Underwater snoots are popular tools underwater macro photographers use to add contrast, color, and black backgrounds to their photos. They operate by reducing the beam width emitted from an underwater strobe via a physical barrier (e.g., plastic cone) or fiber optics. The Marelux Smart Optical Flash Tube (SOFT) is a revolutionary, new, high-end snoot packed with features that make it a must-have piece of equipment for any macro shooter’s kit. It is equipped with a unique design that uses optical lenses to condense light emitted from a strobe while simultaneously reducing the beam width. This means you don’t need to fire your strobes at as high of power to get the same output as a traditional snoot - ultimately allowing you to shoot black background photos in brighter daytime conditions. Moreover, the SOFT is equipped with essential tools like a built-in aiming light, a quick-release mount, and an aperture/iris control to adjust beam width.
Over the past three months, I have had the exciting opportunity to photograph rare critters in the bright, tropical water of the Sea of Cortez and common critters in the cold, dark waters of the Pacific Northwest. I'll be honest, after my experience, I'm putting down my old snoot of choice in favor of the Marelux SOFT. Shooting with the SOFT improved my lighting and composition because it made macro shooting easy...and that's what it's all about.
Marelux SOFT Specifications
- Built-in aiming light that turns off when you fire your strobes
- Built-in iris/aperture to adjust the beam angle from your strobe
- Quick release button so the SOFT can be easily removed from your strobe
- Beam focal point: 170mm from the end of the flash tube
- Anodized aluminum construction
- Neoprene tube cover for additional buoyancy
- Compatible strobes: Sea & Sea YS-D2J, Sea & Sea YS-D3, Inon Z240, Inon Z330, Retra Flash Pro X, Ikelite DS 160 Mark II, Ikelite DS 230, Seacam 150/160, Inon s2000, Inon d200
- Length (of main body): 210mm
- Weight (of main body) 972 g (air) / 270 g (underwater)
- Battery for aiming light: 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable (not included)
- Depth rating: 100 meters/300 ft
- Aiming light power: 180 lumens
- Ball mount included
- U.S. MSRP: $399 + ($99-149) for the strobe mount/dock
Orange Throat Pike Blenny photographed with the Marelux SOFT and a Nikon Z6 camera, Nikon Z 105mm macro lens, Ikelite Z6 housing, and Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobes. f/20, 1/160, ISO 125
Built-In Aiming Light
Any snoot shooter knows that the most difficult aspect of capturing a black background is trying to line up a 1-inch or even 1-cm beam of light with a likewise tiny subject and your lens. When I first started my snoot journey, snoots were much more rudimentary. I had to get very good at guessing the distance between my lens, the subject, and the snoot. Over time I perfected the art form, but that was after hundreds of missed shots. With the Marelux SOFT I didn't miss a single shot! This is because the 180-lumen aiming light shines directly where the final snoot photo will illuminate. In fact, the aiming light acts as a mini-focus light as well. And while the light is a little dim for the brightest shallow-water, tropical conditions, it's nice and bright for deeper conditions and darker water. You don't want your aiming light to be too bright, or it could potentially scare away subjects. The aiming light also comes with an incredibly useful feature. When you take a photo with your strobe, the light will automatically shut off for a short period, so it does not contaminate your image with additional light. I found this feature to be highly convenient as I did not have to worry about my camera settings compensating for the aiming light. The popular 18650 battery is used to power the snoot, but it is not included. We recommend buying a rechargeable battery.
An aiming light built-in to the Marelux SOFT makes it easy to capture a moving blenny
Iris/Aperture to Adjust Beam Width
Another useful tool built into the SOFT is a little knob on the side of the snoot. This knob controls the opening of the flash tube, or aperture. I call it an iris because there are no specific stops. This means you can choose the width of your beam in a perfect gradient from 2mm (for super macro subjects) in diameter to 60mm in diameter (for large subjects). It's important to be able to choose the size of your beam to match the size of your subject. Most snoots require a physical change in the tip of the snoot or plastic that blocks the opening to do this. The SOFT's adjustable iris is the easiest way to adjust the beam size compared to any snoot.
The beam with a fully open aperture/iris
The beam with a half open aperture/iris
The beam with a mostly closed aperture/iris for dramatic lighting in a smaller area of the subject
Strobe Mounts (Docks) - No Need for a Proprietary Flash
The Marelux SOFT fits the majority of underwater strobes. All you need is a mounting dock. Currently, we offer docks for the Sea & Sea YS-D3, YS-D2, Inon Z240, Z330, Retra Flash Pro X, Ikelite DS DS 160/161/230, AOI Q1, Inon S2000, and Seacam 150/160. If you don't see your dock listed here, contact us, and we'll get one custom-made for you! Unlike some competitor snoots, you don't need a separate proprietary flash for the SOFT. It works with the strobe you have and thus saves you money.
The docks have a quick-release mount so that you can easily remove the SOFT underwater (or above water). In the future, additional accessories may be able to attach to the SOFT - including wide-angle accessories like diffusers.
A mosshead warbonnet photographed with a Nikon Z6, Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobe, and a Marelux SOFT snoot. f/29, 1/160, ISO 400
Aluminum Construction and Buoyancy
The SOFT is rock solid. It's made from the same anodized aluminum with scratch-resistant coating as other Marelux housings. While this makes it weigh in at almost a kg, the SOFT is also equipped with a neoprene buoyancy collar. Underwater the SOFT is a much more reasonable 270 grams. Although it's large in size, we find it to be easy to manipulate because the weight is propped up with the collar.
The Marelux SOFT has quickly become our favorite underwater macro tool released this year. It's certain to expand the horizons of underwater macro photography, and we'll start to see snoot shots of subjects that were previously deemed to difficult. For instance, we captured our first signal blenny snoot photos with the Marelux SOFT, as you can see below. At Bluewater, we're always searching for tools that can give you additional colors in your artistic pallet, and the SOFT is one of them.
Signal blenny photographed with the Marelux SOFT and a Nikon Z6 camera, Nikon Z 105mm macro lens, Ikelite Z6 housing, and Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobes. f/20, 1/160, ISO 250
Signal blenny photographed with the Marelux SOFT, Saga Magic Tube and a Nikon Z6 camera, Nikon Z 105mm macro lens, Ikelite Z6 housing, and Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobes. f/20, 1/160, ISO 250