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Why Smartphone Flashes are Doomed to Suck (For Now)

Earlier this week, Profoto announced the C1, a smartphone camera flash starting at $300.

While most of the response has been, “Who is going to spend $300 (or $500 for the C1 Plus) for a phone camera flash?” I feel that the skepticism is in the wrong place.

profoto c1 and C1 plus smartphone camera flash

First off, just like with mirrorless camera technology, the photography industry is evolving. More and more people are shooting on their phones. Phone cameras are becoming more and more powerful. You can even shoot RAW files on your phone!

While camera toting photographers are looking at that price tag and saying “How stupid of Profoto! No one is going to spend that much money on a flash for a phone!”

But, folks, this is not new technology. Godox released a smartphone flash a while ago…

And before that, Lume Cube had an ‘action camera’ like flash/light for smartphones…

I’ve used both of these much less expensive options, and while I am sure the Profoto C1 and C1 Plus will have a very high build quality, they will suffer from the same fundamental problem.

But why does every smartphone flash suck?

When I first heard the news about the Profoto C1, I have to say my reaction was pretty similar to the majority of people commenting on the articles. Three hundred plus dollars for a smartphone flash?

But then, I started to do a little more reading, and while beautiful, the C1 suffers from the same handcuffing that every other smartphone flash in existence…you have to use the PROPRIETARY CAMERA APP!

I’ve mentioned before that one of the best ways to improve phone camera photography is by getting yourself a great camera app.

But with every flash I’ve tried, you have to use the developer’s camera app. There’s no other way to trigger the flash! And, sorry to say, people who make lighting units are not necessarily good at making camera apps for smartphones. In fact, every single one that I’ve tried is downright terrible.

But, maybe the Profoto app is different! Who knows, because they don’t show much of it in the announcement video and you can’t try it out without creating a Profoto account (hey, great way to capture emails for potential purchasers of your product!).

The screenshots show features like ‘adjust color temperature’ and what looks like exposure compensation but are there shutter speed adjustments? How does the flash sync with the phone camera? Does it shoot in RAW? Are you losing functionality of your phone’s camera(s) (for example, the new iPhone Pro’s three different lenses) in the proprietary app?

Regardless, I like to have the flexibility to use a flash with any app. I might have Instagram open and I really want to use that flash instead of logging into the proprietary app and taking the photos there to upload from my library…but maybe that’s because I’m old.

So who is the target market for the Profoto C1?

Profoto is actually quite smart with launching this product and I can tell you quite firmly who I believe it is aimed at…

Social media influencers!

social media influencers profoto c1 smartphone camera flash

Think about it? There are thousands of ‘creators’ out there taking pictures for their social media streams and most of them use their phones to take pictures (unless they’re making a ton of money and hire photographers). Who better to target than people who make their living off of images who don’t want to spend money on a professional camera?

And, on that note, another stroke of genius by Profoto, they also released the C1 Plus, a more feature rich flash that can also be triggered from a Profoto AirTTL Remote camera trigger (for a DSLR or mirrorless camera) with a $500 price tag.

profoto c1 smartphone camera flash
The specs

The C1 Plus is the more ‘professional’ flash, and is even flexible enough to maybe intrigue some pros as a travel flash. You could probably fit a few of them in your traveling camera bag and take up the same space as one standard speedlight. It’s stand mountable, and allows for a variety of magnetic light shaping tools to be used with it…

Sounds like a next phase of camera flashes to me…

UPDATE! Godox produces a similar light!

Of course, Godox has swooped in and produced a light similar to Profoto’s C1.

smartphone flash photography

And it doesn’t require a proprietary app! Because it isn’t a flash. It is a simple, puck-like LED light with a tripod mount, magnetic mount, and accepts the Godox/Flashpoint magnetic round head flash modifiers. Honestly, as I’ve mentioned with the issues surrounding flash sync and proprietary camera apps, I would prefer a constant source of light for camera photography until we can overcome those issues.

And, it’s less than $90. Considerably less than $300-$600

Click here to check it out over on Amazon.

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The Nerdy Photographer

With more than a quarter century as a professional photographer, The Nerdy Photographer's goal is to spread knowledge and laughter throughout the photo industry. Please follow along on social media and subscribe to the podcast.

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