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L&M Sola 1200


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#1 peterbkk

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 10:35 PM

Earlier this week i collected 3 x Sola 1200 video lights from my friend David at ScubaCam here in Singapore.

After the first 2 dives with them, I thought I would share my experiences, updating this thread over the next month or so as I use it more often.

Two of the lights are mounted on loc-line flexi-arms on the top of the Bluefin Pro control arms. The third light, on a slightly shorter flexi-arm is mounted on the top of the housing. Photo of the lights, setup in a macro configuration below.

Firstly I tested a full cycle on full power in the sink at home. Lasted about 63 minutes, some 7 minutes short of the advertised 70 minutes. I expect to get slightly longer burn times once the batteries have run a few cycles. Also will get longer with a more normal on-off pattern of use. But all seemed well so I took them diving.

Now, for convenience sake, my two test dives were at Palau Hantu off Singapore's southern coast, in a murky sea surrounded by oil refineries, land reclamation projects and one of the busiest shipping ports in the world. Visibility on a good day is 3 meters. More typical is 1 to 2 meters. But the area does have a huge macro population including nudis and seahorses. Enabled me to test the lights down to 14 meters, just to make sure that there are no flooding problems.

My tests showed that:

  • none of the lights flooded!
  • running the lights on a mix of full and half power, the batteries easily last 100 minutes over two dives, and longer
  • the light is bright and, with 3 of them, give a broad even coverage (need to test later in WA conditions)
  • the light color is clear and white and very constant
  • easy to operate and, with a bit of practice, easy to set to the right output
  • three lights give a lot of flexibility for positioning, enabling macro lighting in awkward places and allowing trucking shots without losing light coverage
  • setting up the lights on the housing takes just a few seconds
  • taking the lights off the housing is also fast, enabling you to switch to a waterproof surface camera in a minute, depending on which port is on the camera
  • not having battery pods and cables is convenient
  • arms and lights fold forward under the front of the housing handles for easy handling when not in use
  • significantly lighter and more convenient for travel than any previous light system I have owned
  • chargers are universal, small and light

Lessons learned:

  • without the battery pods the housing is now a bit top heavy. Not a problem for handheld but not good if I want to put the camera down. I will make a lead-shot pouch and use some straps to hold it under the housing to move the balance lower.
  • need to drill a small hole in the loc-line at both top and bottom to get the seawater out more easily.

So far very impressed. Looks like L&M have kicked a big goal with this light.

Early January I will take the camera and lights to Lembeh and Bunaken so I'll update this review after some intense use.

Regards
Peter

Sola_1200.jpg

Edited by peterbkk, 11 December 2010 - 07:25 AM.


#2 uwxplorer

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 02:30 PM

After the first 2 dives with them, I thought I would share my experiences, updating this thread over the next month or so as I use it more often.


You've got an avid subscriber to this thread.
I think you should plan a dive with the Fathom WA90 ASAP and in clear water :-) I have no doubt that they perform well in macro mode, but I'd be curious to see how they would perform in a scene like the one I shot recently with two AquaSun eLEDs (with diffuser) which looked like spotlights in my field of view (notwithstanding the fact that I positioned them way off: ).
Keep up the good work!
X.

#3 uwxplorer

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 02:36 PM

BTW, kind of out of topic, but I noticed that you mentioned using the camcorder in its housing at the surface. I gave this up the first time I tried after almost crashing into the boat when a rogue wave hit us (and getting a cramp trying to hold the housing steady for a minute while trying to shoot whales in the distance).
I just purchased a little marvel to solve this conundrum: Sony DSC-HX5V. It is a wide-angle, 10X point and shoot with 1080i60 (17Mbps) AVCHD capability. That will be my surface camera/camcorder. And it fits in a pocket!

#4 peterbkk

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 05:54 PM

I think you should plan a dive with the Fathom WA90 ASAP and in clear water :-) I have no doubt that they perform well in macro mode, but I'd be curious to see how they would perform in a scene like the one I shot recently with two AquaSun eLEDs (with diffuser) which looked like spotlights in my field of view.
X.


I'll be in the crystal waters of Bunaken in early Jan and will mainly be diving with the WA90. Looking at the coverage of the Sola 1200, I expect that two of them will evenly cover the WA90s field of view. With three lights, I have the option of spreading them further to remove any darker corners or dropping the middle one downwards to cover close-up subjects, useful for trucking in from a wide view of a large subject, such as a gorgonian fan, to a close up view of a small subject, say a small critter on the fan.

Which model AquaSun did you use? I don't think that it is a video light as it seems to concentrate all its light in one spot.

Regards
Peter

#5 peterbkk

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 06:06 PM

BTW, kind of out of topic, but I noticed that you mentioned using the camcorder in its housing at the surface. I gave this up the first time I tried after almost crashing into the boat when a rogue wave hit us (and getting a cramp trying to hold the housing steady for a minute while trying to shoot whales in the distance).
I just purchased a little marvel to solve this conundrum: Sony DSC-HX5V. It is a wide-angle, 10X point and shoot with 1080i60 (17Mbps) AVCHD capability. That will be my surface camera/camcorder. And it fits in a pocket!


With everything removed from outside the housing, I can handhold it for long enough to do some surface shots. Having the camcorder in the housing enables me to take it in the dinghy and get some external shots of the dive boat, or shots of divers doing a backward roll into the water, without worrying about anything getting wet.

The secret is to shoot a clip, say 10 to 30 seconds, then rest your arms between shots. Or, on the dive boat, find a suitable platform (e.g. the boat's rail) to rest your elbows on while shooting.

I have found that non-diving audiences need to see a lot of surface shots to put context around the underwater shots. Being able to handle the housing on the surface is a big plus.

Recently, returning back from the South China Sea, we ran into a big headwind with large waves that threw spectacular bursts of water over the bow of the dive boat. I was able to sit on the steps in front of the bridge and capture it all on video. Of course, I got completely soaked. But it wouldn't have been possible without the housing. I carry a pig-leather chamois for wiping the glass port when it gets splashed.

Regards
Peter

#6 uwxplorer

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 07:58 PM

That all makes perfect sense. I tend to avoid wetting my surface camera and myself as much as possible (SoCal waters are COLD), so no dramatic shots in the storm or at the bow for me!
The AquaSun is not a video light indeed, but it sounded like two could do a decent job with my previous beginner's rig (820 lumen each, 2 hours burn time). Even with a diffuser, they are not just up to the task anymore with the WA lens. In fact I have 4 of them, but they are just too heavy to make it practical (2.4 lbs each). I've learned from my mistake, which is why I am very curious to hear about your experience before I jump on the SOLA band-wagon.
Best.

#7 peterbkk

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 10:03 PM

That all makes perfect sense. I tend to avoid wetting my surface camera and myself as much as possible (SoCal waters are COLD), so no dramatic shots in the storm or at the bow for me!
The AquaSun is not a video light indeed, but it sounded like two could do a decent job with my previous beginner's rig (820 lumen each, 2 hours burn time). Even with a diffuser, they are not just up to the task anymore with the WA lens. In fact I have 4 of them, but they are just too heavy to make it practical (2.4 lbs each). I've learned from my mistake, which is why I am very curious to hear about your experience before I jump on the SOLA band-wagon.
Best.


I once put together a great UW camera. It was absolutely leading-edge in its day. Great auto-focus, live preview and TTL that really worked, even with complex situations (e.g. shiny fish against a dark background). Took great shots --- except that the strobes were too damn heavy. I'd come back from a long dive with aching wrists and a sore thumb from holding it up.

I'll let you know in mid-Jan how well these Sola lights cover wide-angle. I'll be using the Fathom 90 with the lights for most, if not all, day dives. I might even use WA for a couple of night dives when we are looking for hunting reef sharks and larger fish. That'll be a good test of light coverage. From the tests at home and in yesterday's murky gloom, I am quite confident they'll cover the lens field of view well.

Regards
Peter

#8 HDVdiver

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 12:59 AM

I'll let you know in mid-Jan how well these Sola lights cover wide-angle. I'll be using the Fathom 90 with the lights for most, if not all, day dives. I might even use WA for a couple of night dives when we are looking for hunting reef sharks and larger fish. That'll be a good test of light coverage. From the tests at home and in yesterday's murky gloom, I am quite confident they'll cover the lens field of view well.

Regards
Peter


Do you happen to know the rated beam angle? I had a look at the specs on the L & M website and there's no mention (that I can see) of beam angle. I did read elsewhere that the "Flood" setting is 60 degrees...can you confirm that.

I'm curious because I'm compiling a data base of all available video lights.

Cheers

#9 pmooney

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 02:01 AM

Hi George,

Check out this animation - it highlights both beam angles and power levels.
Sola Animation

#10 peterbkk

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 02:30 AM

Do you happen to know the rated beam angle?



60 degrees I believe. Two should cover the Fathom 90. Three will definitely cover it. My plan is to have the outer two pointing slightly outwards and upwards, with the centre one straight ahead and slightly down. Should work OK. Might test it in the swimming pool late evening to see how it looks.

Regards
Peter

#11 peterbkk

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 03:12 AM

Lessons learned:

  • without the battery pods the housing is now a bit top heavy.
  • need to drill a small hole in the loc-line at both top and bottom to get the seawater out more easily.


Today I solved both the issues described above.

I bought a 2lb bag of lead shot pellets, then went to a market in Singapore where they make and sell military stuff - belts, uniforms, pouches, etc. I got an old chap with an ancient Chinese sewing machine to make me two long tubular pouches, the same length of the housing, using 4" wide webbing. Once sown on 3 sides I filled each one with 1 pound of lead pellets and then he sewed them shut. So now I have two soft tubes, each weighing 1 pound. Then I drove to another market that specialises in industrial tools and equipment and went to a shop that sells o-rings - as sizes from tiny ones to huge ones. We measured and found that a 139 x 6.99 o-ring just stretches enough to fit tightly round both the housing and the lead pellet tube. Voila, a perfectly balanced housing. I need to check it in seawater to see if 1lb is enough (one tube down the middle, under the housing) or if I need to use both tubes (underneath, side by side, where the battery pods used to mount). I suspect one is enough. See image below.

For the loc-line, I popped into ScubaCam and David neatly drilled a small hole in the loc-line at the top and bottom to allow seawater to drain easily for flushing out the inside of the loc-line tubes.

While he was doing this, he also had a bright idea to run a strong fishing line down the inside of the loc-line from the screw that attaches the loc-line to the light, down to the screw that attaches the loc-line to the camera mount. In the event that I ever manage to accidentally snap open the loc-line underwater, the fishing line will prevent the light from sinking into the depths. The fishing line is completely internal so does not impact appearance or operation in anyway.

Regards
Peter

Bluefin_with_Weight.jpg

#12 HDVdiver

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 04:27 PM

Hi George,

Check out this animation - it highlights both beam angles and power levels.
Sola Animation



Hi Peter...thanks for the info.


Other Peter:

A little trick I learned from watching European videographers in the Red Sea...The German guys seem to like "wings" on their housings with the relatively heavy, self contained halogens (eg Hartenbergers or Variolights) under the tips of the wings. For as much shooting as possible I extend the arms of my lights out horizontally with the HIDs hanging underneath. I don't like the inflexibility of "wings" instead of ULC type arms...but having the lights extended outwards and level with the housing seems to change the center of gravity enough to help stabilize the set-up a bit more.

Edited by HDVdiver, 13 December 2010 - 04:38 PM.


#13 Drew

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 09:36 PM

The wings act as a stabilizer for much smoother (and slower) pans. One must remember that water turbidity plays an important part of how you place your lights, lest you want that junk lit up by the sides of your frame. Short arms/wings work very well in clear water, but not so in dirtier/higher turbidity water. The principle is the same as strobe placement. It's for esthetic and practical effect.

Pete, won't your housing be unable to sit properly with that design? Wouldn't it be better to just use float arms to negate the -ve buoyancy of the light?

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#14 peterbkk

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 11:13 PM

Pete, won't your housing be unable to sit properly with that design? Wouldn't it be better to just use float arms to negate the -ve buoyancy of the light?


The lights are not very -ve.

I have yet to test the handling with my new "cosh" weight.

I thought about using float arms or a block of foam on top of the housing but that could make the whole setup slightly positively buoyant. I do like a housing to be negatively buoyant.

  • Up to a point, I find a negative housing to more stable, as long as it is not so heavy that it tires arms and wrists.
  • When not in use I clip the housing to D-rings on my BP/W and I like it to hang firmly in my belly region.
  • Occasionally, I like to do shots of shy creatures by placing the camera on the ground and swimming away. With the weight, I'm going to have to find some rocks to prop it vertical but the weight is required to stop it wobbling.

I'll see how it works on a couple of dives and, if not optimal, I'll look at float options.

Regards
Peter

#15 peterbkk

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 04:33 AM

60 degrees I believe. Two should cover the Fathom 90. Three will definitely cover it. My plan is to have the outer two pointing slightly outwards and upwards, with the centre one straight ahead and slightly down. Should work OK. Might test it in the swimming pool late evening to see how it looks.

Regards
Peter


Just tested the Fathom 90 and the 3 x Sola 1200s in the swimming pool at night so I could judge the light coverage.

The coverage of the Fathom 90 at full wide angle with the 3 Sola 1200s is excellent.

I used a flat swimming pool wall with my daughter swimming past as the test. It is a tough test because in the sea you never encounter a flat even wall that you need to cover evenly with light. But, the 3 x Sola 1200s give good smooth coverage of both the subject (my duck-diving daughter) and the background (swimming pool wall). Even at 3 meters back from from the wall I was able to get even, corner to corner coverage. Back from the wall about 5 meters, some corner light drop-off could be seen on the wall but the subject was still fully covered with light. More than enough coverage for any real-world requirement.

Turning off any one of the three lights and I was still able to get even, corner-to-corner coverage up to 2 meters out from the wall. Of course, one light by itself can not cover the Fathom 90 at full wide angle. Had to zoom-in to get complete coverage.

I also did some trucking tests, to see if dark zones would appear when moving from a distant shot to a close-up. By having the outer lights slightly up-and-out and the centre light straight ahead and slightly down, I could truck the camera from 3 meters to 0.5m without shadows appearing.

Looking forward to getting this system out to Bunaken in early January...

Regards
Peter

#16 uwxplorer

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 10:52 PM

Sounds excellent!

#17 peterbkk

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Posted 26 December 2010 - 05:49 PM

Sounds excellent!


Still playing around with the balance and floatation.

While not heavy, the current setup is somewhat front-heavy and tends to tip forwards when not held.

I am going to do some pool experiments with a front float to see how this works out.

Regards
Peter

#18 peterbkk

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 07:28 PM

Still playing around with the balance and floatation.

While not heavy, the current setup is somewhat front-heavy and tends to tip forwards when not held.

I am going to do some pool experiments with a front float to see how this works out.


I tested the float in the pool today. It works fine.  

The float, made from closed-cell foam and purchased via ScubaCam (I think that it comes from Backscatter), uses two large o-rings and a Velcro strap to mount it on the top of the housing towards the front. It fits neatly around the standard port and the Fathom 90 lens and does not impair any of the housing controls. To fit the rear of the float around the center-mounted video light, we had to mill a large vertical groove in the rear side of the foam.

With the float but without the weights, the camera is just slightly negative (might be close to neutral in the ocean).  Makes it easy for carrying around.  This is definitely the best setup for WA work as it compensates for the forward weight of the Fathom 90. But, in this configuration, the housing wont sit upright on the bottom by itself.  Tends to move around.

With the float and the two 1lb weight bags, it is quite negative but still well-balanced. Maybe even a tad more stable than without the weights.  Probably could carry the camera like this but might be tiring on the arms for long shots.  But, it is great for sitting on the bottom.   Sits upright and stable.  Good for leaving the camera unattended for, say, shooting a shy gobie. 

With the float and one 1lb weight bag, it is a bit negative but easier to carry than two.  Can sit on the bottom but needs something  (a rock) to prop it vertical as it tends to rock from side to side.

Might be able to carry the weights in a pocket and just slip them on if I ever need to put the camera down.

I'll try all options in Bunaken / Lembeh next week and see what works best. Watch this space...

Regards
Peter

#19 uwxplorer

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Posted 28 December 2010 - 04:10 PM

Good for leaving the camera unattended for, say, shooting a shy gobie.

Here is SoCal, we've got the opposite problem: how to get rid of those darn gobies? You can't shoot any close-up without one coming and checking the lens or sunbathing in the lights...
I use floats on ULCS arms and/or buoyant ULCS arms to hold my AquaSuns (soon to be replaced by SOLAs, once your review is complete).
That seems more practical than what you are describing, although maybe a tad less flexible in terms of light orientation... Easier to finely adjust the buoyancy, it would seem. But costly!

#20 peterbkk

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 06:52 PM

Just back from Bunaken and Lembeh. I know some of you are waiting for an update in the Sola 1200s, so here is a quick summary.

In 2 words, "f#$%ing marvellous"!

The lights performed flawlessly on every dive - 23 dives over 8 days. Not a blink or a flicker, just broad, soft light on demand.

For the day dives, I ran all 3 lights on 1/2 power, leaving them on for most of the dive, typically 50 to 60 minutes burn time on a 60 to 70 minute dive. For some WA shots I ran them for a while on full power. They comfortably covered two dives on one charge, rarely getting in the red zone.

For night dives, I always started with them fully charged and ran them on 1/4 or 1/2 power for the whole dive. This was plenty of light.

The coverage of the 3 lights was more than enough for the WA Fathom 90 port and gave me plenty of options for lighting macro shots with the flat port and the flip macro lens. The flexibility of 3 lights was handy. For example, for creatures in a hole, I could bend two of the lights into place, one for direct "subject" light and one for general coverage.

Charging was never a problem. Both resorts at Bunaken and Lembeh had the typical Indonesian dive resort power issues - flipping from government power to generator, fluctuating and fading power and occasional blackouts - but the chargers all coped well with whatever came through the line. I did use a Belkin surge-protected power-board as an extra precaution.

For weighting and balance, I found that the combination of the lights, Fathom 90 and the float worked fine for WA work. For macro, with the flat port, I did not need the float or the weights. (those shot-weight tubes I had made were not necessary...)

So, in summary, I'm very happy with these lights - the best video lights I've ever owned.

Regards
Peter