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L&M Sola 600 - User reviews & opinions?


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#1 antacid

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Posted 08 November 2010 - 11:55 PM

Hi everyone, I've been searching for a focus/video light for a while.

Maybe I'll just list my options here to share with you my thinking process. I'm based in Singapore so dealer support and just getting my hands on some of these is a challenge.

Been using several torches as a focus light in low vis and night dives, but they are more trouble than they are worth. Have yet to try to small fisheye LED one but my friends say it's not very bright.

I'm looking at these at the moment

L&M Sola 600 - US$579. 600 lumens, 75 degree coverage
http://www.uwimaging...ola600/sola-600

Good - the output is high enough for video, yet with lower power levels for focus. Also comes with built-in red LEDs for use with shy night creatures.
Bad - price is #@$~!@~! wtf?! Proprietary lithium battery.

Fisheye FIX500 - US$335. 480+ lumens, angle of coverage unknown
http://www.scubaboar....-led500dx.html

Good - slightly cheaper compared to Sola 600, uses 8x AA batteries.
Bad - Fisheye torches always have problems with flooding, weird battery drain, etc etc.

i-torch video - US$339. 600+ lumens, 80 degree coverage
http://www.divegeare...orchvideo.shtml

Good - strong output, with lower output available. Uses 4x AA batteries
Bad - hard to find any dealers around in case of warranty problems

Inon LE550W - S$345 (from local dealer).500+ lumens, 75 degree coverage
http://www.divervisi....g0hni7qc80q0v3

Good - strong output, slim design. Uses 3x AAA (?) batteries
Bad - only on/off, no power adjustment. might be too bright for certain uses.

I'm looking at the Inon LE550W primarily because of price but I really like the Sola 600 in terms of features but it's close to 3x the price. I'm actually leaning towards the i-torch video because it's a good compromise between the 2, except i don't know where to buy it from!

========

Managed to get my hands on a Sola 600, and it's amazingly compact. It's roughly the size of a normal computer mouse, and very slick and polished. Much better designed that the Fix500 and less fiddly switches. Everything was factory sealed, so if there's a flood or it's not working normally, we just have to take it back under warranty. No "user-problems" here.

However, the battery pack was also sealed inside, so a concern I had was what do we do if it is out of warranty and the battery doesn't hold its charge anymore? After all its a Li-ion battery so there is a definite charge cycle limit (think laptop batteries). What I am afraid of is after it is out of warranty, L&M will take an Apple approach and say, "sorry we don't do battery replacement but we'll be nice and offer you a trade-in and you can buy a new one at US$400".

L&M's warranty is only for 1 year, so it's either use the crap out of it within 1 year so the battery pack dies, or slowly, carefully ration it so it'll last you a long time.

The only thing holding me back from getting hte Sola 600 now is the battery replacement policy. The local dealer says L&M does not have any firm guidance on this yet (since the product was launched in May 2010), but I'm hoping some of you in the industry might know.

Planning to pick one up before Friday for my trip to Sogod Bay in the Philippines!

Thanks in advance!
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#2 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 09 November 2010 - 12:10 AM

More here:
http://wetpixel.com/...00-focus-light/

Alex

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#3 antacid

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Posted 09 November 2010 - 12:26 AM

Hi Alex, thanks for your quick reply. Yes I've seen that and if it's good enough for you, it should be more than enough for a weekend snapper like me.

I'd like to see if the wider user community has encountered any problems with it so far, so I can decide if it will be an issue for me

Would you know anything about the battery replacement policy?

Edited by antacid, 09 November 2010 - 12:27 AM.

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#4 Bent C

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Posted 09 November 2010 - 12:40 AM

I have two SOLAs and have used them for approximately 60 dives in Lembeh. I had one or two moments of sticky switch due to sand build up, but nothing that a quick wash wouldn´t fix. I am really happy with mine, the combination of white light at different intensities and the red focus light for shy animals is just great. Also, diving night dives with the red light on is a really cool experience! Furthermore, the unit is amazingly compact and lightweight. I asked about the battery issue before I bought mine and was told that service centers would do a battery replacement. No prices though and I do not have it in writing.

regards

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#5 pdemaagt

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 05:49 AM

More here:
http://wetpixel.com/...00-focus-light/

Alex



Hi Alex,
Does the "RED" light alow the camera to focus easier? "
Peter

#6 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 05:52 AM

Much more easily than no light or dim torch. But the main advantage is that it allows you to use a bright light intensity (which will always help the camera focus better) with a minimal disturbance to the subject.

Alex

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#7 antacid

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 06:15 AM

Hi everyone, I'd like to thank all of you for your responses. I took the plunge and bought not 1 but 5 Sola 600s before my trip to Sogod Bay in the Philippines. It's an amazing little light!

It performed beautifully as a focus light, and I also tried it for macro video. the lowest setting is bright enough for macro video for a total of 300 minutes of burn time.

The red LEDs were like black magic underwater. The mandarinfish didn't even know we were out there until it got fried by our strobes. Even the saron shrimp came out to play in the red light but promptly scuttled under rocks when i turned on the white light to see what it was.

The funny thing was, with the red LEDs I seem to be spotting more things than normal. Shrimp eyes were like beacons in the distance, and lobsters were just shouting "eat me!" (we left them alone, of course. too small! :) ). I was shooting some coral crabs hidden in staghorn using the white lights, and when i turned on the red LEDs to try it out, I was shocked to see 2 morays just 5 inches away from my camera left. somehow i had missed them with the brilliant white light. maybe it was just my eyes playing tricks on me?

i had a sticky slider switch that would get stuck every time i pushed it downwards, and it seemed like no amount of washing/rinsing/swirling would get it to not stick. It's not a major problem, but should I get it replaced?

P.S. not all 5 were for me... 2 were for my friends, and I still have 2 left over at a special price. the local dealer offered us a bundle deal we couldn't refuse. to think i walked in the shop to look at closeout lights and walked out with more than $2.5k worth of lights!
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#8 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 06:20 AM

Really happy to hear they are working out for you! Alex

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#9 FrankD

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Posted 20 November 2010 - 01:49 PM

More here:
http://wetpixel.com/...00-focus-light/

Alex

I might be the only person that has had a bad experience with the Sola 600 so far.
It is an incedible light and I agree with the comment that when you pay next to $600 you should expect reliability.
Reliability is not what I got however.
I purchased the light in advance of my trip to Sipidan & Mabul, expecting to use it to get some awesome macro in the shallows, use the red light on the mandarin fish, etc. This was a once in a lifetime trip.
I used it on my first couple of dives at Sipadan to get some video and pictures of anemone fish and the like and then when I was topping it up after a couple of dives it started blinking red really fast and then just died. I just paid a lot of money for a paperweight.

I though, wait, L&M has a great reputation, maybe they can do something, so I emailed them.
No reply.
The folks at ReefPhoto were great and got back to me right away and indicated that the flashing light probably meant it was flooded and I was S.O.L.

Anyway, I called L&M when I got back stateside and since nobody answered the phone, I left a voicemail with their support department??
Eventually I got a replacement, but boy, I would have loved to have actually got some use out of it.
Now I'm not saying they are not reliable as a product, I am just throwing my data point out here.

I love the light .. well I love the idea of the light. It worked well for the few minutes of video I got.
I just hope that I don't end up S.O.L Again (Sola)

#10 serge

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 08:46 PM

I also have a SOLA 600 and had some problems with it ...

I purchased a SOLA 600 and it flooded on the first day diving. I contacted my dealer and got a new one sent to indonesia straight away ... since then i did not have any problems and the light is just fantastic. It might have been sealed improperly or was damaged before i got it ... i don't know. But the new one works perfectly fine.

But: I heard from a manager from another resort here in lembeh, that one of his guest had the same problem ... it flooded on the first dive.


So if you get one: Take it under water before you go on a trip :)


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#11 Steve Williams

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 10:11 PM

So if you get one: Take it under water before you go on a trip :)


Good idea with any new gear. I had the same issue with my new Sola back in July. They are building thousands of these great little lights and some infant mortality should be expected I guess. Maybe L&M should think about a little longer wet burn in test before they ship.

I got a chance to see the new Sola 1200 at DEMA and it is a very interesting option for video. The 1200 doesn't have the red option, it has a 7 degree, 500 lumen, spot option instead. The coolest thing for me was it's twice the power (1200 lumens) in the same Sola 600 size package for $100 more (US). That's enough light that you can start thinking about using it for stills in a pinch.

Another choice is the new Sola 500 ($379 US MSRP) which is a less expensive light without the red option. I think it would make a very nice focus light if you wanted to save some money. Nice to have choices.

Cheers,
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#12 FrankD

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 01:48 PM

I also have a SOLA 600 and had some problems with it ...
So if you get one: Take it under water before you go on a trip :)


So at least four of us had the same problem.
I agree with Steve that L&M needs to be doing better checkouts on these. They are a small company and my guess is they will be a growing pretty quickly this year.
If you are not near a great dive location, a pool checkout dive may not be enough to test it out. Mine worked for a few dives and acted up during charging.
Serge, Can you share your dealer with us. They did you good to get one out to you right away. I would have loved that kind of response.

BTW L&M has a new set of charts on their website that show measured output from their lights and their competitors.

http://www.uwimaging.com/sola600p.html

They have the Sola 600 listed in a few places as having 500 lumens. I'm sure it's a mistake.

I guess I better get down to the water and test out my replacement light ASAP
:)

Edited by FrankD, 23 November 2010 - 02:02 PM.


#13 Captain_Caveman

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 08:14 PM

Hi everyone, I'd like to thank all of you for your responses. I took the
i had a sticky slider switch that would get stuck every time i pushed it downwards, and it seemed like no amount of washing/rinsing/swirling would get it to not stick. It's not a major problem, but should I get it replaced?


Mine stick constantly.

I use...

Canon 5d2
Aquatica Housing
8" Dome
Sigma 15mm
Sola lights





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#14 alanchungsf

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 06:07 AM

Mine stick constantly.


I just decided to go with the Inon LE550W instead of the Sola 600. Alex's review made me want a Sola 600 badly. Cost is a factor, but mostly I was scared off by the 4 early deaths that needed replacement, and sticky switches reported here. I'm heading off to Palau in 3 weeks and I won't have a chance to do testing beyond the old bathtub dunk. It would be a bummer to get a bad unit 8000 miles from home.

I'm hoping the red filter is nearly as good as the red LEDs for not scaring off shy creatures. I really like to get some better shots of mandarin fish on this trip.

#15 serge

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Posted 25 November 2010 - 12:52 AM

Serge, Can you share your dealer with us. They did you good to get one out to you right away.


Hi Frank,

my Dealer is the German Distributor of L&M (and a friend of mine) ... when i told him, that my SOLA is broken, he send me a new one, while i was sending mine back to Europe.
But i live in Indonesia ... so there was not much choice other then to send it here. He send it to some of my guest and they brought it to Indo ... so the international shipping was organized by me.

serge

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#16 jocko

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Posted 30 November 2010 - 03:16 PM

I just got back from Raja Ampat (paradise dancer) and used the Sola 600 on most dives without a minutes trouble. The number of positive comments this light generated from the other divers was quite amusing. On the night dives the red light worked extremely well, the invertebrates especially seemed to be indifferent when the light was in that mode. Overall I am highly impressed with the light, it's compactness and ease of charging are a great bonus.

Dave

#17 peterbkk

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 06:09 AM

So if you get one: Take it under water before you go on a trip :D


Golden Rule #1: Any new mission-critical UW photo kit MUST be taken on a dive to at least 10 meters and throughly put through its paces before taking on that "dive trip of a life-time". Otherwise you are just inviting Murphy to mess with you.

I'm picking up 3 new Sola 1200's next week for use on my L&M Bluefin. Early January doing an important shoot in Lembeh and Bunaken. Before I go, I'll take the housing and lights for a dip out at Palau Hantu off the southern coast of Singapore. Viz will be lousy, nothing exciting to see (maybe a seahorse but they're hard to find) and I'll need to wash the oil off my gear afterwards. But, at least I'll know that the lights are working...

Regards
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#18 uwxplorer

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 10:01 PM

Sure you don't want to wait for the Sola 4000? http://www.uwimaging.../sola4000v.html
Worth less than 3 Sola 1200 but slightly more powerful (with larger and adjustable angular coverage, greater power adjustment, etc...).

#19 peterbkk

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 10:48 PM

Sure you don't want to wait for the Sola 4000? http://www.uwimaging.../sola4000v.html
Worth less than 3 Sola 1200 but slightly more powerful (with larger and adjustable angular coverage, greater power adjustment, etc...).


Certainly thought about it. Three factors swung me towards the 1200.

1. I need some new lights for a dive trip in January - 4000 not available until later in 2011
2. With 3 lights I can better manage coverage e.g. 2 outer light slightly up, 1 inner down for trucking into small subjects
3. Redundancy - 1 can fail and I can still shoot.

I suppose I could always buy 2 x 4000s and 1 x 1200 and cover most of the benefits, including some ocean-boiling power output, but let's see how the 3 x 1200s pan out.

Regards
Peter

#20 Ryan

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Posted 05 December 2010 - 07:03 AM

I did a dive shooting video with two sola video 1200 on a Nauticam NEX-5 system Friday night and really enjoyed the rig. The small size and near neutral buoyancy really helped with stability and setup on a small gorillapod, and the 18-55 lens covered a lot of the subjects we see at Blue Heron on a night dive. I couldn't believe how well the af tracked moving subjects, even hand held.

By accident I shot a demonstration of why red lights are useful..
.
[vimeohd]17490480[/vimeohd]

This is not necessarily an endorsement of sola 600 over any red gel filtered focus light, but Sola is still the only focus light with red led built in, and I prefer the ease of use of an integrated system.

Edited by Ryan, 05 December 2010 - 07:04 AM.

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