Profoto C1 Plus first impressions: a portable studio light for smartphones

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Today, most people own a smartphone with a camera that they take with them wherever they go. These state-of-the-art mobile cameras undoubtedly make everybody a photographer (in a certain sense of the term).

But one of the key elements of good photography is good lighting, whether natural or artificial. Since good mobile photography requires good compact and mobile light, Profoto launched the C1 and C1 Plus, making it easier for mobile photographers to have professional lighting options wherever they go.

I took the Profoto C1 Plus for a very brief real-world tour and here are my first thoughts on the portable studio light designed for smartphone photography.

My journey with iPhone photography

I originally didn’t feel like taking pictures with my phone as it seemed boring and of lower quality, but the reason is that I tend not to upgrade equipment until that is absolutely necessary. My old first-gen iPhone SE worked for the past four years and finally died last summer.

iPhone 12

Subsequently, I purchased an upgraded iPhone 12 Mini and was blown away by the quality of the camera. This led me to leave my big cameras at home and take more pictures with my smartphone. But as good as the iPhone’s cameras are, I was still quite skeptical about the quality as it didn’t perform as well as I had hoped in low light situations.

My journey with mobile photography needed an “off-camera” flash… Meet the Profoto C1 Plus.

How things changed with the C1 Plus

Before discussing the Profoto C1 Plus, I would like to note that I am not sponsored by Profoto or any brand that I own or use. Prior to personally testing the smartphone lights, the C1 or C1 Plus, which cost $149 and $299 respectively, were never a lighting option that was on my radar. I got my hands on my C1 Plus by winning it in a competition open to everyone.

That being said, there are other options for smartphone lighting, such as the now discontinued Godox A1 and Godox A1 Mini (AKA Flashpoint M1 Mini), but I haven’t tested these units nor am I familiar with them. not beyond what is indicated on the technical sheets.

To be fair, when the C1 was launched I was pretty skeptical as it seemed weird that anyone would care and spend money on a product like this. I thought it was an underpowered, incompetent, and overall relatively useless product. I mean, how can a respected lighting company that makes the Pro packs also make smartphone flashes under the same brand?

I changed my mind the moment I took the C1 Plus for a spin.

The Profoto C1 light itself

Just like Profoto’s premium products, the C1 Plus is a very easy to use light. Measuring 3.1 inches (7.9 cm) in diameter, the device is small enough to hold with one hand. Measuring 3.8 cm (1.5 inches), it will slip into most men’s jeans pockets. The dimensions of the unit itself make it a very compact and lightweight unit (6.21oz/176g) and the four buttons that control the unit are placed close enough to operate with one hand. In addition, the material is non-slippery, which makes holding the C1 very easy.

As for light output, the C1 offers around 4300 lumens of flash power, which is admittedly well below what a regular (similarly priced) Speedlite can do. It recycles quickly, ensuring you don’t miss a thing. Although a significantly lower wattage, the amount of light is sufficient for selfies and close-up portraits or images of small objects, but don’t expect to use it for anything wide (wide-angle) or on long distances.

If you put a modifier on it, as expected, it will produce even less light, so be prepared for that as well. The flash duration is nothing impressive and I doubt the C1 would be used to freeze motion. As for continuous light, the C1 can put out 280 lumens at 90-98 CRI. This is actually good news because continuous light can be used to help the camera focus.

I often found myself using the C1 to light up during Zoom meetings. The advantage of the C1 is that it can change the color temperature in both flash and continuous light modes, which means you can match your light to the temperature of your environment. For example, when I hold meetings in hotel rooms, I simply adapt the C1 to the ambience and make the light look natural.

The C1’s battery is actually quite decent and can produce 2000 full power flashes or 40 minutes of continuous maximum output. A surprising disappointment with the battery/device was that it cannot be used while charging, as it would be fantastic to plug it in and use it in meetings that last longer than 40 minutes.

Speaking of modifiers, there are actually quite a few you can use to create portrait images. The same modifiers work with Profoto A-series flashes, meaning you can use the ones you already own. Keep in mind that like most other Profoto products they are quite expensive for what they do, for example a grid or gel will set you back $50. I find it hard to understand what makes them so expensive, but it is what it is. The modifiers hold very well and you can be sure they fall off. Here’s how well they hold up:

For portrait I commonly use the dome, 20 degree grid and wide lens. The dome is fantastic, but it’s rather large and double the size of the C1, making it impractical in some situations. I replace the dome with a wide lens to achieve a similar effect.

The Profoto Camera app has improved a lot since I reviewed it last year. Today, I shoot almost exclusively in smart mode. When all that matters is taking the shot, I don’t want to worry about settings.

There are two controls: light quality and light temperature. My favorite setting is Dramatic, which maximizes flash output and increases shutter speed, making images crisp in low light situations. Alternatively, if you want to use it in full manual mode, you can switch and do that. The experience is similar if not identical to my review of the app.

Dramatic mode
natural mode
The C1 is easy to use — anyone can pick it up and use it to add extra light to photos. It’s a snapshot of me that my partner took.
The Profoto Camera app can be out of focus, but in situations like these, it’s safe to say that it’s not that important.
Despite the strong backlight of the sun, there was still enough power to light me up.
Without something like the C1, you can often expect to get a lot more drama, but say goodbye to shadow (and/or highlight) detail.

Parting Thoughts

While the Profoto C1 is a light that probably won’t be available on many large commercial sets, it is a light that I now rarely leave at home. It’s a great way to capture more beautiful images than just a smartphone photo. Everyone I’ve photographed with the C1 so far has been impressed with the “better” quality of the images, but keep in mind that they are not photographers and are used to images from poorly lit iPhone.

I love the light because it allows me to take casual/personal photography to the next level, something I’ve been missing since I started shooting professionally.


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