Editor’s Note: The author would like to thank i-Divesite for supplying the Symbiosis SS-2 lighting system and various accessories used in this review. This review was undertaken in the Lembeh Strait, Indonesia, staying at Lembeh Resort and diving with Critters@Lembeh Resort.
Underwater photography isn’t what it once was. We’re no longer hauling bulky rigs bristling with heavy lights: Most of us want a manageable system that doesn’t incur an excess luggage fee. We’re not even merely photographers any longer: Our cameras also shoot movie-quality footage, and we need to be equipped with powerful LED lights to capture some top-notch video of our adventures—along with our awesome stills.
Thus, the new Symbiosis system from i-Divesite makes perfect sense—an all-in-one lighting solution that does double duty as a companion to our multipurpose imaging gear. Symbiosis comes in two flavors, SS-1 and SS-2, each presenting a clever modular implementation of the combo light concept. I put the latter more highly spec’d model to the test in the waters of the Lembeh Strait and Bunaken National Park.
i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 with attached diffuser
The compact dimensions of the Symbiosis SS-2 isn’t the only thing that is immediately striking: At only 2.3lbs (1050g)—less than two ounces underwater—it’s extremely portable. Being a modular system, you can opt for either the standard 1,000- or 2,000-lumen LED head, or upgrade to one of various promised options, including a 4,000-lumen version, a UV-equipped model, and a head with a narrow beam—all of which can be switched by the user. For my tests, i-Divesite made available two Symbiosis SS-2 systems, each with a 2,000-lumen head.
The Symbiosis is powered by a single 3400mAh battery pack—the same one that is used by the i-Torch Venom c92 and Venom 50. That means just one battery and one charger, which also helps cut down on weight when travelling. According to i-Divesite, the battery lasts up to 70 minutes when using the 2,000-lumen LED light at full power and is good for firing the strobe around 700 times. There is a double O-ring on the battery pack. Screwing the battery pack into the light can be a bit fiddly, but if you want a small unit, you have to be prepared to compromise a little.
Specifications of the Symbiosis SS-2
- Strobe guide number: GN32
- Recycle time: 1.5s (100% battery), 2s (10% battery)
- Number of flashes: 700+ (full power without LED)
- Manual control: 15 levels (strobe), 10 levels (LED)
- Beam angle: 90° x 80° or 100° x 100° with diffuser (strobe), 120° (LED)
- Color temperature: 5600K (strobe), 5700K (LED)
- LED light: 1,000 or 2,000 lumens (upgradeable to 4,000 lumens)
- LED light modes: White (10~100%), red (10~100%)
- Battery charging time: 2.5hrs
- Included accessories: Charger, diffuser, YS and ball mounts, light wrench
- Weight: 2.3lbs/1050g (1.8oz/50g underwater)
- MSRP: $799
Symbiosis SS-2 with 3400mAh battery pack
Unlike the SS-1, the strobe body of the SS-2 comes with a bright backlit LED display that shows all the important settings you need to know and even automatically flips, depending on which way up it’s oriented, so you don’t have to dive upside down to be able to read it—a nice touch. The SS-2’s guide number is 32 (compared to 24 on the SS-1), which is the same power as the Sea & Sea YS-D2, and the recycle time is listed as a respectable two seconds.
The video light can be switched on while using the strobe function (by pushing the light button) and has a few different settings. Push it once and the white light comes on at 100% output and stays on when the flash fires—handy when shooting long exposures. Push the button again and the light remains at 100% but will switch off automatically when the strobe fires (like most focus lights on strobes do). If you keep pressing the button, the light cycles through different settings: 100% white, 50% white, 25% white, 100% red, 50% red, and back to 100% white.
Clockwise from top-left: Manual strobe mode with continuous video light; manual strobe mode with white video light at 50% power; LED mode red; LED mode white
In LED mode, you’ve got finer control over the output, which can be adjusted in 10% increments when using white light and in 20% increments in the red light mode. In addition to the LED and manual strobe modes, the Symbiosis SS-2 has two Auto Flash modes, A1 and A2: A1 is for medium or longer shots (0.5–2m) while A2 is for macro subjects (0.2m – 0.5m). There’s no fully automatic TTL option.
As the strobe connects only via fiber-optic cable, this is not the right strobe for lovers of sync cords. I was using a weak LED flash trigger and couldn’t use just any fiber-optic cable. I found that with a very thin cable, the strobe wouldn’t fire every time consistently—there just wasn’t enough light coming through—but with a thicker cable, I had no issues and the strobes worked perfectly.
The fiber-optic cable connection on the Symbiosis SS-2
The Symbiosis SS-2 in Use
As an underwater shooter who wears both hats—photographer and videographer—the Symbiosis system was a pleasure to use, and diving with two units, I was just as maneuverable in the water as with any strobe. However, of course, the Symbiosis really came into its own with the convenience of switching easily between shooting stills and capturing footage.
The LED light produced a nice even beam with natural colors, while the strobe produced pleasing illumination, when used with the supplied diffuser, and was adequately powerful, recycling fast enough to be barely noticeable. For my preference, the 2,000-lumen output of the LED lights was on the weak side for the purposes of shooting macro here in Lembeh, so it’s great that there’s a 4,000-lumen option in the works.
The battery performed largely as promised in the specifications, and with mixed stills and video usage, there was enough juice for up to two dives. I could get one dive out of it when using only the continuous light. For most users, doing multiple dives, a spare battery is therefore a must. Recharging the battery took considerably less than the quoted 2.5 hours, which is presumably the time needed to charge from completely flat.
The following shows a series of images I took with the Symbiosis SS-2 in Lembeh Strait and Bunaken National Park using strobe, LED and combined strobe/LED modes. In addition, because I haven’t “snooted” in a while, I decided to mount my own DIY fiber-optic snoot in front of one of the strobes and give it a go, which produced some great results, too. I also shot a short video with the Symbiosis SS-2.
Flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi), Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in strobe mode (f/7.1, 1/125s, ISO 100)
Coconut octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus), Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in strobe mode (f/9, 1/200s, ISO 125)
Backlit robust ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus), Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, single i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in strobe mode with DIY fiber-optic snoot (f/13, 1/250s, ISO 80)
Long exposure of a Glossodoris cincta at night, Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in strobe/LED mode with red light and DIY fiber-optic snoot (f/16, 1/8s, ISO 50)
Long exposure of a hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus), Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, single i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in strobe mode with DIY fiber-optic snoot (f/10, 1s, ISO 160)
Shaun the sheep (Costasiella kuroshimae) backlit through the algae with a snoot, Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, i-Divesite UCL 09 T2.0 super-macro lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in strobe mode with DIY fiber-optic snoot (f/11, 1/200s, ISO 50)
Coconut octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus), Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in LED mode (2,000 lumens) (f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 160)
Juvenile giant frogfish (Antennarius commerson), Lembeh Strait: Sony A7r II, 90mm macro lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 in LED mode (2,000 lumens) (f/3.5, 1/250s, ISO 160)
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Bunaken National Park: Sony A7r II, Canon 8–15mm lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 (f/14, 1/125s, ISO 400)
Soft coral and diver, Bunaken National Park: Sony A7r II, Canon 8–15mm lens, dual i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 (f/13, 1/125s, ISO 400)
Highlight reel shot with the i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2
The Symbiosis SS-2 proved to do exactly what it says on the tin: It performed very well both as a strobe and as a continuous light for video and stills, and it was simplicity itself to switch back and forth between modes. Moreover, it encourages you to experiment and try some different lighting combinations and exposure settings, which you might never try if you were using separate strobes and video lights.
For shooting close-ups, the supplied 2,000-lumen LED lights were a little underpowered for my taste. But therein lies the beauty of this modular system: You can get Symbiosis with higher-powered lights or upgrade later, as desired. Personally, I can’t wait to try out the 4,000-lumen option, and there’s a forthcoming snoot option that I’d love to play with—instead of my DIY version.
If, like me, you’re equally at home shooting still or moving pictures, the Symbiosis SS-2 should be at the top of your very short list.
|i-Divesite’s lighting products are being distributed worldwide under the i-Torch brand, but from 2017, they will gradually come under the iD brand—short for i-Divesite.|
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