New Strobes Part 3 – Small & Unconventional

Just because an underwater strobe maybe small, it doesn’t mean that it can’t serve a purpose. Here is an overview to a couple of mighty-mites just on the market.

Backscatter Mini Flash 1 and Optical Snoot

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Backscatter MF-1 strobe fitted with the OS-1 optical snoot.

No question Backscatter’s newly released MF-1 (Mini Flash) photo strobe is an odd duck.

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Measuring 7.36-inches long by 2.31-inches in diameter, MF-1’s appearance is more like a handheld dive light than something that would mount above an underwater camera housing.

Part of its elongated shape is attributed to the single Li-ion 18650 rechargeable battery used to power the strobe housed in the tail of its anodized aluminum body.

Made with the same anodized aluminum as the MF-1 strobe, the OS-1 optical snoot is small and compact measuring 7.24-inches long by 2.56-inches in diameter; a convenient size for placement in a BCD pocket when not needed.

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Rather than following conventional wisdom and designing a snoot around a specific strobe as an afterthought, the MF-1 and OS-1 were designed together. Attaching the snoot to the end of the MF-1 is a simple press until it clicks in place. Removal is just as easy, in reverse.

With a Guide Number of 16 at full power, the MF-1 would be greatly tasked for lighting large or distant subjects. Yet, when coupled with its companion optical snoot, the OS-1 turns the MF-1 strobe into a creative lighting system more akin to a scalpel rather than a hammer. A large part of this is the optics in the snoot help to intensify the MF-1’s flash output into a tighter and more concentrated projection as small as 6mm in width.

The aim of this combo’s design is so that macro photographers can work more effectively with subjects in tight confines, but also extend their creativity. Each OS-1 snoot includes 1 circular and 1 oval set of aperture cards with 4 different sized holes on each.

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This shot was taken at f/32 with an ISO of 64 and strobe power setting 1 click down from full power. No exposure adjustments were made in post. What you see is what was illuminated by a 6mm wide projection through the snoot leaving the rest of the background unlit.

According to Backscatter’s Jim Decker, using a strobe with a snoot can sometimes be really difficult because you need to get the aim just right. Often times it requires loads of practice. In the case of the MF-1 with the OS-1 snoot attached, the strobe has the added advantage of two powerful 500 lumen light-emitting diodes (LED) above and below the strobe’s flash tube. When turned on, the illumination of focus light through the snoot mirrors the same beam pattern that will be rendered by flash.

Another slick feature is a short duration modeling flash mode that allows the photographer to check the snoot placement without having the focus light continuously on. This is a highly useful option when working with light sensitive marine life.

Key Features:

  • Depth Rating: 100m/330ft
  • Max Power / GN: GN16
  • Focus Light: 500 Lumens
  • Power: Single 18650 Battery
  • Recycle time (full): 2.5 seconds
  • Number of Flashes (full): Up to 1400
  • Flash interface: Fiber Optic port
  • Seal: Dual O-Rings
  • Flash Exposure Control: Manual 6-Step Power Level
  • LED: 3-step Power Level
  • Dimensions with Ball (LxWxD): 7.36 x 2.31 x 4.06-inches
  • Material: Anodized Machined Aluminum
  • Weight in Air: 13.25oz/375g
  • Weight in Water: 5.29oz/150g

Base MSRP for the Backscatter MF-1 Mini Flash is listed at USD $399.00, which includes both a 1-inch ball mount and 1 YS mount, diffuser, spare set of O-rings with O-ring grease. It does not include the required 18650 rechargeable battery and charger. Backscatter charges an additional $40.90 for the set, plus another $149.00 for the OS-1 Optical Snoot.

Sold as a complete package Mini Flash 1 with battery and charger, and OS-1 Optical Snoot rounds the price out to USD $539.90.


Sea & Sea’s YS-01 & YS-03 Solis Underwater Strobes

Sea & Sea's new YS-01 and YS-03 Solis strobes.
Sea & Sea’s new YS-01 and YS-03 Solis strobes.

When Sea & Sea introduced their first YS-01 underwater photographic strobe back in 2009 it was slated as a direct competitor to Inon’s macro mini S2000. Both offered very similar specs such as a guide number of 20 (based on an ISO 100 I meter away on land), beam angle of approximately 100 x 100 degrees, with a recycle time (at full power) between 1.5 and 2.6 sec. off of four Ni-MH AA batteries in package not much bigger than a child’s fist.

Shortly after, Sea & Sea rolled out the YS-02, featuring the same specs as the YS-01, but less expensive, namely because the YS-02 featured no TTL or LED modeling light. Instead, the strobe’s exposure control like the YS-01 could be adjusted manually in increments of 1 / 1.4 / 2 / 2.8 / 4 / 5.6 / 8 / 11 / 16 / 20 (10 steps total). Later on, the YS-02 dedicated manual strobe was replaced by the YS-03, which only rendered an auto TTL function.

Enter the YS Solis Series

So, what’s new for 2020 in Sea & Sea’s hugely popular YS-01 and 03?

On the outside, the new Solis versions look no different the previous YS-01 and 03s.

Sea & Sea YS-01 Solis underwater strobe.
Sea & Sea YS-01 Solis underwater strobe.

In terms of performance, both strobes still provide the same GN 20 output with a beam  spread of 100°x 100° unaided by a diffuser rendering a color temperature of 5600° K. Add the clip on diffuser provided with the strobe, the beam angle widens a bit more to 110°x110°, while at the same time color temperature drops to 5250° K, losing a stop in the process.

According to Sea & Sea, changes to the Solis series includes re-engineering on the inside to boost performance and functionality with many of today’s newer digital camera systems. One example is recycle time, with the new YS-01 Solis version at full power reportedly having a snappier response time of 1.9 seconds compared to the original YS-01, which averaged 2.5 seconds for a refresh rate with a set of four fully charged Ni-MH batteries.

While the YS-01 still features the same 10 step manual light level control dial from 1 to 20 (GN) it is now well equipped with the same DS-TTL ll circuitry incorporated in Sea & Sea’s higher-end models. DS-TTL II circuitry helps the strobe emit the correct amount of light automatically based upon light intensity from the camera’s onboard flash.

While in TTL mode, the strobe’s light intensity can be manually adjusted stronger or weaker from programmed standard exposure. In the hands of an inexperienced underwater photographer using two YS-01 Solis strobes, the amount of light from one strobe can be varied independently up or down by just turning the light level control dial in the plus or minus direction. This feature that becomes quite handy when the subject being photographed is lighter or darker on one side of the frame than the other.

Another noted change is the YS-01 Solis’ target light has been made 40% stronger than its predecessor model along with light axis more closely matched to the strobe’s beam direction so that positioning of the strobe is more accurate.

YS-03 Solis

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Like the original YS-03, the new Solis model serves exclusively as a TTL functioning slave strobe that is advertised as being compatible with any camera regardless of make – as long as the camera has both a TTL flash exposure function and built-in flash system.

The only control is a single rotary switch so that when it is turned from OFF to TTL the strobe is on. From there the YS-03, using Sea & Sea’s proprietary DS-TTL ll circuitry registers pre-flash from the camera’s built-in flash system, allowing it to accurately mimic the light intensity that the flash would have provided on its own.

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Front of a Sea & Sea YS-01 Solis strobe with and without the accessory diffuser.

Both strobes come with a standard clip-on diffuser that diffuses and softens the light from the strobe when a little more coverage is needed.

Key Features

  • Guide Number (ISO 100/m) (land): 20
  • Beam Angle: 100°x 100° bare / 110°x110° with diffuser
  • Batteries: 4xAA A: 6V Ni-MH: 4.8V
  • Number of Flashes: 300 Ni-MH (2500mAh) A: 230 300
  • Recycle time (full): A: 2.5 sec. Ni-MH: 1.9 sec.
  • Color temperature: 5600° K / 5250° K w/diffuser
  • Flash interface: Fiber Optic port
  • Sync cord: Fiber-Optic Cable
  • Auto power OFF function
  • Over-pressure relief valve
  • Depth rating: 250ft / 75m
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 2.7 x 4.3 x 5.2-inches
  • Weight in Air: 430g / 15.2oz (w/o batteries)
  • Weight in Water: Approx. +10g / 0.4oz (w/ batteries)

YS-01 Solis Features

  • Flash Exposure Control: Manual (10-Step Power Level) and DS-TTLII (+4 steps -5 steps)
  • Pre-flash control: Equipped with pre-flash cancel mode
  • LED target light

YS-03 Solis Features

  • Flash Exposure Control: Slave TTL only

Base MSRP for YS-01 Solis with 110° diffuser and YS mount with fixing bolt is USD $449.95.

Base MSRP for the YS-03 with the same diffuser and YS mount is USD $349.95. 

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.

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