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After many years of searching for the perfect underwater strobe, it's possible that the Sea and Sea YS-D1 has made the grade. It's smaller and lighter than others, yet it has more power...

Underwater photography product review | Sea and Sea YS-D1 strobes
Way back when – and we are talking film days here – my strobe of choice was the teensy, bright orange Ikelite Substrobe 50. Affectionately termed the pots, these did just about everything I ever wanted, which in those days was mostly macro. Next, I realised I needed stronger strobes for wide angles, so I started travelling with two different sets of strobes.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the big changeover to digital. There have been many brands and designs of underwater strobes but none have ever taken a permanent place in my heart – or the camera bag. Until now. Most recently, I tried the Inon Z-240 and these are truly excellent flashes but the YS-D1 manages to pip those at the post.

TEST RESULTS

Power and light: after researching into this, it seemed that the YS-D1 was likely to give at least 2/3 of a stop extra on wide angles and at times a whole stop. Macro images gain up to another stop allowing for a higher f-stop. In practice, I found this made a huge difference and, with the diffusers on, the slightly softer results were far better than expected.

Another benefit, which I tested on our most recent dive trip, was that the spread of light from the YS-D1's allowed me to shorten my strobe arms, making my entire camera set up a lot easier to manage on a busy dive deck and also manoeuvre underwater.

Weight and shape: with the ever-worsening airline luggage restrictions, weight is important, and even a few grams can make a big difference in hand luggage. The YS-D1's are a mere 20 grams lighter but they are also a slim, tube shape which makes them easier to pack. Most importantly though, I can now travel with a single set of strobes that work well in all underwater scenarios.

And a few small features: the battery compartment on the YS-D1 is a firm, twist and click mechanism that is quicker to operate and feels more secure than the Inon screw on, which is fiddly. Both strobes have rear dials for exposure compensation but the feel of the YS-D1 is more tactile and can be used without looking as you feel it click. And my only minor complaint is that the YS-D1 focus light is not as good as the Inon, which has a stronger torch-like beam.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Depth

100m
Guide No. (air) /m
32, 24 with Diffuser 100 attached, 20 with Diffuser 120 attached
Coverage
80°x80° (without diffuser), 100°x100°(diffuser 100), 120° x 120° (diffuser 120)
Colour temp
5600°K (5250°K with diffuser)
Features
~ LED target light
~ Fibre-optic port for slave ~ Duo connector for wired sync.
~ Digital slave TTL function
~ Output control dial.
GN 1 - 32 in 11 steps.
~ Auto power-off function.
Power source
4 x AA cells
Recycle time:
1.9s NiMH, 2.5s Alk.
Flashes per charge approx. 250
Dimensions in mm
87 x 135 x 111.
Weight in grams 555g, 0.5g underwater.

The YS-D1's in use. Image taken from video.

Macro images taken with a Nikon D200; wide angles with a Nikon D300 at 12-20 metres.

SUMMARY:

All in all, I found the YS-D1 to be an easier strobe to look after, it provides a bit more light so is more flexible and has the added benefit of being good for both wide and macro images. It looks like this bit of kit has earned a permanent spot in the camera bag.

Available in the UK from Cameras Underwater

SPECIAL OFFERvalid until 30/12/13

Quote code: SEAFOCUS2 and get thirty pounds off a Sea & Sea YS-D1 or any Sea & Sea YS-D1 package.

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