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Monterey

OK, need new strobes...

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A little background....

I have been doing UW photography for...well...a long time. My first camera was my Dad's Nikonos II with a flashbulb strobe (no kidding!)

The first system I bought was a Nikonos V and two Sea & Sea YS-120 strobes, back in the 1990s. Pre-digital (!), top of the line, at its time.
I loved those strobes. Simple, rugged and totally reliable. They used 8 AA batteries each. They had plenty of 'wallop' for wide angle shots and you could turn them down to 1/2 power and put on a diffuser for macro. I normally ran NiCad rechargeables, but if push came to shove I could go the local store (anywhere in the world) and buy batteries if I needed to. I shot thousands of frames with those strobes. I went from a Nik-V to a Olympus 4040 to a Nikon D70 to a Nikon D300...but always dragged my YS-120s along.

Fast forward to about 2006. My luggage was stolen in Honduras and I lost my strobes. By then the YS-120 was discontinued and the current "pro" model was the YS-250, so that's what I went with.

I unpacked the box I received and the first thing that came to mind was..."Damn, these things are big!"

After setting them up, the next thing that came to mind was..."Damn, these things are heavy!" I could drop 5 pounds off my weightbelt.

When I took them out in the ocean and pulled the trigger for the first time I had to pause a minute or two to let the afterminage on my retina fade a bit before thinking, "Damn, these things have a lot of power!" and cranking my camera down to f/32.

These strobes have a lot of 'wallop', in fact, much more than I needed. Need to shoot a wide-angle of the Queen Mary, bow to stern? Use the 250's. They'll do the job. I never worried about a charging Great White. Fire one frame and the poor fish would be blinded for life. Or at least stunned long enough for me to make an escape.

One thing I love about the 250's is that they have a "dial-a-power" knob and you can turn them down to nothing if you need to. Thank the gods for that because I never ran them above 1/2 power and do most of my shooting at 1/4 power.

So this leads me to my current dilemma: I am sick and tired of hauling these big, heavy things across the globe.

Sea & Sea discontinued the 250s, and I can see why: too big, heavy, over-powered and expensive for most use. I really like Sea & Sea products but even I am tired of those strobes.

So what's the alternative?

Please note: I like to shoot macro AND wide angle. The 2 and 4 AA cell strobes I have seen in the past do not seem to have enough power for wide angle. But I have not shopped around for strobes in a long time so maybe that's changed...?

I don't shoot video, just stills. Aiming lights are nice but I rarely use them. I don't need or use TTL; I shoot everything manual.

What's a good strobe these days that can shoot wide-angle and can be dialed down for macro?

--clark

Edited by Monterey
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Two thoughts, clark:

The Inon Z330: the successor to the hugely popular for WP users, the Z240. Works off 4x AA battery, highly reliable, good for both macro and wide-angle although not THAT powerful for WA to, say, light the whole scene. Not Queen Mary light up! Travel-friendly. TTL-able. Compact. I had either the Z220 or Z240 for more than 10 years (with Nikon D300, D800 and now D500) and thought they were brilliant and would recommend them highly....

Then:

The new Retras: Pro or Prime. They look identical but the Prime (which I've got) is less powerful. Could win design awards for their styling and function. Relatively new to market, 4x AA batteries although Retra have a "supercharger" that allows 8x AA batteries. Quick recycle, TTL-able, Retra have designed various light shapers to go with them (snoot, cone, macro reducers). High Speed Sync capability (I've used them syncing up to 1/1000 of a second). Excellent customer service, firmware upgradeable by Bluetooth. More expensive than the Inons but you can most certainly see and feel the quality difference. Alex Mustard has done a review of them here on WP. Slightly bigger, slightly heavier than the Inons but only just. Still compact and travel friendly.

I've had my Retras now since February and rate them very highly. Well worth checking out.

Hope that helps.

 

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39 minutes ago, TimG said:

> Hope that helps.

It does! Thanks for the info.

 

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I would urge caution about going down the Sea & Sea route despite your previous experiences. There are plenty of threads on here about the poor reliability of their more modern models and extremely poor and slow customer support. I go along with Tim's view of Inon but have no experience of Retra

 

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I've only got experience with one strobe - the YS-D1.   Bought two of them in 2015 and used them until my last dives last year.   300+ dives, and a lot of macro shots with a 105vr at F16-F40.

On my last dive trip one strobe started shooting intermittently, then failed completely to fire.    Shot the bulk of the trip with a single strobe.

When I got home I bought two used Y1-D1's to replace the bad one.  Figured if one failed, a second one may soon follow so now I have a spare to pack.  (Oh joy, my suitcase was so underloaded to start with...)

And then of course Covid-19, and I haven't been diving since, and I've not even tested the replacements yet.  Sigh.

These strobes are well known, as are the problems with the YS-D2 replacements.  (Better choice is to get YS-D2j, which were made in Japan.)

As for power, they have a lot.  I don't think many strobes have more.

As for wide angle, I assume they are like other strobes in that you need to attached a diffuser to cover wide angle.  The strobes came with a 100 and a 120mm diffuser.   They definitely work.  Without them, there is no narrow/wide adjustment to the beam itself.

I've been looking at the Retras for a long time now, certainly much longer than they have actually been on sale.   I'm somewhat put off by the high price, but then all the powerful strobes are high-priced.

Incidentally, other than the strobe failing, the only complaint I've had about the YS-D1's is the battery compartment.  If you look at a D1 and then a D2 there, you'll see that S&S addressed my issue by putting in battery separators.   When loading batteries into a strobe, especially on a rocking boat, it's easy for one to slide out of space a bit and block the other batteries from fitting.   Not a big deal, but an annoyance that comes up a lot for me.

I've used the YS-D1's with an RX100 II, a D810 and a D850.   Worked fine with all.

CJ

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I have an Ikelite AI substrobe 100watts of power   1/2 power and full power covers a 15mm lens In good condition. This strobe is from film days so its quite powerful. I use full power beyond 3 foot and 1/2 power closer. I use this with my aquatica housing and my digital camera in full manual modes.  $100usd plus shipping Color temperature of strobe is 4800 kelvin so it brings out the yellows and reds. To see samples of this strobe my website is reefscenics.smugmug.com

 

Nikonos sb105 are also from film days and are good but a little temperamental. I have two of these and both are temperamental . The sea and sea product seem to flood quite a lot. 

Edited by saga7

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I still have 3 sea&sea YS120 in working condition. They are absolutely reliable, but those 8 batteries each one were excesive. After those ones I bought a couple of Inon Z240. Very reliables but poor power for wide-angle. A also had a couple of Hartenberger 250, very powerfull but too big and heavy. Afer that I had a couple of Sea&Sea D2, good for macro, a little bit poor for wide-angle and a quality of light not good enought. Lots of problems with them with broken lamps, it doesn't matter if were the chinese ones or the japanese ones (my dive partner had two of them) and he had the same troubles. Now I have two Subtronic pro160 fusion. Power enought for wide-angle, in shallow water against the sun, selector with lots of different powers, and integrated light of 2000 lumen for video. The quality of the light is very impressive, smooth I would say. But you need dedicated batteries. There is a cheaper version, the pro160 (a bit more expensive than a Z330) which have no light for video.

Another of my dive partners have recently  bought the news Retra Pro, he had the Subtronic pro160 before. In his opinion the Retra's are slightly more powerfull than the subtronic althought they declare 10 watts/sec less, the quality of the light is superbe and the front connection for accesories is very useful, but if you want the full power you'll have to buy the adapter and carry 8 AA batteries per strobe again, plus the spares. But the most impressive is the possibility of make HSS when shooting with the special trigger and optical fiber cords. That means than you will have power enought to shoot bursts against the light even in shallow water. In my opinion is the revolution of the uw photography. The problem is that if you want all the features you will have to pay for it, over 3000 euros for the couple.

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You won't go wrong with either INON or Retra, a couple of things to note Retra are optically triggered only, INON can do sync cable or optical.   You can buy an electric to optical converter but it's another thing to buy, setup, maintain and possibly break.  Depending on which camera you use an optical trigger may be required.  The Retras are 4900K, INON a little cooler at 5500K.  The supercharger accessory for the Retra gives you faster recycle and more flashes per load - I believe you can get full power with 4 AA just longer recycle if using full power and less flashes.

 

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Wow, thanks for all the replies. Very helpful! I didn't know Sea & Sea was doing its manufacturing in China.

Edited by Monterey
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35 minutes ago, Monterey said:

Wow, thanks for all the replies. Very helpful! I didn't know Sea & Sea was doing its manufacturing in China.

Yeah, but then, in some ways, so what, right? So does Apple for iPhones and there's nothing wrong with them!

Just seen Nikon are closing down their Japan plant and shifting production solely to Thailand. Signs of the times.

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Companies like Nauticam and DJI attest to the high quality design and manufacturing in China these days.

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8 hours ago, TimG said:

Yeah, but then, in some ways, so what, right? So does Apple for iPhones and there's nothing wrong with them!

Just seen Nikon are closing down their Japan plant and shifting production solely to Thailand. Signs of the times.

Well in the context of what we are talking about S&S Chinese made strobes were a problem and they switched back to Japanese manufacture.  You can get very good stuff made in China and mass produced junk and working out which is which can be a problem at times.  Like anything else imposing QC standards on the facility is what is required. 

Interesting I just saw a post that DJI has been blacklisted by the US.

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The US blacklisted DJI allegedly for security concerns, similar to the claims about Huawei.  No clues have been made public that I know of.  (Full disclosure: I regularly deal with all levels of government and its agencies in the PRC as part of my job, though not security related, so follow developments there closely).  With the current administration who knows if those concerns are well grounded or based on a paranoid neocon fever dream?   Let’s see what happens after January 20th.  

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I have a sea sea  YSd1 and two YSD2J. no issues at all. the YSd1 is quite old now. 

 

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1 hour ago, andywillett said:

I have a sea sea  YSd1 and two YSD2J. no issues at all. the YSd1 is quite old now. 

 

Sounds like you may be one of the lucky ones, Andy!

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On 3/5/2021 at 4:14 PM, TimG said:

Sounds like you may be one of the lucky ones, Andy!

2x YS D2J, a hundred dives so far with each and no issues :-)

i just hope this post won't jinx them... :crazy:

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4 hours ago, waterpixel said:

2x YS D2J, a hundred dives so far with each and no issues :-)

i just hope this post won't jinx them... :crazy:

Hehehehe... yeah, really!

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12 hours ago, waterpixel said:

2x YS D2J, a hundred dives so far with each and no issues :-)

i just hope this post won't jinx them... :crazy:

Knock on wood!  While there's no doubt many people use S&S strobes without issue, they no doubt seem to have a higher rate of issues with them compared to other strobes, based on issues people are reporting with them on this forum.

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Most of the underwater photography I do is wide angle, with macro (primarily blackwater) as a secondary. The last model Sea & Sea strobes I worked with were the YS-250s. Yes, they were heavy, but great powerhouses. When I retired them, I went briefly with the original Retra’s before jumping to the new Inon Z-330’s. The Z-330’s are decent strobes but have a bit of lack luster when it comes wide angle lighting. When Retra finely released their new Prime and Pro model strobes, I jumped on the Prime models as their specs indicated that they had all that I actually required for wide angle work. 

 

You can read about my findings with the Retra Primes here - https://underwaterjournal.com/2020/11/16/retra-prime-underwater-strobe/

 

My only complaint with them is battery life for getting past a two-tank dive. Some boat trips I do off Palm Beach Florida involve a three-tank excursion. I have since then augmented them with the power packs, which up the AA battery count from 4 to 8 ensuring I have enough power for the whole day. 

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