The Profoto D1 Air & PhaseOne V-Grip Air Review | Burning Man Family Photos

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Shot using the PhaseOne 645DF with IQ 140 back, 55mm LS lens at f/8 and1/1600 sec, ISO 50.

If you are all about simplifying photography gear without sacrificing quality, I have written this post for you! I also share, for the very first time, the first batch of my 2012 Burning Man family portraits (scroll to the bottom to view).

Back in August, I wrote my Einstein 640 vs Profoto D1 review and offered four tips to reducing gear on shoots. In this test, the Einstein 640 beat trumped the D1 1000 w/s unit. I did this to research the best lighting tool to bring with me in harsh shooting conditions like Burning Man. However, I won’t say the same about the lightweight contender, the Profoto D1 250 which has now become my go-to strobe of choice. It’s part of a system that makes sense, which is why I’m proud to introduce go-to weapons of choice: The PhaseOne 645DF and IQ 140 w/V-Grip Air paired with a Profoto D1 Air 250 W/S monolight. Killer combo! Take home thoughts for the setup: simple, fast, easy. It just works.

Background

The most daunting technical issue on shooting a wedding or portrait with strobes is troubleshooting when things go wrong. Not if, but when; it always happens when we least expect. That’s when I usually pull out of my back-pocket a few improv comedy one-liners or choose to shoot “available light.” I love shooting in inclement weather, but this left-brain troubleshooting vs right-brain creative crossover hurts my brain when survival is at stake. My brain wasn’t created with the ability to multitask well. About 95% of males experience the same, which is why their wives can expect them to either come home to kids that are bathed or fed. Not both.

Image quality with the IQ 140 is simply the best sensor on the market for wedding and portrait photographers, hands down. The 645 DF is built like a tank, no different than the Profoto strobe. However, the gem behind this system relies on the integration of Profoto Air Sync, a perfect marriage in wireless strobe technology. The Profoto Air Sync simplifies the process for triggering studio strobes. With the system, you can kiss sync cords good-by, along with all the AA batteries and buttons with Pocketwizards. It’s a perfect pairing.

What is the benefit of such an integrated system?

My observations

  • The simplicity allows you to focus more on craft and art, not technical loopholes. It’s been fun returning back to simplicity shooting with a single light source. The sun is always a light source, but reliance on being a ‘natural light’ shooter is a bit risky when conditions are unpredictable. That’s where the creativity starts. Like home-cooking, the best ingredients with little required preparation increases likelihood of a good meal. It’s easy to over-cook a lighting setup when you have hours or weeks to plan… no different than a holiday dinner.
  • Profoto Air Sync works best when you don’t need to control the power of your flash remotely. I’m a manual power kind of guy, usually guessing right when it comes to determining proper flash exposure.
  • Syncs to 1/1600 sec. Pocketwizards IIs top out at 1/400 sec. This makes my Pocketwizards useless since I can’t take advantage of leaf shutter lenses.
  • While small flash wizardary is fun, what kills me is there is not just one possible point of failure, but a dozen: finicky sync cords, dead AA batteries, triggering issues, build quality, mystical buttonology, and limited power output. I’m a big fan of preventing a single point of failure, and this goes a long way in my book in terms of simplifying. Plus, I can leave my AA batteries and chargers at home (saving weight).
  • Nowadays, two new speed lights ($450 each) and a set of rechargeable batteries will set you back more than a $800 mono block. Re-sale value of the Profoto: next to gold.
  • You can power-on equipment in any order, unlike finicky Pocketwizard Flex and mini systems which must be powered-up in a particular sequence: flash, Pocketwizard, camera. Pain in the keister.
  • Portable, smortable. This set-up followed me to shoot in 110-degree desert dust storms, snow storms, even a hike up the corporate ladder on Madison Ave.
  • Good light is good light. In the lighting world, reliability is king. But when my Alien Bees crashed to a dusty playa floor due to wind at Burning Man, they were dead. Profotos take the beating.
  • The biggest weakness of using any strobe with a lighting modifier might be the adapters themselves. This was the biggest qualm I had using the Paul Buff products: the adapter never felt secure to the strobe. Not so with Profoto speed rings. Snug? No. Tight? Yes. No wonder Profoto boasts household name status in rental houses.
  • The V-Grip Air uses the digital back batteries, which makes perfect design sense. One charger. And batteries can be shared between back and camera.

Arm me with a lighting diffuser of choice, a tripod and I’m prepared to photograph almost any subject, in any lighting condition.

A power battle fought with simplicity

I’m done with AA and AAA batteries. Done. I’m tired of charging dozens of batteries before each shoot, bending over to plug in chargers, swapping batteries every 20 minutes. On many shoots, I find the Murphy’s Law holds up more often than not, inevitably with either dead batteries in one or more pocket wizards to dead sync cables. I usually pack four Pocketwizard Plus IIs to trigger just one strobe (two backups). What a pain. I used to bring along a bunch of Pocketwizards, along with dozens of AA batteries, and the required chargers. The added “on more thing to do” the night before a big shoot started to get to me. And the added weight and bulk of these items in my bag made scooting around quick on a shoot, well, not as quick. Most photographers are familiar with this hassle which I can now leave behind (this amounts to over $850, less than a brand new Profoto strobe):
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The only batteries I’ll ever need on a shoot using off-camera lighting:
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Universal, portable power

Using the $240 Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini-Lithium instead of a $7900 Profoto Pro-B4 means I could recharge my camera batteries along with power my MacBook Pro on the airplane. TSA has no problem with me carrying even a couple of the them on the plane, they weigh 3.5 lbs. I haven’t tried the Profoto BatPac, but I can tell you they weigh a whopping 25lbs, far heavier than I want to lug around.

A Scandinavian Build

I’m drawn to “form meets function” design. Perhaps that’s why I married one. The build quality on the Profoto D1 Air systems is rock tight. I wish I could say the same about my former Paul Buff Alien Bee 1600 that couldn’t take the beating, but still were super troopers. Reliability is king with the Profoto. And the ergonomic design of the V-Grip Air can’t be beat, granted it’s made of plastic.

My Only Pause

Migrating to a new lighting system ain’t cheap. Not only is there the cost of the gear itself, but the cost of the adapters and modifiers. This was made easy by using universal replacement speed ring adapters. This was another big reason I decided to go with the Profoto D1: a far superior adapter system. wpid-03-alien-bee-review-2012-11-28-16-20.jpg
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A happily-married integrated wireless system

The magic link between the PhaseOne and Profoto is the V-Grip Air. PhaseOne partnered with Profoto to develop the V-Grip Air which is similar to the vertical grip on the Nikon D700. Not only does it improve the ergonomics of the 645DF, it extends battery life and boasts compatibility with all Profoto Air strobes and generators. I dig the simplicity of not relying on Pocketwizards and AA batteries and the 250 power is sufficient for my needs at the moment, especially since it becomes three times as powerful when used at 1/1600 sec vs 1/200 sec (a Nikon D600 deal killer). Nikon and Canon have developed their own systems. It would be nice to see another camera company reach across the aisle.

The real reasons to go with the V-Grip Air

My choice to go with the Air system vs. PocketWizard is the ability to sync at 1/1600 wireless flash sync. Using the PocketWizard Plus II I can only sync full-power up to 1/400th. Now, I have the option to sync full studio strobe power to 1/1600 flash duration and easily over power ambient.

  • Profoto is the only system in the world right now that allows you to shoot at 1/1600 flash sync when used with a leaf shutter lenses, sans high-speed trickery. (GEE WIZ radio popper days are over).
  • Allows you to trigger strobes remotely without using Pocketwizards or sync cords when used with monolights like the D1. The Alien Bees get the Profoto Air transceivers which plug into the standard flash jack socket.
  • The vertical grip has a built-in wireless flash transmitter which works with the Profoto Air system and can still be used with most strobes or speed lights with the Profoto transceiver.

Whereas with the more powerful Profoto D1 1000, the larger capacitors take longer to dump power, resulting in a longer flash duration. With the Profoto D1 250, I get a flash duration greater than 1/1600 at full power which is all I’ll ever need. Sure, Canon and Nikon both have solutions for high-speed sync, but the monkey trickery usually involves using groups of small flashes to compensate for power loss. The gang-banged setup usually means my favorite beauty dish or soft box won’t easily mount to the flashes as designed.

Conclusion

I’ve used this recipe in most of my weddings and portrait sessions this fall and I’ll say it’s a powerful combo.

A special thanks to my dealer, Capture Integration, for providing me the technical support and tools needed to carry out this personal project.
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33 Responses to “The Profoto D1 Air & PhaseOne V-Grip Air Review | Burning Man Family Photos”

  1. Sean Kern — November 28, 2012 @ 11:08 pm (#)

    Great technical advice! I can definitely vouch for the power and ease of transport of that strobe. Almost made me seize with that bright cannon.

  2. R. J. Kern — November 28, 2012 @ 11:10 pm (#)

    Sean, it means the world to me that you were the first to comment! You you know the power of the force, well. It’s not how powerful it is, but how you use it that makes all the difference.

  3. Tim Boatman — November 29, 2012 @ 10:11 am (#)

    My dad told me keep it simple stupid. Great Advice. Ooh those AA batteries, and what when they start getting old and there is a stinker in the bunch, try sorting through that mess. My batteries now have different colors of finger nail polish on them. I’m curious what role does Nikon keep in your weddings?

    I love your setup and philosophy.

    Have you experimented with putting CTO gels (or other colors) on your profoto outdoors? I once saw fabulous work like this doing athlete portraits which gave them a heroic look. Sadly I’ve lost that link, but I did find these http://www.qhphotography.com/Blog/Portraits-on-cloudy-day-to-get-a-soft-light-and-use-CTO-color-gels-to-make-a-grey-sky-blue and http://www.lensdiaries.com/photo-tips/photography-white-balance-techniques/

  4. R. J. — November 29, 2012 @ 10:14 am (#)

    Tim, thanks for the kind words. I’ve used gels before on speed lights but not much on strobes since I’m going after a different look. But good creative suggestion, especially with the AA batteries. The Nikon still plays an important role for low light photojournalism type shooting.

  5. KRista — November 29, 2012 @ 10:10 pm (#)

    Beautiful family portraits!

  6. mike — November 30, 2012 @ 11:14 am (#)

    what is the recycle time of your profoto d1 at full power using the mini vagabond?

  7. R. J. — November 30, 2012 @ 11:30 am (#)

    @Mike, about one per second which matches the frame rate of the PhaseOne 645DF, which is really the limiting reagent.

  8. Zachary Long — November 30, 2012 @ 8:07 pm (#)

    I hate posts like these… it makes me want to spend money :). Thanks RJ, long time reader seriously considering medium format digital, love the work :)

  9. Bruce — December 2, 2012 @ 4:50 pm (#)

    Hi –

    First off – lovely photos – compelling stuff. Enjoyable composition and a nice emotion.

    Second – how about the Acute 600B rather than the D1/Vagabond combo?

    I have a few of the Profoto D1′s and use these for indoor on location. I use the 600B for outdoors location stuff.

    I have never been able to synch the strobes – using the Air controller – and get all of the strobe power synching beyond 1/500.

    That vagabond is attractive.

  10. R. J. Kern — December 3, 2012 @ 9:46 pm (#)

    @Bruce I haven’t shot with the Acute 600B’s… twice the weight, 6 times the price, no Air-sync, and I can’t recharge ipad/computer/flashlights on it. The higher-sync benefits result from the leaf shutter and camera, not the lighting.

  11. Dad — December 3, 2012 @ 11:18 pm (#)

    You are following your passion! B.Z.! Love, Dad

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  13. Tristan — December 4, 2012 @ 4:08 pm (#)

    I do love the build on the Profotos and I empathize on your points regarding Pocketwizards… It’s crazy how many I have bought “just in case”. I now lug 4 or 5 to shoots with even just 2 lights. Sigh. And AAs… don’t get me started. Though life has been much easier since I invested in Ansmann 2850 rechargeables.

    I think in the long term I am going to go with a Profoto kit, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over the service I get from Paul C Buff. About 2 months ago I sent 2 Einsteins in for repair. I sent them just the bare units. I’d lost one of their shipping covers, broken both frosted domes and I needed to order some new flash tubes. One of the casings was cracked due to an 11 foot stand tipping during a shoot and crashing to the floor… all in slow motion (You can imagine the slo-mo “noooooooooooo” as my subject and I ran to catch the curved fall). So one break was definitely my fault… the other was probably my fault. I picked up the units this week at my delivery hub. I was stunned to find not just completely replaced units, but new bulbs on each, shipping covers, frosted domes… the works. And all at no charge a year and a half after buying them. Buff really doesn’t skimp on satisfying their buyers.

    Now having said that, I would be a lot happier if they had a more secure and less flimsy attachment system. Those things are such a pain to work with… and they get jammed on mine all the time. Sitting there during a wedding shoot slapping my Einstein to free the little clamps is a regular thing. I’ve even got a list of jokes prepped to ease the mood during a breakdown. “Don’t worry folks, it’s not like its a baby”. There’s another reason I’m not a comedian.

    All this to say, I’m now a regular reader of your blog. You’ve got a great, friendly way of communicating in your posts, your photos are bright and creative… and most importantly: you are clearly having fun doing it all. Ok, honestly, its the dog that does it. Don’t ever fire that dog. Actually, you should give him a raise.

  14. düğün fotoğrafçısı — December 5, 2012 @ 12:49 pm (#)

    excellent photographs. Thank you so much

  15. christiane posl — December 12, 2012 @ 10:12 pm (#)

    love!

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  17. Keith Alstrin — December 15, 2012 @ 3:13 pm (#)

    Sweet stuff. The images. The families. The equipment.

  18. Rob Scott — December 17, 2012 @ 8:53 am (#)

    Hi

    Quick question about the Vagabond Mini with the D1s. I’ve got 2x500s and 1×1000 (as well as other Elinchrom and Bowens lighting), and when I was researching drving the D1s with the Vagabond Mini many people said the two were not compatible (something to do with no battery mode I seem to remember). Are yours recent D1s or do the older ones (mine are 3 years old) actually work ok?

    Thanks for your help and great work

    Rob

    Rob Scott
    http://www.robscottphotography.com

  19. R. J. — December 18, 2012 @ 7:42 pm (#)

    Rob, the new ones seem to work fine… that’s what I’m running.

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  24. Scott — January 28, 2013 @ 12:22 pm (#)

    Hey Rob Scott…
    I have D1′s as well and have both versions – one set with the battery option, one without. It’s a firmware issue. If you call/email Profoto (or the MAC group), you can send yours in for a firmware update and then they will work with a battery.

    I’ve found the refresh time too slow with a vagabond and purchase the 600b for my one light setup. Don’t have a leaf shutter, so don’t have to worry about 1/1600.

    Considering the Batpac for on location so I can have up to five lights (4 D1′s and one 600b) that would not require a plug.

  25. Connor Katz — January 29, 2013 @ 2:26 pm (#)

    Very cool pictures and nice post.

    Just a quick question about power. With 250 w/s, were you constantly banging out max power to overpower the sun? Id imagine shooting late evening/ early morning as you are doing in most of the shots helps, just wondering if you found yourself wanting for power? Also, if you had tried shooting high noon would you still have had the power to do that?

    Thanks a bunch.

  26. R. J. — January 29, 2013 @ 4:22 pm (#)

    @Connor most of these were shot during 10-2pm overhead sun. As long as I kept about a 15 foot working distance, I had all the power I needed for the given modifier I was using, the Profoto magnum. Keep in mind when shooting MF digital, you can shoot at only about 1 frame per second, so super quick recycle times are not the limiting reagent.

  27. Kasper — January 31, 2013 @ 9:07 am (#)

    Thank you for sharing your experience with the D1 vs Einsteins. Espasially the close up, of the speedrings!

    Very nice Pictures!

  28. Fabiano Silva — March 18, 2013 @ 10:32 pm (#)

    Just out of curiosity, the modeling light have some use in hard daylight? (never used strobes , still on speedlights)

  29. R. J. Kern — March 22, 2013 @ 12:43 pm (#)

    No way… It is no where bright enough. At night, you can use it and shoot at ISO 1600, 1/90th sec at 1.4 with large softbox and it works well.

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  31. Cassady Kissam — March 5, 2014 @ 8:52 pm (#)

    Love your work and the concept of shooting BM portraits (awesome) and love your tips on reducing gear.
    Ive read a number of discussion about the PCB Vagabond Mini powering D1′s with almost everyone saying that it works just fine (and some worrying about its abuse to the Digital Profoto) but its great to see that combo put to the test-on The Playa no less!

    Trying to decide between the new Profoto B1 (w/ built in battery) vs. Two D1′s for around the same price. But with this set up its almost like working w/ a built in battery (b/c the Vagabond is so small).
    The Phase One is still on the ‘wish list’ but clearly superior ;)

    Beautiful portraits and info
    Thanks Again,
    Cassady Kissam
    http://www.cassadykissam.com

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