Profoto is synonymous with professional, high-quality flash photography. Their products are built rock solid and designed for travel, mobile use, on the road use or in your studio. Their products are favorites of most rental houses because unlike the cheaper stuff, they rarely break. They’re workhorses.
Lately I’ve been playing with ring flashes for a project I am working on. I have tried and own both the Orbitz and Ray Flash and they both work fine. Both require you to already have a flash on your camera and that flash powers the ring flash by channeling the light to the ring unit. Here’s the problem with these units. They are awkward, plastic, not universal and they simply cannot put out the same quantity or quality of light that a dedicated ring flash can.
I played with Alien Bees’ ring flash thinking I’d review it. I almost NEVER write negative reviews here on Photofocus because there’s so much good stuff out there that I don’t have time to write about it all – so why give space to something that I don’t think is good? I’m not reviewing the Alien Bees unit because frankly, in my opinion, it’s crap. It’s cheap, plastic and doesn’t travel well. Borrowlenses.com sent me one to test and I sent it back the next day, even though it was on a four-week loan. It was that bad.
I ended up with the Profoto kit as my next option and it’s an entirely different experience than the Alien Bees kit. I tested the Profoto 330513 Acute2 Ring and right away knew it was what I was looking for.
Starting with the weakness of most of these systems – the mounting system. The mounting system for D4 and the way it attaches to the camera is solid, user-friendly and very adjustable so that you can position any DSLR (and probably many smaller micro 4/3 cameras) on the bracket. Your lens sticks through the 100mm opening in the ring flash. I tested it with a Canon 1DX and a Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens. The 24-70 is a big lens but it fit through the opening. The camera and flash head were well balanced.
People tend to either love or hate the ring light effect. It works VERY well on young children or beautiful women with perfect skin. But be warned, it is also a light that dermatologists use to discover skin flaws so don’t use this type of lighting unless your subject has good skin. This is a very directional, specular light that provides nice, flat, even light across the subject. The men’s magazine Maxim uses this effect often and places the models close to the background as I have done here, so the shadow is there on purpose.
The dedicated D4 throws out PLENTY of light and depending on which power pack you pair it with, can shoot up to more than 1 flash per second if you dial your pack down to 150 Ws. I was using the Profoto Acute 2 2400 Ws pack and frankly it was overkill. A 1200 Ws pack would be just right with this flash.
You’ll need a light meter, to set the exposure unless you’re an old war horse like me and can just eyeball it. I guessed the exposure right the first time and got lucky. You also need either a sync cord or a wireless trigger system like the pocket wizard.
The D4 gets a little heavy after 30-40 minutes of continuous use so I am glad to see the mount includes a tripod socket – which makes it much easier to deal with. There are also lots of wires to contend with. You have a cable that runs from the D4 ring light to the power pack and a power cable that runs from the AC outlet to the power pack. Keep that in mind if you’re working around people and make sure to keep track of the cables.
The color of the light from this unit is very consistent. I like that about the D4. Other ring flashes I’ve used have not been consistent. But powered by a $3000 pack, the Acute D4 is about as reliable product as you can buy.
This may be too expensive for some of you – but you get what you pay for. You’ll end up buying, repairing and replacing enough of the cheaper units to just get one of these and do it right.