Great Underwater Lights for Scuba Divers in 2022
ScubaLab tests a wide variety of accessories, including dive bags, dive lights and dive knives. Each test is aimed at evaluating the key characteristics of each specific type of gear so divers can in turen evaluate what works for them.
How We Test a Dive Light
Testing dive lights involves measuring the total light output. Testers also rate lights for their beam size and shape, ease of use, grip comfort and security, and how well the controls allow for regulating output at useful increments.
For ScubaLab gear reviews, visit our ScubaLab hub.
Scuba Diving Lights
Includes rechargeable 21700 battery with built-in USB charging port
Outputting a maximum of 1,500 lumens, with two additional power levels and two emergency strobe functions, this dive torch is depth-rated to 330 feet (100 meters). This versatile light has an adjustable beam angle between 10 and 45 degrees, so users can choose between a tight focused spotlight or a broader flood light. The light boasts a 90-minute run time at full power.
Scubapro Nova 850 Tec Flashlight
Durable 850-lumen torch complements Scubapro’s S-Tek line
Machined of aluminum, this rugged dive torch is a lightweight, durable option with a cool, stealthy look. Double O-ring seals ensure leak-free operation to 1,000 feet (300 meters). Operation is easy, even with gloves, thanks to a simple twist-on/twist-off activation. An extended light head shroud prevents the beam from blinding other divers.
SeaLife Sea Dragon Mini 900S Power Kit
Powerful enough for a primary light, but small enough to stow as a backup
This tiny, compact light easily slips into a BC pocket. The 14-degree, 900-lumen spot beam can be stepped down to half and quarter power using a single push button, and has two flashing emergency modes. This kit includes a charger and a 2600 mAh 18650 rechargeable battery, which will power the light for 1.6 hours at full power.
SeaLife Sea Dragon Mini 1300S Power Kit
Includes charger and rechargeable 18650 battery
This ultra-narrow 8-degree light has a max of 1,300 lumens and includes two strobe functions. It’s corrosion-resistant and rated to 330 feet (100 meters). A textured handle allows for one-handed operation. The kit comes with a 2600 mAh rechargeable battery and charger. Run time on high power is 55 minutes.
Tektite Mark-Lite Strobe
Pocket-size emergency LED strobe beacon.
Available in a variety of attractive lens and body colors, this compact, high-intensity LED strobe is depth-rated to 1,000 feet (300 meters). When used at the surface at night, the 200-lumen LED can be seen from up to 2 miles away. The Mark-Lite will operate up to 11 hours on a single AA alkaline battery, which is included with the light.
Tektite Strobe 4500
High-intensity LED strobe is visible for miles on a clear night.
With dual high-intensity strobes and advanced circuitry, this durable strobe outputs an attention-getting 1,300-lumen flash. Flashing 120 times per minute, this strobe will run for over 60 hours using three C-cell alkaline batteries—included with the light. The Strobe 4500 is double O-ring sealed and depth-rated to 500 feet/150 meters. A variety of lens and body colors are available.
Underwater Kinetics AquaLite Pro Max
Underwater Kinetics pistol grip and Aqualite photo arm compatible.
This super-bright 3,000-lumen spotlight has a narrow, penetrating beam that is well-suited for night, wreck and cave diving. A button on the tailpiece cycles between three different power levels and an emergency flash mode. The slip-in wide-angle diffuser can be used for photography, and the light comes with two extra-large rechargeable lithium batteries.
MSRP $299 | uwkdive.com
Underwater Kinetics AquaLite Pro Multi
Interchangeable battery can be swapped with a spare for all-day diving.
This multipurpose light features a two-step, 700-lumen beam. It also has a red-light mode for approaching skittish creatures while simultaneously avoiding those that are attracted to white light, a UV395 beam to reveal the beauty of underwater fluorescence, and an emergency strobe function. A wide-angle diffuser is included for video and photo use.
MSRP $299 | uwkdive.com
More Things To Consider When Purchasing A Dive Light
Your primary light should sit comfortably and securely in your hand. Backup lights should stow easily until needed. In an emergency, dive lights with SOS and strobe functions preserve battery life while signaling for help.
Under Pressure – Scuba Diving Risks
Natalie Gibb owns a dive shop in Mexico and is a PADI-certified open water scuba instructor and TDI-certified full cave diving instructor.
Olga Melhiser Photography / Getty Images
How does pressure change underwater and how do pressure changes affect aspects of scuba diving such as equalization, buoyancy, bottom time, and the risk of decompression sickness? Review the fundamentals of pressure and scuba diving, and discover a concept no one told us during our open water course: that pressure changes more rapidly the closer a diver is to the surface.
Air Has Weight
Yes, air actually has weight. The weight of air exerts pressure on your body—about 14.7 psi (pounds per a square inch). This amount of pressure is called one atmosphere of pressure because it is the amount of pressure the earth’s atmosphere exerts. Most pressure measurements in scuba diving are given in units of atmospheres or ATA.
Pressure Increases With Depth
The weight of the water above a diver exerts pressure on their body. The deeper a diver descends, the more water they have above them, and the more pressure it exerts on their body. The pressure a diver experiences at a certain depth is the sum of all the pressures above them, both from the water and the air.
Every 33 feet of salt water = 1 ATA of pressure
Pressure a diver experiences = water pressure + 1 ATA (from the atmosphere)
Total Pressure at Standard Depths*
Depth / Atmospheric Pressure + Water Pressure = Total Pressure
0 feet / 1 ATA + 0 ATA = 1 ATA
15 feet / 1 ATA + 0.45 ATA = 1 .45 ATA
33 feet / 1 ATA + 1 ATA = 2 ATA
40 feet / 1 ATA + 1.21 ATA = 2.2 ATA
66 feet / 1 ATA + 2 ATA = 3 ATA
99 feet / 1 ATA + 3 ATA = 4 ATA
*this is only for saltwater at sea level
Water Pressure Compresses Air
Air in a diver’s body air spaces and dive gear will compress as pressure increases (and expand as pressure decreases). Air compresses according to Boyle’s Law.
Not a math person? This means that the deeper you go, the more air compresses. To find out how much, make a fraction of 1 over the pressure. If the pressure is 2 ATA, then the volume of the compressed air is ½ of its original size at the surface.
Pressure Affects Many Aspects of Diving
Now that you understand the basics, let’s look at how pressure affects four basic aspects of diving.
As a diver descends, the pressure increase causes the air in their body’s air spaces to compress. The air spaces in their ears, mask, and lungs become like vacuums as the compressing air creates a negative pressure. Delicate membranes, like the ear drum, can get sucked into theses air spaces, causing pain and injury. This is one of the reasons that a diver must equalize their ears for scuba diving.
On ascent, the reverse happens. Decreasing pressure causes the air in a diver’s air spaces to expand. The air spaces in their ears and lungs experience a positive pressure as they become overfull of air, leading to pulmonary barotrauma or a reverse block. In a worst-case scenario, this could burst a diver’s lungs or eardrums.
To avoid a pressure-related injury (such as an ear barotrauma) a diver must equalize the pressure in their body’s air spaces with the pressure around them.
To equalize their air spaces on descent a diver adds air to their body airspaces to counteract the “vacuum” effect by
- breathing normally, this adds air to their lungs every time they inhale
- adding air to their mask by breathing out their nose
- adding air to their ears and sinuses by using one of several ear equalization techniques
To equalize their air spaces on ascent a diver releases air from their body air spaces so that they do not become overfull by
- breathing normally, this releases extra air from their lungs every time they exhale
- ascending slowly and allowing the extra air in their ears, sinuses and mask to bubble out on its own
Divers control their buoyancy (whether they sink, float up, or remain “neutrally buoyant” without floating or sinking) by adjusting their lung volume and buoyancy compensator (BCD).
As a diver descends, the increased pressure causes the air in their BCD and wetsuit (there are small bubbles trapped in neoprene) to compress. They become negatively buoyant (sinks). As they sink, the air in their dive gear compresses more and they sink more quickly. If they do not add air to his BCD to compensate for their increasingly negative buoyancy, a diver can quickly find themselves fighting an uncontrolled descent.
In the opposite scenario, as a diver ascends, the air in their BCD and wetsuit expands. The expanding air makes the diver positively buoyant, and they begin to float up. As they float towards the surface, the ambient pressure decreases and the air in their dive gear continues to expand. A diver must continuously vent air from their BCD during ascent or they risk an uncontrolled, rapid ascent (one of the most dangerous things a diver can do).
A diver must add air to their BCD as they descend and release air from their BCD as they ascend. This may seem counterintuitive until a diver understands how pressure changes affect buoyancy.
Bottom time refers to the amount of time a diver can stay underwater before beginning their ascent. Ambient pressure affects bottom time in two important ways.
Increased Air Consumption Reduces Bottom Times
The air that a diver breathes is compressed by the surrounding pressure. If a diver descends to 33 feet, or 2 ATA of pressure, the air they breathe is compressed to half of its original volume. Each time the diver inhales, it takes twice as much air to fill their lungs than it does at the surface. This diver will use their air up twice as quickly (or in half the time) as they would at the surface. A diver will use up their available air more quickly the deeper they go.
Increased Nitrogen Absorption Reduces Bottom Times
The greater the ambient pressure, the more rapidly a diver’s body tissues will absorb nitrogen. Without getting into specifics, a diver can only allow their tissues a certain amount of nitrogen absorption before they begin their ascent, or they run an unacceptable risk of decompression illness without mandatory decompression stops. The deeper a diver goes, the less time they have before their tissues absorb the maximum allowable amount of nitrogen.
Because pressure becomes greater with depth, both air consumption rates and nitrogen absorption increase the deeper a diver goes. One of these two factors will limit a diver’s bottom time.
Rapid Pressure Changes Can Cause Decompression Sickness (the Bends)
Increased pressure underwater causes a diver’s body tissues to absorb more nitrogen gas than they would normally contain at the surface. If a diver ascends slowly, this nitrogen gas expands bit by bit and the excess nitrogen is safely eliminated from the diver’s tissues and blood and released from their body when they exhale.
However, the body can only eliminate nitrogen so quickly. The faster a diver ascends, the faster nitrogen expands and must be removed from their tissues. If a diver goes through too great of pressure change too quickly, their body cannot eliminate all of the expanding nitrogen and the excess nitrogen forms bubbles in their tissues and blood.
These nitrogen bubbles can cause decompression sickness (DCS) by blocking blood flow to various parts of the body, causing strokes, paralysis, and other life-threatening problems. Rapid pressure changes are one of the most common causes of DCS.
The Greatest Pressure Changes Are Closest to the Surface.
The closer a diver is to the surface, the more rapidly the pressure changes.
Depth Change / Pressure Change / Pressure Increase
66 to 99 feet / 3 ATA to 4 ATA / x 1.33
33 to 66 feet / 2 ATA to 3 ATA / x 1.5
0 to 33 feet / 1 ATA to 2 ATA / x 2.0
Look at what happens really close to the surface:
10 to 15 feet / 1.30 ATA to 1.45 ATA / x 1.12
5 to 10 feet / 1.15 ATA to 1.30 ATA / x 1.13
0 to 5 feet / 1.00 ATA to 1.15 ATA / x 1.15
A diver must compensate for the changing pressure more frequently the closer they are to the surface. The more shallow their depth:
Divers must take special care during the last portion of the ascent. Never, never, shoot straight to the surface after a safety stop. The last 15 feet are the greatest pressure change and need to be taken more slowly than the rest of the ascent.
Most beginner dives are conducted in the first 40 feet of water for safety purposes and to minimize nitrogen absorption and the risk of DCS. This is as it should be. However, keep in mind that it is more difficult for a diver to control their buoyancy and equalize in shallow water than in deeper water because the pressure changes are more extreme!
Underwater Lighting Fundamentals
This sections covers loss of color underwater, color compensation that your brain does, understanding color temperature, and reflected light.
The following topics are covered later on in this chapter:
Loss of Color Underwater At Depth
What color disappears first underwater?
Water absorbs different wavelengths of light to different degrees. The longest wavelengths, with the lowest energy, are absorbed first. Red is the first to be absorbed, followed by orange & yellow. The colors disappear underwater in the same order as they appear in the color spectrum. Even water at 5ft depth will have a noticeable loss of red. For this reason, strobes are usually used to add color back to subjects.
At What Depth Underwater Does Color Disappear?
Don’t forget to add in the horizontal distance. If you are 10ft underwater, and you are viewing an object 10ft away, the light has actually travelled 20ft, and all of the reds will be filtered out.
Likewise, if you light up an object with your strobes 5ft away, the light has to travel 5ft to the object, and 5ft back to your lens, for a total of 10ft. This is a significant loss of reds. Be sure to always get close to your subject. Read more about getting better color in your underwater photos.
Magnification of Objects Underwater
Since we are talking about water, I should note that objects can appear up to 25% closer underwater than they actually are.
Objects will also appear to be up to 33% larger than they are. This is due to the fact that the index of refraction of water is greater than air. This happens behind flat surfaces, such as your mask, a compact camera underwater housing, or a macro port. It does not happen when using a dome port.
Your brain will compensate for the loss of color underwater. This is why you still think you can see reds and oranges in deeper water, but when you take an ambient light shot with your camera, they aren’t there!
Light is often referred to having a certain color temperature. Strangely, warm light is a lower color temp, and cool light, blue, is a higher color temp.
Here are some temperatures of common light sources =
10000-12000 blue sky
6000 cloudy day
5500 inon strobes, S&S strobes, sunlight, flash mode
5000 S&S strobes with diffusers
4800 Ikelite Ds-125,DS-160 strobes
3200-38000 tungsten light
2500-3000 sunrise, sunset
Increasing the color temp of a photo (called warming it up) brings out yellow, oranges
Decreasing the color temp of a photo (called cooling it down) brings out blues
Reflected Light and The Time of Day
The amount of light that penetrates the surface depends on surface conditions, the weather, and the time of day. Choppy waters reflect more light than calm waters. Sunlight from the horizon is reflected much more than sunlight from straight above. The brightest conditions underwater will occur on a sunny day, with a calm surface between 10AM and 2PM. Light penetrating the surface early in the morning and late in the day has a soft quality and can be great light for underwater photography, just like it is for topside photos.
Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. Bluewater Photo, based in Culver City, CA is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious underwater camera stores, serving many thousands of customers each year, where nothing is more important than customer service. The Underwater Photography Guide is the world’s first website to feature free tutorials on underwater photography, and has become the most trafficked resource on underwater photography worldwide. Bluewater Travel is a full-service dive travel wholesaler sending groups and individuals on the world’s best dive vacations.
Scott is also an avid diver, underwater photographer, and budding marine biologist, having created the online guide to the underwater flora and fauna of Southern California. He is the past vice-president of the Los Angeles Underwater Photographic Society, has volunteered extensively at the Santa Monica aquarium, and is the creator of the Ocean Art underwater photo competition, one of the largest underwater international photo competitions ever held in terms of value of prizes. He lives in California with his wife, newborn girl and scuba-diving, photo taking 4 year old son.