In the past few years, there has been a revolution in underwater video lighting thanks to rapid advances in LED (light emitting diode) and lithium ion battery technologies. The net result for underwater videographers is brighter lights, with smaller footprints, and a more affordable cost. Gone are the days of heavy battery pods, dangling cables, and expensive HID bulbs. Most of today's lights feature integrated batteries and light output that used to require surface supply. There are more choices than ever before. This article will review the results of these advances, breaking down the best video light options on the market for the underwater shooter.
Video Shot With Video Lights
The Orcalight SeaWolf line are the overall brightest lights from our testing. Shooting in bright ambient light conditions require a very bright light to overcome the ambient light and to fill in shadows. Shot with the Orcalight SeaWolf 860.
When shooting macro with a compact camera, a small light like the Sola 1200 will offer plenty of light at close distances.
Shooting with cyan lights at shallow depths allows you to white balance to the ambient light for a more natural look. When white balancing to the lights at deeper depths, you can get a foreground and background that are closer in color temperature that you would otherwise have with normal lights.
Photo Shot With Video Lights
A video light can take the place of a strobe with a compact camera in macro mode. A light like the Light & Motion Sola 1200 is powerful enough to get fast shutter speeds to freeze motion. Shot with the Olympus TG-3 and Light and Motion Sola 1200.
Video Light Testing Methodology
We decided to test major brands of video lights that we sell to see how they perform. Most manufacturers publish a lumen rating that is taken directly from the specs of the LEDs used in their lights, rather than actually measuring the direct output. We have found that the actual real world output can vary greatly from the stated specs, making comparisons on paper meaningless. We did our own testing to find out how all of the video lights that we sell stack up against each other based on exposure values. Most lights are bright in the center and fall off to the edges. Lumens measures overall light output, not the change in intensity from center to edge. For example, you might assume a 10,000 lumen light would always be brighter than a 600 lumen light. However, if you put a Sola Tech 600 in spot mode (rated at 600 lumens in spot at 8° wide) for macro shooting, it is much brighter than the Keldan Video 8x (rated at 10,000 lumens in spot at 110° wide)in the center of the beam. That's why we decided to test these lights by measuring their exposure value from center of beam to the edge, as it better illustrates intensity and coverage in real world use.
Test Results (click to enlarge)
Lights Under 1500 Lumens
Lights Between 1500 - 3000 Lumens
Lights Above 5000 Lumens
All lights were tested using a light meter, with the room lights off, and the meter 18 inches from the face of each light. This distance was closer than our strobe tests, because the output from continuous beam lighting is a fraction of the power generated by an instantaneous strobe burst. This also translates into practice, as video lights must be much closer to the subject than strobes while shooting underwater. Our tests were to calculate what aperture would be achievable at ISO 100 and 1/60 of a second (the most common shutter speed for shooting 30p video).
We measured the intensity of the light at center (0°), 6 inches out (37°), 12 inches out (66°), and 18 inches out (90°) from center to simulate the effectiveness of these lights to illuminate the entire field of view while using a wide-angle lens.
Interpreting These Results
As expected, the most expensive professional lights - the Gates GT14, Keldan Video 8M Flux, Fisheye FIX Aquavolt 7000s, Light and Motion Sola 8000s, and Orca SeaWolf 1560 are not only the brightest, but are also the most even across the field, maintaining good intensity even at 18 inches from center. This is critical for lighting wide-angle scenes, such as when using a fisheye lens on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. The Sola 2100 in spot mode has incredible intensity at the center of its beam, making it a great fit for macro shooting where wide coverage is not as critical. Read on for our thoughts about each of the lights we tested.
Our Top Picks
The Sidekick is one of the most powerful lights for its size, providing excellent fill light while maintaining GoPro's compact style. Mounts are available for both underwater and topside applications. It provides a wide and smooth light at a powerful 600 lumen beam to complement the camera in low light or backlit conditions. It has three different power modes and a run-time up to 60 minutes on high.
GoBe 850 ($199)
The GoBe 850 is a versatile light and a great option for divers who want a compact, lightweight light at a good price point. It's not only a great light in water, but one of only a few lights in this review that can be operated out of water. Similar to the Sidekick, the GoBe 850 has a USB rechargeable battery. The GoBe700 is compatible with six different lightheads, including a spot beam, fluorescent, and wide beam heads. It has three power levels and a run-time up to 1.5 hours on high.
RGBlue System01 V2 ($688)
One feature that distinguishes the AOI RGBlue from other lights is the interchangeable battery module. They're great for those trips where you plan to do multiple dives between access to a charging station. The battery and light heads are waterproof, so no worries about water entry when changing batteries. The light includes a 60-degree condensing lens for creating a tighter beam. The AOI light will be forward compatible with new light and battery modules. It has a four-step brightness control, with a run-time of 50 minutes on high.
Sola 2000 ($449)
The Sola 2000 hits a sweet spot for price and performance. It's a great value for the amount of light you get, maxing out an incredible 2000 lumens. It has three different power modes and a run-time up to 45 minutes on high. The Sola 2000 is great for the GoPro or compact shooter wanting to fill more of a wide angle scene or an entry-level option for SLR shooters.
Keldan Video 4X ($1,370)
The Keldan Video 4X provides a significant upgrade over its predecessor and is one of the best combinations of output, size, and price in this review. This high-end video light will make your footage pop. It's the most compact light of the Keldan line, but don't let the size fool you. The Keldan Video 4X offers 8000 lumens, wide-angle beam, and easy to use controls. It features interchangeable batteries that are dead simple to swap in the field. Plus, there is a battery meter so you can see how much charge remains.
Keldan Video 8M Flux ($1,980)
Like the Keldan Video 4X, the Keldan Video 8M Flux has been redesigned this year to offer the best quality and is widely recognized as the finest light of its kind. The Keldan Video 8M Flux produces an incredibly even beam, and features interchangeable batteries that are affordable and easy to change on the go. The dome on the front of the Keldan Video 8M Flux works comparable to a dome port on a camera housing, allowing you to achieve the same angle of coverage underwater as it would topside. This allows the Keldan Video 8M Flux to easily cover the field of view of a wide-angle lens. In addition, the modular design ensures that components can be upgraded as technology advances. It has a run-time of 45 minutes on its highest mode.
Gates GT14 ($2,390)
Gates was kind enough to support this test by sending over a final production sample of their yet to be released Gates GT14 video light. A professional-grade light, the Gates GT14 is very powerful with 14,000 lumens output. Its wide beam angle with pleasant edge falloff will cover the widest of shots. We also found it has the best color of all the lights tested in the high end category. It features four power levels with a run-time of 30 minutes at full power. It is also the only light in this review that has a vacuum system to make sure your light is sealed before entering the water. Stay tuned to Backscatter as we will update a release date and pricing as soon as we have it from Gates.