Monday, March 28, 2016

Light & Motion Sola Video Pro 8000 Light Review

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Light & Motion Sola Video Pro 8000 Lights while diving in the Red Sea. These 8000 lumen video lights are very close in size to a good set of strobes – bigger than the other video lights I have used – but still fairly compact for an 8000 lumen light.

Due to the size and density, they are, of course, negatively buoyant, so I added 2 large floats to compensate for both the lights and the 180mm dome port I was using. This made my Nauticam GH4 rig close to neutral, but just slightly negative.

They came with a ball mount, although a YS mount is available. At first I thought I wouldn’t like that, but it turned out to be an asset, making it easier to get the lights positioned at the angles I wanted – as opposed to the more restrictive YS mount, or flex arms - which really wouldn't hold these larger lights well.

One thing that stands out about these lights is the LED display. Light & Motion really put some thought into both the display and the controls of these lights. The LED display is bright and clear, making it so much easier to read than any other lights I have tried – no matter what the lighting conditions of your dive. Then, on top of that, the controls are simple and specific. One control is just a dial, it will turn the lights on or off. In the off position, the light is locked so the other control will not work and the light will not be accidentally switched on during travel. The second control is both a dial (lock) and slider. To make the lights brighter – slide it towards the head of the light, to make the light dimmer – slide it towards the back of the light. The slider always pops back to the center, so each bump in either direction adjusts the light by 1000 lumens. This made it much easier to get the settings I wanted – when I wanted them, unlike most video lights where you would have to cycle back around through all the settings in order to bump the brightness down a notch.

When the dial is turned so it is in the locked position the light setting is locked. I did not use this feature but I can see how it would be valuable in certain situations. To test out the battery life, I did do one dive with the lights on full power for the whole dive. They did last – but that was really overkill. I had much better results by varying the settings – depending on the scene & natural light available. I found that usually I had them anywhere from 4000-8000 lumens, since none of the dives were shallow, bright light dives. The LED display lets you know how much time you have left at whatever setting you choose. That was good for me, and would be extra helpful if I was doing the type of diving where I couldn’t charge the lights each time, which is usually the case. But, since this trip was a live-aboard, I had easy access to power, so I did end up charging them between dives – even though they would most likely last for 2 dives when used at varying brightness.

I was really impressed at the charging speed and I could clearly see what percentage charged they were – with the bright display - as I was just walking by. I also liked being able to charge them without taking them apart, the charging cable just plugs right into the back of the light.

The Light & Motion Sola Video Pro 8000 Lights provided nice, even coverage. I did not see any hot spots at all. The fall-off was gradual and the edges were not too sharp. The wide 90 degree beam angle made it easy to get consistent lighting coverage, even while shooting wide angle. Plus, the lights are so bright, I was able to take photos using them — between shooting video.

Speaking of brightness, having the option to vary the lights power – up to 8000 lumens gave me the ability to get accurate color – without any additional white balance adjustments.

These lights seem to be well built – with solid, tough construction. I never felt worried about either their durability or their water resistance. They packed easily and I would definitely recommend them to anyone using an advanced video system. — Margo Cavis

Friday, March 18, 2016

Egypt & The Red Sea Aggressor Photo Expedition

The last time I saw the Egyptian Pyramids was 18 years ago. A lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t, having already all ready lasted 5,000 years. One of the things that was new is the lack of tourists, mostly due to misplaced fear. Fear of different cultures, and fear of the unknown. Some is founded on media hype, and some is due to mistrust, but most of it is misplaced.

Divers, however, are a strange breed. When somebody yells “shark”, most people run away, but divers say “Where?” and jump in the water. Underwater photographers are even worse. They’re experienced divers who want to take shots of the most unusual animals and situations. They may be apprehensive and careful - that’s a good thing - but never so scared that they miss a great opportunity.

Our Optical Ocean Sales Photo Expedition was for two weeks; Feb. 22 to March 7th, 2016. Twenty people had signed up, but as usual we had a few drop out due to work conflicts or health reasons, and a few join in. Several dropped out, however, because they were afraid of the political situation or for their safety. And I’ve had several inquiries since we’ve been back  asking if we had problems or if the Egyptian people were hostile to us. We all found that the answer was quite the opposite. We had a great time. We felt quite safe. People were extremely warm and friendly, just as they were on my last trip to Egypt, 18 years ago. Some things in Egypt, like the Pyramids, don’t change. It’s all a matter of perspective.

We started out our land tour in crazy, raucous Cairo (“why use your turn signal, when you can use your horn?”). This is a terribly over crowded city, with heavy, 24/7 traffic. Cairo is the very definition of urban sprawl with 24 million people. It now surrounds the Giza plateau, which was once well out into the desert.

We toured the Egyptian Museum, Pyramids, Solar Boat and Sphinx at Giza and had a great dinner at a Thai food restaurant. Seriously, one of the best Thai dinners we have ever had was at “The Birdcage” in the Cairo Intercontinental Hotel.

Our group then flew down to Luxor, where we stayed at the Jolie Ville Hotel. It was busy and disorganized, having been mostly vacant for a while. They had an oncology conference in progress, where about half of the doctors were smoking like fiends. Public smoking is still pretty much the norm in Egypt; I guess Joe Camel lives on.

One of the highlights of our trip was the next morning when we went hot air ballooning. Taking off just before dawn, with the heat of the burners warming us, we watched a spectacular sunrise from 2,000 feet over the Nile. We looked down on farms, and the tombs of the West Bank, where we would spend the rest of the day touring. Visiting 5,000 year old tombs, with vibrant paintings as fresh as yesterday, the ancient temples of Karnak, Luxor and Medinet Habu, gave one a sense of perspective.

Many times young Egyptian school kids, practicing their English, asked politely to have their pictures taken with an American. We couldn’t have felt more welcome in their country.

But on to the diving: We left the next day on a long 5 hour bus ride to Port Ghalib, near Marsa Alam, where we met the Red Sea Aggressor liveaboard. We came across large hotels, condos and resorts without anyone in them as we drove along the coast. They were like ghost towns. All very sad, as this was high-season. Reaching the boat at dusk, we were welcomed aboard and shown our cabins on this luxurious ship.

The Red Sea Aggressor was rebuilt a couple of years ago and is very comfortable. Although our cabins were pretty small, the dive deck and various sun decks and the salon were very nice and newly appointed. The camera tables were a bit small for our large group, but we managed, with a couple of us using the cocktail tables up near the bar on an upper deck. Throughout the week we were treated to amazing service (better than the other Aggressors I’ve been on) with excellent food, served in a fine dining atmosphere. I’ve been on a lot of liveaboards, and I could see how well the crew had been trained; not just to do their jobs, but to take care of guests anyway they could.

The next morning the boat headed out of port to a couple of close dive sites to test our weighting and settle into our skills. The water was a bit brisk at 74F, but with 5mm suits and beanies on, we were pretty comfortable. The weather this time of year is pleasant, in the upper 70’s and low 80’s. Some days we had some wind, but it wasn’t too bad.

We then steamed most of the night to Daedulus Reef. It was a bit of a bumpy ride, so most of us didn’t get much sleep. However, we were up at dawn and woke up in the cool depths after a zodiac ride out to the reef.

Daedulus is a coral atoll out in the middle of the Red Sea with an old lighthouse on it, first built in 1863 and rebuilt in 1931. We were hoping to see some hammerhead sharks and other pelagics there, but were skunked, only seeing one silky shark (I am told it swimming under my feet while I surfaced on the last dive). But the walls were nice, and there were lots of great hard and soft corals of every hue, in very clear water. That afternoon, we took a break to hike up the dock to the lighthouse, where we climbed our way to the top. A few of us almost lingered too long; the keeper had us locked in!

Steaming our way further south that night, we arrived at the St John’s reef area, where we had some spectacular dives in the caves and swim-throughs located there. We then moved a little north to a great spot that had some pinnacles covered with soft coral and clouds of orange Anthias. Although the current was ripping, it meant the corals were open and the photography opportunities abundant. Also on many dives we were seeing jellyfish, and had a great time on the surface shooting them and each other. Some divers practiced their blackwater dives and got some great night shots of squid and other small squishy critters.

The next couple of days we hit a few atolls and reefs along the southern coast, then moved up to “dolphin reef” lagoon, hoping to snorkel with some dolphins. They weren’t home, so we did a couple of easy dives enjoying the scenery. After surfacing, we found that another boat had anchored next to us. Much to our dismay, a group of snorkelers were standing on the reefs, not really understanding the damage they were causing.

The last day we hit famous Elphinstone Reef for a couple of morning dives on walls and a drift dive along the reef. Schools of trevallies and sardines were amongst the soft coral, with some nice gorgonian fans, not usually seen in abundance. We then steamed back to Port Ghalib for a fun cocktail party and then off to Cairo and home the next day.

Although this was a long trip, all who came seemed to enjoy it and have many happy memories of the ancient cities and colorful reefs of Egypt and the Red Sea. My thanks to Donna at South Pacific Island Travel and the Red Sea Aggressor for providing us with an excellent experience. Cairo & Giza, Egypt Luxor
Red Sea Aggressor