The Best Underwater Strobes
Underwater strobes are the key for getting poper lighting and color in underwater images. When you try taking photos underwater without a strobe, they look washed-out and blue. Light and color loss starts just a few feet underwater due to a natural phenomenon called light attenuation. Underwater strobes add white light back into your image, and bring out the true colors of your subjects - allowing your photos to pop. In fact, almost every underwater photographer shoots with a strobe to illuminate the astounding rainbow of subjects beneath the seas. Pick an underwater strobe based on your style of photography looking at important features such as power (listed as Guide Number), beam angle, and recycle speed. If you typically shoot wide angle underwater photography, then you might want to look at more powerful strobes with wider beams. Macro photographers can get by with less powerful strobes. If you shoot quick subjects that move fast, then look for a strobe with a quick recycle time, like the Sea & Sea YS-D3 lightning or the Ikelite DS 160. Remember to think about other options and accessories such as diffiusers, strobe size/weight and the type of batteries required. Some strobes are compatible with TTL or TTL converters and some are not. TTL allows you to shoot "automatically" with your strobes, and allows your strobes to "choose" the correct power output for your scene. Some TTL works better than others, so it's important to know your option. To learn more about strobe triggering options, read this guide on how to fire your strobes underwater.
This guide will help you pick the best option the first time so you can avoid the headache and cost of outgrowing a strobe or needing to upgrade when you buy a new camera!
BEST UNDERWATER STROBES FOR PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY:
*Lightning-Fast Recycle Time, Newly Designed Circuitry, Cool Accessories*
The Sea & Sea YS-D3 "Lightning" is one of the world's best strobes for underwater photography. The "Lightning" in its name is well deserved. The YS-D3 is one of the fastest strobes on the market. At half power, it has a recylce time of a mere 0.6 seconds and below a quarter power, here is virtually no recycle time! It has lots on improvements from its predecessor, the YS-D2J. This strobe has a high power, professional-grade beam with a max guide number of 33 (on land). The flash tube features an aspherical troidal lens which produces even light dispersion. The strobe is slightly cooler than the YS-D2J, with a nice color temp of 5800K. The YS-D3 has a wide variety of native accessories from snoots to slave prisms. We recommend the YS-D3 as a future proof strobe that is especially effective for photographers shooting quick subjects.
*Powerful, Affordable, and Easy to Use*
Until the release of the YS-D3, the Sea & Sea YS-D2J has been the go-to strobe model for many underwater photographers. While it's recylce time is slower than the YS-D3 as lower powers, it outputs roughly the same power at its highest power. Now that this strobe is on sale at Bluewater, it makes an excellent affordable option for underwater photographers that need professional quality at a bargain price.
*Powerful with Unique Dome Design*
The Inon Z-330 is Inon's flagship strobe, replacing the popular Z-240. This strobe features quality specs with high power, fast recycle time and improved larger controls for easier ergonomics. The Z330 has a front dome to help achieve a wider beam angle without a diffuser, and a shade allowing you to block off part of the beam angle to help eliminate flare in camera domes or backscatter in some shooting situations.
*Fastest Burst Recycle Speed with Soft, Wide Light Output*
The largest of the high end strobes, the Ikelite DS-160 is a real powerhouse. With this strobe you trade size for power and functionality. The added bulk is well worth it as much of the size is due to the high powered rechargeable NiMh battery. This strobe has a larger buffer allowing for more rapid firing before the strobe needs to fully recycle. The round flash tube produces a quality round beam of soft light. This strobe is a favorite among pros shooting fast moving animals due to its recycle speed. We love the DS-160 for its amazingly accurate exposures using TTL when combined with Ikelite TTL converters. We've dived with this strobe on TTL and didn't touch the power controls for a full dive trip!
*The Most Powerful Strobe on the Market....Hands Down*
With lighting being arguably the most important aspect of underwater photogrpahy, the Isotta RED64 strobe is one of the world's top tools of the trade. It is currently the most powerful underwater strobe on the market with a guide number 64 - which is twice the power of many popular strobes like the Sea & Sea YS-D2 J and Inon Z330. It also features a wide, 130 degree beam angle, a color temperature of 5300K, a guide number of 22 underwater, red and white focus lights, AA battery compatibility, neutral underwater buoyancy, and a double o-ring system. This strobe has been delayed due to coronavirus, but there are options on the market for Nikon users, so contact us to learn more.
BEST UNDERWATER STROBES FOR MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY AND PHOTOGRAPHERS ON A BUDGET:
There are a lot of great strobe options out there for photographers on a budget. However, this is a quick word of warning. Underwater lighting is the most important aspect of underwater photography. We recommend spending as much of your investment as possible in underwater lighting systems. It is better to budget a housing, lens, or camera rather than underwater lighting. If you purchase any of the "professional" grade strobes above, then you will be able to keep your kit "future-proof" and bring your strobes along to any upgrade. Budget strobes tend to be great for compact and macro shooters, but they can be more difficult to move to your next system if you choose to upgrade.
*Ultra Compact, Great for Compact Shooters*
The Inon S-2000 S-TTL strobe is an ultra compact strobe that best suites compact camera users, but also works with DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It features a guide number of 20, a circular 110 degree beam angle with a diffuser, S-TTL, and 12 step manual mode. If you're on a budget, this is a great option.
Ikelite DS 51
*The TTL Macro/Compact Strobe*
The Ikelite DS 51 is the compact, budget sibling of the DS series. Despite being smaller it is great for many shooting situations - especially macro, low light situations, and with compact cameras. The highlight of this strobe is that it works with TTL converters and Ikelite housings for extremely accurate exposure in your images. The strobe's wide-angle diffuser increases the angle-of-coverage up to 80 degrees, softens the light and helps to reduce backscatter. The strobe can easily switch between TTL/Auto and any of the six (6) manual power settings for complete control over lighting the subject. The DS51 Substrobe's power rivals strobes twice its size, recycles in a quick 3.5 seconds, and provides 200+ flashes on a set of batteries. Much shorter recycle times and more flashes per set of batteries can be achieved during TTL operation or lower power settings.
Sealife Seadragon Flash
The Sealife Seadragon Flash, although less powerful than other strobes, it is much more affordable and offers full manual controls for adjusting the power, and also has an "auto" mode.
Sea & Sea YS-01 Solis
*Affordable, Compact, Great for Beginners and Advanced Photographers, Features Manual and TTL Modes*
The Sea & Sea YS-01 is a small and compact strobe, ideal for compact camera shooters and macro shooters. It is powerful for its size, with a guide number of 20. The strobe has a wide beam angle of 100°. The YS-01 Solis features TTL capability as well as a manual shooting mode where you can adjust the power to your liking. The YS-03 Solis is essentially the same strobe, but it lacks the manual shooting option.
Sea & Sea YS-03 Solis
*Budget Option with Limitations*
The Sea & Sea YS-03 solis has many limitations, but it is at a much lower price point than any other strobe. It is not as powerful as the YS-D2 & YS-D3, and only supports firing via TTL - there are no manual settings. It includes a very basic tray, flex arm and a fiber optic cable. The Sea & Sea YS-01 Solis is the same strobe, but offers manual control.
BEST BATTERY LIFE:
*Best Battery Life - Over 900 Shots Per Charge!*
The Kraken KR-S02 strobe is the best strobe on the market when it comes to battery life. It's capable of over 900 full power flashes per charge. The best part about it is that the strobe tells you how many shots are left on the battery on the back digital display. It's a very easy to use strobe, featuring a guide number of 24 and a beam angle of 90 degrees. Until Kraken comes out with a diffuser, which they will shortly, we recommend this strobe for macro photography and most wide angle photography unless you love shooting sunballs.
USEFUL STROBE RESOURCES:
Learn more about lighting, techniques and creative options through our tutorials on the Underwater Photography Guide. Get detailed reviews, technical breakdowns and more!
- Underwater Strobe Positions
- Guide to Underwater Strobes
- Lighting with Strobes
- Underwater Lighting Fundamentals