I’m not a gear fanboy. I go with what works and if it’s a good value, I’m in. I don’t care about brands and hype. I mean, I shoot with Panasonic-Lumix cameras if that tells you anything. So when a company like Profoto has such a dominant position, I'm skeptical whether the reputation is warranted or not. But I liked the work I saw with Profoto modifiers. I had to give them a try. The proof is always in the pudding.

Work created by photographer Ricardo Gomez of Ricardo Gomez photography.

I used Profoto for the first time back in 2012. A few months after I had started photography. Even then I knew Profoto was tops in their game. I wanted to use Profoto for a shoot for my first shoot with who would become my San Francisco muse Chalyce.I didn’t know how much better it would be if at all. I was using a lower-cost, light modifier at the time. I actually used this system for several years with great results. Fantastic results actually. But there were differences I immediately noticed.

An AWESOME BTS shot by the model's friend!

Build quality. By far the easiest thing to notice. Profoto modifiers are built to last. Most less-expensive modifiers use a rather cheap nylon. Or they’ll try to beef it up by making it thicker. It wouldn’t be very hard to rip it. I’m incredibly anal about keeping my gear in great shape and it never happened to me. But many photographers aren’t. Or they simply use theirs much more often.

Fantastic build quality with the fabric.

But the Profoto modifiers I’ve used have an outer shell made of an incredibly tough canvas. If you managed to damage it, it’s all on you. It feels like triple the thickness of a converse tennis shoe if that gives you an idea. It’s totally industrial.

Probably the biggest trade-off is portability and weight. Sure, I’ve seen light modifiers that fold up into nothing. Or they have their speedrings built-in when folded, can still fit just about anywhere. But then, they are built out of more damage-prone materials. Unless you’re willing to spend much more money on a modifier, you’re not going to get the best of both worlds for now.

Weight is only a real issue if you’re carrying a dozen of these things. Two or three of them aren’t going to be significantly lighter. Plus, weight can work for you. You don’t have to be in photography very long to feel your heart skip a beat when you see the wind topple over your lights….. These modifiers are built to last. For decades.

Beauty shot with the Profoto 5' Octa.

Performance. The real important question: is there a difference in the light it makes?

I may not be the best person to ask. For one, I can tell when someone uses a Medium Format camera for their work. There is a particular look to Medium Format.

So for me, I can look at all of my images and tell whether I’m using a Profoto modifier or not. The only way I can describe it is like when you see skim milk being poured vs whole milk. The light looks fuller. It doesn’t look ‘thinned out’. So when I took the images of Chalyce and viewed them on my computer, I was blown away. I was like ‘wow!’.

As I mentioned earlier, you can get fantastic results with much cheaper systems. I certainly did. Plenty of times. For years. Some of my best work was done with a much cheaper system. I’m happy with the results.

It’s hard to say, but the Profoto system takes you at least an extra 10% further. Most people wouldn’t notice. But when one piece of gear takes you an extra 10%. And another piece an extra 10% and etc. It adds up. But the thing is, you really need to be using the system at its peak. If your lights aren’t placed or adjusted properly, a Profoto modifier isn’t going to improve your work.

My latest shoot with the Profoto 5' Octa.

Engineering. It’s a sort of combination of the previous two key points. Yes, they had to figure out what materials to best use. How can I tell the light is different? Mind you, they were also one of the first ones to use the ‘extra deep’ umbrella. R&D cost money. Have you seen their modifier-speedlight adapter? More on that in a moment….

Way back in 2014 with the enormous Profoto Umbrella Deep White - Large. I believe Profoto was the first to pioneer deep umbrellas.

Way back in 2014 with the enormous Profoto Umbrella Deep White - Large. I believe Profoto was the first to pioneer deep umbrellas.

Value. Now, here’s where people have possibly the biggest hang-up with Profoto. So if Profoto is so great and you knew it from early on, why didn’t you get it back in 2012?

Well, money is money and Profoto modifiers are at least 2x more money than imitators. At least 2x. It’s not just the modifiers either. The speedrings cost more. Adapters you have to use on strobes cost more. The speedlite-modifier adapter is ridiculously more expensive than competitors. Quite frankly, I wasn’t doing too great financially and the results I was getting with the cheaper system were very good. 

The big problem is that it was delicate and I was in fear of damaging it all the time. It was an even bigger hassle assembling the whole thing. I had to do a DIY to make it much better. It worked. But it was crap. So until last year, I either rented or used Profoto modifiers supplied by studios I rented time in.

My Profoto 3' Octa!

Then, at the end of 2019, just a few months ago, I bought my first modifier! A 3’ RFi Octa Softbox. Basically, a replacement of a similarly styled product I had used for years. I took it out of the packaging and marveled at the build quality. Seeing the big ‘Profoto’ on the side of the Octa. I was like “My gosh, this thing is going to last me forever….”. Talking about durability….

I also purchased the Profoto RFi Speedlight Speed Ring. This thing is I.N.S.A.N.E.! This speedring allows you to use a speedlite with a modifier. It’s almost 4x the cost than a Chinese knock-off system. FOUR-times!!!

The engineering of the speedring is insane! This thing will last me 20 years.

But as soon as I pulled it out of the box, I knew it was special. It’s three pieces of cast iron. I think. Feels like it. The engineering from an almost trivial piece of gear is insane.

Even with it's cast-iron-like build, it's actually quite portable. it tears down into three pieces quite easily. I can easily fit it into almost any camera bag. Takes maybe 2 minutes to assemble. 

It’s kinda nice that the modifier and speedring is color coded to make sure you get it right. If you need color coding for this, maybe you shouldn’t get a piece of Profoto gear. Though it would help you align a square or rectangular modifier easier.  

So when you attach the rods to the speedring, you notice there is a double-ring. What’s super-cool about this is that the fabric of the modifier slides in-between the two rings making a really great clean and great seal. It’s quite brilliant. The engineering of it.

Another thing which is completely invisible and brilliant: the modifier still turns! You see those screws on the back of the ring? Those are actually connected to the ring and have wheels on the screws which sit on a track. So when you connect the modifier in to the ring, the wheels roll on the track. Absolutely brilliant. I didn't even notice it until the first time I connected the modifier.

Lastly and nicely, they didn’t cheap-out and include only 1 mount for a speedlite. You actually get FOUR mounts! All my speedlites have built-in radios. So I’m guessing the extra mounts are to attach separate triggers. Because there is no way you can fit 4 flash heads through the ring. So at least I got a couple of spare mounts.

  • Work created by photographer Ricardo Gomez of Ricardo Gomez photography.

Is Profoto worth it?

As far as modifiers are concerned, absolutely yes. The Speedlight Speed Ring is completely worth the price. One of the most brilliant pieces of photography gear ever. Quality, R&D, support. A Swedish company that I'm sure pays it's employees a good wage. All this cost money. 

The Future. I still have a 5’ Octa I want to purchase for better full-length fashion work. Some umbrellas for wedding and possibly event work. There are some square and rectangular softboxes I want to get for portraiture and specialty work. I'll be in fantastic shape when this happens. Maybe by the end of this year? Maybe!

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Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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