Inexpensive and reliable LEDs have transformed dive lights in the past ten years. Mark ‘Crowley’ Russell rounds up the best, for everything from an occasional night dive to deep cave penetration

Nobody forgets their first night dive. Many divers of a certain age won’t forget their first underwater torch, either. It was big, garishly coloured, had a filament bulb that burned very brightly until just after you jumped, or perhaps went ‘pop’ when you turned it on, out at sea, in the dark, with no spare batteries.

Thankfully, time has moved on and today’s dive lights are brighter, smaller and much more reliable than their predecessors. Improvements in battery technology have been dramatic, but the game-changer was the advent of inexpensive, white-coloured LEDs.

A diode is an electrical component that allows electricity to flow through it in only one direction, and a ‘Light-Emitting Diode’ – LED – emits light while doing so, through a process known as electroluminescence. The colour of the light emitted can be varied depending on the material used in the LED’s construction.

Red LEDs are the easiest to produce and became commonplace in the 1970s in the displays of electronic pocket calculators. White LEDs first appeared in 1996, and while they were initially more difficult and expensive to manufacture, developments have since seen LED lighting come to dominate the market.

LEDs are brighter, use less energy, last longer, and are less prone to damage than filament or halogen bulbs. With advances in battery technology to match, most modern torches can last for several hours at their highest output before the batteries either need replacing or recharging.

There is a huge range of dive lights available on the market today, but as with other types of gear, you can narrow down your selection by the type of diving you are most likely to do. If you’re the sort of diver who makes one or two easy night dives a year in a tropical resort-based location with five other divers and a dive guide, then a small and compact, lower-priced torch is probably all you will need.

If you’re making night dives in a more remote or challenging environment, such as from a liveaboard, then you might want to invest in something of a higher specification. Spend more money if you have it, but it’s worth pointing out that turning up to a recreational night dive with a light that is too powerful sort of defeats the object of diving in the darkness – and won’t win you any beer-table buddies if you frighten all the critters away.

The larger canister lights are generally the preserve of cave or wreck divers, and techies will not need advice from this feature to make their buying decisions. However, those who might be seeking to join the dark side in the future might want to look at lights that are brighter, have a wider range of power modes, longer burn times, and can be used with a hands-free grip.

Thanks to the versatility of LED technology, there is an increasing number of lights that can be used both for peering at things in the darkness, or as video lights. If you think you might want a light to use for both options, make sure it has an adjustable beam angle. Remember that a torch is used for signalling underwater, which requires a tight, narrow ‘spot’ light to be effective. Wide-angle ‘flood’ lights don’t do this and shouldn’t be used as general-purpose torches.

Some lights have removable, rechargeable batteries, some of which can also be used with single-use alkaline (such as AA, CR123 etc...) batteries. Other lights are sealed and can only be recharged using an appropriate cable (sometimes USB, sometimes not). For most people, it won’t matter either way, but if you might be diving in a location where power supplies are intermittent or unavailable, then being able to swap for a spare set of batteries might be a nice option

Lights that are well suited to recreational night diving, some of which might also be considered as backup lights for more advanced and technical divers.

DivePro has an extensive range of both handheld torches and video lights. The D5-3 is the most compact at just 12.5cm in length, but if size and price don’t matter, the D20 at £159.95 is almost twice the size, twice as bright and burns for twice as long.

LED/Power: CREE XP-L/1380 LumensColour temp: 6500KModes: High, Med, Low, Strobe, SOSBeam Angle: 10° spotBurn Time: 110min (high), 220min (low)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 125mm/88gBattery: 1x18650 Li-ion rechargeable

Tech specialists Hollis produced the LED 6 as a backup light to its primary canister systems, but recreational divers will find a robust and dependable torch in the LED 6.

LED/Power: CREE LED T6/320 LumensColour temp: 5000K-7000KModes: single-mode operation Beam Angle: 8° spotBurn Time: 360minDepth: 180mLength/Weight: 147mm/340gBattery: 3xC single-useBody: Anodised aluminiumSwitch: Mechanical

Light and Motion’s GoBe range is designed with the same sort of sporty philosophy behind action cameras. The range includes IR and UV models and the 60° GoBe 1000 wide-angle video light at £165

LED/Power: CREE LED/500 LumensColour temp: N/AModes: High, med, low, extended, SOSBeam Angle: 8°Burn Time: 90mins (high), 720mins (low)Depth: 120mLength/Weight: 125mm/172gBattery: Rechargeable only, USB

The entry-level torch in the Mares RZ range – ‘R’ for ‘Rechargeable’ and ‘Z’ for ‘Zoomable’ in reference to the adjustable beam width. The 5RZ, 10RZ, 15RZ and the top-of-the-range, 2300 lumen EOS 20RZ, priced at £266, complete the line-up.

LED/Power: CREE XPE LED/320 LumensColour temp: 6700K-7800KModes: Full, low, flashBeam Angle: ‘zoomable’ 11° - 75°Burn Time: 55mins (high), 120mins (low)Depth: 120mLength/Weight: 137mm/152g Battery: 1xICR14500 Li-ion

One of a limited number of wirelessly charging torches, the XRE 1250 also includes an LED visual indicator for remaining burn time, deep discharge protection and an overpressure relief valve for battery gas leakage.

LED/Power: Metalsub/1250 LumensColour temp: 5700KModes: 100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, strobe, SOSBeam Angle: 10° Burn Time: 120mins (100%), 360mins (25%)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 220mm/500g Battery: Rechargeable, wireless

The Nova  850 and 850 Wide are the same product with a different beam angle, machined from heavy-duty aluminium and featuring battery off-gas pressure relief valve. Rechargeable 850R and 850RW versions are also available with a marginally higher price tag.

LED/Power: CREE XPL LED/850 Lumens Colour temp: 4200KModes: Full, 50%Beam Angle: 8° (Nova)/ 80° (Nova Wide)Burn Time: 120mins (full) 420mins (50%)Depth: 150mLength/Weight: 253mm/292gBattery: 3xC

Seac’s rechargeable range starts with the R3, a compact and lightweight pocket dive torch priced at £85, but limited to a 9° spot at 400 lumens. The R5 is larger, brighter, with light intensity and beam width adjustable through a rotating switch.

LED/Power: CREE XPG2/500 LumensColour temp: 5700K-7300KModes: Variable with magnetic switchBeam Angle: 12° - 75°Burn Time: 120mins (full), 24hours (very low)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 166mm/300gBattery: 1x 18650 Li-ion / USB recharge

A compact and powerful torch from underwater photography pioneers SeaLife. The Mini 1300S takes either a single lithium-ion rechargeable battery (not included) or two CR123 alkaline cells.

LED/Power: Luxeon V /1300 LumensColour temp: 6000K-7000KModes: Full, 50%, 25%, blinking, SOSBeam Angle: 8° spotBurn Time: 85mins (full), 340 mins (25%) Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 157mm/174gBattery: 1x 18650 Li-ion / 2 x CR123

Integrated USB charging means the battery never has to be removed from the Tovatec 1000 torch, with the magnetic toggle switch having a visual LED charge indicator.

LED/Power: Lifetime CREE LED/1000 LumensColour temp: N/AModes: 100%, 50%, SOSBeam Angle: 12° Burn Time: 60mins (100%), 125mins (50%)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 160mm/125gBattery: 18650 Li-ion USB recharge

Something of a go-to-light for many divers who need to keep their hands free underwater. The lightweight MiniQ-40 Mk2 is a new take on a classic light, packaged with a mask strap for busy divers.

LED/Power: eLED/250 LumensColour temp: N/AModes: On/OffBeam Angle: variable 12°– 60°  Burn Time: 300minsDepth: 150mLength/Weight: 190mm/254g  Battery: 4xAA Alkaline

Lights that go beyond the requirements of recreational diving and into the world of deep tech, cave and wreck penetration, where adequate lighting can become a matter of life and death.

Tech specialist DiveRite’s EX35 Primary Canister Light is a powerful lamp dedicated to hardcore cave diving techies. Up to six hours’ burn time in 100% mode (1hr full power; 5hrs gradual taper), and a staggering 600 hours at 1%.

LED/Power: CREE XHP35/4300 LumensColour temp: 5700KModes: 100%, 50%, 25%,5%,1%, StrobeBeam Angle: 6° Burn Time: 360mins (100%), 600 hours (1%)Depth: 150mLength/Weight: 86mm+300mm/1930gBattery: 150 Wh Li-Ion canister

Hollis’ successor to its popular L16, the 1200 packs a brighter beam and lower weight. Standard and sidemount configurations are available, both packaged with an elastic goodman handle – a mounting which secures the torch to the top of your hand, allowing you to use your fingers.

LED/Power: OSRAM LED/1200 LumensColour temp: 6000KModes: single mode operationBeam Angle: 6° spotBurn Time: 300minDepth: 180mLength/Weight: 200mm (canister)/1.08kgBattery: 57.5wH Li-Ion canister battery

Toggles between a wide 2500 lumen flood or narrow 1200 lumen spot at the flick of a switch, the SOLA Dive 2500 is packaged with a hands-free Goodman style mount but can be converted for use with a camera tray. The battery pack is sealed but recharges is 1h45m thanks to Light & Motion's 'Fast Charge' technology.

LED/Power: CREE LED/2500 LumensColour temp: N/AModes: High, med, low, SOSBeam Angle: variable 12° spot or 60° flood  Burn Time: 70mins (high), 280mins (low)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 102mm/265gBattery: Built-in Li-ion, rechargeable onlyBody: Factory sealedSwitch: Mechanical

A slimline canister system from the Mares Extended Range line, capable of 27 hours burn time in very low power mode. DCTS sidemount model available at £533 and 120° beam DCTV video light model at £622.

LED/Power: 3xCREE XML2 LED/3200 Lumens Colour temp: N/AModes: high, medium, low, very low, strobeBeam Angle: 9°Burn Time: 130mins (high), 27hours (very low)Depth: 200mLength/Weight: 73mm (head)/754gBattery: 3x26500 Li-ion

One of the deepest-rated technical dive lights, the KL1242 is available in either 6350 or 2400 lumens, with several different battery pack options giving a burn time on full power from 3 hours for the 6350 lumen model to six-and-a-half hours for the 2400 light.

LED/Power: Metalsub/6350 LumensColour temp: 5700KModes: variable 0 – 100%, flash, strobe, SOSBeam Angle: 10° spot Burn Time: 120minsDepth: 250mLength/Weight: 160mm/550g (head)Battery: 340mm, 2.5kg NiMH 12C 10Ah

The D630 has an adjustable cable which allows for 90° and 180° rotation between the canister and light head, making the light suitable for both back- and side-mounted configurations.

LED/Power: 5x CREE LED/4000 LumensColour temp: N/AModes: High, medium, lowBeam Angle: 7°Burn Time: 300mins (high), 24hours (low)Depth: 150mLength/Weight: 96mm+209mm/1370gBattery: 89Wh canister

The top end of Seac’s rechargeable range, the Seac R40 contains 3 LEDs with a variable width beam and a switch-lock to prevent accidental ignition.

LED/Power: 3xCREE XPL /2300 LumensColour temp: 5700K-7300KModes: High, low, flashingBeam Angle: Variable 12° - 75°Burn Time: 120mins (full), 300 mins (low)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 206mm/594gBattery: 1x 26680 Li-ion / USB recharge

A powerful handheld torch with a zoomable beam adjustable from spot to wide flood. Takes two Li-ion rechargeable batteries but is packaged with an adaptor for single-use AA batteries when charging is not possible

LED/Power: Lifetime CREE LED/3600 LumensColour temp: 5600K-6800KModes: 100%, 50%, 10%, StrobeBeam Angle: variable 12°– 100°  Burn Time: 70mins (100%), 960mins (10%) Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 272mm/644gBattery: 2x26650 Li-ion / 6xAA

Lights that have additional settings or wider, variable beams that can be used as handheld torches for night diving, or fitted to a mounting bracket and used as video lights

DivePro makes a series of specialist video lights as well torches but the S11 combines the best of both worlds with a ball mount, three diffusers and two snoots included as standard.

LED/Power: CREE XPL-V6/1380 LumensColour temp: 6500K/5000K/3000KModes: High, Med, Low, Strobe, SOSBeam Angle: 10° spot, 60° wideBurn Time: 110min (high), 220min (low) Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 140mm/99gBattery: 1x18650 Li-ion battery

Designed as a video light for use both underwater and topside with a colour rendering index of 91. The beam angle can be focused using the included snap-on Fresnel modifier.

LED/Power: L&M COB/2500 Lumens Colour temp: 5600KModes: High, med, lowBeam Angle: variable 25°– 120°  Burn Time: 70mins (high), 280mins (low)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 110mm/277gBattery: Integrated Li-ion, rechargeable only

A wide-angle dive and video light with visual battery life indicator, Mares also produce the EOS 10RW video set which includes two torches, flexible arms and an action camera mounting tray, priced at £266.

LED/Power: CREE XML2 LED/1053 LumensColour temp: 5800K-7300KModes: Full, low, SOSBeam Angle: WideBurn Time: 135mins (high), 255mins (low)Depth: 120mLength/Weight: 186mm/537gBattery: 1xICR26500 Li-ion

A versatile light suited to action camera users as well as underwater photographers. Can be hand-held for night diving, or mounted as a camera accessory. YS adapter and mounts included.

LED/Power: Luxeon V /1000 LumensColour temp: 6000K-6500KModes: Full, 50%, 25%, blinking, SOSBeam Angle: 130° wideBurn Time: 90mins (full), 360 mins (25%)Depth: 100mLength/Weight: 159mm/195gBattery: 1x 18650 Li-ion / 2 x CR123

Easily changes from hand-held torch to video light by mounting the Fusion 1500 in one of Tovatec’s camera trays and zooming the beam angle to 100°. Accepts either rechargeable batteries or AA Alkaline if necessary.

LED/Power: Lifetime CREE LED/1500 LumensColour temp: 5600K-6800KModes: 100%, 50%, 30%, strobeBeam Angle: variable 12°– 100°  Burn Time: 105minDepth: 100mLength/Weight: 200mm/485g Battery: 26650 Li-ion / 3xAA

A low-profile wide-angle light packaged with accessory mounts, the operating mode of the AquaLite Pro is selected by the rear rotator switch. Lamp heads can be swapped for 20° narrow beam and UV heads (sold separately)

LED/Power: eLED/1200 LumensColour temp: N/AModes: 100%, 60%, 40%, 25%, SOSBeam Angle: 100°  Burn Time: 70mins (100%), 720min(25%)Depth: 150mLength/Weight: 128mm/180gBattery: 1x18650 Liion

LUMENS A lumen is the SI measurement of the total amount of visible light emitted by a light source. Putting it briefly – the larger the number of lumens, the brighter the light.

SMD, COB AND CREE Surface Mounted Diode (SMD) and Chip On Board (COB) are methods of LED manufacture. COB is the most recent and most energy efficient, but SMDs are still widely used. Cree is the name of a leading manufacturer of LEDs.

BURN TIME ‘Burn time’ is a measurement of how long a light should operate continuously on a particular power setting from a full charge. This is realistically only a useful approximation. Different batteries last for different lengths of time, rechargeable batteries fade with repeated use, and the surrounding temperature can affect how quickly a battery discharges.

COLOUR TEMPERATURE The ‘colour temperature’ of a light is a measurement of how ‘hot’ the light appears to be (but not how hot it actually is). For example: an iron bar will glow red, then yellow, then white as it gets hotter, hence red is a ‘low temperature’ light, and white is a ‘high temperature’ light. Colour temperature is important for underwater photographers and videographers, as it helps to balance a camera’s sensors with the available light (white balancing). Colour temperature is measured in Kelvins on a scale ranging from an orangey-red 1,500K to a bluish-white 30,000K. Just to confuse the matter, low temperature orangey light is referred to as ‘warm’, and high temperature bluish-white light is called ‘cool’.

BEAM ANGLE Beam angle is a phrase commonly used to describe the width of the beam of light emitted by the torch. ‘Spot’ lights are narrow, between around 6° and 12° of width, and are best for general purpose diving – don’t forget that a dive light is also for signalling, which requires a tight, narrow beam to be effective. ‘Flood’ lights illuminate a much greater area – anything from around 45° to 120° – great for use with cameras, but poor for signalling underwater and shouldn’t be used as a primary light unless the beam angle can be tightened.

MODES Some lights are On/Off, others have variable power settings – 100%, 50%, 25% or variations thereof are common. Some lights have a strobe mode, which is a continually flashing signal designed to attract attention; others have an SOS mode, which repeatedly flashes the emergency signal at high power, should the need arise. Using lower power modes to extend battery life where possible is recommended, switching to high power only if it becomes necessary.

This article features in the Autumn 2019 Print Issue of DIVE Magazine. Buy a single copy or subscribe for a year from as little as £17.99 in the UK, or get it delivered right to your doorstep anywhere in the world with a postal service.

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