Light & Motion

Selecting a Great Video Light

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Originally published in DIVER Magazine in my Final Cut Column

Jill shooting the Aquatica AGH4 housing. Photo by Becky Kagan Schott

Jill shooting the Aquatica AGH4 housing. Photo by Becky Kagan Schott

Let’s begin this column with Jill’s true confession: I have a bit of a light fetish. I can’t seem to stop buying new lights. Headlamps, solar rechargeable, hand-cranked lanterns, cinema lighting, LED key fobs and endless cave diving and video lights. I have them all.  And this doesn’t include the numerous bicycle lights my husband Robert and I have collected, because, well, I can pin that one on him. Whew, I’m glad to finally share this and get it off my shoulders.

The fact is, lighting has improved exponentially since I began diving. In my early cave diving career, we lugged enormous sealed lead acid battery packs that powered feeble incandescent bulbs that barely lasted the duration of a single dive. If we had to carry those lights today, they would tip the scales at the airport and get rejected as hazardous cargo.

I had intended to review several video lights  this month, but soon discovered that it was painfully difficult to navigate the shopping experience. Specifications are hard to interpret and even more challenging to compare from brand to brand. Even worse, claimed specifications rarely match actual performance in the field. Video lights can be a big investment, so it is worth examining some of the features and issues you should consider when shopping. I broke my research into several categories, including: lumens, duration, beam quality, coverage, burn curve, weight/size/buoyancy, depth rating, build quality, purpose, company reputation and environmental impact.


The lumen is the unit that scientists use to examine the luminous flux from a light source. In essence, lumens, or lumina, accurately describe how bright a light is. The National Institute of Standards and Technology measure lumen output using a device called an integration sphere. They use photometers to count light particles inside the sphere.

In 2009, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved a standard for flashlight performance. The resulting specification called ANSI/NEMA FL-1 is designed  to help consumers make fair comparisons of lights and to eliminate exaggerated light performance by quoting odd features such as “emitter lumens” or “out-the-front lumens”. The tests can be performed by the manufacturer or an independent lab, however, the necessary equipment and calibration makes this an expensive undertaking. To date, I was only able to find one manufacturer, Light and Motion,  that tested their lights to this specification and shared the results with consumers. Light and Motion also tested other popular brands and reports comparative results on their website at www.LightandMotion.com.Burn Curve

Duration and Burn Curve

When lumens are tested, the actual runtime should also be reported. Burn time is determined when the light output drops to 10% of its original value using the batteries included with the flashlight. When viewing the test results of competitive light brands on Light and Motion’s website it appears that numerous manufacturers are over reporting the intensity and burn time. Some models actually performed at 50% of the claimed specification. None of the lights listed in the comparison charts performed better than their advertised quality when tested to the FL-1 standard! It is also interesting to view the burn curves on the graphs to determine whether a light maintains brightness over the duration or whether it quickly lowers intensity to lengthen burn time. As a videographer, I want a light with a consistently bright beam.

Beam Quality and Coverage

Early underwater video lights utilized wide dimpled metal reflectors to spread the beam of light. Some employed translucent diffusers to improve the dispersion of the beam. Newer, low profile reflector solutions and LED angles can create a soft and even light beam with a wide range of coverage. Look for a light that does not have hot spots and that evenly covers a wide area. A lighting manufacturer usually specifies  whether a light is a “spot” or a “flood” and should indicate how many degrees of coverage the device will deliver.Sola2500BeamAngleTest-1024x640


The best video lights are expensive, yes, but they may offer the benefit of multi function capability. Some lights can be dimmed and used as primary lights for technical diving. Some offer focusable lenses that narrow a beam to a more suitable angle of coverage for cave and wreck diving.

Weight, Size and Buoyancy

I have often struggled with American airport security, the TSA, when trying to fly with large battery packs and cinema lights. There is a limit to the size of lithium batteries that are allowed on a commercial aircraft. Smaller, lighter units can be easily flown without challenge from airport security. Buoyancy characteristics are also  important. Lights are often affixed to long extension arms. Negatively buoyant light heads can be problematic and tiring to swim for any length of time. .

Company Reputation

A video light is an investment and it may need service in the future. Buying lights that are made as close to home as possible from a reputable company makes sense. Customer service, reputation, innovation and warranty are all issues to explore. A company’s customer service reputation may be as important as the units they sell. Ask around, and get opinions from other divers.

Environmental Impact

There are many way that a manufacturer can be environmentally responsible. Using recycled materials, rechargeable batteries and a local workforce will all reduce the environmental impact. If the light has rechargeable batteries it may save significant money over the life of the product. Consider the operating cost to your wallet, and the environment, in your purchase decision.

Purchasing quality video lights takes some serious research. But as you are gliding effortlessly over a colorful reef while enjoying the vibrant colors of the underwater world, you will know it was an investment worth making.

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Freedom without Strobes

By | Cave Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, Women Underwater | No Comments

Photography without Strobes

Today I decided to take a fun dive with my girlfriends Renee Power and Pam Wooten. It was a casual day of diving Pam Tannic 1020086land that gave me the freedom to experiment. I’ve been testing the Aquatica AGH4 housing with the Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera and decided to shoot some still photos. I was determined to forego using any strobes. Light & Motion offers an interesting suite of lights these days and I decided to use the new compact Sola 3000 video lights. Most of the time I used them on low power. I found the results to be extremely natural looking. I created a warm white balance to compliment the beauty of the tannic water of the Santa Fe River. The flesh tones were warm and natural looking and I found it easier to get a balanced exposure in this setting (which has a great deal exposure latitude). I’ll certainly be doing a lot more of this. It is very freeing to skip the strobes and use continuous light instead. The Sola 3000 lights offered a beautiful soft, wide beam, good coverage and long burn time.

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Jill Heinerth Underwater Video with Aquatica AGH4 with Light & Motion

By | All Posts, Cave Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, We Are Water, Women Underwater | No Comments

I have been testing the Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera which was loaned to me by Aquatica in Canada. I decided it would be a great idea to try to shoot broadcast quality underwater video using only items I could fit in a single carryon case. I packed the Aquatica AGH4 housing, camera, arms and a complete Light & Motion video light set in a Nanuk 935 wheeled carryon case and went to task. The resulting video had to be downsized for the internet, but it was shot in glorious 4k Ultra HD quality. The camera shot some unbelievable stills too (well I guess I did!). I’ll be detailing all the nitty gritty tips for shooting this video in future blogs and a comprehensive article in DIVER magazine soon! Have a look at the video in the interim and judge for yourself!

The photo below is a screen capture from the video footage. The stills generated from shooting in a still camera mode are arguably even better.

This might be the costliest blog entry ever, because now I need to buy the system! I want to keep it!



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Steady Your GoPro

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If you have a GoPro camera, you’ll already be amazed at the quality of footage that can be produced by this tiny package. The two single greatest tips for shooting high quality video is to hold the camera steady and use lots of quality light. Many cave divers mouth their GoPro on their helmet, but this generally leads to frenetic video that induces seasickness in anyone that wants to watch your footage. Divers simply move their heads around too much as they look around the environment. LarryMullinsL&M0362lTo solve these two issues, Light & Motion has manufactured a compact tray system with articulating arms that carries two compact but powerful lights. The GoBe 700 Wide lights emit a strong but diffused beam that covers a wide area without creating hot spots. Check it out.

To further enhance lighting, consider adding a compact handheld video light into the mix. I use a Sola 2500 Video light in my left hand, freeing the right to operate my camera. If you give your diving partner a light or place one behind them, then you can further enhance your photo by separating the diver from the background. In the end, the more quality light, the better, so buy something that offers a rich, wide beam with a soft diffused throw that fills the wide lens view you get form your GoPro or other action camera.LarryMullins0411l


Death of the Canister Light

By | All Posts, Cave Diving, Rebreather Diving, Sidemount Diving, Underwater Photo and Video, Women Underwater | No Comments

My first primary light for cave diving was so heavy I had to mount it on two large D-rings and hang it from the bottom of my tanks. The bulky rectangular housing concealed two large sealed lead acid batteries. A hefty cord lead to a metal light head that could double as a sledgehammer. One day it switched on in the van and burned a hole in the carpet before I could get it shut off. I used to wait to the very last moment possible before turning the light on, well into the cavern zone, trying to save every last minute of burn time for the dive at hand. SolaTech6000249

In the last two decades of technical diving, lights have changed more than anything else. They’ve shrunk. The battery technology has improved and burn times are extended. Even my backup lights are now far brighter and reliable than my earliest primary light. We’ve switched from incandescent bulbs to HID, HMI, and LED. We moved through lead acid to nickel metal hydride and now lithium batteries. Yet, for some reason, divers still have a hard time letting go of that antiquated canister and cord.

I’m not one to point fingers, because it took until early this year when I finally dropped the canister in favor of a powerful handheld – the Light & Motion Sola Tech600. I had tried other handhelds, but they were still large, negatively buoyant lights equipped with clunky high profile handles. They lacked the elegance, comfort and streamlining necessary to convince me. After researching lighting technology for an article I wrote for DIVER magazine, I stepped into some Light & Motion gear and wondered why I had waited so long. Free from a canister and cord, my rig is more streamlined, my hands more nimble and luggage weight is cut substantially. The beam (check out their beam comparisons) offers the perfect balance between a great signaling light and excellent coverage. The Tech600 fulfills a solid day of diving and yet I can easily recharge it in 75 minutes over lunch if I want to. With three power settings that are arguably brilliant, I can conserve power when needed. It also gives me peace of mind seeing small LED fuel gauges that confirm I have plenty of power left to finish the day of diving.

When it comes to travel, it is a no brainer. I can’t break it and neither can the airlines (I don’t know which of us is worse). The light can be switched into an airline safe lockout. The package with the charger is minuscule and light. More importantly, it is not intimidating to the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) guards who squirm at the x-ray machine and set off lights and buzzers when viewing canister lights in your bags.

P1tunnel0096lI’m a convert. After watching others use these elegant lights, I reached out to Light & Motion and now I own most of the products they make.

So if you are still tethered to a canister, it is time to break the umbilical and move into the next generation. Try a Sola Tech600 and I guarantee you’ll never go back.

Jill Heinerth, Explorer


PS – Ladies and small hands: Light & Motion makes two sizes of hand mount and also offers myriad mounting options from D-ring to T-handle to a new Goodman style handle adapter.

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