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Help Picking Strobes


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I’m building my first underwater camera system around a Canon 5DmIV in a Nauticam housing. I’ve done a lot of research but lack the real-world experience needed to pick the right strobe for my style, and I know how critical good lighting is from my land photography. I had planned to use something like two Inon 240’s since many of the people I talked to who shoot the way I'd like to, use the 240's. However, reviews suggested the Inon z330 is a much better strobe but it's not made anymore and hard to find so I’m trying to figure out what will work best for my use cases:

 

Three scenarios I plan to shoot (none involve macro):

1) Snorkeling/shallow diving of freshwater fish in rivers and ponds, expect subjects to be less ~5 ft away

2) Holding the camera underwater off the side of a boat while fish are being reeled in or released. Fish such as tuna might be up to 20ft away.

3) Camera placed in river on tripod and triggered from the shore

 

Other Considerations:

-strobe must be triggered by fiber optics (only open ports on my housing)

-Ideally looking to pick up two used strobes for ~<$1000

-Since I’ll be snorkeling much of the time, a smaller/more maneuverable strobe is better

-Any strobes that can sit in standby for a long time would be a big plus

 

Wondering if I should hold out for a deal on a couple of Inon z330’s or maybe look at the older 240’s. Inon has the new Inon S-220’s which are also an option. There are many other companies to consider such as Ikelite, sea and Sea, etc, but not sure what will work best for me. Have heard good things about the YS-D3's which come up ocasionally. Retra flashes never seem to make it to the used market. Also read that you can’t compare guide numbers from one strobe manufacturer to another so having a hard time understanding all the options and would apprecaite any advice. I'm looking to pick something up in the next two months so don't need an immediate solution.

 

Edited by brightnight
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Sounds like you're going to be shooting right at or near the surface. In those circumstances, I think you can skip strobes altogether, as you will have very little water filtering sunlight and mucking up the color balance.

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I agree. Also bear in mind that any strobe is not going to light any subject more than 6ft away - the light has to travel there and back (12ft) and so much of the output will get absorbed/scattered. in cases where tuna are 20ft away, the shots will lack contrast and colour, and there's nothing you can do about that.... hence the old saying "Get close. Then get closer."   Try without first, then invest if you decide you really need it.  

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Yeah, I wouldn't try to light stuff up with strobes past maybe three meters or so, and that's at a reasonable depth to occlude natural sunlight. Example, taken at ~15 meters depth, shooting Retra Pro strobes at full power, camera was set to f/11, 1/50s, ISO 400, the rock was about two meters tall to give you an idea of the scale of the shot.

 

image.jpeg

 

You can see where the strobe light falls off and stuff starts getting green.

 

In shallow water, you get much more sunlight, and since the strobes' job is to overpower the natural light, their effective range drops significantly - you have to shoot at very small apertures and low ISO values, and this correspondingly cuts into the strobe output as well. For example, this jellyfish drifted across me at safety stop (~5 meters) and I had to stop down to f/22, 1/160s, ISO 200 (probably a mistake; I should've used ISO 100) and crank up the strobe power:

 

image.jpeg

 

At a more open aperture and lower strobe power, it ended up looking completely washed out.

 

In order to light stuff up with strobes right below the surface, you'll have occlude as much of natural light as you can, crank up strobe power, and get right up close to the subject. Forget twenty feet; a single foot is probably the limit there, maybe two feet.

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Hey @brightnight - congrats on building your first rig!  You will be able to do a lot with the 5D4 for sure.

 

I agree with the terrific info shared by others.  The various scenarios and distances are spot on.  IMO you made the right decision to try and get the Z-330s (type 2, the most current).  For the money, I have found Inon to be the most dependable choice with best coverage overall.  If you don’t get the Z-330s, the Z-240 (type 4) would be a next choice.  I would not suggest the S220s as they are a smaller light head.  Personally I’m not a fan of Sea and Sea due to dependability issues over time.  
 

A tip for the Inon strobes: Don’t over tighten the battery cap.  Excess tightening can cause the cap to crack. 
 

Best of luck and enjoy! 
 

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Thanks for the tips, unfortuantely the 330's sold before I could get them. I keep wondering when Inon will release a replacement but none on their distributors are aware of any releases so might end up looking at the Inon 240 V4. Thanks again!

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I wouldn't bother with Z-240s; not nearly enough power for what you're looking for. Maybe look at well-used YS-250s, or the new SUPE D-Pro. Yes, they're huge, and this runs counter to your requirement for compact size, but all your other requirements pretty much scream MORE POWER, so you'll have to compromise somewhere.

 

For the reference, here's a YS-250 sitting on a table next to my Retra Pro, which has a supercharger in the back and a reduction ring with a reflector in the front. The bare strobe is just the part that is covered by the neoprene jacket. Inon Z-330s are sized similar to that.

 

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5 hours ago, brightnight said:

Thanks for the tips, unfortuantely the 330's sold before I could get them. I keep wondering when Inon will release a replacement but none on their distributors are aware of any releases so might end up looking at the Inon 240 V4. Thanks again!


Bummer about missing them.  Inon not announcing if/when they will make the next series is a let down.  There seems to be a lot of chatter about people upgrading to the new Retras.  As a result I would not be surprised if more 330s don’t pop up, but they will go fast.  Perhaps post a WTB notice on all the sites for the 330s to see if anyone responds.  That would at least get you to the top of the buyer list. 
 

Until then you can def do some nice natural light work in the conditions you described. 

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Thank you I really appreciate all the advice! I posted a month or so ago looking for Z330's but would be a good idea to post again. I "bought" one on the classifieds but someone had their account hacked and it was a scam. Thankfully despite what the hacked account asked for, I paid with paypal goods and services and was able to get my money back after a long dispute with Paypal. I have the classifieds bookmarked and check 2-3 times a day, the flashes on Scuba board ended up going to someone local but I still have a couple months for something to pop up.

 

I'm also aware that I might be asking too much from what I want in a strobe. It seems like when somone gets into a new hobby they naively want one thing that can do it all. Cheap, small, powerfull, etc, and usually you can't have it all. I recognize that I might need two different types of strobes, one for snorkeling that are compact and don't have tons of power and another larger higher power set but trying to find the best of everything including cost at the moment : )

 

 

 

Edited by brightnight
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On 2/4/2024 at 4:37 PM, brightnight said:

I'm also aware that I might be asking too much from what I want in a strobe. It seems like when somone gets into a new hobby they naively want one thing that can do it all. Cheap, small, powerfull, etc, and usually you can't have it all.

I think we all hear you right there! Lots of other discussions steer towards getting the best you can afford, and growing your rig with your strobes (as you can future proof your strobes better).  If you're new to it all underwater, I'd suggest get to grips with ambient first (especially if snorkelling) and see if you can borrow from a friend to test.  That way you will get to see the challenges first hand (positioning to avoid backscatter, increased drag, etc) before you shell out your hard-earned greenbacks... 

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On 2/4/2024 at 10:37 AM, brightnight said:

Thank you I really appreciate all the advice! I posted a month or so ago looking for Z330's but would be a good idea to post again. I "bought" one on the classifieds but someone had their account hacked and it was a scam. Thankfully despite what the hacked account asked for, I paid with paypal goods and services and was able to get my money back after a long dispute with Paypal. I have the classifieds bookmarked and check 2-3 times a day, the flashes on Scuba board ended up going to someone local but I still have a couple months for something to pop up.

 

I'm also aware that I might be asking too much from what I want in a strobe. It seems like when somone gets into a new hobby they naively want one thing that can do it all. Cheap, small, powerfull, etc, and usually you can't have it all. I recognize that I might need two different types of strobes, one for snorkeling that are compact and don't have tons of power and another larger higher power set but trying to find the best of everything including cost at the moment : )

 

 

 

Was the scam from someone posting on the classifieds forum here?  If so please report it to us.  

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1 hour ago, Chris Ross said:

Was the scam from someone posting on the classifieds forum here?  If so please report it to us.  

 

Nope, thanks for checking. Long time member on Scuba Board had their account hacked. Person that impersonated them listed a single Z330 for an amazing price which was a red flag. He asked me and another person interested to pay paypal friends and family, we both refused but sent money for goods and services. Were able to get our money back. User who's account was hacked was on top of their game and had their account back under control in 2 hours which is an amazing feat and posted about it to warn us. He also wrote a statement that greatly helped my Paypal case.

Edited by brightnight
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On 2/9/2024 at 6:47 PM, Mark Don said:

The other option is a pair of Sea & Sea YS-D3 II Lightning Underwater Strobe. Previous Chinese made versions had some issues but the new generation are supposed to be better. 

To add to this, yes, I own a pair, and I like them. Fast recycle time, and they are positively buoyant with the batteries in (in salt water) which might slightly affect  how much extra buoyancy is needed to keep your rig neutrally buoyant (which is arguably more important when snorkelling  than diving).  The output colour temp is different, too, which is worth knowing about in advance.   

They are powerful, but still suffer from the distance limitations.  On reliability, I had one misbehave, which Sea & Sea replaced for free, even though it was out of warranty.  But there are others who have had much more unfortunate experiences, which a quick trawl of another forum will reveal. I treat mine carefully, but then that is my approach to all my gear - it's just too expensive a hobby to be frivolous with.  

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A bit outside your $1000 budget, but I am selling a pair of used Retra Pro strobes in the classified forum here.

 

Also, I have (1) Supe D-Max that's never been in water for sale. ($500 for that one)

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14 hours ago, DreiFish said:

A bit outside your $1000 budget, but I am selling a pair of used Retra Pro strobes in the classified forum here.

 

Also, I have (1) Supe D-Max that's never been in water for sale. ($500 for that one)

 

 

I was eyeing those 🙂 but yeah, a bit outside my budget and didn't want to low ball you. They look like they are in great shape and I hear great things about them.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I have a pair of first generation Sea&Sea YS-D3 Lightning strobes. I know people don't generally like them but I've never really had any issues, though I don't use TTL at all.

 

I don't like the light as much as the Retra strobes I have seen/borrowed, but I got them for a good deal locally here. I also mostly shoot macro here in PH so use my Backscatter strobes more often just because they are easier to maneuver and I like the snoot.

 

If I go on a big wide angle trip I may sell these and upgrade to Retras or maybe the new Marelux strobes if they get good reviews.

Edited by Whiskeyjack
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