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Keeping the Cord

Free Library of Philadelphia, Executive Office Conference room. 3x Profoto AcuteB 600r's. December, 2014.
Free Library of Philadelphia, Executive Office Conference room, LotY Library Journal cover shoot. 3x Profoto AcuteB 600r’s running off of battery power. December, 2014.

During the recent LotY shoot I had a chance to try out Profoto’s *new LiFe, lithium ion, battery in one of my AcuteB 600r packs. The battery performed phenomenally well. I was able to shoot just shy of three hundred images over the course of about ninety minutes (including setup, testing, and the session) with the modeling light on. That “with” is huge.

I never would have attempted this with one of the old style Pb, lead-acid, batteries. In fact, I never would have the left modeling light on while shooting unless I was able to plug the pack into the wall.

The LiFe battery for the AcuteB/2 (AcuteB or the newer AcuteB2) pack is expensive. It has a street price of $615 but it’s important to note that it should have a longer life overall, ~4x as long as the old Pb battery, and suffer from none of the issues inherent with sealed lead-acid batteries. It is also 2.3 lb. lighter and has a ~28% greater capacity (225  vs. 160 full-power flashes.)

Any AcuteB/2 owners who need to replace older batteries or packs are currently faced with a bit of a dilemma… To B1 or not to B1? AKA should I go B1? The B1 is Profoto’s new TTL enabled battery powered 500 w/s monolight. **It is all the rage and so much so that Profoto USA recently told me that the AcuteB/2 line has been discontinued.

I for one am sorry to hear this. I love my AcuteB setup. I have three and they are by far my favorite strobe. Portable, easy to use, plenty powerful for 99% of what I do, and flexible. I can run them off batteries or I can run them off AC power. I can use them on their own or I can mix them with my AC powered Profoto packs. The AcuteB head weighs little, is fan-free, and offers the same Profoto quality as the larger heads.

The B1… my issues with it put me in a small minority. It is geared toward TTL; its all-in-one compactness results in a heavier load which will require more ballast (the B1 is 6.6 lb., the AcuteB head is 3.2 lb); its readout is decimal based, not the traditional fractional or stop-based lighting scale (e.g. 10.0, 9.9, 9.8 vs full, 1/2, 1/4 power or -1 stop, -2 stops, etc.); and it has no AC option.

Portrait lighting setup with 3x AcuteB600r's (1 running off battery, 2 running off AC) and 1x Acute 1200r. All triggered via internal PocketWizard radio sync. New York, NY. February, 2013.
Portrait lighting setup with 3x AcuteB600r’s (1 running off battery, 2 running off AC) and 1x Acute 1200r. All triggered via internal PocketWizard radio sync. New York, NY. February, 2013.

Going B1 also means using Profoto’s Air radio sync system. Great if you are only working with the B1 or if your other packs happen to have Air built-in but a complication if you are mixing in other packs or using a meter which are based on a competing sync standard. In my case, all five of my Profoto packs and my light meter have PocketWizard built-in. To make that work some elements will have to be adapted externally. Air receivers can be added to PocketWizard based packs but the PocketWizard transmitter in a Sekonic meter will be rendered useless.

What this gets at is the fundemental difference between the B1 and Profoto’s Acute packs. Profoto does not describe the B1 as a strobe but as an “off-camera flash.” It is a souped up speedlite, albeit with far more power and a studio strobe quality. It is TTL based and while it can be used manually, it’s really optimized for working without a meter. Take a shot via TTL, review the camera back, and tweak as needed. The Acute line (AC or battery) is old school and best used with a flash meter in hand.

It should be noted, too, that using the B1 creates a situation where lights will have to be lowered, re-raised, and re-aimed just to swap a battery. That’s when the convenience of no cords becomes an inconvenience vs. a light which is tethered to a pack.

The B1’s lithium-ion battery at $250 is cheaper than the AcuteB/2’s but it is rated to have a significantly shorter life. Profoto spec’s the B1 battery at 300 charge cycles where the AcuteB/2 LiFe battery is spec’d at 1200 charge cycles.

Profoto LiFe lithium-ion battery only looks like the old lead-acid Pb battery.
Profoto LiFe lithium-ion battery only looks like the old lead-acid Pb battery.

Would I recommend the AcuteB/2 + head over the B1? Clearly, I prefer it but the recommendation would depend on two things: 1. your shooting style and 2. the price.

If you value setup speed overall, are a TTL user, or don’t need an AC option then the B1 can be a perfect fit. The wedding and event market are eating it up. If you also need a more compact kit for travel then the B1 could work (as long as that is not countered by needing heavier stands.) But, if like me, you value the design of the AcuteB/2 for the reasons I outlined up top then it would be the better fit.

In terms of pricing a B1 is $1995. The AcuteB2 + AcuteB Head ranges from $1495 ~ $3300. The former if Profoto is running a special, the latter if it is not. At $2500 or less the AcuteB/2 is worth considering, above that it will be hard to justify (but note my comments up top and below as it may be moot if it is discontinued.)

*New to me. The LiFe batteries have been out for a few years.

**This past November, Profoto ran a $1495 special on AcuteB2 packs + AcuteB heads. Once it ended the pack and the head were marked “discontinued” on both B&H’s and Adorama’s web sites. I checked in with Profoto USA they told me that the AcuteB2 line had been discontinued due the success and popularity of the B1. Oddly, after checking today, the AcuteB2 pack and AcuteB head have reappeared on B&H’s web site.

Hard to know if that is excess inventory or if something else is at play. Regardless, it is disappointing to think that the only battery option from Profoto under the $7.9k B4 might be the B1. The B1 is a great flash which many love but like any tool it’s not perfect for every situation. The B1 offers unmatched setup speed but the AcuteB/2 offers adaptability which the B1 cannot match.

Note: 2015-01-20: The AcuteB2 & AcuteB Head are back to being listed as “discontinued” on B&H’s web site.

If you have AcuteB or AcuteB2 packs and are looking to get the LiFe battery the one you want is Profoto #901106. B&H can get it via special order, some other dealers still have it in stock.