DPG would like to thank SeaLife Cameras for supplying the Sea Dragon 3000F Auto and 2000F photo/video lights, DC2000 camera, and accessories used in this review.
The SeaLife DC2000 with the Sea Dragon 3000F Auto lights in action on Siladen Resort’s stunning house reef
There are a lot of divers and snorkelers out there who are keen to get into underwater film and photography but don't want the headache of matching cameras with housings and dealing with the whole mess of clamps, arms, and sync cables. Over the years, SeaLife has become the go-to brand for a simplified and streamlined experience of selecting a first underwater camera setup. The company offers everything from waterproof cameras equipped with housings, trays and lights, to wide-angle lenses and flexible arms—all under one roof, so to speak. In maintaining their already impressive line of underwater imaging products while constantly pushing forward with new models, SeaLife recently released two midrange additions to its Sea Dragon line of video/photo lights: the Sea Dragon 3000F Auto and Sea Dragon 2000F.
Last year, I got my hands on a pair of Sea Dragon 4500 video/photo lights, SeaLife’s most powerful light aimed at serious hobbyists and professional photographers. Putting the Sea Dragon 4500s through their paces for the better part of a month around Bali and Komodo, it didn't take long for the lights to impress me with their functional design and the high quality of emitted light. This year, I find myself eager to test out the new Sea Dragon 3000F Auto and 2000F—and after a quick once-over, I’m quite certain these lights will not disappoint.
The Sea Dragon 2000F lights coupled with SeaLife’s Super Macro Lens are an excellent combo for those who prefer the small stuff
1. Two Midrange Sea Dragon Options
The new 3000F Auto and 2000F are in keeping with the simple yet functional design of all the previous models in the Sea Dragon line. Let’s look at the features they have in common first.
Either light is compact enough to fit in your hand, while the large single button proves easy to locate and press—even with gloves on—to toggle through the different power settings of 100%, 50%, and 25%.
Both lights use the same 25Wh Li-ion rechargeable battery and boast a 60-minute run time at full power without any drop-off towards the end of the cycle. The battery is sealed in an accessible rear compartment, which is, for me, an absolute must when I look at new lights. Inaccessible batteries mean you can’t swap them out for fresh batteries on short surface intervals, while exterior charging contacts are always prone to corrosion, making charging even more troublesome.
Where light quality is concerned, both models take advantage of modern COB (chip on board) LEDs, and both have a 90-degree beam angle underwater—hence the “F” for “flood” in the model names. Finally, both have a color temperature of 5000K and produce a high color rendering index (CRI) of 80. In layman’s terms, that means the lights produce a pleasing color quite close to that of the sun—which is a good thing. Unsurprisingly, neither light can compete with the Sea Dragon 4500, whose off-the-charts CRI of 96—i.e., almost the sun’s CRI of 100—is among the best in class.
In terms of what sets these lights apart from each other, as you may have deduced, the 3000F Auto emits 3,000 lumens while the 2000F outputs 2,000 lumens, making the former the more powerful of the two. The other significant difference between the two models is in the modes each light offers. While both offer three power levels of white light plus an emergency signal mode that blinks in one-second intervals, the 3000F Auto—as the name suggests—comes with automatic functions.
The first, Auto Bright mode, when activated, adjusts the lights intensity from 10% to 100% depending on the subject’s proximity. The second, Auto Flash Detect mode, automatically shuts off the light when a flash fires, thereby reducing any unwanted backscatter the lights may have caused. Both of these auto modes are the same ones found on lights such as the Sea Dragon 4500.
The final distinguishing feature of the 3000F Auto is something you don’t see in the model name: There are two integrated 180-lumen red LEDs to assist your camera’s autofocus and allow you to see your surroundings in dark environments like caves or wreck interiors. The red light mode is also handy when using strobes to photograph skittish reef fish, as they won’t be scared off like they would be with bright white light. The red LEDs also momentarily turn off when a flash is detected.
Subjects large or small, both the Sea Dragon 3000F Auto and the 2000F have enough power for the job
2. Flexible (Literally) and Expandable
Various mounting options were also made available, including the Flex-Connect YS adapter for the SeaLife Flex-Connect system, as well as one-inch ball joint adapters, which allowed me to shoot my Panasonic Lumix GH5 with the lights mounted on my regular arms. With either the 3000F Auto or 2000F, a single light or a pair can be purchased in a kit with either a Flex-Connect single tray and one grip or dual tray and two grips. Further expansion is possible by adding a couple of flex arms. (I must admit, saying goodbye to balls and clamps is a breath of fresh air!)
For my testing, I also changed things up geographically—new lights, new sites!—switching from Bali and Komodo to north Sulawesi’s awesome Bunaken National Park, with the help and services of Dive Safari Asia, a brilliant full service dive travel agent catering to those who want a more personal touch, and my exceptional host, Siladen Resort, which has a reputation for being one of the best dive resorts in Bunaken and knows just what underwater shooters need.
Similar to Komodo or Bali, Bunaken consistently keeps underwater image-makers covered with a huge diversity of subjects, providing the perfect testing grounds for the new lights. Its shallow reefs, walls, and endless parade of green sea turtles provide a surplus of cooperative wide-angle subjects, while the mucky shores of the mainland contain some excellent sites for macro critters.
At 3,000 lumens, the Sea Dragon 3000F provides enough light to illuminate this large female green sea turtle resting in the wall’s overhang (SeaLife DC2000, 2x Sea Dragon 3000F Auto, SeaLife 0.5x Wide Angle Dome Lens, f/1.8, 1/160s, ISO 125)
While 2,000 lumens is an ample amount of light for wide-angle video if you choose your subjects carefully, the Sea Dragon 2000F light were most useful for macro photo and video (SeaLife DC2000, 2x Sea Dragon 2000F, SeaLife Super Macro Lens, f/1.8, 1/160s, ISO 125)
3. Taking on (Almost) Any Subject
In use, the 3000F Auto and 2000F proved to be just as easy as working with previous models of Sea Dragon lights. Thanks to the very pleasing color temperature and high CRI of 80, both lights offer wide, even beams that I found to be suitable for most subjects, big or small.
Although the lights have a difference of 1,000 lumens at maximum output, I found as long as I kept a few basic film and photo principles in mind, I could still get some very nice results with either pair of lights. That being said, in both cases, it did prove to be a bit more challenging to bring out the natural colors of reefscapes or large fish schools, since not only are we talking about working with big wide-angle subjects but also competing with the sun to illuminate these subjects.
Given the lack of natural light beneath, this jetty provided the ideal testing grounds for the lights, which successfully brought out the natural colors of the coral (SeaLife DC2000, 2x Sea Dragon 3000F Auto, SeaLife 0.5x Wide Angle Dome Lens, f/2.5, 1/320s, ISO 125)
Keeping the sun behind the photographer and making use of the SeaLife DC2000’s custom white balance, while also using just a touch of light from the Sea Dragon 2000F lights, it was possible to achieve nice, natural colors throughout the frame (SeaLife DC2000, 2x Sea Dragon 2000F, SeaLife 0.5x Wide Angle Dome Lens, f/2.5, 1/320s, ISO 125)
The first thing to consider when shooting with either of these lights is the location of the sun. Even the most powerful continuous lights on the market would fall short of exposing a subject when shooting into the sun. With that in mind, I always made sure the sun was behind me or at either side when I was shooting.
Another thing I did that really helped make the colors pop was to set a custom white balance by calibrating off my hand—something the SeaLife DC2000 camera makes very easy—or by selecting the Snorkel white balance preset. I could then use the lights in combination with the selected white balance to enhance the foreground colors with the help of the artificial light while the background reef would still maintain a nice natural color brought out by the sun.
When I used the 2000Fs for larger subjects, I noticed that if I just moved a bit closer—six inches to a foot—I could usually make up for the difference in light output compared with the 3000Fs (at the cost of a slightly reduced field of view). That being said, for certain subjects and compositions, that just wasn’t possible: With the dual light setup you’d use for shooting wide angle, the 6,000 lumens of the 3000Fs versus the 4,000 lumens of the 2000Fs is significant enough to give you that bit extra shooting flexibility.
A highlight reel filmed in Bunaken National Park and northern Sulawesi using the SeaLife DC2000 and Panasonic Lumix GH5, with dual Sea Dragon 3000F Auto lights and dual Sea Dragon 2000F lights
4. A Mode for Every Occasion
The different modes and power outputs did come in handy during my tests. While searching for critters, I preferred using the lower power settings of both models, as the light was a bit less intrusive for the shy subjects I was hunting for and less likely to spook them.
My preference was also for the lower power settings while filming and photographing macro subjects. Although SeaLife’s DC2000 camera offers full manual control, allowing one to select larger apertures for shallower depths of field, I found it easier to just turn the lights down with a button press or two, prompting the camera to open up the aperture and give me that bokeh effect I was after.
The 3000F Auto’s red light mode worked very well in macro situations. The red light didn’t seem to bother anything with eyes—particularly on night dives where critters’ eyes are accustomed to the dark—allowing me more time with my chosen subjects while being considerate to their retinas. Thanks to the Auto Flash Detect feature, the red light immediately turned off when pressing the shutter, ensuring that my strobes were the only light source. Indeed, there is nothing more annoying than having a subject turned various shades of red by your focus light.
A juvenile frogfish tucked within the algae was no issue to light thanks to SeaLife’s Flex-Connect arms (SeaLife DC2000, Sea Dragon 2000F, SeaLife Super Macro Lens, f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO 125)
For a shallow depth of field, it was possible to turn down the Sea Dragon 3000F Auto lights to their minimum, prompting the DC2000 to open up its aperture fully and give a pleasing bokeh (SeaLife DC2000, Sea Dragon 3000F Auto, SeaLife Super Macro Lens, f/1.8, 1/500s, ISO 125)
So as not to cause any undue stress to these anemonefish eggs, the Sea Dragon 3000F’s red light was used as a focus light, with the Sea Dragon Universal Flash as the light source (SeaLife DC2000, Sea Dragon 3000F Auto, Sea Dragon Universal Flash, SeaLife Super Macro Lens, f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO 125)
5. Final Thoughts
SeaLife has succeeded in delivering another quality product—or in this case, two products—combining the ease of use and thoughtful design that they have become known for. Shooters who are just starting out in their underwater film and photo endeavors will find either the Sea Dragon 3000F Auto or 2000F more than suitable—especially when paired with SeaLife’s DC2000 camera via the versatile Flex-Connect arm system.
So which of these models should you opt for? The Sea Dragon Duo 6000F Set—comprising two 3000F Auto lights, tray and grips—plus a couple of Flex-Connect arms will cost you around $1,000, while a similar configuration with the 2000F lights will save you only a couple of hundred bucks. So, for me, springing for the extra cash is a no-brainer considering the extra lumens you’re getting and the usefulness of the red light and automatic modes.
Although both of these lights are by no means the brightest on the market, I’m of the belief that the overall quality of the light and knowing how to balance the ambient light with the artificial light are key to bringing out the natural colors of the underwater world. Even with the 2,000-lumen model, when working with a dual light setup, you’re still packing a serious amount of light that’s suitable for just about any subject or lighting conditions you’ll encounter.
The versatility of the Sea Dragon 3000F Auto and 2000F make them really great lights for just about any underwater shooting scenario
About Alex Lindbloom: Alex is an award-winning underwater photographer and videographer originally from Boise, Idaho and Seattle in the USA. His work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, in various dive magazines, on display in the United Nations building in New York City, and even on a 100-foot monitor in one of Jakarta’s skyscrapers. After leaving the States in 2010 to pursue film and photography in Asia, Alex quickly fell in love with the never-ending diversity of Indonesia, where he has lived and worked since 2013. www.alexlindbloom.com