An underwater focus light is an essential piece of equipment for underwater photography. To focus on a subject digital cameras use contrast detect autofocus points, phase detect autofocus points, or a hybrid mix. Each autofocus system requires an image to have contrast, color, and detail. However, due to a process called light attenuation, we lose light underwater. This makes it difficult for cameras to find focus underwater without assistance. A focus light brings back some light into the scene in order to help your camera focus quicker, without blemishing the scene with a hotspot. Therefor focus lights must be bright, but not too bright. A quality underwater focus light is always recommended with your underwater photography kit.
Look for a light that is small, easy to attach to your camera system, and includes both a white and red mode. Many fish and marine creatures do not see the red spectrum, so a red light can be used to focus on subjects without scaring shy critters that can't see red. Some lights will offer other advanced features such as auto shut off, or have a higher lumen rating allowing you to use them as a back up video or dive light. Choose the best light to fit your shooting needs and budget.
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UNDERWATER FOCUS LIGHTS:
Kraken Sports Hydra 1000 Focus Edition
Free Snoot Attachment and Multi-Color Filter
*Small & Compact, With Burst Mode*
The Kraken Sports Hydra 1000 Focus Edition is one of the best focus lights on the market. Aside from the affordable price, it has lots of great features. It is small and compact, yet packs a 1000-lumen punch. It also has a long burn time of 85 mins. One noteable feature of the focus light is its burst mode allowing it to act as a mini strobe. The focus light also now comes with a snoot attachment which is excellent for macro and super macro shooting. It also comes with a multi-color filter which gives you infinite options for creative shots.
100° Beam Angle
Burst Mode of 1500 Lumens
Color Temperature 5500K
Single Button Operation
Free Snoot & Multi Color Filter
Read our review of the Kraken Sports 1000 Focus Edition
Light & Motion Sola 1200 Photo Light
*Easy to Use, with Red Focus Mode*
The Light & Motion Sola 1200 Photo Light is an excellent high end focus light. It features quality LED's with a wide white beam and a red focus beam. The light is fully sealed to prevent flooding. The magnetic slider switch makes it easy to turn the light on and off. Finally, the Sola 1200 photo is extremely light and compact - great for travel.
60° Wide White Beam and Red Focus Beam
Fully sealed - no o-rings to grease!
Compact and lightweight
50 min battery life on full power
Big Blue AL1200WXP Focus Light
*Small, Wide Beam Angle, & Long Battery Life*
The Big Blue AL1200WXP Focus Light is a tiny, ergonomic, 1,200 lumen focus light. This light features a wide white beam with multiple power levels. The single push buton control is very simple to operate. The best part about this light is it's long battery life - 2 hours on full power and up to 20 hours on low! This is great if you dive often in places where you cannot recharge or swap batteries safely between dives.
Wide beam angle of 120°
Small and compact
2 hour battery life on full power, up to 20 hours on low!
Kraken Sports Hydra 1500+ WSR
*Multiple Modes and High Powered Focus Light*
The Kraken Sports Hydra 1500+ WSR is the most versatile of the focus lights available. This light features a wide beam, spot beam and red focus beam. In addition it has an auto off feature which shuts the light off for 1 second when a strobe fires. WIth 1,000 lumens and a wide 100° beam angle all in a compact body it's a great choice for all levels of photographer.
Wide beam angle of 100°
Wide, Spot, Red Beams
Auto flash off feature
85 minute battery life on full power
OTHER USEFUL GUIDES:
Differences between an underwater focus light and a video light:
What really is the difference between an underwater focus light and a video light? They all have similar features, look basically the same and function the same, so how can you decide which to purchase. Here's a few key things to look at:
A focus light will be lower powered where as a video light will have a stronger beam. Typically the output of focus lights range from 300-800 lumens and video lights are ideal from 2000 lumens and up (some high end lights go upwards of 10,000 lumens!). There are a variety of lights in the middle range from around 800-2000 lumens that can easily double as both a focus and a video light without having too strong a light for focus, or trying to shoot video with a minimal amount of light.
How is the output measured? Focus & Video Lights are rated in terms of LUMENS. A lumen is a unit of measurement marking the total amount of visibile light that is emitted by a source. There is a highly scientific explanation behind how lumens are measured and the standard base for the rating, if you would like to learn all about it, please read this wikipedia article.
Most underwater photo or video related lights will have a wide beam in order to fill the full field of view of a lens. When shooting with a wide angle lens this may not be possible, so two lights should be used. For some focus only lights you'll find a narrower beam (60 degrees or less) and with video lights you'll see a wide beam option (60 degrees or more).
Beam angle is important not only in how wide of a field your light covers, but it also has a dramatic effect on the brightness of a light. The wider the beam, the more diffused the light power will be as it is spread over a wider amount of space. This means two video lights with the same lumen rating, but different beam angles will appear to have different powers. The one with the wider beam angle will look less powerful when shooting from the same distance.
Typically for a focus light you'll find added features like a RED light mode which can aid focusing when shooting shy critters that will hide or swim away from a bright white focus light (such as shrimps, small fish, etc). With video lights they will often be flood only, or may include a spot mode which is useful when using the light as a dive light (for signaling your buddy, pointing out something specific, etc)
Can't any light be a Focus Light?
Pretty much, yes. Any light will add color and contrast back into the scene which is what aids your camera in focusing. Higher powered video lights can often be used on low power as focus lights.
What you want to avoid for a focus light is a very powerful, focused (spot) beam that could create hotspots or weird lighting in your image or video. This happens when you have ambient light being recorded by your camera and is dependent on your camera settings. Likewise when using a red focus light if ambient light is recorded in your image the red light will cause a red-cast on your image.
If any light can be a focus light, is any light a video light? No, not necessarily. While you can use a lower powered light for video, especially when shooting macro, it limits the settings and control of the scene that you have. For most video shooters, there is no such thing as too much light and often folks aim for the best and brightest lights available. Video lights should also have a wide, even beam (avoiding hot spots in the center of the light). Beam consistency and good beam edges help create better, evenly lit footage.