Introduction: The Profoto Acute 2R 1200

Introduction

The first thing a photographer is likely to notice about the Profoto Acute 2R 1200 pack is its tiny size.  This is a little pack, especially for one with 1200 W/s, 6 stops of adjustment range, and the ability — according to my informal tests — to fire consistently at up to 11 frames per second (at its lowest power setting).  It feels beefy, very well constructed, nicely labeled, and has a cute rubber antenna for its built-in Pocket Wizard radio remote receiver.

A strobe pack is, essentially, a controller for studio flashes.  Power is pulled from an AC wall outlet, poured into something like a digital bucket, and then shot out through strobe heads.  Controls on the pack allow adjustments for flash intensity and the intensity of modeling bulbs.

When it comes to these digital buckets, Profoto, and specifically the Acute line, is an industry standard, universally offered for rent and available used.  Compared to most studio lighting manufacturers, and especially to American companies, the Swedish company charges a premium, just take a look below at the prices of offerings from competitors.  The newest Acute 2R 1200 pack, though, represents a relatively affordable way to “buy in” to one of photography’s finest lighting systems, and a compact, highly capable entry at that.

Read on for our complete introduction to the new Profoto Acute 2R 1200 strobe pack.

features

When summing up the selling points of the Acute 2R 1200, Profoto states this first: “The standard of rental studios worldwide, the [pack] offers action-stopping short flash duration and fast recycling times for any type of application;” and then this “Heavy-duty design, dual voltage capability, consistency of light output and color temperature, and compatibility with Profoto’s full line of modular light shaping tools, make this power pack the first choice of professional photographers around the world.”

So, to take the marketing claims one by one, the stats break down something like this:

Rental Standard: Profoto gear is wide spread, including rental and studio gear.  Broncolor is the most obvious competitor and also something of a standard.  The Acute 2R pack is compatible with Acute strobe heads (including the Acute ring flash, and stick, strip, and spot lights) and all of Profoto’s modifiers (including giant reflectors, soft boxes, beauty dishes, etc.)

Acute strobe heads are compatible with both Profoto’s entry-level Acute packs and middle-range D4 packs.  They are not compatible with Profoto’s high-end Pro-7 or Pro-8 packs.  The Acute line includes a 600 W/s battery-powered pack, the Acute B (available with Profoto’s “Air” wireless control system or internal Pocket Wizard radio).  The Acute B line has its own strobe head, which will not work with our Acute 2R, though Acute B will accept a standard Acute head, provided the modeling bulb is changed.  To sum up the most complex paragraph I’ve ever written, let’s just say Profoto has an excellent and wide range of strobe products, but users should be careful when it comes to intra-compatibility.  I’ll offer this, though: the Acute 2R pack, when used with its own Acute/D4 strobe heads, can accept any Profoto modifier and the pack can also accept an Acute ring flash.

Action stopping short duration: The Acute 2R’s duration varies with power level, but can be as quick as 1/3200 (1/560 at full power).  In my own informal testing, I’ve confirmed that the pack is Darn fast, especially for something so compact and relatively affordable.

Fast recycling times: Profoto claims 1.5 s at maximum power, and an astonishing .09 s at minimum power.  In my testing the pack can, at very low minimum power, easily sustain eleven frames per second, provided a photographer discards the first frame, which is inevitably brighter.  I’ll avoid going in to great depth here, but aspiring Eadweard Muybridge fans should visit this article’s speed-test supplement here.

Heavy-duty design, dual-voltage capability: The pack is beautifully-made, with robust metal, thick plastic, and nice texture, printing, and details.  Profoto does a nice job using plastic, rubber, chrome, and glass, and has really given this box a nice feel.  I appreciate its comfy handle, firm switches, and grippy rubber feet.  Dual voltage is via switch, though Profoto warns that modeling bulbs should be switched when converting power input.

Consistency of light output and color temperature: During one studio session, I used the Acute 2R in combination with another brand’s strobe system.  Profoto certainly delivers color consistency, bright and neutral.  During testing, output only varied once I really started pushing the envelope.  When the pack was allowed time to fully recharge (with a useful and mutable “beep”) I was impressed with its scientific repeatability.

Other Features: When combined with Acute/D4 heads, the system offers built-in Pocket Wizard wireless tripping that works perfectly, cooling fans that come on only when needed (which is, as it turns out, almost always) both visual and audible ready confirmation, and easy, useful controls.

functionality

For a capable, professional-level machine, the Acute 2R is remarkably straight-forward and easy to use.  Strobe heads attach to one of three outlets with fat cables that plug in and lock in place.  I’d like to see the cables be a bit longer, and would recommend photographers who like to have a return, hair light, or kicker light run from the same pack as a main or key light, invest in an extension cable for the system.  By contrast, the pack includes one of photography’s longest AC power cords, and one that is nicely standard (just grab the cable off the back of any computer).

The pack syncs to a Pocket Wizard transmitter without drama.  There’s a big sticker on the side with quick instructions.  The pack boots up in program mode and remembers its setting.  I programmed it to a standard Pocket Wizard transceiver once and it has worked flawlessly for weeks.  I suspect only the busiest of studios or photography schools would need to consider hard-wire syncing for want of available Pocket Wizard channels.  The pack’s rubber antenna is durable and can be screwed on or off.

During testing, I set up several editorial-style portrait shoots, head shots, studio sets, etc. and never had a problem with syncing, color, output, or adjustment range.  It’s a great little pack with unbeatable portability and utility.  In upcoming articles, I’ll discuss the Acute/D4 strobe heads and Profoto modifiers.  To sum up the experience in highly subjective terms: I really love the modifiers, love the pack, and am OK with the heads.  The overall system?  One of the very best for the size.

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The Acute 2R’s Place in Profoto’s Line

When limited to strobes and ignoring Profoto’s monolights and continuous lighting, the company has essentially four product lines of strobe packs:

Profoto Pro-8: The company’s premier line, world class and very expensive, in either 1200 W/s or 2400 W/s.

Profoto Pro-7: The company’s previous premier line, still available in AC and battery-powered form, in either 1200 W/s or 2400 W/s models, and in high-speed and regular flavors.  They are widely available for rent and somewhat similar in many respects to our Acute 2R pack.  Neither the Pro-7 nor Pro-8 lines can accept Acute strobe heads.

Profoto D4: The company’s relatively new middle-range line, designed for high-tech flexibility, optional computer control, and wide-ranging four-channel asymmetry , accepting every Profoto strobe head accept those specifically designed for battery-powered packs.  The D4 comes in three power flavors: 1200 W/s, 2400 W/s, and 4800 W/s.

Profoto Acute: In the lineup, the Acute line represents an entry-level product.  As prices rise, Profoto adds speed (in both recycling and duration) flexibility (in adjustment range and asymmetry) and weight.  The Acute line represents the company’s smallest and easiest products, with a healthy dose of high end performance.

The Acute 2R’s Competition

The Acute 2R 1200 can be purchased as a $4,160 kit, including 2 heads, cables, reflectors, and a beefy Tenba air case.  The kit assumes photographers will want to select separate modifiers.  For the sake of evaluation, I ordered the kit with two soft boxes, a 2.3 foot Octa and 5 foot Octa with Profoto speedrings.  Photographers will also need a Pocket Wizard transmitter or transceiver, and stands (embedded link is for MSE “Falcon” kit stands, which are light weight, big and sturdy — I would highly recommend them for location work).

In future articles, we’ll be discussing other elements of the kit, including the Octa Soft Boxes, for now, here are related products from other manufacturers.  Prices can vary wildly, as can quality, features, and performance.  None but the very new Broncolor Senso pack comes close to matching the Acute 2R’s specs, especially regarding recycling speed and short flash duration.  Depending on budget, shooting style, and need for speed, there are some great options, including:

Dynalite MK-16-1222 Roadmax 1600, 1600 W/s, supports 4 heads, Internal Pocket Wizard receiver, 6-stop range
$2,350 with 2 heads, case, stands, and 2 umbrellas

American-made Dynalite has a cult-following among location photographer who like to travel light and light with strobes.  They are hard to beat for compact dimensions and light weight.  The Roadmax 1600 is a new pack offering a wide range of output adjustment in a travel-sized package.  It is also available in 800 W/s form.

Speedotron 1005 Deluxe Location Kit, 1000 W/s, supports 4 heads, 2-stop range,
$1,835 with 2 202VF heads, reflectors, case, stands, and 2 umbrellas

Speedotron is an American classic, known for robust construction and longevity.  Speedo gear is easy to find used and for rent.  The relatively new 1005 pack is uniquely compact for a Speedotron pack and strikes a nice balance between size and power for the location photographer.  Compared to European competition, Speedotron keeps it simple, low-cost, and sturdy.

Norman D12R Pack 2, 1200 W/s, supports 4 heads, Internal Pocket Wizard receiver, 5-stop range
$2,950 with 2 heads, reflectors, case, stands, and 2 umbrellas

Norman is another American mainstay with a long history of robust, straight-forward lights.  In recent years, Norman has gone high-tech, creating feature-rich packs, priced competitively below European competition.

Broncolor Senso Kit 22, 1200 W/s, supports 3 heads, built in radio receiver (for Broncolor’s RFS 2 transmitter), 6.5-stop range
$4,150 with 2 heads, reflectors, softbox, and case

Together with Profoto, Broncolor has defined professional high-end lighting gear for years.  The Senso/Litos line is brand new and is likely designed to compete somewhat directly with the Profoto Acute 2 system.  Like Profoto, Broncolor gear can be found in studios around the world and for rent.  I look forward to our upcoming review of this newest offering as soon as demo units become available.

And then there’s Elinchrom

Elinchrom is, perhaps, the Dynalite of Europe, specializing in location gear.  Unlike Dynalite, Elinchrom offers a wide range of battery-powered packs and has a unique dedication to monolights (self-contained strobe heads without a pack).  They also offer a wide range of remote control options (check out the Skyport Universal system as an economy-friendly Pocket Wizard alternative) and modifiers (notably the incredible 74-inch Elinchrom Octa-bank).

I haven’t listed a specific Elinchrom competitor to the Acute 2R, because Elinchrom works too differently to draw a sensible comparison from their product line.  They’re worth a look, though, for photographers considering a new light kit.

Profoto Acute 2R Selling Points

Profoto is an industry standard for photographic lighting, delivering color consistency, power, and the flexibility of a wide range of high-quality modifiers and accessories.  Photographers familiar with Profoto will have an easy time adjusting to rental and studio gear from any manufacturer (not to mention that rental and studio gear very often is, in fact, Profoto).

Profoto’s wide range of modifiers is another plus for the system, from sturdy and well-designed soft boxes to a range of giant reflectors, it’s one of the industry’s most complete and flexible systems.  Accessories, additional packs, heads, etc. are all easy to find for rent.  Profoto has a range of reflectors, beauty dishes, diffusers, and ring flash heads that offer photographers many ways to arrive at a signature “look”.  The company also offers an increasing line of continuous lighting that is likely to gain popularity as photographers experiment with video capture.

Adding to the pack’s flexibility are 3 ways to sync, via 1/4 inch plug, optical slave, or internal Pocket Wizard radio receiver.  Acute packs pack can be set for 110 or 240V power input, allowing world-wide use (though you might have to switch out modeling bulbs).

When dialed down, the pack offers amazingly quick recycling time and short flash durations; Profoto claims .09 seconds and 1/3200 s, respectively.  Though it won’t perform nearly as well at full power (1.5 seconds to recycle, .09 second duration) it is great flexibility to have the option, especially for those shooting quick-moving subjects.  I’ll have to dig into the specs to be certain, but would venture to say that the Acute is likely the quickest 1200 W/s pack of this size on the market (particularly in terms of flash duration).  Also, the pack manages to pull power quickly (in “fast” mode) without endangering our studio fuses.  Less sophisticated strobes typically have to be left in “slow” mode to avoid tripping our breakers.  I was even able to fire in “fast” mode for hours on our 2000 W Honda generator without even a flicker from the generator’s red LED overload warning (which suggests impressive efficiency on Profoto’s part).

The Question of Power Range

The Acute 2R, has a nice power to size/weight ratio and brings a lot of Profoto quality and sophistication to a very portable package.  It’ll kick out 1200 W/s and is smaller than the lunch box that goes to preschool with my 3 year old.  The pack’s 2-stop dimmer is limited, especially for the price range, but each channel’s ability to deliver either half or quarter power independently makes up for lost ground.  Available half and quarter power, with 2 stops of bracketing available, essentially equates to a 4 stop range, per channel.

The Acute 2R, has a nice power to size/weight ratio and brings a lot of Profoto quality and sophistication to a very portable package.  It’ll kick out 1200 W/s and is smaller than a lunch box.

Profoto claims a 6-stop range, but to reach 6 stops below full power, photographers will have to summon the old school flexibility of symmetric or a-symmetric settings.  For example, 1200 W/s becomes 300 W/s with the dimmer dialed down its full 2 stops.  Flip from “A+B” to “A <-> B” and the channels are split, 150 W/s each.  From there, flip either channel to half or quarter power to reach 75 W/s and then 37.5 W/s.  37.5 W/s divided by two (B channel as connections for 2 heads) and we arrive at 18.75 W/s, 6 stops below 1200 W/s.  6 stops is an awesome range for such a compact pack, allowing strobe light to compliment ambient light from mid-day to sunset.  It’d be nice to have it more directly accessible, with, for example dimmer-knobs for both channels that cover a wider range than 2 stops.  The new Broncolor competition, the Senso, for example, allows 5-stop control for both of its two channels (and, of course, claims 6.5 stops along the same symmetric/asymmetric reasoning).

I’m reluctant to accept power range claims made based on channel splitting.  Plug in two or three heads, for example, and the claimed 6 or 6.5 stops of range are suddenly 4 or 5 stops (Acute and Senso, respectably).  Both are still amazing range numbers for light weight location packs.  The 1200 W/s Speedotron Pack I’ve used for years covers only 2 stops (or, of course, much more with channel splitting, “bleeding” heads, neutral density filters, or just moving the lights farther away).

None the less, an easy-to-reach 4-stop range and 1/4-stop increments make this pack quick to operate and nicely mechanical and straight-forward.  Most photographers are comfortable working with ratios and symmetry and will have an easy time creating consistent results from shoot to shoot (as opposed to the intricacies of two independent channels).  More sophisticated, bigger, and more expensive packs (including packs higher up the Profoto chain) offer wider power range and finer adjustments, but with added complexity.  Considering that, the Acute is a great choice for work requiring easy transport and quick operation, hitting a nice balance between high-tech sophistication and the easy just-turn-it-on-and-shoot, old-school ratio switches many of us learned on.

Considerations

To be certain, Profoto charges premium prices.  Soft boxes, for example, range from just under $300 to over $700 (though practically any softbox on the market can be fitted to a Profoto speed ring and mount to Profoto heads).  The Acute pack is competitive with other high-end, similarly capable units, but more economically-friendly alternatives are certainly available.  Also, it’s simple mechanical interface has definite appeal and utility, but other companies offer wider and more finely-variable adjustment ranges.  Photographers considering the Acute line will certainly benefit by at least investigating the new Broncolor Senso/Litos line, which has the benefit of being a newer design and the limitation of not having been a world standard for several years.

For photographers needing high power, fast recycling, and short flash duration, all at the same time, more expensive units make sense.  Photographers who don’t need the options of quick recycling, short flash duration, or a wide range of high-end accessories and rental availability, less expensive systems will be a better choice.

Conclusion

All things considered, the Acute 2R 1200 is a compelling tool for a wide range of photographers.  It is uniquely compact and flexible, beating high end gear with a lower price, smaller size, and similar range of compatibility with modifiers.  There are cheaper alternatives on the market, especially for traditional photography where recycling speed and short duration are not critical.

There is also the new competition from Broncolor that brings wider asymmetry to the playing field (two channels, that is, that can be independently dialed up or down five stops) as well as 1/10th stop fine tuning and digital readouts.  The Broncolor Senso, though, can’t keep up with the Acute’s speed, so the stage is set for a show down… or, to say it with less drama, one pack or the other is likely to appeal to photographers who value one feature over another (speed vs. precision, ruggedness vs. buttons, Pocket Wizard vs. high tech proprietary trigger, etc.)

Competition aside, I really enjoy this pack and would recommend it to anyone, and especially to photographers who will benefit from the unique blend of small size and high speed.  It is fantastically easy to use and compact, which makes it a winner for location work.  It has the feel of something that will last a very long time, which is nice compensation for the investment, especially in the age of digital.

In upcoming articles, we’ll discuss the Profoto Acute/D4 head, and interesting options for kits that include the Profoto Acute 2R 1200.  In the meantime, check out my High Speed Strobe Test with the Acute 2R 1200.

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  1. […] at PhotoArts Monthly has published two reviews of his hands-on experience with the Acute 2R 1200. The first review goes into great detail introducing the model, it’s capabilities, ergonomics, real world […]