posted on Nov 23, 2009 at 7:25PM
Head-2-Head Lighting Review: Profoto Pro-8a 2400 Air vs. Broncolor Scoro A4S
Controls & InterfaceBy Ted Dillard
Looking at the two packs, the first obvious difference is that the Profoto unit is running only two output channels, compared to the three that the Broncolor offers. The Profoto favors knobs and buttons. The main control menu of the Broncolor is an LCD menu tree that we found overly complicated and time-consuming to use. Granted, there’s a lot going on here, and an LCD may be the only way to control the complex flash duration, color control and user settings, but this menu tree doesn’t provide the most basic convenience of scrolling through the bottom to get back to the start. You have to scroll back up through every selection. Most digital devices now give you the option to “scroll-wrap” back up to the beginning of a given menu.
In use, we’d have to give the Profoto pack major points for speed and ease of use - both in actual controls and in intuitive use. Throughout the testing, every time we needed to change the settings on the packs, we simply changed the Profoto to what we needed. The Broncolor was always a matter of sitting down, reading through the menu and trying to figure out if you were doing what you actually wanted to do.
The bottom line on the controls? You can grab a Profoto pack with little or no introduction and run it correctly within about 15 minutes. Five, if you have any experience at all. The Broncolor is a constant challenge, and it would be a big plus on a commercial job to have an assistant with Broncolor experience, whether the photographer knows the system or not.
That said, there’s one little thing that drove us batty all day long. Because of the fact that the lights plug into the Profoto on the top, and have no built-in “routing”, they end up draping all over the top of the pack. One way or another, they get in the way. Here’s what the pack looked like after shooting for a few hours, with no conscious effort to make it look neat or nasty. Pretty nasty. Between the power cable (which is actually supposed to have a right-angle connector instead of a straight one) and the sync, the two heads and the Velcro, we simply could not do anything with controls without fussing with cables first.
This is running the same configuration: a power cord, a sync cable and two heads. The biggest difference is the head connectors route off the side of the pack, naturally routing the cables out of the way.
Still, it’s not a perfect arrangement. The Broncolor connectors key into the slots, and can key out just as easily. The tab that locks the connectors in can break off over time. The Profoto connectors have a lock ring which can be used or not, but when they’re used you can literally pick the pack up with the light cable. This may seem minor, but if a client trips over a cable and yanks it out of the pack, or an assistant moves a light and pulls the connector out without knowing it? Not so good.
A few additional points to bear in mind, in random order.
The power cords on both use a very strange connector. Why? It doesn’t matter for 99.9% of the time, but if something happens to the power cord during a shoot, you’re up the creek. If it was the standard AC power connector you could grab a cable from the nearest computer. Or printer. Or anything. There’s no need for a proprietary connector.
The Profoto runs the shortest flash duration at the 3.1 power setting, not at the minimum. Why? (Normally the output, or power setting, is determined by the flash duration.) With no indicator of duration, I’m now depending on my unreliable memory to tell me which setting is the fastest. A simple icon on the control would be a big help.
The Broncolor heads come in two varieties: a 3200 Joule and a 1600 Joule head. You never really want to run a 1600 with 3200 Joules of power. It gets very dramatic. This is not only inconvenient, but dangerous…and unnecessary.
While I’m beating up on Broncolor, what’s up with those annoying red sync cables? I’ve seen them for decades now, and I have yet to grab one out of a case that isn’t tangled in that 6” of coil at one end. And the fan noise on the Broncolor heads is not only loud, but it has an annoying pitch.
Much of this, like the controls on a camera, you can get used to. However, working with lighting is a little different than working with a camera during a shoot. The lighting system is best when it’s invisible. There’s enough to worry about on a set without having to deal with things like tangled cords, annoying fans, and weird connectors. When I am working with a system for a few hours and feel a sense of relief when I turn the fans off, I know that there’s something wrong. That kind of thing just contributes to my energy output in a process where every bit of energy counts, in a very long day.