In recent years there has been a revolution in torch design. Neil Hope looks at some of the best out there
One of the first purchases for any diver and an essential for most is a diving torch.
While of obvious use in murky conditions and for night diving, a torch is also great for pointing out items of interest to your buddy as well as fulfilling an important safety function as an emergency signalling device both underwater and at the surface.
Even if you're diving in gin-clear water your torch will also bring to life the vivid hues of marine life by replacing the colour spectrum filtered out at depth.
Light Emitting Diodes or LEDs have pretty much replaced filament-type bulbs as the primary light source among diving lights and their low power demands along with their durability and reliability has transformed both the appearance and their performance of modern torches.
The days of carting around a torch so large and heavy you could literally discard some lead on your weight belt have become a thing of the past as advances in technology mean that selfsame torch has been transformed into something not only small enough to fit in a BCD pocket, but also the added benefits of increased output and substantially more hours of use.
Choosing a torch can be a daunting task almost on a par with choosing a camera and with numerous different styles, features and options available it's wise to assess your needs before making a purchase.
Analyse your diving and ask yourself a few pertinent questions.
Do you need something with a wide beam to illuminate your way while exploring wrecks or perhaps something smaller that you can whip out of your BCD when required? Maybe a narrower beam will help pinpoint the tiniest organisms for marine life spotters or perhaps something that provides a happy medium for the best of both worlds?
UK Mini Q40 eLED Plus
I still own a couple of the original Q40's from way back in the 20th century and always found them great as a back-up for night dives, for peering into rocky crevices and ideal for spotting lights for camera work. The weakness of the old-style models was always the fragility of the bulbs but the new generation 77 lumen eLED upgrade means that this light and compact torch, powered by 4AA alkaline or lithium batteries (4-10 hours duration) should now take anything you can throw at it.
Price: $62.99 | www.uwkinetics.com
Not much taller than a smartphone, Ikelite's Gamma is almost a work of art with its aircraft grade aluminium machined into graceful curves. Available in five colours this 220 lumen, 10-degree beam torch is powered by two CR123 batteries and has a simple on/off tail switch. Easily strobe or camera mounted as a spotting light for photographers, the Gamma is depth rated to 120m and comes complete with batteries, lanyard and silicone lubricant.
Price: £79.99 | www.ikelite.com
Tryton's compact and inexpensive torch is a permanently sealed unit designed as such to eliminate any chance of accidental flooding. So how does it charge? An internal Li-ion battery uses wireless technology via a supplied charging station and produces an 8-degree, 135-lumen beam with a five hour burn time. Operated by a simple magnetic switch, the torch is depth-tested to 80m (240 feet) and the aluminium head - designed to lower the operating temperature and thus extend the life of its Cree LED – also doubles as a 'tank banger' signalling device.
Price: $79.99 | www.trytongear.com
Northern Diver Varilux Travel
Just like the Drylite, Northern Diver has taken a similar wireless charging route with the Varilux Travel. As its name implies the Travel is aimed squarely at divers on the move and at 140mm high and weighing only 290g it certainly shouldn't take up too much room in the kit bag. Constructed from anodised aluminium and depth rated to 100m, the torch makes use of a sliding switch to offer a variable output of 50-800 lumens. The 4.2v Li-on battery recharges in six hours via the supplied mains or car charger and has a duration of 2.7 hours at full power, or up to 60 hours at its lowest setting.
DIVE Value Buy
Wireless charging, variable output and extended duration, makes the Varilux a feature-laden choice at a very reasonable price.
Price: £72 | www.ndiver.com
Narrow versus WIDE
If you're in the market for a new light or torch for general diving then it's fair to say that once you've narrowed your choice to a particular Lumen-rating and power source it's then down to a choice of spot or wide beam models.
Many divers choose a narrow beam which concentrates the viewpoint to a specific area while others may well prefer a central hotspot and a lighter halo which provides more peripheral vision.
However if you're looking at something that may also be used as a video light too then your choice will be somewhat different.
A narrow beam or hotspot/halo may work well as a spotting light for still photographers, but when shooting video – especially with a wide or fisheye lens - then they just won't cut the mustard.
Videographers require an even, diffused light with a colour temperature that will also show off the chosen subject matter to best effect.
Many manufacturers offer alternative video-light versions of their standard diving torches and have enhanced features such as 100-degree coverage plus an adjustable power setting to avoid overexposure during close-up work or underexposure at the wider scale of things.
Even just a few years ago such power-hungry lights would often consist of a pair of lighting heads connected by an umbilical to an external battery pack, making such a setup both heavy and cumbersome.
Now, however, the same advances in LED and battery technology used in regular dive lights have rendered this combination almost obsolete resulting in a wide range of options suitable for anything from the action camera user to high-end DSLRs and pro setups.
Scubapro NOVA 700R
Machined from heavy-duty aluminium the NOVA 700R's single CREE XML2 LED is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion polymer battery to provide 700 Lumens of illumination for a duration of 2.5 hours. With a beam angle of 90 degrees, the NOVA is double o-ring sealed and operated by a simple twist switch. Rated to 300m depth, the torch also features a battery-gas overpressure safety valve.
Price: £89.99 | www.scubapro.com
Princeton Tec Sector 5
The Sector 5 may be old-school in appearance with its large polycarbonate plastic body and pistol grip but this classic style is still a favourite among many divers as a primary dive torch. Its Maxbright LED emits a wide, powerful 550 Lumen beam powered by four C-cell batteries to produce an impressive burn time of up to 24 hours. Available in five colours – from pink to camouflage – the Sector 5 is rated to a depth of 100m.
Price: £99.95 | www.princetontec.com
Mares EOS 12RZ
The most powerful of Mares' EOS range, the 12RZ has three high-power LEDs that generate 1,200 Lumens of light at full power. An innovative adjustable beam system also allows the angle of coverage to be moderated from wide to narrow as required and the torch's Li-ion battery provides two hours of use at full power. Also featuring a low power setting and flash mode, recharging takes six hours via any powered USB port.
DIVE Best Allrounder
This versatile torch not only offers a high-output but an adjustable beam to boot.
Price: £178 | www.mares.com
For many years lightbulbs were rated not by their actual brightness but in terms of how much energy they used – referred to as watts.
Now however, just like litres are to liquid and kilos to weight, light has its very own standardised system of measurement, the Lumen.
Lumens measure the actual amount of light produced at source and therefore give a more accurate guide to when comparing different models.
A handy rule of thumb is that 1,600 lumens gives off the equivalent amount of light to a 100-watt bulb or LED.
A further scale of light measurement is the Lux (luminous flux) which differs from the Lumen in that it is a measurement of light quantity over an area, rather than at source.
Dive Rite LX20
This compact primary light provides a concentrated light beam of 6-degrees with a choice of high, low or strobe modes. The LX20's Li-ion batteries provide enough power to burn for between four hours at the highest setting of 20,000 LUX and 36 hours in strobe mode. A handy visual alert is operated when voltage begins to drop off but the torch will still provide light for a further twenty minutes so you are never left in the dark. Rated to a depth of 52m the light is operated by a rotary magnetic switch and benefits from a quick-release hand mount.
Price: $750 | www.diverite.com
Big Blue XL-Quattro Extreme
A quartet of LEDs housed in a double o-ring sealed aluminium body give the Quattro Extreme a 1000 Lumen output. Powered by eight AA batteries the torch produces an 8-degree hotspot within a 55 degree periphery beam and will provide 1.7 hours duration at full power or 2.5 hours on its lowest setting. Tested to 100m, the Extreme also has thermal overheating protection and comes complete with a removable lantern-type handle and lanyard.
Price: $319.95 | www.bigbluedivelights.com
Light & Motion Sola Dive 2000
With a dual beam 60-degree/2,000 Lumen flood and 12-degree/600 Lumen spot, the Dive 2000 is Sola's most powerful offering. The factory-sealed Li-ion rechargeable battery provides flood-free performance with high, medium and low settings accessed by a sliding control. The unit's two-hour recharge will provide between 55 and 220 minutes of use and performance can be monitored via its coloured battery/mode indicator lights. In addition to the supplied hand strap, there are a variety of modular mounting options available making the Dive 2000 a very versatile choice.
DIVE Best Buy
With its choice of flood or spot beams over three power settings, this light will have a wide appeal not only to general divers but to photographers and videographers who can utilise its features to best effect.
PRICE: $799 | www.lightandmotion.com