Profoto B1 High Speed Sync Test

What is High Speed Sync Flash and How To Use It?

What is High Speed Sync Flash Photography?

High Speed Sync (HSS) flash is your DSLR camera’s ability to use flash while syncing the light using a shutter speed faster than that native to your camera. Most DSLRs are built with a native sync speed at 1/250th of a second. Anything faster will be beyond the camera’s ability to sync the shutter with the flash, typically causing unwanted effects like overexposed images, black bands across the image, or worse.

In some instances, using a neutral density filter can help mitigate these technical issues, but you still won’t have full control of the settings. This is where HSS comes in. Using a high speed sync flash and camera combination can allow you to use flash at higher shutter speeds, without sacrificing image quality or having to go out and grab extra gear like filters.

Using an HSS flash can light up your scene at different periods of time, as the front curtain and rear curtain move. HSS flash helps you maintain flash bursts as your camera shutter opens and closes to prevent technical image anomalies and make sure you get a well-exposed image.

How Does High Speed Sync Work?

We’ve already established that the max native sync for cameras is 1/250th of a second, and trying to shoot anything above is not possible with a normal Speedlight or studio strobe. The reason why is that with faster shutter speeds, the flash cannot expose onto the sensor, due to how close shutter curtains are. That and the fact that in standard flash mode, you are usually working with a flash duration that is much shorter than the time it takes the shutter to move across the image sensor. A single flash burst will only expose part of the sensor, which leads to those nasty visual glitches in your picture we mentioned earlier.

High speed sync works to prevent this by forcing the flash to fire many bursts of light throughout the exposure time to create an even distribution across the sensor. At a higher shutter speed, your camera’s rear curtain will close before the front curtain opens fully so only a sliver of exposure moves across the image sensor, during which time the flash fires in sync with the shutter. The flash power lasts longer than standard flash mode. With a DSLR capable of HSS and a dedicated flash unit, you just have to set the camera to the flash unit’s exposure settings and you’re ready to roll.

When Should You Use High Speed Sync?

Most of the time, using your DSLR with your normal flash sync speed will get the job done. But there are many situations to consider using HSS for a good shot, especially when your lighting conditions get challenging. These include:

  • Photographing active subjects without enough flash to overpower the ambient light, such as shooting an athlete in action on a bright day.
  • Shooting a portrait subject in very bright sunlight or natural light while trying to maintain a shallow depth of field.

For shooting conditions where you need to prioritize your shutter speed (like action photography), using HSS will allow you to use a more appropriate shutter speed without causing unwanted streaks or anomalies. For conditions where you should prioritize your aperture (like using a wide aperture for outdoor portraiture), HSS will allow you to control your scene without over-exposing your image.

To sum it up, essentially you should use high speed sync when your photography scene needs you to sync flash with a higher shutter speed than your camera’s native settings.

We wanted to see how effective HSS was at capturing crisp images, so our photographers at Bolt put it to the test.

Setting up a High Speed Sync Test

Section 1:The Problem

Our photographers were posed with a challenge:the ability to shoot in bright sunlight when the background or ambient exposure was 1/4000th sec at ƒ/2.8 and the subject was just 1/60th at ƒ/2.8. This meant having to use fill flash to balance out the ambient light and subject exposure while keeping the parameters of the ambient.

If we didn’t have the ability to sync higher than 1/250th, we would need a wide variety of ND filters, and for the good ones that can get expensive.

Usually a Canon or Nikon camera paired with a Pocket Wizard MiniTT1, we could achieveHyperSync, butup until now these solutions have been either consistent but lacking in speed and power, or fast and powerful but inconsistent. Profoto’s new solution for the B1 Off-Camera Flash has all of the benefits and none of the limitations. The B1 itself is about ten times as powerful as the average speedlight and fast enough to keep up with your camera. With the new Profoto HSS upgrade installed, we were able to switch to HSS Mode with a simple button-press and could then shoot at shutter as fast as 1/8000 of a second.

Then it was time to put the experiment to the test.

Section 2: Requirements

To set up our High Speed Sync test, we needed three items:

  1. A Canon EOS 5D MKII camera (see compatibility chart next section)
  2. The Profoto B1
  3. An Air-TTL Air Remote
Off-Camera Flash

Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash

It should be somewhat obvious that the Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash was the main component.

This flash is a 500Ws that uses all of the Profoto light modifiers including a couple made specifically for the B1 head. The impressive part is the 9-ƒ-stop range and can drop to 1/19,000th flash duration in the Freeze Mode and has an estimated 200+ full power flashes on a fully charged Li-Ion battery.

The unit, including battery is just 6.6 lbs. (3kg for our northern or European neighbors).

Profoto Air TTL-C or Air TTL-N

Profoto Air TTL-C or Air TTL-N

As the name dictates, the Air TTL-C is for Canon users and the Air TTL-N for Nikon users.

We attached this small unit to our Canon camera’s hot shoe to wirelessly integrate your B1 with the camera. Using the device, we could set it to either automatic TTL mode or Manual mode for full creative lighting control. The device has an operating range of up to 300m (1,000 ft) without any cables or cords.

In addition, this can also be used for syncing and manually controlling any Profoto unit that is compatible with Air Remotes(8a, D4, etc).

Profoto’s HSS works for both Canon and Nikon and has been tested for all common camera models listed below.

Canon 7D MK II OK
Canon 1DX OK
Canon 5D MK II OK
Canon 5D MK III OK
Canon 6D OK
Canon 700D OK
Canon 70D OK
Canon 7D OK
Nikon D750 OK
Nikon D810 OK
Nikon D800 OK
Nikon D4S OK
Nikon D3X OK
Nikon D3S OK
Nikon D610 OK
Nikon D600 OK
Nikon DF OK
Nikon D300 OK
Nikon D700 OK
Nikon D7100 OK

To pair the TTL to our camera, we needed a quick firmware upgrade, which was luckily simple, fast, and straight-forward. We were able to download the application based on the TTL-C device (although the app is also available for the TTL-N) and chose which operating system to use (Apple).

The screen-grab below shows the simple plug-and-play interface for upgrading; separate downloads are needed for the Air TTL and B1.

Air Remote TTL Firmware Update

After the upgrade to the B1 and Air TTL, we established communication for High Speed Sync as indicated by the red outline on the sensor image below.


PLEASE NOTE: All of Bolt Production’s TTL-C / TTL-N as well as B1 heads have the firmware upgrades installed and are ready to use. Do not attempt to overwrite existing firmware.

Section 3: Testing and Results

There were four lighting scenarios for the test using both TTL as well as manual settings.

Scenario 1: Model in open shade using the B1 to balance the ambient background.

Scenario 2: Model back-lit in full sun and balancing ambient background.

Scenario 3: Model front-lit in full sun and balancing ambient background.

Scenario 4: Mixed full sun and side lit, background underexposed.

The images below were captured with a Canon 5D M2, Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash, Air TTL-C, and Profoto Beauty Dish light modifier without diffusion and processed using Capture One v8. These are from the camera, no manipulation in the software except for a gray balance using an X-Rite Passport. In all scenarios, there was extremely bright light from the harsh sun between 2:00 and 3:00pm.

Scenario 1: Model in open shade using the B1 to balance the ambient background.

Background 11000th ƒ2.8 copy

Background 1/1000th, ƒ/2.8

Background 11000th ƒ2.8.1 copy
Using TTL, the scene was metered on the face. B1 was at 7.8 for the power, 1/1600th @ ƒ2.8

Scenario 2: Model back-lit in full sun and balancing ambient background.


Background 1/1600th, ƒ/2.8


Background 1/1600th, ƒ/2.8

Scenario 3: Model front-lit in direct sunlight and balancing ambient background.

background3 copy

Background 1/2000th, ƒ/4.0

background3.1 copy

Using TTL, the scene was metered on the face. B1 was at 7.0 for the power, manual push +2.0 to expose the rock and model 1/2000th @ ƒ4.0

Scenario 4: Mixed full sun and side lit, background underexposed.

Background 11000th ƒ2.8.1.1 copy

The models hands and left side are illuminated by sunlight and her right shoulder and hair are lit with the B1 and beauty dish. Using Manual setting, the scene was metered on the background and underexposed. B1 was at 8.5 for the power, 1/1600th @ ƒ2.

Flash and High Speed Sync: Conclusion

Upon initial set-up, using the TTL took a bit of getting used to as with any piece of equipment. Although much of the process was indeed automated, if you wanted to attempt it yourself you will HAVE to be familiar with your camera, settings, eccentricities, and how the TTL in the camera works with metering and autofocus. There are a couple of other pieces to be aware of such as when going in HiSync, using the compatible Canon cameras the power setting will be set to 7.0 as opposed to the 8.0 setting in Nikon. The communication between the bodies and Air TTL is correct. When using TTL (non HSS) the camera will only go to 1/250th (or whatever is appropriate for your DSLR) and when set on HSS, the camera is released to go to 1/8000th.

Some, repeat some, frustration was involved until some experimentation was done using TTL vs. Manual, HSS vs. 1st curtain sync. There is not a ton of documentation on the Air TTL, but all of the Profoto manuals can be viewed and downloaded from our product pages. The small amount of frustration just goes to show that you have to be a professional and know your gear.

Overall, we were really impressed by the control and not needing to use ND filters to knock down the background and how well the B1 with the beauty dish was able to blend with the model and background.

Keep in mind that Bolt Productions is a Profoto dealer and rents the B1 units as well as the Air TTL-C and Air TTL-N. Call us today for a demo or to set up your own HSS test.

**Special thanks to Stephanie Michele for being the model subject and to Marilyn Cook for all of the coordination and assisting.