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Our Top Picks for Undrwater Focus Lights

We consider a good focus light as essential to consistent success with underwater Photography. Here are our thoughts on the best of the bunch.

Fix Neo 1500 DXII SWR Premium: A favorite among photographers.

Why they are important

The reasons to use a focus light are many. It is always nice to have a light on a dive of course for dark overhangs and such, and an obvious essential on a night dive, but it is in assisting AF where these lights earn their value. It is hard to over emphasize what a difficult environment the underwater world is when it comes to using autofocus. In even the clearest Caribbean water, there are thousands of suspended particles in every foot of water the Camera has to look through that rob contrast and filter light. All this works against even the best autofocus as the the camera struggles to identify our subject. A light can help bring back some of that contrast and definition which in turn helps the autofocus lock on its subject properly.

So what makes for a good focus light?

This will vary a bit from one person to the next, but here are the "typical" considerations.

  • Small size - no one wants to add much bulk to their rig.
  • Light weight in water. Older style lights and some low-cost, less sophisticated lights are like a brick in the water
  • Wide angle of coverage (60-110 degrees) - Focus lights should be close to zero fuss during a dive and that means it is set for wide coverage and shouldn't need to be re-aimed during the dive.
  • A red light "stealth mode" is not essential, but a nice feature for shy subjects.
  • enough power/runtime to last for your style diving (do you do 1 tank dive trips or 3 tankers?)

There are many other potential features, but these are the basics.

Can a focus light be used for video?

Sure - but if you want to take advantage of this, than it helps to have this a consideration from the start of your selection process. A 1000 lumen focus light is not likely to be very effective for video. We would probably suggest going to at least 3500 lumen if you intend to take video from more than about 10" away. But with more power, you also want to make sure you can adjust the power low enough for decent focus work (usually 500-800 lumens).

Our recommendations

Light & Motion 

This venerable light manufacturer has been in the game of lighting a long time and arguably introduced the first truly compact underwater LED rechargeable light for shooters years ago. The SOLA line was an immediate hit with divers.

Today the evolution of those lights are still popular and represent a lot of value for the money.

Sola Photo 1200

Pros:

  • At $279 (current pricing), this is a lot of light for the money
  • Extremely simple operation appeals to people that want minimal fuss.
  • Has both white and red light (stealth mode).
  • Still one of the smallest and lightest lights in this power range available.
  • Adheres to FL-1 standards

Cons:

  • The light only has 3 power settings, so limited tweaking.
  • Sealed battery means no user changeable extra battery.
  • Mounts purchased separately (adds $20)

Fix Fisheye

Another brand that has been in the industry for a long time is Fix. Moving from halogen to LEDs years ago, Fix has always generated feature rich lighting of high quality. All Fix Neo lights are rated on the FL-1 Standard.

Fix Neo Mini SWR

Pros:

  • Reasonably priced
  • Includes YS Mount
  • Spot, Wide, Red modes increase versatility.
  • Unique Auto Shut Off feature turns the light off when a strobe is fired if desired to avoid affecting the shot.
  • Uses standard Li-Ion 18650 batteries so back ups are easily available.
  • USB charging
  • 90 minute run time on full power is more than most.
  • Extremely light at 55 grams in water.

Cons:

  • 4 power settings is enough for most, but some may want more.
  • Battery charging can only be done by removing the battery. No option for internal charging.
  • If you prefer a ball mount, it is an option at additional charge

Fix Neo Premium 1500 DX SWR II

Pros: 

  • A high end focus light loaded with features
  • 1500 Lumens offers lots of run time at lower power settings and is enough for some close focus Video.
  • 100 power settings allows precise power output control.
  • Bright Info display is easily read in any conditions and includes exact run time estimates at any power setting.
  • Spot, Wide Red modes. Red can allow run times as much as 8 hours.
  • Removeable Li-Ion battery allows user changeable back up.
  • Battery can be charged while in or out of the light.
  • Light head is interchangeable with other optional Fix light heads for greater versatility.
  • Optional fiber optic remote control allows all commands to be accomplished without letting go of the housing handle.
  • Light comes YS, Ball, Locline, and even a handgrip mount so minimal accessories are needed.

Cons

  • Not as inexpensive as some lights, but photographers love the features.
  • 1500 lumens would limit video use to close up work.
  • Still small, but not quite as light as the Sola or Fix Neo Mini.

 

 Fix Neo Premium 4030 DX II

Pros:

  • Although designed to be more Video light than focus light with 4,000 lumens of output. The 4030 does have Fix's 100 power settings that allow a low enough power output for focus light work.
  • A good choice for someone who wants equal Video and stills application.
  • Bright Info display is easily read in any conditions and includes exact run time estimates at any power setting.
  • Low power for focus light mode offers extremely long run time.
  • Removeable Li-Ion battery allows user changeable back up.
  • Battery can be charged while in or out of the light.
  • Light head is interchangeable with other optional Fix light heads for greater versatility.
  • Optional fiber optic remote control allows all commands to be accomplished without letting go of the housing handle.
  • Light comes YS, Ball, Locline, and even a handgrip mount so minimal accessories are needed.
  • Domed front lens for the light offers extremely wide and even coverage - 120 degrees.

 Cons:

  • No red light mode

Kraken

 A fairly new brand in the underwater imaging field, they quickly earned a reputation for designing well made products at a reasonable price point.

Hydra 1200/1500 + WSR

(The Hydra 1200 is being replaced by the 1500 lumen version - otherwise they are identical)

Pros: 

  • An amazing value for the current price of $189
  • Wide (100 degreees), spot and red modes.
  • Auto Shut Off feature turns the light off when a strobe is fired if desired to avoid affecting the shot.
  • Changeable rechargeable 18650 Battery
  • YS mount included

Cons:

  • Only 3 power settings can be a bit limiting
  • Not quite as light weight in the water as the Fix Neo Mini (most similar style light).
  • Battery must be charged externally

Hydra 3500 S+ RGB WSRU

Pros: 

  • A true jack-of-all-trades light for those that want to try everything.
  • Wide, spot, red modes.
  • UV mode for fluoro photography
  • RGB mode allows you to choose between 9 creative color modes for special effects imaging.
  • Enough power for basic video use
  • User changeable battery
  • Sealed light head for partial flood protection.
  • Comes with YS Mount.

Cons:

  • Somewhat heavier for a light in this power range.
  • Might be too many features for someone who doesn't need it.
  • No internal battery charging.
  • Only 4 power settings - not ideal for this power range

 

Hydra 5000 S+ WSRU

Pros:

  • Good Value for this power Range
  • Nice level of light for video.
  • Wide, Spot, Red modes.
  • UV mode for fluoro photography.
  • User changeable battery.
  • Sealed light head for partial flood protection.
  • Comes with YS mount and ball mount.

Cons:

  • A slightly larger, heavier light than others in this power level.
  • Only 4 power settings is not ideal when you want to use just as a focus light.
  • No internal battery charging

 Conclusions

There is clearly no one perfect light to suit everyone's needs. But these lights all shine (pun intended) in one or many areas. Equally important, these lights deliver what they claim and adhere to the international standards for measuring the quality and coverage of light without a noticeable loss in performance with battery charge decline. Are there other dive lights that could be used as a focus light? Sure. But they probably won't check all the boxes we are looking for and the price point some of these purpose designed lights are at, there is really no need to compromise.

Still unsure? Give us a call and we will be happy to talk through your needs and find a best case solution.