Looking For The Best Underwater Strobe or Flash?
A good underwater strobe is the key for getting proper 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 strobe lights 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 underwater strobe light 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.
*Ultra Fast Recycle Time, Improved Ergonomics, Integrated Video Light*
Latest addition to Ikelites DS Strobe line, the DS 230 is 33% (213W) more powerful than its siblings. The controls are larger and taller for easier control even while wearing thick gloves. Click-stops at each power setting and a limited sweep allow you to quickly jump between TTL, full power and the lowest manual power setting without taking your eyes off your subject. It also uses the new circuitry which makes the recycle time ultra fast! The new circular xenon flashtube makes for a perfectly gradated beam pattern and warm color temperature. Another awesome feature of the strobe is that it has an integrated 2500-lumen video light. It also has a sensor which automatically shuts off when taking a photo. You can also use older batteries with the new strobe.
*Fast Burst Recycle Speed with Soft, Wide Light Output*
The Ikelite DS160 II combines power with wide angle coverage to give you the most bang for your buck. It has been upgraded from the original DS 160 with a quicker recycle time of .1 to 1 seconds, better ergonomics, and 300 flashes per charge at full power. The quality of light is exceptional due to a round flash tube and a custom powder-coated reflector designed specifically to deliver the softest, most even coverage possible. Strobes with a straight flashtube may be capable of high powers, but require the addition of a diffuser to spread out their sharp, rectangular beam pattern and reduce harsh hot spots. The DS160 II beam is designed to be perfectly soft thanks to its reflector design, and is capable of providing you the coverage and power you want and avoiding the one f/stop loss caused by adding a diffuser.
*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 AND FLASHES 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 II
*The TTL Macro/Compact Strobe*
The Ikelite DS-51 II 50Ws TTL Strobe is the perfect strobe when traveling, it is small and compact yet powerful enough to capture stunning photos. It only weighs 443g and since it's small, it makes for a great addition to a lightweight and easy to use underwater system.
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 UNDERWATER 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