ITS BEEN SOME YEARS SINCE A WOMAN waiting alongside me in the departure lounge at Nassau Airport tried to convert me to her peculiar brand of Christianity, but I remember well telling her that I was more interested in pushbikes. It was the perfect distraction.
She then told me that her son made bicycle lamps. His company was called Light & Motion.
Light & Motion started off making lamps for cyclists, hence the name.
Since then, this Californian company has developed an enviable reputation for video lights, lens attachments and Stingray and Bluefin video camera housings.
Light & Motion has an active marketing department worldwide, and its new Sola 600 lamp was announced with such a fanfare of publicity that I asked it to send me one.
The first surprise was that it turned out to be so tiddly. It really is about the size of a bicycle lamp, yet its modest appearance belies both its performance and its price.
Like the British cycling team, the portable lamp business has been racing on apace recently, and in the underwater realm things are no different.
Lithium-ion battery technology has reduced the size of battery-packs. I can remember using a video camera with four 100W halogen lamps, and ni-cad batteries that had to be winched into the water. This was only 20 years ago.
Similarly, the output of LEDs has risen exponentially, and the high-output lamps of today have a far more impressive output than those of only a couple of years ago.
I suppose Light & Motion could claim that the Sola 600 is the ultimate achievement in the field. Well it might well have been when I wrote this! Perhaps something else has arrived since. Technology really is moving that fast.

Appearance
The Sola 600 is a video light, and yet it is smaller than many back-up lamps used by divers. Its plastic body is only around 10cm long, and weighs in at less than 250g.
Instead of a set of LEDs mounted in reflectors at the front, as one would expect, there are three rows of three LEDs that are almost pin-prick size.

Light Source
There are six LEDs that emit white light, and three that emit red. Why red light Because marine animals seem to be unaware of red, so this makes it a useful aiming light for use at night by stills photographers.
It also means fewer squiggly creatures swimming round your light and your ears when youre enjoying a night dive in the tropics.
The six white LEDs put out more than 600 lumens (670, to be exact), hence the name Sola 600, and this is usefully bright for shooting video and enhancing the colour of subjects in the foreground. Light & Motion claims that the Sola 600 is also useful as a main light for underwater photographers.
Im sorry to say that the momentary output of even the weakest flash is a lot more than 670 lumens, so unless youre using a full-frame (FX) camera set at a very high ISO, say 6000 ISO, it makes a better focusing or aiming light than a main light for stills with a DSLR.
On the other hand, it may have a use as a light source for new underwater photographers armed with compact digital cameras.
Its sometimes difficult to understand how to use a flash effectively when you start out, and a continuous light source like this is easily comprehended.
This is especially true for new photographers working in murkier waters. The effects of backscatter are patently visible, and compact cameras can take apparently sharper macro shots at wider lens openings, so need less light.
The colour of the light output is 6700°K, which is comparatively blue compared with the 5500°K (daylight equivalent) of the average still cameras flash.
Video can work at higher sensitivities and wider lens openings, because sharp focus (or the lack of it) is less apparent with a moving image.

Switching
On top is a sliding magnetic tap switch that can be locked by twisting to prevent accidental activation. Sliding the switch activates the lamp.
There are three output settings in either red or white light, set sequentially. There is no through-body connection that might leak.

Power Source
A tiny rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers this lamp. It will keep it burning brightly at full power for up to 75 minutes.
Reducing the power output increases the burntime pro rata. At one-quarter power, it will burn for five hours. It can be fully recharged in two-and-a-half hours, and the battery is sealed inside its housing.
External connectors allow you to attach the small charging unit without worrying about soiled O-rings or incorrect reassembly leading to a flood. In fact, if the Sola 600 ever did flood, and assuming that you hadnt dropped it on to a hard surface first, the blame could be laid firmly on the factory.

Beam
Video tends to open up the shadows, so any hotspot will show as an annoying burn-out of the image. Its not like stills, where you can let the shadows go dark. This means that video beams must be exceptionally even.
In the days of my heavyweight lamps, I used to need to attach diffusers to them to achieve this.
Luckily, a story can be built up with a series of close-ups, unlike with stills, when a wide-angle shot is needed to encapsulate the whole event in one go, so narrower-angle lenses are commonly used.
This means that the beam of the lamp does not have to be even over such a wide area. Even so, the manufacturer claims a 75° beam angle.
There was no point in doing a beam picture, because the light from this lamp was so completely even. You would have had nothing but white paper to look at. So no problems using the Sola 600 as an aiming light in conjunction with a still cameras flash, even with a lens of the widest angle.
Other aiming lights often leave an annoying lighter patch in the centre of your wide-angle still pictures, the light adding to the overall exposure. So, video-shooters, look no further - two of these units will be all the lighting youll ever need.

Mounting
The Sola 600 can be mounted via a 1/4in-20 thread using an L&M Loc-line fitting or a ball-joint mount for a bendy arm.
Trying it with my camera, and no dedicated attachment, I was reduced to Gaffer-taping it to another arm I had in my possession.
I can anticipate some divers wanting one of these as a primary diving lamp, but it gives such a broad beam that I think it would only benefit those with imaging systems.
If you must try, it just needs mounting on a Goodman-style handle.

COMPARABLE LAMPS TO CONSIDER:
None similar

SPECS
PRICE £489
LAMP Nine high-output LEDs (six white)
BURNTIME 75min at full-power
BATTERIES Rechargeable lithium-ion
WEIGHT IN AIR 250g
CONTACT www.lightandmotionuk.com
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