Up until the release of the I-Torch Symbiosis, underwater lights were divided into two types – Strobes or constant LED video lights. The Symbiosis is a bold attempt to combine the two and create a single all-in-one light.
Most photographers who wish to combine videos and photos underwater, usually need to compromise by getting one strobe and one video light, or just one video light on the top mount / cold shoe mount. Some use triple clamps to add video lights on the elbows of their strobe arms, which is a bit clumsy and quite heavy.
The Symbiosis is basically a strobe, with a high-end video light mounted on the top part of it. The battery is shared between the two light elements, and the brains inside allow you to control everything through one unique and user-friendly panel on the back.
The first generation of the Symbiosis includes two models – SS-1 and SS-2 Pro. The SS-1 is a more basic model, which comes with a 1000 lumen light head for the video light, and a 24 GN flash unit. This is the one I tested and used for this review.
The SS-2 Pro model is more powerful – 32GN and features an LCD screen to easily view and change settings (it even flips automatically when positioned upside-down!). It comes with a more powerful video light – 2000 lumens.
Comparison between the 2 models:
|Flash Model||SS-1||SS-2 Pro|
|Flash||24 Guide Number||32 Guide Number|
|Recycle time||2 seconds||2 seconds|
|Video Light||1000 Lumens||2000 Lumens|
|Beam angle||120 Degrees||120 Degrees|
|Video Color Temperature||5600K||5600K|
|LCD panel||No||Yes (Auto Flip)|
|Buoyancy||Slightly Negative||Slightly Negative|
|Manual Flash Mode||15 Levels||15 Levels|
The build quality is excellent. The light unit feels very sturdy, and controls are soft and easy to handle. The light head on the top is based on the I-Torch Venom series, which is a very high-end light and one of my personal favorites. The battery is a twist off and protected with 2 O-rings for optimal sealing of the light head. To charge the unit you simply remove the battery and connect it to the charger.
The light itself in not small, nor light, but keeping in mind that it includes both the flash and video light unit in one, it’s not too bad! It’s only slightly larger than the YS-D2 and lighter than the Ikelite DS-161 for example.
By default, a YS mount is included on the bottom of the strobe, but a ball mount is also available. This should enable you to mount it on any ball & joint or flex arm tray system. My personal recommendation would be ball & joint, since most flex arms won’t be strong enough to hold this light steady.
On the SS-1, which I tested, a useful illustration is included on the back, which reminds you which semi auto mode is for which distance from subject. Quite useful, since I managed to forget that at least 5 time during the dive, so I was glad to have a reminder! The SS-2 includes an on-screen illustration to remind you as well.
I-Torch are currently offering the 1000 lumen light on the SS-1 and the 2000 lumen on the SS-2, but these can be upgraded and light heads are interchangeable. The next level up would be a 4000 lumen light head (sold separately) which should be released shortly.
We are very interested to see how this new design will evolve, including new and improved versions in the future, with stronger lights, more features and additional improvements!
Modes of operation
The Symbiosis includes LED, M, A1, A2 and Off. The last mode is quite self explanatory so lets review the rest:
LED mode – Only the video light is on, the strobe is off. You can control the power of the LED with the power dial on the right.
M mode – This turns on the strobe on fully manual. You can set the power output with the power dial.
A1 and A2 modes – These are semi automatic modes. The idea is that you calibrate your camera settings and the mode dial to get a well-exposed shot, then once you’re happy with it, you can change your distance to the subject within the limits of the illustration and the strobe will adjust the power automatically using the light sensor integrated in the front.
A1 is for medium / long shots (0.5m – 2m) and A2 is for close-ups / macro shots (0.2m – 0.5m).
What does it mean to calibrate your settings?
Basically, you pick a subject, set your camera on 100 ISO, set your shutter speed on 1/125 – 1/250, depends on your preference, and choose your aperture, again according to preference. You can do all this before the dive.
When you reach your subject, try to take a photo. If it’s over-exposed, lower the power dial, if it’s under, raise it. When the exposure is good, you’re done! Continue shooting while switching between A1 and A2 if needed and you should have pretty good and consistent exposure.
This works rather well, and even though it does require some fine-tuning once in a while, I found it to be quite efficient and definitely better than complete manual which requires constantly adjusting the power.
While it’s not as accurate as TTL, the cool thing is that you can always save battery life, since the built-in flash is always just for triggering, as if you had a strobe on manual mode. The power adjustments are done on the Symbiosis directly, so the built-in flash can stay on lowest possible.
On all 3 flash modes – A1 / A2 / M, you can always turn on the video light by pressing on the Light button. The light will automatically turn off when taking a photo with flash, to prevent it from interfering with your lighting.
Semi Automatic Mode Test
Check out this test below, taken with 2 x SS-1 set to A2, fixed settings on the camera, varying distance from subject. Sharky wasn’t harmed in the process 😉
You can clearly see how the strobe automatically changes power to maintain proper exposure on the subject without over or underexposing.
I took the the SS-1 strobes for a spin on a few local dives off of Ambergris Caye, Belize, as well as some dives in Isla Mujeres. For the tests I used the Olympus E-M5II and the 9-18mm under a dome port. Here’s the setup I was using:
If you’re interested in shooting both videos and stills, and don’t want to overload yourself with too many lights, chargers and mounts, the Symbiosis is a terrific choice! Excellent quality light, great features, user-friendly and affordable.
I would strongly recommend it as a main all-in-one light source underwater.
For any more questions regarding the SS-1 or SS-2, feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the online chat. I’ll be more than happy to help and provide further info!