Freshwater to test my new camerahousing

I finally have a camera housing for my old Canon EOS 550 D camera. The housing seems to be functioning, but it is far from perfect. For now it will have to do, though. I will publish a review later. Check facebook also. First decent shots: (click for larger)

The dive lighting setup DIY

I have been using my torch to light my pictures and video subjects for ages now, with mixed results, but always made with a lot of effort. The old mainlight diffusor setup worked like a charm for over 7 years in all kinds of configurations and I would still use it if my main light did not break down.

The old divelight with diffusor

The old divelight with diffusor

Holding the light in one hand and photographing with the other. Big problem is always finding the right light to the even more difficult task during the dive; changing settings on the camera while lighting, keeping your subject in focus, remaining in balance and not touching anything… while keeping aware of what your buddy is doing and your normal dive situation.

Last year I created a new setup for my photo and video stuff, making it possible to video and photograph together. Last year and during my recent trip to the Maldives I had lot’s of practice and fun with it. I created a base plate on which the camera’s and later, the extra lighting was to be fixed. It worked. This year I searched for gorilla arms… I finally settled for a much cheaper alternative: actioncam arms. At the moment they are quite cheap and available in all kinds of colors and versions. I also found a videolight that drowned on the Maldives and the whole setup cost me less than 50 USD.

The base plate

The base plate

After some evolution I came up with a version that can hold two arms, two camera’s and is light and small enough to take with me on travel. Currently I only have one light-arm, but I can extend to use two. In the Maldives I dove with a modified 7 USD light and a 600lm light on the baseplate. I extended the baseplate with a bit of extra aluminium plating to take some stress off the plastic Canon housing, making it also stick in one position. The actioncam that sits beside it is light enough not to need extra fixtures.

lighting in action

Lighting in action

So what are the elements that made the current setup successful, besides the baseplate? For me the breakthrough was the light aluminium arm itself, that included the standard Gopro formats in all aspects. I combined that with a connection to the baseplate. Inittially by a simple camera connector but I found a sturdier alu version that will last much longer. The other added feature was the pivot extension. The video light was easy to attach, but since it drowned tie-wraps are my big friends for connecting the light. The light itself was adapted slightly by making the plexiglass. I still need to do underwater tests, to see if this will be sufficient.

Divelights – Chinese lights revisited

I have been using Chinese import divelights for years now. I bought my first lamp 6 years ago, after a long study on the European and American brands at that time. Most were offering Halogen or HID lights around the 400 to 800 Euro. The first LED lights were priced around that level as well. Canister lights were still not so very popular and goodman handles did not really exist.

Then the first Chinese imports started appearing. After long hesitation I finally bought me a 1200 Lumen light. Back then 1200 lumen was the absolute top. It would be like diving in daylight and the only thing I would see with that much light was baked or fried fish. True. Diving in Holland really limits the lightlevels you can be using. Normally 500 Lumen is more than you would ever need, I think. But then again, I use my light as cameralight as well.

I have been experimenting and testing my lighting setups for a few years now. I found some really cheap lights, bought them, to be used as cameralights. My MJ-850 finally quit on me, after 5 years… just before I went on my first Northsea wreckdive weekend. Bad timing. I ordered some more new Chinese lights on the spot. I needed to have them fast, because I was getting ready for my Maldives holiday as well. I now have a range of Chinese lights, including my latest addition, a new heavy duty light and a small 300 lm video light. This post is about the range I now have, how they compare and my advice on the lights.

The low end

simple, decent, surprisingly good

simple, decent, surprisingly good

Less than 7 USD buys you a low end 900lm light that has decent properties… and a tendency to drown when going deep. The good news: although I had 3 drownings with one of them, I was able to just dry, replace batteries and lube the o-rings… and it lived again. The light gives decent light, is easy to use although it is quite heavy to twist on and off. It has 3 settings: off, on, strobe. It also comes with a Velco wriststrap, which is of no use when you have european style wrists… or a thick divesuit/drysuit. With a small modification I use the light mainly for photography- and video-light. It can easily be fixed to my camera arms. (the lamp is light.. so no extra buoyancy stuff needed) A more extensive review will follow.

The compact, well made lamp

works good as backup, although with a small issue

works good as backup, although with a small issue

Just double the price of my yellow favourite is the sturdy, small backup light with an advertised 600lm. I have had this lamp on me for 25 dives as a backup. Problem with this lamp is 2-fold:

  1. it oscillates at about the frequency my camera uses for metering, result is many failed photo’s and bad video. (which, off course, I only discovered to be the cause after I finished diving in the Maldives)
  2. the on/off toggle switch switches WAY to easy. When I used this light as backup, I had several dives with a lighted BCD-pocket. The light turned on inside my jacket.

The Magicshine 810 revised edition

The 810, still perfect for travel.

The 810, still perfect for travel.

A divelight that has been around in several editions for over 7 years (*that I know of). The price has gone down quite dramatically and it is easily affordable as a backup while it is advertised to have 900 lumen, so no problems to use as a main lamp. I have used this light for a couple of dives, and really, this will be my travel light. It is small, light and has more than enough light in 3 dimmable settings, and strobe functions.

The 6000 Lumen for 25 USD light

Not really 6000 Lumen but more than enough

Not really 6000 Lumen but more than enough

Well, it was to good to be true. Off course it is no 6000 Lumen. It can be roughly 1200, if I compare it to the other lights I have, and even that might be a bit much if we are talking about measured lumen. The light has a ring switch and several good settings. It has 5 o-rings in 2 user maintained openings and a secret 3rd opening, you will only discover when the light gets flooded. Yes, this light flooded after 1 dive… I serviced the o-rings I had found… not the one I couldn’t find. The good thing, though: I get a replacement, sent to me by the Chinese trader that sold me this lamp and now I know the issue about that leaking o-ring, I am sure it will not happen again… I hope ;-].

The LM2200, heavy, sturdy

Heavy duty

Heavy duty

I have to confess this light still has had no logged dives with me. It is still quite expensive, but it is a different quality level as well. 1200 lumen, dimmable and battery indicator LEDs. This will be my main lamp for diving in Holland. It has a charger that plugs in to the light. The batteries cannot be removed for recharging. It comes with extra o-rings and a nice bag to transport it in. I need to build me a diffusor, off course and I need to find a way to get this attached to my vest. Looking forward to diving with this lamp.

Wreckdive on the Bayern

It has been a while, but here I am again. This season I have been diving, but not blogging. However today I write again. Reason: I started a Wreckdive training and my first dive with the MV Serenity was great.

The plan

The plan was to go to the Stoomketel site, and check out the wreck there. From there to move to the SMS Bayern or one of the other wrecks. We missed our opportunity to dive on the Stoomketel site, but at least we had more than enough time to prepare for our next dive. The dive team was just 4 persons in size including the skipper (Bas), Ernie and Klaas, the experienced Northsea wreckdiver.

On our way.. Captain Bas

The weekend started on friday evening, for me, by packing and boarding the Serenity in Lauwersoog. It was already in the outer harbour, ready to leave. We went to the anchorspot for the night. Saving us both harbour costs and 2 hours of sailing in the morning. Ernie and I discussed the timing and the options for the dives. and we had a nice evening on the Wadden.

Anchored at the Waddenzee

The gear

This time I had my normal dive kit with some added features. It was my first dive with my new computer that now replaced my console. My normal divelamp had broken down when I tried it the day before, so I dove with backups. The sea was quite warm and it would be doable to use wetsuits, but I had my trusted drysuit with me. Then, off course the rest dove with simple thin protective gloves… I used my 5 mm. (I need to rethink some things… next dive I take just the protective gloves). The next thing was the SMB and a finger reel and finally for the training itself and as common practice: the big reel. 200m of 3mm cord that I was going to use. I dove with a big 15 liter Steel tank filled to 195 Bar with Nitrox 33. That should be enough for 1 hour at the depth we were going.

Diveteam one preparing, Bas and me going second

The Ship

Our SMS Bayern was an old Vorpostenboot, the German version of converted fishing trawlers, by adding some weapons on them. This particular one was a ship built in 1930 by Frerichswerft that ran on a mine in 1940. It still is quite intact and complete for a Northsea wreck in this area.

Video from Ernie 2 weeks earlier on the same wreck:

Diving on the Bayern

Timing on going in was not difficult. We saw the current reduced to just a km/h and saw everything calming down. Then we geared up, went in and followed the line down to the wreck. I attached my reel line to the anchor point, a suitable place, only, not so handy when I returned to it later. [learning]

Moving along the wreck, we went to the front first. Criss-crossing the wreck for the best reeling experience. Visibility was quite good, with about 2-5 meters, but conditions can change quite rapidly on these wrecks. On this wreck there were lots of fish in schools we also noticed a large number of Northsea crabs, lobster and a codd. The first un-reeling was done, now it was time to reel in, again.. no trouble there, I had tention on the line when unreeling, this made for easy reeling, no finning needed, just slowly taking in line.

Upon returning at the anchor line after about 15 minutes we went towards the stern, laying out a new guideline. This time Bas, My buddy was in front of me, guiding me through (inside) the wreck. Now I needed to be careful not to trap myself in the line and to keep the dust levels low. A bit of a challenge, but great fun. We unreeled all the way to the stern and found a lot of recent netting there. This was our deepest point, 16.8 meters. Then we returned. Following the line, I tried to reenter the wreck where we exited, but found it was quite narrow so we went over the wreck instead, handing the reel around the trusses beneath us. [learning] Then, when getting back at the anchorline I noticed my guideline was underneath the line which moored the boat. The tricky part was to get the line loosened each the moment the cable slacked. This could cost a finger, or so, if not done properly. [learning] Next time I will most certainly try to find a different spot for fixing my guideline.

As we went up I noticed I had some alarms on my computer.. as we discovered, one was for my airsupply going below the 50 Bar threshold. The other one was for starting the savetystop. Dangling on the line at 6 meters we waited for a bit and then went up. Exiting was easy, the boat was a bit wobbly on the water though. The wind had started to pick up and was was diagonally on the current… which meant the small MV Serenity was catching every wave broadsided.

The dive was great. Even with just one dive, the weekend was quite an experience too. We returned to Lauwersoog Harbour, on the way back we had a great dinner, prepared by Ernie. All in all a great weekend. Thanks all!

New Budget divelights Emerging

Ever since I started looking for a decent and payable divelight I have been on the lookout for new versions, alternatives and DIY solutions. With the current Chinese lights flushing our underwater-lamp market, the producers now seem to be distinguishing themselves more on product and build quality than on brand name alone.

Where 5 years ago you could buy hyped ( and often bad) LED lamps from top brands, you can now see the top brands move away from the “cheap” market and moving more into their respective niche markets. Some of the well established brands have tried to compete with the flood of cheap lights, but I noticed most are leaving that market area for the Chinese now, unable to give them any competition.

Off course this is not only good or bad… at least it creates focus for the industry itself. It gives us, the consumer, a great alternative to be diving with decent lighting that does not straight away cut into your budget so bad that you cannot afford a decent stabjacket anymore.

The innovations in our divelight industry are currently mostly on LED color and composition, not focussing on ever-more Lumen into the same package. This is great as I often found out that when diving in murky water 600 Lumen is more than enough… and any more would only blind you because of all the backscatter you have.

The low-budget end of the market, however, still focusses on 1200, 1600, 2000, 2200, 3000 Lumen and with that has to cope with increasing raw material and productioncosts, more technical development costs and higher energy consumption / shorter lifespan.

Recently I have updated my Chinese light (MJ850) with 2 new Lithium-ion batteries. Battery indicator is not working, now… not recommended by the producer, but at least I can now use my light again for 5-8 dives before I need to recharge.

So would I still advise you to buy Chinese, now? -SURE-

Be aware that buying cheaper lights will cost you things like:

  • build quality (although .. it seems to be very good these days)
  • service
  • lesser quality components (LED type, Electronics and Battery)

but once you see the pricetags .. it becomes clear that money spent on a Chinese lamp might only cover 2-3 seasons… for starting divers and non-professionals it might be a good investment as the costs often are 1/3rd of comparable lights from the professional branded lights.

So what would you be able to buy on low budget, these days?

My old lamp, the 850 is still in production. 1200 Lumen for 90USD on small orders I would still recommend this one.

The successor for that lamp might be the AT-876, which also has the SST50 and 1200 Lumen but new batteries and electronics. Yours for 120USD.

For the person that wants to boil water and permanently blind anything or anyone, there is the 2200 lumen version based on a SST-90. You will, however, officially make an end to the term Night-dive, when using this light. (160USD)

With about a 10th of the light you would have a perfect backup lamp. The AT852 is what you would get. (40USD 200 lumen)

Then there is the good old AT-810; a 900 lumen light based on the P7 LED. Proven to be quite reliable and costs only 60USD.

If you are interested in any of these lights .. you would be able to find resellers anywhere on the web. Prices stated above are only indicative and might vary. If you found a good reseller, let me know. I’ll buy one or two new lights as well. It saves me the hassle of importing them (mind the P&P and import tax issues) and doing price negotiations. I would off-course be more than happy to setup an order of 20 lights with my Chinese friends… just mail me.

MJ 850 Divelamp second life

After a couple of years of intensive use the divelight is getting much worse… the batterylife I had at the beginning was about 6 – 7 dives without recharge when using it on setting 1 or 2 during the dives.

Now I have replaced the old accu’s by new Li-Ion versions. Rechargable, faster to load, constantly delivering maximum power… and just 1 drawback: because of the accutype the batterylevelindicator does not work.

Left: the new accu’s. right: the old ones.

Notice the great work they did at http://www.accudokter.nl/ on adding the little welded knobs on top. The light is now working like a charme, again. I will be using it during our next Zeelandweekend to really put it to the test again.

Gearing up… without Hero 3 — a quick rant.

I’ve been working on my holiday preparations for a while.. doubting if I should really buy that Gopro camera or not. I decided I shouldn’t do that and I will explain in detail why not. I am going to use this for diving and it is an extra I will use besides my photo camera. It really is a fun thing to have, and I have done action things before. Just check out my video section.

While the Gopro is a great action camera, and it beats the competition by miles, the pricetag for non-US territory is outright ridiculous. I already warmed up my creditcard after reading all the good stories, for a low cost action camera.

US$ 399 for a Hero 3 Black edition, I figured.
In my mind, I allowed for the usual “extra costs” of shipping this to Europe. It seems to be normal for US companies to ask the same number in Euro’s as the thing is valued for in Dollars.

So: 399 USD becomes 399 Euro. NOT!

Gopro asks another 50 Euro for the same thing here. The price in Euro’s becomes 449 Euro.

Actually the difference becomes huge, that way:
The original 399 USD camera ends up to be the equivalent of 583.10 USD in Europe? — that cannot be true, can it?

Well, no.. I found out that the calculations for Europe include VAT … some $79

Still : 100USD price difference?

I think I should check out the competitors.