EOS 6D and almost immediately after sliding it into the camera’s hot shoe, I was ready to go.
The system is very accurate when it comes to TTL metering, and the ability to quickly adjust flash compensation in-camera meant I didn’t need to constantly make slight adjustments to the power settings as I was shooting. And, incredibly, for slight changes I didn’t even need to look away from the viewfinder. The most useful feature was the retention of the previous settings when switching from TTL to Manual Mode. This Hybrid Mode allowed me to quickly acquire a close power setting and then dial-in the exact power needed with a couple of presses of the remote.
Profoto also produces the Air Remote TTL-N for working with Nikon cameras, as well as an all-manual Air Remote Transceiver, which will work with many other camera brands, including Sony’s Multi Interface Shoe (I tested this with my Sony a7S). In terms of pure specs for the Air System, the radios are rated to a range of 330' with TTL, and up to 1,000' in manual mode. Also, the heads and modeling lights can be turned on and off from the remote and the power can be adjusted in tenth- or full-stop increments.
I used the lights in my apartment (thankfully they take up much less space than your standard monolights) for a couple of food setups and some headshots. I found the lights’ portability and wireless functionality to be near perfect while I worked with them. Also, the selection of modifiers was outstanding—the grids slide right onto the front of the light, the softboxes felt secure, and the ratcheting stand mount felt sturdy and was perfectly functional. I even used the B2 with my Profoto RFi 2 x 3' Softbox, with which it performed admirably.
Using a flash meter from 5' away, I measured the B2 Flash Head at full power, and received a reading of f/13 at ISO 100, an impressive reading from such a tiny unit. Also, the B2 is capable of 20 flashes per second and it has a fast flash duration from 1/15,000- to 1/1,000-second, which will help when trying to freeze motion. Additionally, there is a Freeze Mode that will fire the lights with the fastest possible flash duration with the current power setting.
During my food setups, the modeling lights were invaluable. Also, the battery can be plugged into the AC charger during use, and it will charge faster than you can fire it, meaning I never had to worry about running out of juice during the shoot. This makes the B2 effectively an AC-powered kit for cramped spaces or for simpler shots when pulling out a larger setup and attaching modifiers isn’t worth the time.
For the headshots, the asymmetrical power settings came in handy, allowing me to light the background and the subject with heads at two drastically different power settings. While shooting the plate of spaghetti, I was working handheld, and being able to make adjustments with the remote made shooting much easier since I could maintain my shooting position and angle for maintaining the composition. These lights let me work much faster than I could with speed lights or other strobes and monolights and achieve the look I desired.
I focused mainly on setup shots with the lights on stands as I worked with the B2 heads, but my fellow photographer, Tom Kirkman, took them for a night out on the town, specifically to a kitchen and food shoot. For this, we used the ProMediaGear Boomerang Bracket to mount a B2 head on his Nikon D700. And, while it did weigh the camera down a little more than a speed light, it was still very manageable.
The size of the two-light kit and a couple of modifiers, including softboxes and a stand, was compact and lightweight enough that transporting them through the New York City subway system was no problem. Also, once we got to the location, a quite small venue, we were able to stow the gear out of the way easily. Setup was just as easy, since we simply had to plug everything in and we were good to go.
The B2 brought a whole new level of performance to portable on-camera lighting. Also, for the staged portraits, moving the lights around was incredibly easy, allowing us to get photos of the chef in two locations before he needed to get back down to the kitchen. This included having a second light placed on a stand and attaching the 2' Octa. Kirkman's ability to quickly change power on the lights meant very little back and forth, adjusting the pack. This turned out to be a lifesaver in the tight spaces.
Being able to supply studio-quality lighting in such a small, mobile package is a game changer, and the modifiers now available for the system demonstrate the same level of care and simplicity of the lights themselves, making Profoto's Off-Camera Flash System an amazing new tool for photographers. Additionally, the B1 is completely compatible with the B2, ensuring the same simple integration when using both B1s and B2s during a single shoot.
These flashes will be available from B&H in two kits, as well as individual pieces. The B2 250 AirTTL To-Go Kit comes with the B2 250 AirTTL, a B2 Head, one battery, a battery charger, and the B2 Carrying Bag, which is all packed into the B2 Location Bag. The B2 250 AirTTL Location Kit comes with the B2 250 AirTTL, two B2 Heads, two batteries, a battery charger, and the B2 Carrying Bag, which is also all packed into the B2 Location Bag. Available individually are the B2 250 AirTTL Off-Camera Flash, the B2 Flash Head, the Battery Charger 2.8A, extra Li-Ion Batteries, and a 9.8’ Head Extension Cable.
Alongside the B2 250 AirTTL is a new OCF series of Light Shaping Tools with modifiers designed for portability and speed. This includes the new OCF Speedring mentioned earlier, the four-leaf OCF Barndoor, the OCF Grid Kit with 10°, 20°, and 30° grids, and the OCF Snoot. Also available are the 1.3 x 1.3’, 2 x 3’, and 1 x 3’ OCF Softboxes as well as a 2’ Octa. Optional 50° OCF Softgrids are available for each Softbox (1.3 x 1.3’, 2 x 3’, 1 x 3’, 2’ Octa) and easily slide over the outside edge of the box, for an incredibly fast setup. All of these are compatible with the B1, though most will not be compatible with the D1 due to the use of a halogen modeling light that can damage some of the OCF accessories.
Profoto is building up an incredibly versatile lighting system with the release of the B2 Off-Camera Flash and introduction of the OCF Light-Shaping Tools. Their portability, simplicity, and quality, along with TTL functionality and built-in Air System, should make everyone excited for what could possibly come next.