We have seen amazing advances in phone photography over the years iPhone 11 Pro, Galaxy S20 Ultra and Pixel 4 can take pictures that can compete with those of a DSLR. But Profoto’s latest launch, I would argue, is the biggest revolution in phone photography since the first installation of cameras in phones.
Profoto produces some of the best photo flashes, if you’re not familiar. They are used by professional photographers all over the world in all imaginable genres of photography. The latest B10 flash is typically used alongside top-end cameras and is the first professional light to take pictures with an iPhone.
Why is it such a revolution?
For years, phone manufacturers have been trying to improve their picture quality in low light with night modes. We’ve seen how simulated portrait lighting got a thing on iPhone, and we’ve also seen HDR modes that tried to balance bright backgrounds with shaded faces in the foreground. All of these things have been done to combat one thing: a lack of light. And that’s exactly what the Profoto B10 offers.
With the right modifiers, you can create beautiful soft-light portraits like you’d see in a fashion magazine, or create dramatic outdoor sports photos – straight from Sports Illustrated’s cover – all on your iPhone. This type of image with this type of lighting has never been possible on a phone.
As the main photographer for CNET in Europe – and a regular author for telephone photography – I was very excited to see what I could achieve with my iPhone 11 Pro and the Profoto B10. And boy, was I impressed? All of the following pictures were taken and edited on the phone using Adobe Lightroom Mobile.
I started taking some product shots in the studio and loved the easy way to change the phone’s exposure and app’s flash output. I used a 2-foot softbox to give the picture with the gin bottle and the glass a classic, picturesque look. It is no different from the type of picture I would take with my Canon 5D MkIV. It was easy to levitate the shoe in the picture above. Use a fast shutter speed and just throw it in the air! It took a few tries to get it just right.
Next, some moody self-portraits. This time with the phone on a tripod so that I can easily use the rear view cameras and still get into the picture. The flash technically works with the front-facing cameras, but the results look washed out. That’s why I used the rear camera and fired the phone with a small Bluetooth camera trigger in my hand.
Without the flash, I am barely noticeable in this shot against the background, even though it was taken on a sunny day.
Turning on the flash, however, results in me being perfectly lit and adding some great shadows and contrasts to the metalwork behind me. A crop and some color changes in Lightroom on the phone really burst this picture. OK, well, I’m not a model, but you have the idea.
I later went to the Edinburgh mountains with my friend and comrade Dan Smith, who was good enough to walk around while taking a picture that I am particularly pleased with. Here I was able to underexpose the scene in the camera with a fast shutter speed and darken the sky, but with a high flash output I was able to expose his shoes perfectly. Due to the short shutter speed, dust and flying stones were captured in great detail. It could easily be an advertisement for a Salomon magazine, and it goes far beyond the picture I could have taken without the light.
This time Dan and I went up a hill overlooking the city to enjoy this dramatic view. The flash was placed to the right of the scene, adding extra lighting to Dan that really helps him stand out in the picture and give it a much more polished, commercial look.
Compare the illuminated, processed image (left) with the image taken directly from the camera without flash (right). It is clear that the light helped fill these shadows on Dan’s face, and that this picture looks more like a more professional, considered picture than a quick snapshot while running.
This last shot shows Dan trail running across the ridge. I had the B10 positioned right next to Dan on the ground. It’s a subtle piece of light, but it’s just enough to make Dan stand out and add real drama to the scene.
Setting the light is easy. Turn on the B10 and activate the Bluetooth mode. Open the Profoto app on your iPhone (currently only supports iPhone, but Android support is apparently in progress) and you will be asked to connect. In my experience, it worked perfectly. Profoto calls the connectivity of the B10 “AirX”.
Images have to be taken via the Profoto app instead of using the standard iPhone camera app. However, it offers control over exposure settings, white balance, choice of lens (standard view, wide-angle or 2x zoom) and of course flash output. You can also record raw to simplify editing later – which I took advantage of.
It works just like using a flash with any other camera. Match your camera’s settings with the flash settings to get the look you want. The app doesn’t offer automatic flash exposure (or ETTL, as it is called) yet, but that’s on its way too. You can also connect several B10 lights together to get more complex lighting configurations.
The technical use of an external flash with an iPhone is not entirely new – Godox tried it with his pocket-sized A1 smartphone flash, which could theoretically trigger the company’s larger lights. But it didn’t really work properly, while the Profoto version enables a seamless direct connection to the Pro Lights and offers significantly more functions.
I have been using the Profoto B10 for less than 24 hours and am overwhelmed by what I have been able to achieve. But it’s not perfect yet; Although the B10 is powerful, it cannot completely overwhelm the bright midday sun when used with the iPhone. The autofocus in the app is a hit and miss, and there is a delay of almost a second between pressing the shutter button and the actual shot. That made it difficult to set my timing correctly for some action shots. However, I am confident that these problems can be resolved. I would also like to see that the functionality of some of Profoto’s even larger B1X lights is available for higher light output.
There is also a legitimate question of who this is really for. The B10 costs around $ 1,695 without modifiers, which means that it will really only be professionals who buy it, and professionals will surely use their “right” cameras instead of their phones? I agree with this argument, although I would say that it is very convenient for travel to get this quality from a setup that you can hold in one hand. If you can quickly edit pictures on the phone and immediately share them with customers or social channels, you can work quickly.
The B10 is not an iPhone accessory that everyone can get, but it will undoubtedly help make smartphone cameras by only amateurs a legitimate tool for professional photographers. I can’t wait to see what shots I get next.