Real innovations are reasonably rare in the world of studio flash equipment but Profoto has redesigned the monobloc with its new-generation D1 series. Report by Paul Burrows.
The history of electronic flash dates back to the mid-1930s and Dr Harold Edgerton’s experiments with high-speed photography which lead to him developing the flash tube. In the 1940s and ’50s the first studio flash systems were introduced with a power generator so big and heavy they had to have wheels. Demand for something more compact resulted in Bowens launching the world’s first flash monobloc in 1968, the Monolite 400 (which, despite the model designation, had a flash power output of 250 joules). Incidentally, Broncolor also claims the monobloc ‘first’, but most sources agree it was pipped at the post by the Brits. Major innovations have been reasonably few and far between – the adoption of electrolytic capacitors in the early 1960s, asymmetric power distribution in packs (Bron was definitely first with that) and microprocessor control with digital displays immediately spring to mind – but the basic design of the flash monobloc has essentially remained unchanged. Until now.
Profoto’s D1 series of models embody all the recent technological developments seen in studio flash equipment generally and a number of the Profoto-specific features introduced in the company’s latest generation of packs. However, the most interesting aspect of the D1 units is a complete redesign of the flash head itself so that it incorporates a reflector. Reflected Glory
As a result, the Profoto D1 looks a bit like an oversized hairdryer, but there are a number of conveniences associated with this design; the first being – obviously – that there’s no need to fit an accessory reflector dish. For many applications this makes for speedier set-up (as well as easier storage) and Profoto is specifically targeting its new generation monoblocs at the portrait market because the D1’s design also makes it much easier to fit either a reflector brolly or a softbox. The flash head’s diameter retains full compatibility with Profoto’s clamp-fit light shapers – so external reflectors can still be fitted if required – and, what’s more, they can be attached anywhere along the barrel, thereby creating a de facto ‘zoom’ adjustment for the light spread. The further back on the barrel the reflector, softbox or shaper is fitted, the narrower the light spread. Simple, but effective.
The built-in reflector arrangement also minimises stray light and, to some extent, enhances efficiency although it’s smaller diameter – compared to an accessory dish – is largely responsible for this as it concentrates the output (with a quoted light ‘spread’ of 77 degrees). Nevertheless, it is a very neat feature which certainly enhances the monobloc’s handling efficiencies. And the D1 is also a lot more contemporary in its styling with a two-piece GRP shell that neatly incorporates the carry handle and mounting bracket on the bottom and the brolly tube on the top.