Check out our full video review of the Retra Flash
The Retra Flash is the newest strobe to the underwater photography market. We think this thing is seriously cool, and we think you're going to want one as part of your system! Read on below for a complete breakdown of the specifications, main features, operation, and compatible accessories!
One of the brightest AND fastest underwater strobes we've ever tested
The Retra has a guide number of 30 and can shoot approximately 450 flashes on fully charged Panasonic Eneloop batteries with a 2 second recycle time when set to full power. If the optional Retra Additional Battery Compartment is used, then the flash count is DOUBLED up to about 900 flashes, and it cuts the recycle time in HALF down to 1 second when set at full power. This is a super cool feature that we are really excited about. The Retra Additional Battery Compartment is an additional accessory, it's not included with the strobe. When you need both speed and power, this is a critical accessory to have.
The beam angle is 110 degrees and can be expanded up to 130 degrees when shooting with the wide angle diffuser. The color temperature ranges from 5300K to 5600K depending on your power output. It's depth-rated to 100 meters. It has a bayonet-style mount incorporated into the front for seamless accessory support. It uses a standard 1” ball mount with O-ring to pair with your control arms. The target light is 300 lumens and is located right behind the flash tube so it is directly in line with the center of the flash beam. The target light automatically disables when the strobe fires.
There is a battery life indicator on the front of the strobe, with 4 LEDs that each represents 25% of your remaining battery life. This will display for 5 seconds upon power up, then it will deactivate so it's not constantly drawing power. This battery indicator is specifically calibrated for Eneloop batteries, and those will also give you the best performance from the strobe. You can use any high-quality AA rechargeable Nickel-metal Hydride batteries, but don't use any other type of battery, such as lithium ion, otherwise, you can experience some problems.
Cool enough to operate as a topside strobeWhen rapid firing the strobe in air, it is able to crank out about 200 shots at full power back-to-back before the thermal protection circuit kicks in, thanks to the excellent heat dissipation of the machined aluminum body. With water cooling, it is possible to exceed that approximately 200 rapid exposures. Not only is this more than enough performance for almost any subject or scene underwater, it also makes the Retra a rugged go-anywhere TOPSIDE off-camera strobe.
Incredibly bright with a nice beam patternBackscatter tests all of the strobes we sell in our shooting studio using a light meter. We measure the beam angle brightness at 0 degrees in the center, and then at 30, 60, and 90 degrees to measure the light falloff. The Retra stacks up quite well against all of our previously tested strobe models. The previous brightest strobe, the Sea & Sea YS-250, is still not quite as bright as Retra in the dead center of the beam, though the YS-250 still has more consistent brightness across the entire beam angle, whereas the Retra falls off a bit more towards the edges. We're only talking about a difference of about a half stop of light, so it's not a huge difference.
Considering that you can't even buy a YS-250 anymore, this makes the Retra the brightest strobe with the most consistency across the entire beam angle, more than any other current strobe we have tested. When you throw a diffuser on, it will increase the beam to a wider angle, at the cost of reducing the overall brightness across the entire beam. Even with a diffuser, it is still about a half stop brighter out to about 60 degrees than the next highest ranking strobe that we've tested, the Sea & Sea YS-D2.
Simple, intuitive two dial operationThe strobe is operated with just two knobs, the mode switch on the left and the power dial on the right, so it's very easy to understand the operation. The instruction manual is concise and limited to just a single card, but this is really everything you need to know. Within about 15 minutes of taking the strobe out of the box, you're going to understand every function and feature. It's just that simple.
Turn it to 'On' or 'purple' for electronic sync cable connection, 'S-TTL' or 'blue' for optical slave TTL a.k.a. “auto” exposure which has performed well in our testing so far, 'Slave' or 'green' for manual power optical slave, and even an SOS or 'red' mode which uses the target light to signal SOS in Morse code.
The power dial allows you to control your power output in any manual mode. You can set it from full to minimum with 9 power levels, adjustable in half-stop increments. When in S-TTL mode, the power dial provides exposure compensation of up to 2 stops in half-stop increments in either direction. The lower the power output, the faster you'll be able to fire, and this strobe fires fast! It's more likely that you'll be limited by your camera's built-in flash recycle time than the internal recycle time of the Retra Flash.
Every conceivable electronic and optical connection you could wantIt can be configured with the electronic connector style of your choice, including Sea & Sea, Nikonos, Ikelite, and even Subtronic. When connected electronically you can only use manual power output, there is no electronic TTL, but it does have an optical TTL ability.
The optical sensor for triggering from your camera's flash or LED trigger is on the opposite side from the electronic connector. This cover allows you to use a Sea & Sea style fiber optic cable, or you can thread it off to reveal the Inon-style connection, so it's basically universally compatible. We like that the optical sensor is on the back, so there is less chance of a sync cord dangling across the front of the flash bulb. Also, because the optical sensor is external, it opens up the possibility for remote slave triggering.
There's also a handy feature built into the optical mode. The Retra has a 'smart' learning mode where you can program it to remember your camera's pre-flash pattern. Now you never need to worry about what pre-flash cancellation mode you are in, just set it once and it will sync with your camera until you re-program it.
User overrides for faster recycle time and low-power modeThe strobe will give you an audible confirmation upon recycling the capacitors which can be disabled if you choose, but what we think is cool is that the strobe can actually be fired faster than the confirmation it provides you with. Basically, as long as the capacitors have ANY charge in them, or at least enough to fire, then they will fire. This gives you the power as a photographer to decide how you want to shoot. If an epic moment is going down right in front of you, it's your call to fire away semi-automatic style, however not at the full capacity of the power level you're set at, or to wait until the recycle is confirmed and shoot more conservatively, though still relatively very fast. The call is yours to make, as opposed to being limited by your gear.
The strobe also allows you as the shooter to make the call about your battery life. The Retra does not have a low-battery protection circuit, even though it does give you a flashing red LED indicator when your batteries start to get low. Most devices will automatically shut down and prevent further operation when batteries get low in order to avoid fully draining, and thus killing, your batteries. But guess what? Batteries are cheap, and when you're at the end of your dive with low batteries and that epic whale shark swim-by happens, you're going to want to SHOOT and not worry about your $13 set of Eneloop batteries. Yes, your recycle time will be increased in between shots, yes your exposure may vary as the batteries fail to fully charge the capacitors, but YOU will have the ability to make that call and potentially bring home that killer shot, instead of being stuck with a strobe that COULD still fire if you could only override that protective feature. The real point here is that YOU have the power to choose as a shooter instead of being limited by your gear, and that's all we as photographers really want!
Bulletproof battery compartmentYou'll notice the battery contacts down here are super thick and durable. Flooded battery compartments are the most common repair we perform here at Backscatter, we do it literally every day, and it runs almost $200 on average depending on the strobe model. With Retra, if you flood your battery compartment, just get out of the water as soon as safety protocols allow, ditch your batteries, flush it with fresh water, and scrape any salt or corrosion off the contacts. Let it dry thoroughly and ensure there is no salt or moisture lingering, and you are good to go.
Two year warrantyIf there is ever any water in the front half of the strobe, it is covered under warranty, no questions asked! It includes a two year manufacturers defect warranty. This gives you the peace of mind that the manufacturer has you covered in the unlikely case of a failure.
Accessories for every shooting situation
There are 3 diffusers options:1. Retra Wide Angle Diffuser for increasing the beam angle to 130-degrees with a temperature of 4500K and an output reduction of minus 0.6 stops
2. Retra White Diffuser for an increase to 120-degrees with a temperature of 5200K and a reduction of minus 0.2 stops
3. Retra Shark Diffuser for getting warmer tones on large pelagic animals with a 110-degree beam angle, 4400K temperature, and reduction of minus 0.8 stops.
All of these diffusers easily mount on the bayonet and lock in place, then just rotate off again. Plus, you can easily clip them off to your BC so you can always have all of your diffusers with you.
The Retra Shark Diffuser is perfect for getting those warmer tones on pelagic subjects and fish skin tones. Images courtesy of Retra UWT & Alex Mustard
You can also get the Retra Reduction Ring that cuts down the beam angle. This is helpful for low-visibility situations when shooting wide angle since it can help you avoid creating backscatter in your images. By narrowing the beam, you can light JUST your subject, similar to 'barn doors' on studio lights, and not light up the surrounding water like when using a diffuser, thus eliminating the reflections of all the particulates in the water which cause backscatter.
Also available is a Retra Protective Ring that goes on the bayonet and keeps the front element safe. If you look closely, the element actually protrudes past the aluminum portion, so this Retra Protective Ring gives you more protection against scratches and impact. I'd recommend keeping this on at all times unless another accessory is needed. This also allows you to easily set the strobe face-side down, which is best for battery swaps.
Retra LSD snoot - Reduce your beam angle, increase your creativity!Now that you're fully familiar with the strobe itself, let's take it a step further and talk about the snoot! If you are not familiar, a snoot severely tapers down the strobe beam angle to selectively light macro-sized subjects, or for any number of creative applications. Retra calls their snoot the Light Shaping Device or the LSD for short. It mounts easily using the bayonet, and you can use a set of masks to pick your aperture or even decide whether to use a double beam or a creative shape like a square, opening up a lot of creative opportunities! This is an easy way to throw some variety into your images and mix up traditional styles, which always serves as good motivation to get out and shoot more!
ConclusionThe bottom line is that the Retra Flash is a rugged, versatile, and creative underwater flash system. Between the durable aluminum construction, brightness and consistency of the beam, expandable battery pack, and bayonet mount with plenty of accessories, it's sure to be an excellent lighting solution for ANY underwater photographer.
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