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Our Strobe Problem:

 

Strobe failure seem to be the most common type of underwater photo equipment failure, based on Wetpixel postings. Rarely mentioned is the failure of housings, lamps, lenses or cameras.

 

We the users have reason to be concerned and ask questions. For instance,

What is it in the strobes’ design and parts that makes them prone to failure?

Are there industry wide strobe quality and service warranties?

Do manufacturers provide users with repair locations at reasonable rates?

Are repair manuals and repair parts available?

As far as I can tell, the answer to the above is no good answer is available, or just ‘No’.

 

To judge from user reports, the internal failures are electronic, such as the strobe won't turn on or off, the focus light fails, the strobe no longer flashes, or the failure is centered on the strobe tube which dims, burns out, and at times explodes. A few are mechanical as when a switch fails.

 

Also from user posts, Sea & Sea warrants its strobes for one year, and takes many months to repair a strobe. Inon strobes can be repaired by a dealer if one is lucky and the parts are available - mostly they are not - for about 75% of the cost, or more, of a new strobe.

 

At present, it seems us underwater strobe users are not getting a fair and good deal as we are a captive market: We are way overcharged for strobes of questionable reliability, kept in the dark about problems, and not provided with reasonable solutions.

 

So, what can we do when a strobe fails?

 

We first need to take responsibility, i.e., take good care of our strobes, and accept our mistakes such as battery damage, physical damage, and flooding.

 

When the strobe failure is clearly internal, it seems reasonable to first communicate with the dealer, who is caught between the user and the unresponsive manufacturer, and who needs to keep his customers satisfied. It helps to document the issue with purchase receipts and details of strobe use and failure.

 

If the dealer is not able to solve the problem, then we need to write the manufacturer, and also to post our problem in public, such as Wetpixel, to alert others and to build user pressure.

 

Below are the names and addresses for Inon and for Sea&Sea. I do not know it if does any good to write them, but with increasing user pressure they may become more user friendly.

 

By user friendly I mean for the manufacturers to improve the reliability of their strobes, publish understandable user, repair and parts manuals, and to make replacement parts available to the user at a reasonable cost. Also to provide training for repair technicians and affordable repair locations.

 

I write the above in the hope that other strobe users and retailers will post their thoughts on how to strengthen our position in dealing with strobe manufacturers.

 

Contact Information:

Inon:

Mr. Takuya Torii

Global Operation Division

Division Director

Inon, Inc.

ttorii@inon.co.jp

tel +81 467 48 2174

 

Sea&Sea:

CEO: Stephen Ashmore,

Sea & Sea Head Office

1-4-6 Kitasenzoku, Ota-ku,

Tokyo 145-0062 Japan

https://www.seaandsea.co.jp/

https://www.seaandsea.com (strobes)

 

If you have contact information for other strobe makers, please post it.

 

A few strobe problem posts:

 

Future of strobes, ie, LED strobes?

http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=57922

 

Inon Z240 failure

http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=63870

Scarcity of Z330 strobes (still)?
http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=63801 Sea & Sea YS-D2 flash tube broken, common problem?http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=60161

My Story with YS-D2 Strobe
http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=63061 - entry400625

Inon Z330 misleading green light, and spirited discussion of what it takes for a strobe to flash
http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=63538 ==
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I agree with most of what you are saying, but I am quite sure that no strobe manufacturer would agree to supply repair or replacement parts to anyone other than an authorized repair facility. Strobes have big capacitors in them that can hurt you if you don't know what you are doing. Not as bad as some scientific gear based on capacitors (we had a nitrogen laser in our lab that had a label that said "touching the capacitors when charged will lead to death with a high degree of certainty) but still bad enough. I am pretty sure it would be tough to get insurance to cover that kind of risk. For me, when I have a failed strobe I send it to Devin at Pacific Housing, he can get parts and is considerably faster than either S&S or Inon.

 

Cheers

 

Bill

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The high voltage required to activate, then fire the xenon strobe generate a lot of heat, which tends to stress and ultimately damage the glass of the xenon tube. The tube's glass gets very hot in a fraction of a second, then cools down, both heat cycles stress the glass, one reason for strobe failures.

The capacitors have to generate pulses of 350V and over 500V, so they too are stressed and fail.

 

Replacing the capacitors and xenon tubes should be no great deal, discharging a capacitor is simple, the repair work is elemental, the parts are cheap. Sperm Whale makes a good point, as knowing how to proceed, how to avoid mistakes, plus access to the parts does take training.

 

But strobe repair is not available on an affordable basis. For example, I emailed Pacific Housing a few weeks ago about a non-working Inon D2000, they did not reply. Another dealer quoted me about 75-80% of the price of a new D200 strobe, as Inon only provides their dealers with a replacement of the entire strobe guts. My dead strobe just sits there, sending me bad vibes.

 

Us UW photographers are not getting a good deal, ultimately we may need a strobe with a different light source of lower voltage requirements.

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ultimately we may need a strobe with a different light source of lower voltage requirements.

 

You can't cheat physics. The fundamental requirement is to convert lots of energy into photons over a few milliseconds or less. Unless you go all old-school with magnesium/zirconium flash bulbs, your energy source will be electricity, and if you lower your driving voltage, you will need to proportionally increase current - that's really not a direction you'd want to go into. It doesn't matter if you're driving a gas discharge tube, or a LED array, or a jar full of magic pixie dust - physics stay physics.

As for replacing components, that's another balancing act. Sure, they can be designed with socket mounts rather than being soldered into board, and the housings themselves can be made easier to disassemble - but the former is considerably less reliable than soldering, which will increase the frequency of faults requiring repairs, while the latter will increase the frequency of floods, which will kill electronics beyond any possibility of repair. Besides, if you make high-voltage (or worse, high current) components easily accessible by users, someone will electrocute themselves in a fairly short order, and who is going to pick up the liability for that?

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Correct on the physics until a better light source is developed, but is a distraction that misses the point.

 

High voltages are part of electrical devices, such as televisions. Everybody who works with electricity knows how to handle voltages, low and high. Otherwise we would not live in an electrically powered world. To cry Wolf! about electrical hazards misses the real problems.

 

One strobe problem is reliability. Current strobes much too often are not reliable. For example, the YS-D1 and Chinese YS-D2 strobes were unreliable, with their multiple failures documented here in Wetpixel.

 

The other strobe problem is service, good repair service is mostly not available, or is unreasonably expensive.

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When underwater strobes are manufactured by the hundreds of millions, the way televisions are, you can expect the equivalent level of support infrastructure. So long as their sales are in the low thousands though, with maybe a handful of shops per continent doing service, prices will remain high.

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Posted (edited)

bvanant: "I send it to Devin at Pacific Housing".

 

Pacific Housing looks like an interesting solution. I would be interested in hearing about a failure you had and how much it cost to repair.

 

What type of lab do you work in?

Edited by davec13o2

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Ikelite strobes May be big and bulky with proprietary battery packs but they sure are reliable!

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Have also found Ikelite to be very reliable and rugged. Flash tubes never seem to wear out. And when an airline does drop and break an Ikelite flash, Ikelite has a fast, reliable and cheap repair service in the USA. Shipping may cost a bit depending on where you are but repair was very cost effective and viable even though I don't live in North America.

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As mentioned above, economics and (our) consumer choices have led to the current situation.

Inon consolidated a significant percentage of the market when they moved from selling in mostly Asia to worldwide. Yet, even the worldwide market for strobes is relatively small (there is very little competitive pressure for them to up Z330 production, hence the continued shortage in the US).

Sea @ Sea quality has definitely degraded (likely due to both passing of the company's day to day operations to the next generation and the choice to manufacture "off shore" - with less of a focus on quality inspections).

Meanwhile, Ikelite, which was built on "legendary service" has lost much of the US market to the smaller, cheaper strobes by the companies mentioned above.
(as a side note - I would have continued to buy Ike strobes even to this day if they had just made the transition to fiber optic 10 years ago. Their strobe are heavier for sure, but the quality is great, and they can take a beating. and their service is world class).

Retra stepped in as they spotted the market opportunity, produced a few strobes, then went back to the drawing board. (Hopefully they will be back, but will they ever get to volume?)

For those looking for better service options - I'll start by saying that I would love for such a think to exist, but drawing an analogy to consumer electronics - do you really expect your $600-$800 flat panel TV to get "serviced" if it breaks, or just replaced? (who pays for the replacement is dependent on when/where you bought it). Strobes are becoming no different than other consumer electronics.

Last - we are clearly in a world where we are the dinosaurs - those of us that shoot with SLRs, compact, and mirrorless cameras underwater represent a shrinking (or certainly not growing) global market. I do not expect the quality of our lighting systems to either get measurably better or measurably cheaper - the market doesn't dictate enough interest for that. Look at the innovation at the low end of this market - combination strobe/video lights, smaller strobes for compact cameras, etc. have dominated the newly released models for the last year+.

 

What I hope for is that as lighting tech advances, there remains a market for providing underwater strobes profitably for a number of companies. As the technology improves, hopefully the simplicity of the tech drives greater quality opportunities as well.

As an aside, I now have both my two teenage kids diving with cameras (one with a Sony, one with an Oly) - they love the opportunity it gives them to capture images from their own perspective (sometimes it resembles u/w Instagram, but hey - it's something...). They've both now won (small) local photo competitions with their underwater images, so it also helps them develop their sense of self at a time in their lives where they are trying to figure out what makes them unique.

For those that remember their economic theory, choice is supposed to drive to higher efficiency and lower cost, except in scarce markets, which is what we have here.

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I agree with oneyellowtang though in the last few years we have had two new entrants to the market the overall segment is small and the prospects not good

Right now there is a surge in demand for medium high underwater photography equipment but the long term prospect is a drop as in the last five years the entry device is no longer a camera but a gopro video recording device and therefore the market that has been growing strong is LED lights.

Unless those get to a point of being a full replacement for flashlights and I doubt it the strobe market remains a captive market and probably will consolidate further we need to see where the new entrants are in a few years and whats the impact on current market leaders offering

 

I also want to say that repairing devices in electronics is becoming rare and replacing the unit for high volume appliances is the norm passed the useful life

Nobody however expect a strobe to have a life but in general 10 years should be the absolute maximum for spare parts with 5-8 years the real useful life depending on use

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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This is a broken underwater strobe. I took it apart and found that there were only a few droplets in the housing. The droplets were salty. The potentiometer is seriously rusted, so the position of leakage is the knob to regulate power. Knobs turn potentiometers, but their axes are difficult to align. This will push the O-ring to one side, creating tiny gaps and slow leakage.

Sea water also causes an electrolytic capacitor to be dissolved.

 

post-70299-0-23289800-1556258758_thumb.jpgpost-70299-0-03751500-1556255499_thumb.jpgpost-70299-0-19049600-1556255495_thumb.jpgpost-70299-0-22237700-1556255492_thumb.jpgpost-70299-0-89437900-1556255487_thumb.jpgpost-70299-0-14443300-1556255484_thumb.jpg

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Posted (edited)

Echoing what ratfish stated above, I have had excellent service from Ikelite. Over the years, I've had to return both DS-51 and DS-125 strobes for various problems. Service is fast, price is reasonable and the cust. serv. is responsive. Using S&S D1s now without problems, but it sounds like I'm in the minority.

Edited by divengolf

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Correct on the physics until a better light source is developed, but is a distraction that misses the point.

 

High voltages are part of electrical devices, such as televisions. Everybody who works with electricity knows how to handle voltages, low and high. Otherwise we would not live in an electrically powered world. To cry Wolf! about electrical hazards misses the real problems.

 

One strobe problem is reliability. Current strobes much too often are not reliable. For example, the YS-D1 and Chinese YS-D2 strobes were unreliable, with their multiple failures documented here in Wetpixel.

 

The other strobe problem is service, good repair service is mostly not available, or is unreasonably expensive.

 

It is true that everybody who works with capacitors knows how to discharge them, it is the people who don't know but try anyway (there are lots of them) that will get hurt. I think the issues are more complex than you are thinking about. Reliability is tough to gauge and the reporting is extremely biased since you only complain if your strobe breaks. I am currently using 3 Inon Z240 strobes that are more than 8 years old with about 200 dives per year on them meaning something like 20K flashes on them. The tubes are a bit discolored but their output measured with a good flash meter is still 90% as much as new. I also have a couple of 4 to 5 year old YS-D1s that are working fine (except they needed firmware updates). And yes I am very aware that the plural of anecdote is not data but in our lab xenon flash tubes have run hundreds of thousands of flashes with no issues. Getting stuff that is made in very low volume is always expensive to service, in the studio a Bowen flash head would cost 40% of its new value to get fixed (but you could replace a flash tube yourself. If you want super reliability get a housing for your land strobe, and then you know you will have a strobe that is labelled for at least 100K flashes. Or you could go into business yourself fixing strobes if you think the profit margins that the strobe repair guys have is lucrative.

 

Housed land strobes are still around (they are a bit big) and work well but I think the real problem is that underwater guys always think smaller is better and smaller sells so a lot of electronics gets put into very small cases and those need to be waterproof.

 

I have had Ike strobes but my big issue with them is the proprietary battery and charger. Everyone knows that Ike service is good because everyone has had to send their strobes back more than once.

 

Cheers

 

Bill

 

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I set aside my Ikelite 161's and starting using Inon 330's about a year ago. I've been happy and not had issues with the inon's so far.

 

However I used the DS-125's and 161's for over 15 years with never a problem or a single defect. l finally smooshed the reflector on one of the 161's (but it never leaked or failed!) and the Ikelite service was Excellent. Reasonable cost with fast turn around. Same with service to their housings, it's great.

 

This discussion is making me think twice about selling the Ikelite 161's (for sale now on the classified forum). Maybe I should keep them in reserve for backup? They sure are trustworthy.

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The proprietary battery pack of ikelite and seacam is based on standard NiMH packs that are not low self discharge so after 2 years will be dead

 

Why would you send a whole strobe for service? I never serviced anything unless there is a problem

If an item is needing service systematically I would read that as revenue generation

 

I spent $150 to get an LM light serviced all was done was to change an oring and battery I ralised later I could have done it for $30 myself

Still is great to have a product that has now made 7 years for a video light no complaints

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I have 5 Ikelite DS 160s at the moment and all of them have done many hundreds of dives. One has a battery pack that is over 10 years old and done over 800 dives (so over 80 000 flashes) and and is still going strong. According to a friend who has done it, the cells in the pack are apparently fairly standard and easy to replace if necessary. I guess if one of my battery packs failed I would just repair them myself rather than shipping it back to Ikelite, but I like to service most of my own camera and dive gear. The weight of the pack can also make shipping quite expensive.

 

In the past, with other flash units, I have had repairs done by electricians and electrical engineers, but as noted above this seems to be harder to arrange. This is a shame as throwing away a complete flash because a part worth less than a dollar seems very wasteful to me. The disposable nature of mass consumer electronics is easy to understand from an economic perspective. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that total life time dives of enthusiastic divers average around 300 dives (would be interested to know if that is reasonable - seems low and I have done many more than that in just the last 3 years). So I guess most dive and underwater photo gear really does not have to do too many dives to keep the average consumer happy. Manaufacturers of specialist underwater gear that is robust, long-lasting and can be economically repaired, such as Ikelite and Shearwater, provide an interesting alternative that I like to support with my $.

Edited by ratfish

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I have 5 Ikelite DS 160s at the moment and all of them have done many hundreds of dives. One has a battery pack that is over 10 years old and done over 800 dives (so over 80 000 flashes) and and is still going strong. According to a friend who has done it, the cells in the pack are apparently fairly standard and easy to replace if necessary. I guess if one of my battery packs failed I would just repair them myself rather than shipping it back to Ikelite, but I like to service most of my own camera and dive gear. The weight of the pack can also make shipping quite expensive.

 

In the past, with other flash units, I have had repairs done by electricians and electrical engineers, but as noted above this seems to be harder to arrange. This is a shame as throwing away a complete flash because a part worth less than a dollar seems very wasteful to me. The disposable nature of mass consumer electronics is easy to understand from an economic perspective. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that total life time dives of enthusiastic divers average around 300 dives (would be interested to know if that is reasonable - seems low and I have done many more than that in just the last 3 years). So I guess most dive and underwater photo gear really does not have to do too many dives to keep the average consumer happy. Manaufacturers of specialist underwater gear that is robust, long-lasting and can be economically repaired, such as Ikelite and Shearwater, provide an interesting alternative that I like to support with my $.

How much have you spent so far servicing your strobe over the lifetime of a unit?

 

 

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This is a broken underwater strobe. I took it apart and found that there were only a few droplets in the housing. The droplets were salty. The potentiometer is seriously rusted, so the position of leakage is the knob to regulate power. Knobs turn potentiometers, but their axes are difficult to align. This will push the O-ring to one side, creating tiny gaps and slow leakage.

Sea water also causes an electrolytic capacitor to be dissolved.

 

Curious where you able to get a new potentiometer and fix this?

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Posted (edited)

Hi Interceptor - It has been a while but if I remember correctly, for the one flash I have had repaired it ended up costing me around $60 in shipping and the repair was free. Others I know who have had repairs done by Ikelite (housing/flash) have also had good experiences, with fast repairs and low cost.

Edited by ratfish

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Curious where you able to get a new potentiometer and fix this?

Hi !

 

I don't think that the potentiometer is not broken, it just rusts the surface. I didn't continue to fix the flash because I saw that an electrolytic capacitor on the board had been corroded by seawater to leave only a little bit, so it is inferred that there are many electronic parts that are also affected by seawater, if I need to fix it. Spend a lot of time and look for problems one by one. If you know exactly which part is broken, then this fix is ​​easy and worthwhile. If the potentiometer is broken and you can't find a potentiometer with the same shape, I can find the same carbon film inside from other potentiometer , just replace the carbon film.

 

I don't think that the potentiometer is not broken, it just rusts the surface. I didn't continue to fix the flash because I saw that an electrolytic capacitor on the board had been corroded by seawater to leave only a little bit, so it is inferred that there are many electronic parts that are also affected by seawater, if I need to fix it. Spend a lot of time and look for problems one by one. If you know exactly which part is broken, then this fix is ​​easy and worthwhile. If the potentiometer is broken and you can't find a potentiometer with the same shape, you can find the same carbon film inside, just replace the carbon film.

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I have two frustrations with my Sea & Sea strobes. First, although the battery compartment is well sealed, when a cap o-ring does leak and the compartment fills with acid from the batteries melting down in salt water, it corrodes all the contacts. Cap, $59 last time I needed one plus cleaning out the contacts inside the base with vinegar and flushing with alcohol. When the contacts and wires continue to deteriorate, $150 to open the body and replace the contacts. Both of the strobes that I've done this to have failed shortly thereafter. Loved my YS-110's. Nice soft light, really nice ttl (when it worked) with my D300. When they failed-sorry, they don't make the printed circuit board any more. It's a paperweight. This is the dilemma of modern electronics. We are dependent on PCB's that sell for more than the the complete product, so nothing is fixable. When a transistor fails, throw the whole thing away. Anyone need a used dryer or microwave? The part is $500. The warranty is $300. The new product is $700. Make them simpler, easier to repair and make parts available for at least the expected life of the product, please. I suspect that 90% of the failures in strobes are similar, within a model range. Make the part that fails more accessible and available.

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@Larry C, I think that you may have hit the nail on the head, without knowing it.... If the PCB costs more than the strobe, its likely because theres just no demand for the PCB - at least in the eyes of the strobe marketer.... Think about it from the PCB vendors standpoint - the strobe marketer (I use that term because its likely that they very little of the actual production) has been told by the PCB supplier what the expected failure rate should be... Armed with that information, the strobe marketers financial department looks at the cost of purchasing a reserve quantity of PCBs vs. the profit to be gained from non-warranty sales... Im guessing that it makes absolutely no economic sense to provide the PCBs as replacement parts.... I used to work in the motorcycle industry and we would regularly get complaints for end users the would lose and/or alter some seemingly inconsequential bit of a larger system (e.g. the plunger rod that goes between the front brake lever and the master cylinder. Under normal use conditions, the failure rate on that particular piece was less than 0.001%.... If the component did fail, during the warranty period, we would just replace the entire front brake master cylinder, because that was cheaper than ordering and warehousing parts that we knew we had no chance of selling before all of the potential profit was eaten up by logistical costs...

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I think we need to understand that the manufacturers have to make money and currently they way to do so is to sell you a new product. To give an example in the appliance market (Fridges, washing machines etc) typically you hold stock for spare parts for 10 years from the moment the product is not made anymore.

Some appliances like fridge, cookers last in excess of 15 years and as models are released and phased out faster and faster the most economical way to fix your old product gone wrong is to buy a new one.

This is driven by two considerations:

1. Repair costs are very high this is due to the fact that you need labour and that the spare part has to fund all the obsolete inventory you are keeping so they are sold at premium

2. As product become more integrated with electronics is harder to pull them apart and actually fix them

 

I am not sure what is the life span of a strobe but I am pretty confident that in average is well above 5 years. If I look at my Inon Z240 that became obsolete last year I am expecting them to be serviceable until 2028 however I am unsure if once they break it will be cost effective to repair them instead of buying new units

 

Having said that when a product is actually current being made and in support I would expect a manufacturer to be able to perform an out of warranty repair and I am pretty sure the cost would be exorbitant however the option has to be offered

 

In terms of users fixing their own devices this is entirely possible and it is already happening at least for cosmetic parts in the appliance industry. The consumer gets sent a spare part and instructions on how to fix it. It is also possible to give access to technical drawing and documentation and users can try and fix things themselves.

 

When it comes to underwater strobes I see no reason why the technical diagrams should not be made available to service partners however we need to be mindful that is so not cost effective for those guys to repair anything that they frequently send them back to the manufacturer anyway and that due to competitive reasons the manufacturers may not want to divulge their technical documentation

 

So unless there is a concept of 'open source' for strobes technical design I think repair in the field is not a real possibility

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Recently, when my strobes and those of friends have failed and been taken for service, the dealer could not repair the strobe. As an amateur, I examined a few of these strobes and found trivial defects such as dirty or broken battery contacts, these strobes are now fully functional. In other words, many strobe failures are easy to fix, and other failures, such as burned out xenon tubes, bulbs and capacitors, can be repaired given parts and training. There is no reason for the manufacturers not to make excess circuit boards and store them for later repairs. Repair manuals and training should be part of strobe marketing.

 

As I see no effort by manufacturers or dealers to provide quality repair information or services, it seems that the apparent policy of some manufacturers and dealers is to sell new strobes, some of dubious quality, to maximize profit, and to treat us the underwater photographers as cash cows.

 

Victim talk and a passive attitude that justifies expensive strobes with no repairs, services or parts just worsens matters.

 

We need to be knowledgeable, aggressive and state clearly what we want:

 

Reliable, affordable strobes that can be repaired for a reasonable cost.

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