DPG is a comprehensive underwater photography website and community for underwater photographers. Learn underwater photography techniques for popular digital cameras and specialized professional underwater equipment (wide angle, macro, super macro, lighting and work flow). Read latest news, explore travel destinations for underwater photography. Galleries of professional and amateur underwater photography including wrecks, coral reefs, undersea creatures, fashion and surfing photography.
Dive Photo Guide

Articles

Review of the Kraken Sports KS160 Strobe
By Matthew Sullivan, January 3, 2024 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

DPG would like to thank Kraken Sports for supplying a pair of KS160 strobes and to Pura Vida Divers for the use of their dive operation.
 

DPG RATING
 
4.5 STARS

VERDICT

Pros: Fantastic build; great light quality; lots of power; endless battery life; competitive price

Cons: Quirky ergonomics; heavy

CONTENTS

  1. Excellent Build, Simple Ergonomics
  2. Power for Every Situation
  3. Light Quality to Write Home About
  4. Final Thoughts

 

Kraken Sports is known first and foremost as a maker of high-quality video lights, but the Canadian company also makes optics, accessories, and monitors. Kraken has also tried its hand at strobes, though their first efforts—the KR-S02 and KR-S05—have offered middle-of-the-road flash output befitting their compact forms. As such, these strobes were excellent options for macro and fish portraits, but less well suited to reefscapes, big animals, and other wide-angle subjects. Now Kraken has upped its game considerably with a new model designed primarily as a wide-angle flash—the KS160.

While a guide number of 24 was quoted for earlier models, the KS160 offers 160Ws of power, on par with strobes such as the Ikelite DS160 II and Seacam Seaflash 160D—the model names are the giveaway in all cases. The Kraken strobe also boasts a circular flash tube, a rugged aluminum body, a handy rear LCD screen, and a dedicated battery pack charged via USB-C. These are specs you’ll generally only find on more-expensive strobes, but the KS160 will retail for a competitive $850 when it goes on sale in 2024.

Still, as every underwater shooter knows, specs on paper and in-the-field performance are two very different things. So, let’s find out how the Kraken Sports KS160 holds up where it really matters—underwater. Note that the strobes reviewed here were pre-production versions, but the guts and performance of the strobe are the same as the production model. There are just two small (but important) physical changes that you’d notice if you compared the two versions: The battery compartment on the production model closes with a solid click-and-lock mechanism to ensure security, and the diffusers have been redesigned to prevent light bleeding.

Full disclosure: I work for DPG but I wear many hats and I am also a rep for Kraken Sports. However, I take my DPG role seriously, and I pride myself on objective reviews and my thoughts in this review are honest and without bias.
 

While they are big overall, the KS160 strobes are quite narrow in diameter, making it easy to tuck them in close to the housing handles for close-focus wide-angle situations (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/10, 1/100s, ISO 200)

 

1. Excellent Build, Simple Ergonomics

Top ↑
 
The first thing you notice is the weight and a build that feels like the strobe would be as at home hammering nails into a two-by-four as it is lighting up underwater subjects

Upon picking up the KS160, the first thing you notice is the weight and a build that feels like the strobe would be as at home hammering nails into a two-by-four as it is lighting up underwater subjects. Fortunately, the heft is far less noticeable underwater, but Kraken’s forthcoming buoyancy float, specifically designed for the strobes, should allay any further concerns. Overall, the all-metal body inspires confidence that the KS160 can take a beating and not skip a beat.

Operation of the flash is simple. A push-button turns the strobe on and activates the LCD screen. The power dial needs to be set to full power (160) before the strobe will be fully functional. Once you have turned it to 160, you can then go ahead and select whatever power level you’d like.
 

Shiny, reflective subjects like this bluegill at night are handled well without blown highlights or hotspots (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/9, 1/25s, ISO 800)
 

The strobe features seven power levels controlled with the paddle-like dial, and there’s a solid click and hard stop at each level. The control wheel allows you to further fine-tune the output power, providing an additional three power levels in-between each hard stop.
 

KS160 Specifications

  • Maximum power: 160Ws
  • Beam angle: 120°
  • Color temperature: 5500K
  • Recycle time: 1.6 seconds (full power)
  • LED focus light: 500 lumens
  • Flashes per charge (full power): 400
  • Battery: 2x 21700 USB-C battery pack
  • Depth rating: 330 feet (100 meters)
  • Dimensions (W x D x L): 3.3" x 3.9" x 7.6" (84mm x 100mm x 194mm)
  • Weight (with battery): 42.7oz (1,210g) in air; 10.6oz (300g) underwater

 

Clockwise from top left: The Kraken Sports KS160 strobe with its sturdy metal body; the circular flash tube bodes well for an even, wide beam; the rear panel; close-up of the LCD, showing the number of flashes remaining at the selected power level
 

The KS160 features both fiber-optic and electronic sync, the latter via Sea&Sea-style 5-pin bulkheads. I had no issues whatsoever with regards to triggering. Whether fiber-optically or electronically connected, the KS160 fired reliably every time. The LED screen on the back of the strobe lets you know exactly how many shots you have left at your selected power setting, which is incredibly useful for peace of mind if nothing else. That said, the strobes put out a lot of light, and I never found myself using full power, so I never even paid the battery life any attention, as you have hundreds or even thousands of shots at your disposal at half power or less.
 

Even without beam restrictors, careful positioning of strobes (and the correct subject) can make for some moody, contrasty images (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/13, 1/125s, ISO 50)
 

Usefully, the battery pack features a USB-C port so you can charge the battery directly. When the battery is inserted into the strobe, a simple twist locks it into place with a solid click so you know it is properly secured. For those instances when your lights die (or are forgotten), the KS160 also features a 500-lumen focus light that also seemingly lasts forever. I spent around three hours exploring a spring at night with no other functional lights, and the strobe focus lights lasted the entire time, barely seeming to drain the battery at all.

For those looking for a TTL-capable strobe, the KS160 won't fit the bill; it is a strictly manual strobe. That is perfectly fine by me, as I don’t ever use TTL, but keep it in mind if the convenience of automatic flash exposure is important to you.
 

The light quality from the KS160 for close-focus wide-angle images is fantastic. The strobe has a lot of power, so being able to shoot at lower power settings while still getting a lot of light means light of a high quality (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro lens, Nauticam EMWL, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/13, 1/25s, ISO 200)

 

2. Power for Every Situation

Top ↑
 
Recycle time is another important consideration, and the KS160 doesn’t disappoint. At full power, it is quoted as 1.5 seconds, which seemed to bear out in reality

While the KS160 can’t claim to have the class-leading power of the Ikelite DS230, for example, the Kraken strobe is plenty powerful for almost any situation. At 160Ws, it is comparable to some of the other high-end strobes currently on the market, such as the Retra Flash Pro Max, Seacam Seaflash 160D, and SUPE Scubalamp D-Pro. While guide number, or GN, is often quoted, it is usually unreliable, as each manufacturer measures it differently, so watt-seconds (Ws) is a far better indication of a strobe’s actual power output.

We have discussed this in previous strobe reviews, but it bears repeating: If you are a wide-angle shooter primarily, it is beneficial to get as powerful a strobe as possible, while still taking light quality into account. (More on the light quality of the KS160 later.) I don’t usually find myself shooting a strobe at full power, the higher your maximum power, the more options you have for lowering the power while still having plenty. The important advantage is that the lower the flash power relative to the maximum power, the nicer the light quality will be. (Your stereo system is a good analogy: An amplifier with a lot of reserve power is going to sound more musical than an underpowered amplifier cranked all the way up.)
 

The KS160 produced nice, even lighting across this manatee while shooting against the sun (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/9, 1/40s, ISO 800)
 

Recycle time is another important consideration, and the KS160 doesn’t disappoint. At full power, it is quoted as 1.6 seconds, which seemed to bear out in reality. At lower power levels, it proved to be virtually instantaneous. Unfortunately, I was unable to thoroughly quantify this underwater, as my Seafrogs housing has some unfortunate limitations with regards to strobe triggering; I was stuck shooting between one and three frames at a time, which is just not useful for testing strobe recycle times. The Seafrogs flash trigger does not seem capable of keeping up with rapid fire shooting and when using electronic sync, I have not been able to shoot rapid fire with any strobe. I suspect either the Seafrogs electronic sync cable is either limiting in general or my particular cable is not functioning properly.
 

Shooting wide-angle images into the sun is a great test for strobe power. Even shooting into bright tropical sun was no problem for the powerful KS160 (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/11, 1/80s, ISO 200)

 

3. Light Quality to Write Home About

Top ↑
 
I was very impressed by the light quality of the KS160. The beam has a wide spread and falls off softly, especially with the dedicated diffuser

I was unsure about what to expect from the KS160 in terms of light quality. Of course, I knew it had a circular flash tube and was powerful, but even knowing those attributes, not all light is created equal. Overall light quality is arguably the most important factor to consider when looking for a wide-angle strobe.

As it turned out, I was very impressed by the light quality of the KS160. The beam has a very wide spread and falls off softly, especially with the dedicated diffuser. My benchmark for light quality thus far is the Ikelite DS230, and the KS160 comes close. The DS230 is better, but had I never shot Ikelite’s strobe, I would have zero reservations about the KS160. The strobe produces a relatively cool light, the color temperature being 5500K.

I used the KS160 for everything from macro to reef scenes, reflective freshwater fish to big animals. Never once did I find myself wishing for “improved” light. Certainly, this can partly be attributed to the luxury of shooting at lower powers. I generally found myself shooting most frequently between 1/8 power (20Ws) and 1/4 power (40Ws) for most instances that weren’t large reef scenes. I was especially impressed with the “throw” of the KS160, or how far the strobe is able to send light out, while still retaining nice light quality. My venerable Sea&Sea YS-250s are great for this too, but the light quality from these strobes, I feel, is inferior to that of the KS160.
 

Even distant subjects like this Florida gar are lit pleasingly due to the KS160’s excellent throw, even when shooting well below full power (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/8, 1/50s, ISO 800)
 

Snoots will eventually be available for the KS160, but in the meantime, I’ve spent some time doing narrow aperture macro with natural light bleeding in. It is definitely a strobe geared towards wide-angle shooting, but that doesn’t mean a cute little cowfish can’t be photographed! Soft, wide strobe light allowed for nice and easy illumination of this adorable little guy (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/3.5, 1/200s, ISO 64)
 

Big animals are no match for the KS160. Even in very bright, shallow conditions, the strobes put out enough (quality) light to bring out the face and details of this manatee (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/10, 1/50s, ISO 160)

 

4. Final Thoughts

Top ↑
 
You get a lot of strobe for your money, and in terms of overall performance for a wide-angle flash, the KS160 holds up very well against much more expensive competition

A significant improvement on Kraken’s earlier strobes, the KS160 is an impressively high-quality strobe at a very competitive price. You get a lot of strobe for your money, and in terms of overall performance for a wide-angle flash, the KS160 holds up very well against much more expensive competition. While it may not quite match the Ikelite DS230 with respect to power and light quality, it comes very close.

The KS160 performed superbly in every situation and did so without hitches or glitches. From reef scenes to macro to big animals, the flashes handled them all. The strobes offer top-notch build quality, seemingly endless battery life, and great light quality. While a pair of KS160s is no minor investment, these strobes are great value and should definitely be seriously considered by anybody shopping for all-around flashguns capable of taking on any subject.
 

You can even photograph alligators with the KS160—if you dare! (Sony a9, Seafrogs housing, Nikonos RS 13mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, dual Kraken Sports KS160 strobes, f/7.1, 1/15s, ISO 1000)
 


 

About the Reviewer: Matthew Sullivan is a Florida-based wildlife photographer who has been diving since he was 10 years old. He has traveled extensively, visiting well-known dive destinations such as Guadalupe Island, Indonesia and the Philippines, but he also likes to dive closer to home in Florida. When not taking pictures underwater, he can be found trekking mountains, or exploring national parks and rainforests in search of new adventures and wildlife encounters.
 


 

Kraken Sports KS160 Strobe

When purchasing underwater photography equipment like the products mentioned in this article, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.com

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Be the first to add a comment to this article.
You must be logged in to comment.
Sponsor
Newsletter
* indicates required
Travel with us

Featured Photographer




Sponsors