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.

The video light review

As a test I bought me a small videolight at Banggood, one of my preferred suppliers from China. The light itself was quite cheap. I needed only an extra battery to be able to use it every dive and some mounting gear for the camera baseplate I created earlier. (the one that holds a Canon G12 and an action camera)

Review

The lamp has a good spread but is only 300 lumen. Batteries last about 3 dives, the way I use it. In a continued burn it probably lasts about 1:30 hours. This is more than enough for normal use. The light also has a full-half-strobe function. You will not be able to use those settings for anything else than showing off the light.

Testing

So with all the limitations what is it good for? Well: macro and anything closer than 50 cm. The light is useful on deeper dives as well, as it helps you adding red to the subjects you are videoing. In the advertised use you see the light attached to an action camera, directly under or over the camera. That is probably the worst way to add light to your video. Be sure to spend a bit more on your light setup and add arms. The o-ring is a specially made rubber band, to be able to accommodate for the corners. I had serious doubts about the concept and I asked for a spare. The first dives in Holland went ok, with me cleaning and lubricating the ring every time I open the light. Going deeper than I normally do on my Dutch dives probably made this achilles-heel part fail.

Drowned

So much for the review… I used this light on my Maldives trip and it drowned. I am not sure about the cause, but I think it must have been a defective or dirty o-ring. The light drowned on the 7th or 8th dive in the Maldives. It started flickering when I was at 20 meters, I tried to shut it down, but the electronics were already fried… and the switch stopped working. I didn’t abort my dive, and the light continued to function up to half an hour, when the battery finally gave up. This was the end of the light.

 

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.

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.

AT-810 – new and improved

Myself, I own a 850… but if this coolness would have been available when I bought the lamp, I might have reconsidered.

Ever since I have had my problems with the 850 I have commented with the production company on my desire to have a diffusor on it… so I can take better pictures. Well, in China they listened.

The new AT-810 concept, similar to the previous version has 750 lumen and is hardly changed. Except for one thing: the optional screw-on diffusor.

I have not ordered this lamp yet as I do have a lamp already but I would love to test this. I might just slip in an order for one or two samples. (anyone interested?)

The below pictures are made by the company themselves in a first show of the solution. Simple and effective, I think.

The lamp

Comparing between the old and the new:

The new lamp with diffusor:

The team in China say they have built the lamp with the original glass remaining, and adding an extra layer of glass that is either frosted or plain. I wonder if it would be doing ok with the heat dissipation with this setup.. but I guess most of the heat is transferred by the metal casing anyway.
On the plus side of this… we might be able to easily include a filter between the two sheets of glass as well.

Canon Powershot G12 and WP-DC34 – leak

This was my first holiday with my new Canon Powershot G12 – The camera performed very well. Yet I have had BIG problems with the housing. At the moment I am preparing to send the housing to the dealer, as it has caused me much grief.

On my 5th dive with this housing, the one where I shot the video of the turtle, I noticed the housing started leaking. I could not believe my eyes… several droplets at the bottom of the new underwaterhousing. On this long, shallow dive about the last third of the dive I have been in stress on if the thing was going to flood or if it was going to be save.

At 17 meters max depth there was absolutely no reason for this to happen and as I had been using similar housings from Canon since 2004/5 (with the great Ixus 430) I could not imagine user error…

I returned to shore washed and cleaned the housing opened it and removed and dried the camera as fast as I could. Finally a lucky brake, no water inside the camera .. only a few drops on it.

After the whole housing was dry enough, I cleaned it some more, checked everything for possible damage, did not find anything… and decided to take the housing with me on the next dive. No leakes on the first two dives, so I decided to have the camera in the housing. Next two dives, still no issue, I was able to take some pictures again.

Then, again, leaks .. just about 5 drops. No problem with the camera, cleaned the housing, tested it again .. no issue, rinsed and repeated… after a few dives .. exactly the same issue. This lasted until my last dive in Egypt.

The WP-DC34 is now on it’s way to the dealer. I took about 450 pictures, about 800 less than normal. I still won’t trust this housing, probably not even when it is repaired.

update: 5-5-11
Today I received the mail that Canon has sent me a replacement for the housing, under warranty arrangements. I guess they came to the same conclusion: there must be something wrong with the housing… I cannot wait to test the new housing this weekend (if it arrives on time) Great, THANKS CANON, GOOD service!

The MJ850 in a coma?!

So I returned from my dive holiday (which was great!) with a defective MJ850 torch.

How and what happened
During my last nightdive on the liveaboard, I had a buddy with me that was not really too confident in nightdives. I decided that if I would use my light, set to maximum power, it would be a bit easier for the buddy to dive.

Setting the MJ850 to 100% power creates blind fish, atrackts lionfishes from 200m distance and burns holes in coral. It is that bright! Until this dive I had been using the minimum setting, still overpowering all the other divelamps of the team.

Seeing the light it produced I decided to throttle back a bit to the medium setting, and since this was the last dive onboard decided at the end of the dive to reset to maximum power for the last 15 minutes of the dive or so… I had not tested the lamp that much, yet.

Nearly back at the boat (the MY Rosetta) the light suddenly dimmed to something comparable to my backup. Returning to the boat the 5% light is more than enough, as the Rosetta uses it’s floodlights during the nightdives. Initial thoughts: the batteries must finally have reached a minimum level. (I actually recharged the batteries only once during this trip… and only because I figured not to trust the battery indicator.)

Back on board I was not able to turn the MJ850 off. It remained on, in emergency power setting, during the fresh water soak.

Resulting in
The MJ850 is now, still, burning at 5% emergency power as soon as I reconnect the batteries. I tried the obvious… shaking it a bit, leaving it on for a while, turning the magnetic switch ring to all different settings possible. Still no solution.

The aftermath
I am now in a mail/msn discussion with the company in China, to see if I can send this lamp for repairs. With no real foothold in Europe for the company, this will obviously be an expensive exercise for me and for them… hoping I can trust the repairs to be made and the lamp to be returned in time for my next dives.

Anyway .. the answer to my earlier questions on Scubaboard: MJ850 cheap. Too good to be true? might now actually be answered… cheap! and too good to be true (at least if the warranty and service does not really work out.)

The new lamp: MJ-850

After years of waiting, after months of searching for a light and after weeks of checking the internet and comparing offers… I went for the CHEAP solution. (It might well be an expensive solution in the end, though… but I’ll keep you informed on that.)

The past years I have been hiring and borrowing lights when I needed them. especially when I went on a diveholiday I depended on that. I managed to use a 35 Watt Halogen Magnum most of the time and was pretty pleased by the light it gave. I normally use it for standard spotting but for photographing as well. Then a Halogen lamp still shines! It has great colorspectrum, including much of the hard needed reds and other low-spectrum colors. So my challenge was to find something suitable to replace it… for a budget that was quite minimal, as I also needed to get me a new camera and underwaterhousing. I think I might have succeeded.

The MJ-850 is a cheap lamp, known under many names (MagicShine and others). The common name in the dive fora is Ugly Light. The divelight is produced, as far as I know by Minjun in China and is a 1200 Lumen light, with a SST-50 light source. It uses 5.5Ah Li-Ion batteries and should go 100m deep.

Despite the name and the many posts on flooding the lamp or any types of the lamp family, I bought this just because it is cheap and I have 2 backups. Besides that, if you check the internet you’ll find a posting on any lamp type being flooded. This divelight is so very cheap that I thought I just needed to take the risk.

First impressions, on receiving the lamp:

it is quite nicely packaged in a box, containing all the essential stuff, including:
the light itself,
batteries,
charger,
charging tube,
spare o-rings,
wristcord.

Upon closer inspection, the wristcord will be removed asap, replacing it with something more usefull. The bottom cap contained quite a rough thread, as well.

Now, the problem is that it is winter in Holland. So, I do not really have an opportunity to go and dive with this lamp. I went to our local swimmingpool and played around with camera and lamp. I mostly used a lower setting 1/3th power. I had a great dive at 2m max depth but that is no substitute for a real dive. The divelight can be seen in action on this video taken in Norway by Singerii. A review on what is in the box when you receive it can be found on youtube as well. (but you have to be good in foreign languages..)

When I have half a chance I will post a proper review on the lamp. The idea was to take this lamp on my journey to Egypt, at the end of March… but I am not so sure this will happen, with regards to the current instability.

I will also update this post with more information and pictures.