Hotshoe Flashgun Comparative: Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL vs. Profoto A1 AirTTL-C

For this test I’m comparing my own Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL vs. Profoto A1 AirTTL-C (which I borrowed from Rajala Pro Shop) hotshoe flashguns for photography with my Canon 5D Mark III.

 On the left my Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL and on the right the Profoto A1 AirTTL-C from Rajala Pro Shop

On the left my Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL and on the right the Profoto A1 AirTTL-C from Rajala Pro Shop

FIRST IMPRESSION

Size:
Both are very similar in size and weigh. the A1 is a bit taller, which affects a bit on close face shots.

Usability:
Canon has improved the buttons and the user interface in comparison to older models but the Profoto is the most simple, easiest menu and buttons I have seen. On the plus side for canon is that the visibility of the display is better when taking photos on a bright, sunny day.

Build:
The Canon one is clearly more sturdy and durable. It feels very solid if you wag it while the Profoto shakes and even the head looses its position. The Canon locks the head every time you position it but the Profoto doesn't. Most of the time this is just fine but you might have to readjust the A!'s head once in a while after a sudden move or stumbling onto something.

Power:
Both seem to throw a very similar amount of light.
The Canon works with normal AA batteries (unless you buy separately a special battery pack) and reloads at full power slowly.
The Profoto comes with its own, big size battery that works very fast during continuous shooting.

Hi-Sync:
Yes to both. I didn't test the limits but you can shoot with either one at high speeds and, as they say, underpowered the sun.

 The Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL and the Profoto A1 AirTTL-C controls

The Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL and the Profoto A1 AirTTL-C controls

MODELING LIGHT

The Profoto A1 AirTTL-C has an Integrated LED modeling light. This is news for a small flash of this kind. It's not very powerful but that's something that sets it apart from the rest.

 Profoto A1 AirTTL-C Integrated LED modeling light

Profoto A1 AirTTL-C Integrated LED modeling light

LIGHT MODIFIERS

The Profoto A1 AirTTL-C comes with the basic set of diffusers and a reflector. An extra set of colour filters can be purchased apart. The best part of it is that they are attached magnetically. It's very easy to use and to stack one on the top of the other for combinations.

 Profoto A1 AirTTL-C Filters & Diffusers

Profoto A1 AirTTL-C Filters & Diffusers

The Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL comes ready with the filters, diffusers and the reflector. It's only missing a green filter so you'll have to buy a colour gel apart if you want it. The best of it is that the flash detects when you mount it, so it will compensate the exposure automatically for it. The Profoto doesn't have that.

 Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL Filters and Diffusers

Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL Filters and Diffusers

REMOTE CONTROL

Both Canon and Profoto have remote controls that work with TTL and Hi-Sync. Again here Profoto has an easier menu and control buttons while the Canon has better visibility under bright light. 
Both are sold apart.

 Canon and Profoto Flash Remote Controls

Canon and Profoto Flash Remote Controls

TESTING BOTH FLASHES AT WORK

My first test was to try each flash for a while at work, during a wedding. I used diffusers with both, alternating manual and TTL settings as I normally do. I was happy with both of them. Perhaps the Profit was consuming the battery a bit faster but it also allows you to work faster with it.

Both of them performed well. The major differences were practical and just requires preparation or getting used to it.

 Compared Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL vs. Profoto A1 AirTTL-C during a wedding shoot

Compared Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL vs. Profoto A1 AirTTL-C during a wedding shoot

THE LIGHT

Both flashes, like most of them, have a similar size. The first thing that is noticeably different on the A1 is the round shaped lamp. That makes it different from any other. I have seen the biggest effect of it when illuminating a whole room.

Notice how the Canon 600EX tries to illuminate more evenly but as a result the object that are closer on the sides are more illuminated and the subject on the center and close to the background does not receive as much light. Otherwise, as you see in these examples, the amount of light in these flashes is rather similar.

 Canon 600 EXII-RT on manual at full power, zoom at wide angle. Canon 5D MarkIII settings: Speed 1/160, Aperture f.10, ISO 100

Canon 600 EXII-RT on manual at full power, zoom at wide angle.
Canon 5D MarkIII settings: Speed 1/160, Aperture f.10, ISO 100

On the next photo the Profoto A1 takes advantage of the round shaped lamp and the light falls more naturally looking towards the center.

 Profoto A1 AirTTL-C on manual at full power, zoom at wide angle. Canon 5D MarkIII settings: Speed 1/160, Aperture f.10, ISO 100

Profoto A1 AirTTL-C on manual at full power, zoom at wide angle.
Canon 5D MarkIII settings: Speed 1/160, Aperture f.10, ISO 100

 Canon 600 EXII-RT Manual 1/1 power Zoom 20mm

THE BATTERIES

The use of batteries is a mayor issue on the flashes.

The Profoto A1 AirTTL-C comes with its own detachable battery. This battery is big and allows you to work with it for a long time. The mayor advantage that I see on it is that it charges really quick, so you can do continued shoots at full power. You can work with one charge for hours but I would recommend to have a second one just in case. Recharging the first one while you use the second one takes 1,5 hours, which is not much. The cost of the extra battery is around 120€.

The Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL works with four AA batteries. I recommend to use rechargeable 2600 mAh batteries. On the plus side, they are cheap. On the negative side, you may want to invest on a good and fast charger. Also, they just don't work as fast as you'll see in an example below. Using batteries under 2400 mAh will make you loose power too quickly. There is a battery pack available from Canon that would work faster but it costs around 225€.

 Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL with regular AA rechargeable batteries and Profoto A1 AirTTL-C with its own detachable battery.

Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL with regular AA rechargeable batteries and Profoto A1 AirTTL-C with its own detachable battery.

SPEED ON CONTINOUS SHOOT

In the next example you'll see what happens when you need to shoot continuously. There's a huge  difference on how fast the Profoto flash recharges in comparison to the Canon flash with the rechargeable AA batteries.

The situation was set to be an extreme situation for the flashes dues to distance and light conditions. I usually don't shoot so quickly. Instead I wait for the right moments and I also combine the flash with ambient light which makes things easier for the flash. So this is hardly an issue for me on a regular use, unless you are very specialised into sports, for example. But still, it is a noticeable difference.

On the examples below, the Canon flash fails to recharge approximately for half of the takes while the Profoto succeeds to recharge every single time.

 Continuous Shoot of a subject in movement using the Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL flashgun.

Continuous Shoot of a subject in movement using the Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL flashgun.

 Continuous Shoot of a subject in movement using the Profoto A1 AirTTL-C.

Continuous Shoot of a subject in movement using the Profoto A1 AirTTL-C.

TTL & MANUAL EXPOSURE

Both work fairly similar both on manual and TTL exposure settings. 
The Profoto A1 AirTTL-C flashgun has a dedicated button to change from one to the other very easily. On the top of that the very good buttons and user interface help a lot in situations where you need to change things fast.

But there's one difference, though, that might be significative on certain situations and where the Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL flashgun wins.
If you shoot with a high ISO and big aperture while the subject is very close to the camera, the Canon does a better job using the TTL to lower its power to the situation while with the Profoto the result is overexposed. And I mentioned that this is on TTL because it does manage to go lower that what you can set on manual.

 Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL vs Profoto A1 AirTTL-C on high camera exposure

Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL vs Profoto A1 AirTTL-C on high camera exposure

This is significative when you want to illuminate a portrait with a flash and at the same time you want to have ambient lights on a night shot with the subject very close to the camera.

 Night portrait with Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL Camera settings: Speed 1/50, aperture f. 2,8 and ISO 800

Night portrait with Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL
Camera settings: Speed 1/50, aperture f. 2,8 and ISO 800

HIGH SYNCHRONISATION

On the opposite side of the exposure situations we can use these flashes on HS, or high synchronisation. This allow us to work on low ISO, small aperture and fast shutter speed to take photos on bright daylight conditions. For this both the Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL and the Profoto A1 AirTTL-C performed well.

 Profoto A1 AirTTL-C on High Synchronisation Camera Settings: Speed 1/800 Aperture 6,3 ISO 800

Profoto A1 AirTTL-C on High Synchronisation
Camera Settings: Speed 1/800 Aperture 6,3 ISO 800

 Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL on High Synchronisation Camera Settings: Speed 1/800 Aperture 6,3 ISO 800

Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL on High Synchronisation
Camera Settings: Speed 1/800 Aperture 6,3 ISO 800

IN RESUME

Light Power: Both produce very similar if not identical amount of light. The Profoto without diffuser has a nicer, more natural looking light.

Portability: They are similar sized.

Build: Canon is built sturdier and probably more durable.

Usability: Profoto has better buttons and easier menu. Canon has better visibility outdoors on bright light conditions.

Speed: Profoto reloads much faster but this is only notorious at full power.

TTL: Canon has a better TTL to adapt and combine the flash light with low ambient light. The Canon also detects if you have added a Canon diffuser of filter to compensate the exposure for it.

Hi-Sync: Both perform well.

Batteries: Profoto comes with its own rechargeable battery, which allows the very fast reloads. Canon requires normal AA batteries or you can purchase a Canon external battery separately, with similar quality to the one included with the Profoto.

Price:
Profoto A1 AirTTL-C approximately 1050€ (includes rechargeable battery)
Canon 600 EXII-RT TTL approximately 650€ (does not include batteries. Canon CP-E4 Compact Battery Pack costs approx. 300€ or you can buy normal AA batteries)

The remote controls are sold apart. 
Profoto Air Remote TTL-C costs about 380€
Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter costs about 350€

MORE INFO

Canon 600 EXII-RT

Profoto A1 AirTTL-C

And thanks to Rajala Pro Shop for letting me use their A1, to Neko Devilish for her model work and to the couples in the photo examples. 

Any questions? Leave me a message :)