Profoto calls the A1 the world's smallest studio light and it certainly looks the part. Unlike Profoto's other hefty studio strobe offerings, the A1 looks like an on-camera flash or speedlight. In fact, it can be mounted on the hotshoe of DSLR cameras and used as a regular speedlight with native through-the-lens (TTL) metering support.
Since it can be mounted on DSLR cameras, it obviously does not use a power outlet like regular studio strobes. Instead, the A1 uses a removable rechargeable battery, which slots in at the front of the strobe.
Battery life is rated at 350 full-power flashes per full charge.This would be enough for a day's worth of shoot, but mileage will vary depending on user.
Design-wise, the A1 has a unique round head, unlike the rectangular head found in most speedlights. The head can be rotated almost 360 degrees horizontally, so you can adjust it to almost any angle to direct the light output.
The head has a magnetic mount that supports three bundled clip-ons - a dome diffuser, bounce card and wide lens. It has built-in LED modelling light, so you can set the light easily during shoots.
At the rear of the A1 is an LCD display. Below the display are a row of four small buttons. Below the buttons is a large dial, sitting between the modelling light button and power button. On the left side of the A1 is a mode switch that lets you toggle between TTL and Manual.
There are two variants of the A1 - for Canon DSLR and Nikon DSLR cameras respectively. I tested both variants using my trusty Canon EOS 7D - with the Canon variant as the main flash/controller unit, while the Nikon variant is used as a slave flash unit connected via Profoto's AirTTL wireless radio system.
WEIGHT: 560g (including battery)
BATTERY LIFE: 4/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5
If you want to control the A1 off-camera, you will need to get the Profoto Air Remote ($409) or Air Remote TTL ($587). But if you have two A1s, you can use one as a remote for the other. In fact, the A1 can be used as a remote for all Profoto studio lights.
I found the A1 easy to use. I figured out how to operate it in less than 15 minutes without reading the manual.
Press the main dial to access the menu on the display. There are only two pages of menu. You turn the dial and press the four buttons to navigate the menu. The menu allows you to change the zoom length of the flash, beep sound and flash synchronisation mode. It also lets you set the radio channels of the connecting Profoto strobes.
The light quality the A1 produces is quite pleasing. I like the rounded beam pattern, which creates a more even and natural lighting compared with the speedlights I own.
Plus, the A1's recycling time - time taken for a flash to be ready again - is fast. Putting it on 100 per cent power during my tests, I found it took only a second to be ready to shoot again. When used as a TTL speedlight, I could shoot four to five frames continuously and the A1 will flash each time.
But the joy of using A1 comes at a price. At $1,498, the A1 is significantly more expensive than most speedlights in the market. In fact, the price of one A1 buys you two Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT flashes (recommended retail price $749).
•Verdict: The Profoto A1 is a fabulous flash, whether you use it in the studio or on-camera. But its hefty price tag means it might be out of reach for most photo enthusiasts.