Buying Guides

The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Video Lights

There are two types of lighting which are used underwater, strobes (AKA flashes) and Video Lights (Constant LED Lights). After creating the Ultimate Strobe Guide, we wanted to share our thoughts on the second type, and help you choose the best underwater video light for your needs.

Strobe, Flash, Flashlight, Torch, Video Light… HELP!

Let’s set things straight. As we mentioned, there are only 2 types of lighting underwater:

Strobe – A Xenon based light bulb which can emit a very strong pulse of light for a brief moment.
Also known as “Flash” (not flashlight!)

Constant light – A device which can emit a constant beam of light for minutes to hours, today commonly based on LED technology which can be focused to perform as a dive light or spread out to perform as a video light.
Also known as “Torch”, “Flashlight”, “Dive Light”, “Video Light” and unfortunately even “Strobe” in the topside industry, which is incorrect for underwater photography lingo.

An underwater video light is basically a waterproof flashlight. There is some confusion due to the use of the word “flash” in “flashlight”, but don’t let linguistics mess with you. “Flash Light” and “Flashlight” are two different things!

Now that we got that out of the way, we’ll continue to discuss video lights!

Main Features of Video Lights

There are several terms and features commonly used when comparing video lights. Let’s go over them.

Lumens

This is perhaps the most important feature differentiating between video lights.

The power emitted by a light is measured in units known as Lumens. Without getting into the science of it, the more lumens a light outputs, the stronger it is. Common lumen ranges today are 500-1000 for a basic light, 2000-3000 for a medium range light and the most powerful ones can even reach 25,000 lumens (!!!).
An important thing to remember is that Lumens are measured by collecting all the light the device emits, so the actual brightness of the subject lit by the light will vary according to our next feature – Beam Angle.

Beam Angle

A video light can be engineered to focus or spread out its light output in different manners. Focusing all the light to a very narrow beam with lenses and mirrors, will actually create a dive light, which is great for spotting out things or signalling to other divers. On the other hand, spreading the output to a 60 degree, 100 degree, or even a 120 degree angle, is much better for lighting up videos, so that you can cover the entire frame with 1-2 wide (aka flood) lights.

Most video lights will feature a 60-120 degree beam angle. This factor will determine how bright your subject would be in the frame just as much as lumen output. For example, lighting up a Grouper in blue water with a Sola 2000 Flood on 60 degree beam angle, will probably be more effective than using a 90 degree Sola 2500 Flood, even though it has lower lumen output.
However, when lighting up an entire coral system, you may prefer to get closer and use the wider beam light.

There are several types of lights available: Flood only / Spot Only (dive lights) / Flood & Spot / Variable Beam

The variable beam lights seem ideal but they usually can’t reach a very wide beam angle for video. There are add-ons available for some lights which modify the beam from flood to spot or vice versa.

Flood & Spot lights are the most versatile option and allow you to switch from dive light to video with a quick press of a button. This leads us to our next feature.

Controls

Over the years, manufacturers have created several types of controls for underwater lights, each with pros and cons.

1. Twist method – This method is quite straightforward. Twisting the light head all the way in will turn it off and unscrewing it slightly will turn it on. This is the easiest for the manufacturer to implement and lowers the cost of the light significantly, which is a big plus. However, this method risks corrosion of the O-ring after some time, increasing the risk of flood as well as risking potential flooding by human error – unscrewing it too far underwater without noticing and effectively destroying your light.

The early I-Torch Pro 5 used the twist mechanism
The early I-Torch Pro 5 used the twist mechanism

2. Push Buttons – The is the most common method used on most video lights. Using either 1 or 2 buttons to control the light is a safe and efficient method for powering up/down and switching between modes. A 1 button light will be more affordable than a 2 button light, but usability is greatly improved when using 2 buttons. A single button allows 2 types of presses – short press, usually switching between modes and long press, usually to power on / off. A 2 button light will allow more options such as one button for mode switching and the other for switching output levels, making the overall experience easier and faster.

Fantasea Radiant PRO 2500
Fantasea Radiant PRO 2500

3. Other – Some manufacturers have developed their own signature controls such as Sola’s sliding lever, which functions in a similar fashion as 2 buttons, but in a much more elegant way of gently pushing a single switch back and forth. FIX Neo lights come with 3 buttons and an LCD screen, creating a little control panel on the top which is incredibly useful.

4. Remote Control – This is a fairly new method, developed by Nauticam on their FIX Neo light system, as well as by I-Torch on their Venom series. By connecting fiber optic cables to the lights, as single master remote controller can control several lights at once, making it much easier and faster to change your lighting instead of setting each light separately.

DEMA SL1 1st_0201_s

Modes and Levels

We have already discussed the two main modes – Spot (narrow beam) and Flood (wide beam). Another common mode included in video lights today is a Red light mode. The red light is very useful as a focus assist beam, since the camera can read it easily and use it to facilitate focus, while marine life are not disturbed by it, since it’s out of their visible spectrum. The red light is also to weak to show up in most photos so it won’t affect your overall lighting.

A cool mode introduced lately is UV or Blue Light. This is similar to black lights which are painfully familiar from those underground parties back in the 90’s. Essentially it’s an ultraviolet light which excites bio-luminescent organisms underwater and when paired with a barrier filter (yellow filter) it creates a unique glowing effect which looks great on photos and videos.

Another mode which is included on some lights is SOS or Emergency. This causes the light to randomly flash a white light, indicating that you have a problem or you are lost. This can be very useful in emergency situations, but also very annoying if one of the divers sets it off accidentally and can’t figure out how to power it down…

Power levels are almost always implemented in some way, allowing you to control the power output from low, medium and high. Some lights have 3-4 modes and some have complete control from 0-100 in 1 unit steps (FIX Neo). Most lights are set to operate for about 1 hour on full power. Using the light on lower power settings increases usage time significantly, allowing you to use it for several dives before charging / changing batteries.

Generally, more modes and levels are great! However, this affects the complexity of the using the light and if you have just a single button to control many levels and modes, you may find yourself scrolling frantically between them while the once-curious-now-bored Hammerhead swims off to the deep blue.

Beam quality

Beam quality is usually measured by how even the beam is across the output circle.

Using multiple bare LED’s may result in a less even beam than one single LED or a diffuser dome spreading the light out evenly. Some LED’s create a more even beam than others. Video light manufacturers will always need to compromise between an even beam, power output, price, heating and more factors which create various types of LED formations.

Another important factor is CRI rating (stands for Color Rendering Index). This number indicate how accurately the light will reproduce the true life colors of the subject (Ideal light = Daylight/Tungsten). The higher the number (closer to 100), the more accurate the color rendering will be. Check out this excellent video explanation of CRI.

Mounts

Just imagine getting a new $1000 light which you intend to use on your $3000 system which you are taking tomorrow to a week in the Galapagos Islands, just to find out the mounts don’t match! Before you start creating MacGyver solutions with tie-wraps and sticky tape, go back a few days in time and order the correct mounts for your system! Most lights will come with one mount as default and additional mounts optional. Some arms will support one type of light mount or several.

Usually you can’t go wrong with a 1″ Ball mount, or a YS mount which are easily interchangeable between them. Make sure you add a mount to your Sola lights since most of them come without.

It might be a good idea to get a second type of mount upon purchase. You never know when you might switch trays or lend the light to a fellow diver who wants to try it out before buying.

When creating cross brand systems, you might not be sure if the light will match your current setup or vice versa. Consult with our experts and they will figure that out for you.

Batteries and Charging

Most lights have a fairly similar battery life on full power of about 50-70 minutes. However, there are several different battery implementations:

1. Interchangeable rechargeable battery – The light can be opened and the batteries changed as needed. Each battery can be charged individually. This is the standard method and has the advantage of getting several batteries and switching them between dives. This method also increases the risk of flooding due to human error or bad O-ring maintenance.

bigblue vtl2500p

2. Factory Sealed lights – Sola lights are factory sealed, which means they are less prone to leakage due to human error. That’s a huge advantage and insures hassle free use for a long time. The downside is that you can’t replace the battery. That means you have to remember to charge between dives and if you aren’t near a power outlet for the whole day, chances are you will not use the light on the last dive. Light and Motion have implemented a new Fast Charge technology on their new lights, reducing the charging time significantly to about 1:45 hours, but this still doesn’t help if you forget to plug it in or if you don’t have an available power source.

3. Interchangeable Light Heads – Nauticam’s FIX Neo and I-Torch’s Venom series have created a line of interchangeable light heads which mount on the same base. This means that you can get a second light body without getting a whole new light as a new battery. It’s pricier than just a battery but still more affordable than getting a second light. You can also get several light heads and use them as needed on your light bases.

Price

We can babble on forever, but in the end, it all comes down to price. All the features we discussed here, may lead you to believe that you want the best, strongest, most versatile option available, but then you find out that it either doesn’t exist or will set you back a few thousands of dollars more than you expected. Indeed, creating a quality product doesn’t come cheap and you have to prioritize. Video lights range from $100 to $3000+ so you need to decide on your budget before hand and then consider your best options within that budget.

We gathered here some of leading video lights in the market (Updated Oct 2016) to help you choose:

Kraken Hydra 2800 WSRU | US$499

This excellent and versatile video light by Kraken (A brand made by I-Torch) is capable of producing 2800 lumen of flood and 800 lumen of spot light. In addition, Red light is also available for focusing at night without scaring off the critters, and UV light for an exciting fluorescence dive. Easily controlled by two push buttons, YS and Ball mounts included, waterproof lighthead and more cool features. Did we mention the cool carrying case it comes in?
This is truly one of the best value lights you can get.

Go to product page

Fantasea Radiant PRO 2500 | US$499.95

Fantasea Radiant PRO 2500

The Radiant Pro 2500 Video Light is a durable and powerful video light, designed to significantly enhance color and light in underwater videos and still images. It offers a variety of advanced features for creative photographers. Flood, Spot, Red, UV & Blue, all in the same light!

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Light and Motion SOLA Video 2500 S/F | US$699

The Sola video 2500 Spot/Flood is Light & Motion’s best-balanced Sola video light, combining 2500 lumens in a 60 degree flood beam with a piercing 1200 lumen 12 degree spot beam. Factory sealed with fast charge technology for 1h 45m for full charge.

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Sealife Sea Dragon 2500F | US$429

The Sea Dragon 2500 uses flat panel COB LED technology to closely mimic natural sunlight, bringing out amazing colors in underwater photos and videos. With a Color Rendering Index of 90, the Sea Dragon 2500 solves the issue of blue underwater photos and videos by giving divers the ability to add light down to 200 feet/60 meters with portable sunlight.

The incredibly wide 120-degree beam of the Sea Dragon 2500 ensures maximum lighting coverage and is ideal for cameras with a wide field of view, like the SeaLife Micro HD or GoPro. With a lab verified lumen output of 2500, the light has a 60 minute burn time at full power – making it incredibly efficient as well as bright.

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BigBlue VTL3100P | US$399.99

Small and highly sophisticated light with 2 sets of LEDs featuring a flood and spot mode. This light is 2 in 1, a video light and a dive light. Depth rated to 100mts/330ft.

Wide beam can be set at 4 power levels. Red beam is offered in one low power level and SOS mode is also available.

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FIX Neo 3000 DX Light | US$799

Small and powerful light by Fisheye FIX. 6 High intensity LEDs deliver up to 2000 Lumens of white light. 1 LED for 720 lumen spot light and 4 red LEDs provide 200 lumen red light. The light features an advanced LCD display and control panel for simple operation. Comes with plenty of mounting options, best control panel in the industry and excellent build quality.

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Big Blue AL2600XWP (AKA “Black Molly 3”) | US$289.99

 

Big Blue Black Molly III (AL2600XWP)
Big Blue Black Molly III (AL2600XWP)

This is one of the best value lights available in the market. It’s tiny, it’s powerful and it has amazing battery life!

Capable of 2600 lumens, 120 Deg beam and even red light feature in a surprisingly small package! You can take it down to 100m, and max burn time on full power is 2hrs!

Go to product page

FAQ

Can you use a video light for still photography?

Yes and no. A video light can never replace a strobe as a main lighting source for photography due to a much weaker output. A medium range strobe would be about 10 times as powerful as a medium range video light. That’s because video lights produce constant light while strobe give just one short pulse.
However, for macro photos or even closeups, you definitely can use a video light or even a dive light (spot mode). For more info on that, read this.

Recently, I-Torch have released a dual purpose lighting unit – Video light and Strobe in one light! The Symbiosis comes in two models – SS-2 and SS-1. Read our review on it here.

How many lumens do I need?

The more the merrier. Even very high output light will have a lower output mode, so you probably won’t encounter a problem of having too much light. However, high power output comes at quite a price, as well as size and heat problems. You need to find the right balance for you, which fits your budget and look at other important factors such as modes, controls, beam quality and more of what we discussed above.

These days the standard is 2000 – 5000 lumens, but remember that actual intensity varies with beam angle. That means a 60 deg 1600 lumen light, would actually feel stronger than a 120 degree 2500 lumen light, but with less coverage.

One light or two?

If you want to go as compact as you can, one light is definitely enough. You can get a strong light with a very wide angle to cover all of your field of view, if your are shooting with a wide angle lens.

If you get two lights, you will have better coverage and better illumination of your subject, especially if they are hiding. Trying to get a hiding sea horse or blenny lit properly with just one light might be much harder than two opposite directions.

Which is the best setup for my GoPro?

Remember that a GoPro has a very wide view angle, so you want a light that will cover your entire frame. 2 lights here might be a good idea, especially with BTS’s excellent boomerang tray, the GPT-4. It adds stability to your footage and gives you excellent coverage from both sides, with whichever lights you choose. If you wish to stay even more compact, a single light with a pistol grip tray will be great, especially for those harder to reach places. Get a light that has a 120 degree beam to cover the entire frame. 2000 lumens will be a great number to start from in total, so either one light of 2000+ or two lights of 1000+. As we mentioned above, the higher the output the better reach you will have.

Click here to browse GoPro Lighting Packages

Do you have any more questions on underwater video light that you want answered?

Let us know in the comments and we will be happy to update the FAQ section!


Ran Mor
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Ran Mor

Sales and Marketing at Mozaik Underwater Cameras
Ran is a professional photographer for over 14 years. His passion for scuba diving and photography has pushed him to combine his profession and hobby and become a professional underwater photographer. Teaching is one of his greatest passions and over the years he has shared his experience with many divers and aspiring photographers. Along with his wife Danielle, an experienced Scuba Instructor, they have founded Dive and More, leading dive trips and UW photo workshops all over the world. Ran is also an electrical engineer and an avid internet marketing specialist.
Visit his personal portfolio at www.ranmorphoto.com.
Ran Mor
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17 comments

  1. Mike Corey October 19, 2015

    Very Helpful. Thanks guys!

  2. Jimmy Lockard October 19, 2015

    Great article. A must read for all to reference no matter what level of diving or photography one is at. Even after four decades diving, I still picked up some useful info and hints. Thanks Ran …..Jimmy Lockard

  3. Mark February 3, 2016

    Hi Ive got an ikelite underwater casing for sony HDR – hc3. Im looking for a decent light. Your black molly3 seems like the right thing but what connector could I use for the housing?

  4. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor February 3, 2016

    Hi Mark,

    The Black Molly 3 would be an excellent choice for a video light.
    I will try to find the correct mounting options for you to use with your housing and let you know via email asap.

    Cheers!
    Ran

  5. Dan March 22, 2016

    Hi Ran!
    I’m currently using a GH4 in a Nauticam housing with a 7-14mm wide angle lens, do you think 2 x ‘Black Molly 3s’ would be sufficient? Do you know how I could mount these lights to my housing?

  6. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor March 23, 2016

    Hi Dannie,

    The Black Molly’s are awesome! They’re very strong for their size and should be a nice solution for close-up videos with the 7-14mm.
    For night dives or caves they are more than enough.
    I sent you an email regarding mounting options.

    Let me know if you have any further questions!

  7. Michael March 28, 2016

    We shoot stills in cenotes in the Riviera Maya, called trash the dress sessions for newlyweds. Until now, we have done pretty well with available light, but would love to use a constant light instead of a strobe for backlighting, sidelighting, etc. Can anyone tell me what aperture a 5,000 lumen light will produce at 4 meters at 1600 ISO? Thanks.

  8. Bernat September 3, 2016

    Hi Ran,

    I’ve seen that some lights from Big Blue offer two different lumen outputs at 5.500K and 6.500K. What are the implications for underwater videography? What are the best white balance settings for both temperatures, specially when balancing with natural light? Where would you use the different light temperatures?

  9. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor September 13, 2016

    Hi Bernat,
    BigBlue produces some lights which are “Tri-Color”, which means they have cool white (6500K), warm white (5500K) and red.
    The warmer mode can produce more pleasant lighting, creating an overall better look for your video.
    It would be best to set the WB manually to the temperature the light emits, or maybe slightly colder than that, to make sure your lighting is a bit warmer. You will notice that with the warmer light, your background will be cooler, which might be more flattering to your subject.
    It’s hard to say when to use one or the other. I would recommend trying them both and see which result you like best.

  10. daniel belz January 31, 2017

    Hi, wish I had found you 3 days ago now totally confused I see you highlight 2 big blue lights I assume this is a good brand, I am just starting video/photo, would like an all round light to replace my canister lights to declutter, would like to just carry one, the thing that concerns me is the combo beam angle lights only have 1000 lumen output, how does this compare to my 21W HID, will be diving all over the world, but also in northeast NJ, dark and dirty, would like your opinion on a light from big blue VTL 6000 P for my purposes, also very open to your suggestions, Thanks for your help from me and others

  11. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor January 31, 2017

    Hi Daniel!

    Big Blue is an excellent brand – they make the best value lights in the market in terms of lumens per $$. The great thing about having a dual purpose light (spot and flood) is that you can use it mostly as a dive light, penetrating the darkness and spotting marine life, then switch to flood when recording video / shooting photos. When on spot mode, you don’t need as much lumens as flood, since the beam is much more concentrated. A 1000 lumen spot beam is very powerful and more than enough for most.
    The VTL6000P would probably be an ideal choice for you. Just remember that when it’s dark and dirty, you want to place you light as far away from the camera as possible and reasonable, to avoid backscatter, so make sure you get some long arms.
    Canister lights are nice only due to longer battery life, but as long as you get some spare batteries, you should be fine with regular lights and they are much easier to handle.
    LED technology has made some giant leaps in the past few years so upgrading from an older canister light to the new LED’s would be a significant upgrade.
    It’s hard to convert Watt to Lumen as they don’t describe the same units, but your light would be comparable to a 1000-1500 lumen LED light.

    Glad I could help. Let me know if you have any further questions!

  12. Scott Thomas May 1, 2017

    Ran,
    Another great article. What video light would you recommend for my Canon G16, inon S-2000 strobe combo. I have the 2 arms. It has the screw that goes through the top of the arm . thanks in advance!

  13. Tal Mor
    Tal Mor May 1, 2017

    Hi Scott,

    The Kraken lights are very popular and I would highly recommend them. Take a look at these 2 options:
    http://www.housingcamera.com/id4272-kraken-hydra-2800-wsru-video-light.html
    http://www.housingcamera.com/id4330-kraken-hydra-5000-wsru-video-light.html

    Please contact us for further consult.

    Tal

  14. Kevin May 9, 2017

    Hello, I’m putting together a rig for my GoPro and it looks like the black molly is great a great option for a mix of power and budget. I’m more into macro video and wondering if duel black molly II would work or is it better off for the long run to get the black molly III. I still enjoying shooing wide angle but just enjoy capturing little creatures in motion

  15. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor May 10, 2017

    Hi Kevin!

    The Black Molly is indeed an excellent value light.
    If you do a lot of macro video, I would recommend the Black Molly III, which is more powerful. You will need more power when shooting with a narrower aperture. The tri-color feature wouldn’t be very useful for macro video, since it mainly determines the color of the background and the background is not all that important in macro video.

    Hope that helps!

  16. cam June 28, 2017

    Hey Ran, great article! I am shooting a compact tg-4 with pt-056 housing which has a cold shoe mount. I am looking for a relatively inexpensive video light for shooting more macro than not and ideally can mount to my cold shoe. What do you recommend under 400 or so?! thanks a bunch!

  17. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor June 28, 2017

    Thanks! Glad you liked it 🙂

    There are a few excellent options available.
    The Big Blue Black Molly is very popular:
    http://www.housingcamera.com/id3928-big-blue-black-molly-3-package.html

    Another option is the Kraken Hydra 2000:
    http://www.housingcamera.com/id4331-kraken-hydra-2000-wr-video-light.html
    With this mount kit:
    http://www.housingcamera.com/id4789-mozaik-moz-cs-kit.html

    If you want to get one with spot feature as well, which can be nice for macro, try this one:
    http://www.housingcamera.com/id4783-kraken-hydra-1000-wsr-video-light.html
    With the same mount kit:
    http://www.housingcamera.com/id4789-mozaik-moz-cs-kit.html

    I’ll be happy to offer any further advice!

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