Sea & Sea YS-D3 Underwater Strobe Review
The Sea & Sea YS-D3 strobe is one of the most exciting developments we've had to underwater photographic lighting in years! And our staff at Bluewater Photo have had the pleasure of being some of the first to take this fine strobe diving. The YS-D3 is a direct upgrade to the world's most popular underwater strobe - the Sea & Sea YS-D2 J. The YS-D3 will likely fill the same niche the YS-D2J did in its time - it will be a strobe of choice for professional underwater photographers looking for a powerful, reliable strobe with lightning-quick recycle times in a compact package.
Almost everything about the YS-D3 has been upgraded, from the optical condeser, to the circuitry, to the recycling time. Most notably, there will be a wide range of accessories available for the YS-D3 that will appeal to a wide range of underwater photographers.The Sea & Sea YS-D3 is a versatile piece of equipment capable of handling both macro and wide angle scenes, even with the brightest sunballs and most awkward macro angles.
After taking the Sea & Sea YS-D3 diving, we cannot stress enough how exciting this strobe is for its recycling capability. Within a few minutes of using the strobe it became apparent why it was christened with the name "lightning." At a quarter power, and even half power, the YS-D3 can keep up with most camera burst speeds! It's going to be revolutionary for underwater photographers that need to keep up with quick subjects.
U.S. MSRP: $849.95
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Sea & Sea YS-D3 Strobe Specifications
- Guide Number (land): 33 (28 with diffuser)
- Beam Angle: 105 X 80 degrees (without diffuser), 100 and 120 degree diffusers included. Optional 150 degree diffuser available
- Flash rating: 220 flashes with Ni-MH 4X AA batteries
- Recycle Time: 1.7 seconds at full power, 0.6 seconds at half power, no recycle time at quarter power
- Color temp: 5800K, 5500K with diffuser
- Depth rating: 100m/330 ft
- Dimensions: 3.6 X 4.4 X 5.8 inches
- Weight: 610g/21.5 oz (above water), -20g/-0.7oz (underwater)
- New aspherical troidal lens in flash tube
- New circuitry
- Two stage signal - visual audible notification when strobe is ready to fire
- Pre flash cancel mode
- More powerful target light
- Auto power off
- Over pressure relief valve
- DS-TTL II, Slave TTL, and Manual modes
- Compatible with 5-pin sync cord/N and fiber optic cables
Wide angle photograph of metridium anemones captured with a single Sea & Sea YS-D3 strobe
Sea & Sea YS-D3 vs Sea & Sea YS-D2J
In recent years, large improvements to underwater photographic lighting have been far and few between. But DEMA 2019 seemed to bring a flood of cool new underwater lighting systems with substantial benefits. The YS-D3 was no exception. In fact, we can say with confidence than we think the Sea & Sea YS-D3 is a worthy upgrade to the YS-D2J. So what are the main differences?
Recylce times at lower powers is the main upgrade that the YS-D3 offers. At half power, the YS-D3 has a recycle time of 0.6 seconds, and there isn't a recycle time at quarter power and below! This can be a huge deal for photographing quick subjects in burst modes. When it comes to shooting underwater, the majority of shooting situations call for lower power strobe light - like a quarter power or half power. Therefor these amazing burst speeds will be practical in most situations. It's only at the highest power outputs where the YS-D3's recycling speed resembles the YS-D2J. After testing the YS-D3 we felt the rapid recycling speed made it well worth it to upgrade from the YS-D2J - especially for photographers that shoot mostly in low light conditions or deep depths.
The YS-D3 also offers improved circuitry and a better beam due to a new aspherical troidal lens in the flash tube that eliminates any hotspots in the beam. We thought the beam was noticeably more even, as can be seen in the wide angle image above captured with a single YS-D3. The target light's power has been upgraded enough to be a dive light in a time of need. In fact, the target light is 4X as powerful as the target light on the YS-D2. When we tested the YS-D3, we were in such a rush to get in the water we forgot a focus light and dive light. The target light on the YS-D3 sufficed throughout the dive for both focusing and navigating! The control knobs have been redesigned and enlarged for better ergonomics, and there is now an audio and visual notification when the strobe is ready to fire. The knobs do feel a little more plastic-y on the YS-D3 vs the YS-D2J, but this more of a petty complaint. Overall, the knobs are much easier to turn and the power indicators on the knobs have been redesigned. It's easy to pinpoint what power you are shooting at.
A macro photograph of a metridium anemone captured with a single Sea & Sea YS-D3 strobe
Sea & Sea YS-D3 Underwater Strobe Features
As with the YS-D2J, the YS-D3 is a solid strobe. It is similar in size to the YS-D2J and is therefor quite compact for it's significant power output. It's a little longer and skinnier than the YS-D2J, but just as compact. Underwater, it is almost neutral in weight which makes it very compelling to travel and dive with. It's pretty amazing the kind of power and recycle times you can get from the YS-D3 considering it's size.
The strobe takes 4 AA batteries as its predecessor did. Changing batteries is easy and simple between dives. AA batteries are universal and that can be a huge benefit when you're in a pinch to find a power source.
The knobs on the back panel have been redesigned and enlarged. This will make it easier for divers with big fingers or thick gloves to control the strobe. During our dives, we found that we loved the new knobs! They are easier to turn and grab with cold water gloves. The power and setting indicator arrows on the knobs are redesigned so that you always see exactly what setting you're on. This was helpful, thought the numbers are a little hard to read underwater. Our only complaint with the knobs and back panel was that they felt a little plastic-y and lighter. This did not affect durability or ergonomics by any means. It's just an aesthetic comment. We've noticed similar trends have been happening with plastic materials in the camera world.
Wide Angle Photograph of a Coldwater Reef Scene photographed with a Single YS-D3 strobe. Even at half power, we could shoot in 12fps burst and keep up with the diver in strong current!
The beam quality of the YS-D3 strobe has seen large improvements. The aspherical optical troidal lens that has been added to the flash tube creates a more even dispersion area. You can expect a smooth, even beam with no hotspots. Surprisingly the imrovements to the beam in the YS-D3 were quite noticeable. The light from the strobe was much softer and more disperse than expected with the standard diffuser. There were no noticeable hotspots. We think the wide angle image above is a great example of how light dispersed evenly accross the anemone - while using just a single YS-D3 strobe. The color temperature of the YS-D3 is just a little bit cooler than the YS-D2J (5800K vs 5600K respectively). Despite the small difference, we did notice the difference underwater - our images were slightly cooler. Personally, I would have preferred the slightly warmer color temperature of the YS-D2J. But it's a personal opinion, and only noticeable to photographers who've shot with the YS-D2J for years.
Sea Star photographed with a Single YS-D3 strobe. We loved the new, more even beam quality.
The recycle time of the YS-D3 at full power is similar to the YS-D2J. The strobe really shines at lower powers due to larger capacity condensers. At a guide number of 22, the recycle time is 0.8 seconds and at a guide number of 16, the strobe will fire continuously! In low light situations this could be revolutionary when shooting fast subjects. Continuous fire power below guide number 16 means you can shoot in burst modes without worrying about your strobes keeping up! We made sure to the try this out, and we have to say it works! At a quarter power and below the YS-D3 kept up with our fastest burst speeds of 12 fps!! At half power the strobe still did a really good job of keeping up with those speeds, though it would miss a few shots in between. But 12fps is a very fast burst rate. The name "lightning" is very fitting for the YS-D3.
The targeting light on the YS-D3 has seen a 4 times increase in power from the YS-D2J. It's a much needed upgrade as the targeting light has traditionally been rather dim. Now you can even use the D3's targeting light as a dive light! It seems when redesigning the targeting light, Sea & Sea had a purpose in mind... a new snoot! In normal underwater photography, targeting lights aren't that important. But Sea & Sea's new snoot will utilize the targeting light on the YS-D3 to point at subjects and make snooting so much easier.
We loved using the targeting light on the Sea & Sea YS-D3. After forgetting out focus light, we used the targeting light as a dive and focus light throughout the dive to much success. The only difficulty with this approach is that using the targeting light as a focusing light limits your available strobe positions.
Beautiful macro photograph of a janolus nudibranch captured with a single Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe.The targeting light can be a useful focusing light during macro photos. The beam quality is soft and even, perfect for elegant macro photographs.
The Lightning Test
We recently took the Sea & Sea YS-D3 diving in some very heavy currents in the Puget Sound, Washington to test the full capability of the strobes recycle speed. With the YS-D3 being a "lightning" fast strobe, we decided to push the strobe to its limits with a new "lightning test." We used a Nikon Z6 camera in an Ikelite housing and connected the strobe via an electronic sync cord. The camera was set to shoot at a high continuous burst speed of 5.5 frames per second. The strobe was set to half power, which is a reasonable power for many use cases. We found a dynamic reef scene with a lot of contract and fired away. The results were spectacular! The strobe kept up with this amazingly fast shooting speed like it was built for it. There was variation in exposure between frames, but it was minor. In fact, the variation is preferably because it functions as a bracketing tool and provides the photographer with exposure options. We are confident that the YS-D3 is one of the top strobes on the market for shooting quick subjects at fast frame rates. The photos below are slightly edited to correct for color but not exposure. The same edits were applied for each frame.
Sea & Sea YS-D3 Accessories
It's pretty clear to us that when Sea & Sea was designing the YS-D3, they were addressing every concern they've ever heard about their strobes. Many of these concerns were answered in the form of strobe accessories that make our mouths water! We might just be seeing a golden age of innovation for Sea & Sea. Check out some of our favorite accessories for the YS-D3. Many of these are very affordable:
1. Sea & Sea YS-D3 Snoot - the YS-D3 snoot will allow you to produce dramatic lighting and capture beautiful black backgrounds easily with your YS-D3. It has a prism built in so that the target light of the strobe will easily illuminate the subject.
2. Sea & Sea YS-D3 Dome Diffuser - the dome diffuser for the YS-D3 produces a nice, even, 150 degree beam. This is great for wide angle photography, especially with a fisheye lens.
3. Sea & Sea YS-D3 Slave Prism - The slave prism allows the strobe to be triggered remotely without any cords or cables. This is great for backlighting wrecks, caves, and reefscapes.
4. Sea & Sea YS-D3 Strobe Diagonal Ball Mount - The diagonal ball mount has a 35 degree inclination which minimizes interference between the sync cord and ball mount.
More Underwater Sea & Sea YS-D3 Images
This image is a good example of the slightly cooler color cast produced by the YS-D3 than is produced with the YS-D2J.
The Sea & Sea YS-D3 truly has the potential to change underwater photographic lighting - especially for Sea & Sea users. There's no doubt that it will replace the YS-D2J as the world's most popular strobe. Especially with all the amazing accessories that come with it - like a snoot, dome diffuser, slave prism, and diagonal ball mount. The ultra quick recycle time at lower power will be a huge benefit for photographers that rely on burst shooting. The beam is nice and even with a redesigned flash tube. What more could you ask from a strobe?
A macro photgoraph showing the YS-D3's accurate TTL capability - even in very low visibility of less than 2 feet
Purchase the Sea & Sea YS-D3 Strobe at Bluewater Photo:
Sea & Sea YS-D3 Accessories:
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