New Strobes Part 2 – Compact, But Mighty
Now that we are done with the new “Big Gun” underwater strobes, here we will run over a few new models in the price point, power range and size most suitable for travel most underwater photographers generally favor.
Table of Contents
Sea & Sea YS-D3
When looking at what’s on the market popular brands like Ikelite, Inon and Sea & Sea pretty much sit in the driver’s seat, and the road has not always been particularly smooth for Sea & Sea.
Sea & Sea’s line of YS-D1 and D2 underwater strobes have not enjoyed a stellar reputation. Among the number one shared problem posted by YS-D2 owners on various photo forums is flash tube failure. While that problem may have been seemingly rectified with the D2J series, Sea & Sea fans weren’t exactly feeling ecstatic and wanted to see more.
Well, more is coming as Sea & Sea unveiled a tantalizing new model last November at the DEMA show, the YS-D3. On the outside the D3 retains the same basic dimensions as its brethren, but there are some other very significant differences.
The first to catch your eye is the dual flash tube arrangement set behind an aspherical optical toroidal lens designed for improving light dispersion for a more even spread coming off the tubes. The native beam angle of the D3 (without the added diffuser) is 80 degrees with a rated GN of 33, whereas the native beam angle of the current D2J is slightly wider at 100-degrees with a GN of 32. With the supplied diffuser in place the D3’s beam spread jumps to the same 120-degree coverage as the D1 and D2.
Still touching on diffusers, the front of the D3 incorporates a new design bayonet ring for mounting diffusers, one of which will provide coverage of 150-degrees, as well as its own propriety snoot system with an expected MSRP of $90.00 USD.
Of further interest, Sea & Sea has promised that that strobe’s circuitry has been improved to not only provide a powerful Guide Number 33, but also faster recycle times over its D1 and D2 predecessors. For example, when set at half power (rated Guide Number of 22) recycle time is 0.6 seconds!
What should be noted is that the D3 has a two-stage Visual and Audible notification that the strobe is ready to fire – one for GN of 22 and one for a GN of 33. Also noteworthy should the power output be set to max (GN33), but you can’t wait for full recharge to get the shot, the strobe will fire instead with a GN of 22.
The new charging sequence allows you to fire even if the strobe has not fully recycled. For even faster recycle time, placed at quarter power (GN of 16), the recycle time is reduced to almost zero, not to mention it is now capable for a large number of consecutive shots.
Some of the additional features included in the D3 are DS-TTL II, Slave TTL and Manual Mode (accessible in the same location as the D1 and D2 models), a Pre flash cancel mode, improved target light adjustable in 2 steps, an auto power off when the strobe is left turned on for a long time, as well as a battery compartment over pressure relieve valve.
Connectivity to your camera housing is provided by the series 5-Pin Sync Cord/N electronic cables that Sea & Sea has offered for years, as well a port for use with fiber optic cables.
- Max Power / GN: GN33
- Flash coverage: 80º without diffuser, up to 150º with optional diffuser
- Color temperature: 5900° K without diffuser
- Power: 4 x AA (1.5V Alkaline or 1.2V Nickel-Metal Hydride)
- Recycle Time: 1.5 sec. (with Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries)
- Number of Flashes: 200 (with Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries)
- Flash Exposure Control: Manual (10 Power Adjust) and DS-TTL II plus Slave TTL
- Flash interface: Optical Fiber port and Sea & Sea 5-pin electronic flash socket
- Depth Rating: 330ft / 100m
Although Sea & Sea unveiled this new model back in November, details as to when it will be available are still sketchy. When it’s ready, the YS-D3 base MSRP is expected to be USD $849.95.
Retra Prime & Pro Underwater Flash
Back in 2017, Retra Underwater Technology, a company not new in underwater photography released an intriguing new strobe with a guide number of 30 (100W/s) and a recycle time of two seconds when powered with 4 AA Eneloop pro batteries, all housed in a quality-built aluminum housing. But just as sudden as it appeared, Retra dropped production, leaving many underwater photographers who had been waiting to purchase a set feeling abandoned.
Retra claimed their current manufacturing method was not satisfactory and promised they would be back with a new and improved model. Now, nearly two years later, Retra is back with their new model, or rather two models, the Retra Prime and Retra Pro.
On the outside, both the Prime and Pro are essentially the same, in every way. The strobe’s housing (milled CNC machine from a solid block of aluminum) follows the same format as the original Retra Flash so that all the accessories – LSD, diffusers and reduction rings, will continue to work with the Pro and Prime models.
Features that have changed include a new battery door with a double O-ring seal and the removal of the bulkhead for utilizing electronic Sea & Sea 5 pin, S6, N5 or Ikelite sync cords. Instead the strobes are configured with a single optical connector. Should your housing only feature electronic bulkheads Retra offers an add-on E-Opto converter so that your housing, with electronic cables, can interface with the strobe’s optical trigger ports.
Housing dimensions and controls are identical on both variants providing Battery level and strobe test, Manual with 13 power settings and TTL. It should be noted both models include a water indicator in the battery compartment. The Retra Prime and Pro are also the first underwater flashgun with Smartphone Connectivity via Bluetooth (patent pending technology) which allow the user to set advanced features like HSS, Smart SL or update the firmware via the free Retra UWT App.
The most exciting change for lighting is that Retra has done away with a conventional straight tube design for a fully unbroken circular shaped flash tube with an LED modeling light in the center. In addition to Retra touting its design as the world’s first to be offered in an underwater flashgun, the circular tube design is promised to deliver a color temperature of 4900 K with more even and wider coverage to 130 degrees without a diffuser.
- Power/GN: 100Ws Prime / 150Ws Pro
- Flash coverage: 130º without diffuser
- Color temperature: 4900° K without diffuser
- Power: 4 x AA (Eneloop Pro most recommended by Retra)
- Number of Flashes: 200 Prime / 150 Pro
- Flash Exposure Control: Manual (13 Power Levels) and TTL
- HSS ready: YES
- Flash interface: Fiber optic port, Electrical connector via add on converter
- Leakage detector: Included
- Manufacturer Warranty: 2 years
- Weight in Air (without batteries): 775 g
The one primary difference where the Prime and Pro part is flash output, with the Prime delivering 100-Watt seconds (Ws) at full power with a recycle time of 2 seconds, whereas the Pro is 50% brighter at 150 Ws with a Recycle time of 3 seconds.
Base MSRP for the Prime comes in at USD $949, with the Pro a little bit more at USD $1049.
Kraken Sports KR-S02 Underwater Flash
The newest entry into the underwater strobe market is Kraken Sports KR-S02 underwater strobe.
Comparable in size and shape to Inon’s Z-330 and D200 model underwater flashes, the KR-S02 is a bit of different animal. In place of 4 AA cells, power is derived from the same proprietary 14.8V 50.32Whr (3400mAh) Li-ion battery pack used in their Hydra 5000S+ WSRU focus / video lights; meaning interchangeability between both products will not be an issue.
Fully charged, the battery pack delivers a fast recycle time of 1.5 seconds with strobe output set on full. With a guide number of 24, the battery’s longevity on the same setting is rated to provide up to 900 shots.
What also makes this strobe interesting is that it features a circular flash tube like those offered in larger models such as the Ikelite DS-160, DS-161 and Isotta Red64. On its own without a diffuser, the KR-S02’s flash tube produces an even, 90-degree beam with a color temperature of 5000° K. Although optional diffusers have yet to be announced, the strobe’s front bezel comes pre-threaded on the inside for accessory installation.
Like the majority of underwater flash units, the Kraken strobe is fired fiber optically, however, you will find that the KR-S02 does not offer TTL functionality. Instead, the strobe’s flash output is controlled manually in GN increments of 1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 and 24 by way of a single dial. Between it and a second dial for controlling the strobe’s modelling light is a digital readout showing current strobe power level and the number of flashes left on your battery pack. A set of extensions for both knobs are included for use in colder waters where thick gloves are required.
- Power / GN: GN24 at IOS 100
- Color temperature: 5000° K
- Flash index level: GN 1/1.4/2/2.8/4/5.6/8/11/16/22/24
- Battery: 4 x 18650 (3400mAh) wrapped to a single cell.
- Flashes per full charge: 900+
- Recycle time: 1.5s at full power
- Flash Exposure Control: Manual
- Flash interface: Fiber optic port (cable included with strobe)
- LED lighting: 200 lumen spotlight switchable modes between white and red
- Depth Rating: 330ft/100m
- Dimensions: 119mm (L) x 119mm (W) x 135.5mm (H)
- Weight in Air (w/battery): 1050g
- Weight in Water (w/battery): 240g
- Spare Kraken KR-S02 14.8V 50.32Wh Li-ion Battery: $125.00 MSRP
Base MSRP for the Kraken Sports KR-S02 is $599.00 USD, which includes the Strobe, one 14.8V 50.32Wh Li-ion battery and charger, both one 1-inch ball mount and a YS mount, knob extensions, manual and in its own Kraken Sport zippered carrying case.
Where to buy
Due to the Covid-19 crisis forcing retailers in the US and Canada to close their business to walk in traffic, many such as Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo, Bluewater Photo, Mozaik UW Cameras, Optical Ocean Sales and REEF Photo & Video are offering a number of very enticing sales and discounts on new products they have in stock. Remember, this crisis will pass, and when it does, we will all be back in the water.