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Review of the SeaLife Sea Dragon 5000+ Photo/Video Light
By Daniel Norwood, May 4, 2024 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

The author would like to thank SeaLife Cameras for supplying a pair of SeaLife Sea Dragon 5000+ photo/video lights as well as a SeaLife SportDiver smartphone housing and accessories used in this review.
 

Shooting squid with the SeaLife SportDiver housing and two Sea Dragon 5000+ photo/video lights
 

Over the last several years, as smartphone housings have become more readily available, more and more divers are discovering that the cameras inside their phones perform just as impressively underwater as they do on land. Indeed, when I tested the SeaLife SportDiver housing back in 2022, I found that I was able to get excellent results with the device I was using at the time, an Apple iPhone 11. With few new compact cameras being released, it wasn’t hard to imagine that the smartphone would soon become the camera of choice for many new underwater image-makers.

While I might have upgraded my phone since then—I now have an iPhone 14 Pro Max—at least one fundamental truth about underwater imaging hasn’t changed: What matters more than your camera is the light you get on your subjects. If you’re shooting with your smartphone—and with no real option to trigger strobes, that means video and still images—you’ll need to invest in some high-quality continuous lights.

When I reviewed the SeaLife SportDiver, I was provided their SportDiver Pro 2500 Set, which bundles the housing with a Flex-Connect Single Tray and Grip and a single Sea Dragon 2500F photo/video light. While this modest setup, with its 2,500-lumen light, proved to be adequate for many shooting situations, I frequently craved a rig with a pair of higher-powered lights that could produce a wide, even beam to take on bigger subjects and larger scenes. Enter SeaLife’s top-of-the-range photo/video light, the Sea Dragon 5000+ with Color Boost, which I have had the pleasure of thoroughly testing over the last few months.
 

A pair of SeaLife Sea Dragon 5000+ photo/video lights is perfect for lighting subjects ranging from medium-sized animals to small macro critters at close distance

 

Packed with Power and Features

As the name suggests, the Sea Dragon 5000+ offers an impressive output of 5,000 lumens—that’s 10,000 lumens when you’ve got a pair, of course. Underwater, the beam angle is rated at 90 degrees, while the COB LED has a quoted color rendering index (CRI) of 90, which should very closely simulate natural sunlight.

However, there’s much more to this light than these headline specs. Look closely at the front of the light and you’ll notice that there are also two red LEDs either side of the large central LED array. These LEDs produce a 220-lumen red light, which comes in handy if you want to use the light to assist focus when shooting skittish critters with strobes. But SeaLife has also come up with an ingenious additional use for these red LEDs: By mixing the main white light with the red light, you can reduce the color temperature from 5000K to 3700K, thereby adds instant warmth to your footage and stills.

SeaLife calls this handy feature “Color Boost” and it’s found on only one other light recently introduced into their range, the slightly less-powerful Sea Dragon 3000F. Engaging Color Boost is simplicity itself with the Sea Dragon 5000+ as there’s just a single button to control the light and cycle through the different modes: After the 5,000-lumen white light mode, the second mode is 5,000 lumens with Color Boost.

The Sea Dragon 5000+ actually has an “Easy” setting and an “Advanced” setting (the latter being engaged with an eight-second long press):

  • Easy: 5,000 lumens → 5,000 lumens + Color Boost →  3,000 lumens → 1,500 lumens → Stealth mode (red only) → repeat
  • Advanced: 5,000 lumens → 5,000 lumens + Color Boost → 6,000 lumens → 6,000 lumens + Color Boost → 3,000 lumens → 3,000 lumens + Color Boost → 1,500 lumens → Stealth mode (red only) → repeat

As you can see, when set to “Advanced,” you can switch to a high-power 6,000-lumen mode (which is engaged for two minutes), and there are also Color Boost options at both 6,000 and 3,000 lumens.

While the Sea Dragon 5000+ has a hard-anodized aluminum light head, the body is fiber-reinforced polycarbonate, making the light with the battery a travel-friendly 19.7oz (557g). It also comes with a nice neoprene cover to protect it in transit both above and below the water. The battery is easy to install and charge and runs for 60 minutes at full power, more than enough time for two dives if you turn the lights off when not in use. A depth rating of 330ft (100m) also means you can take the light on any dive with confidence. And should the worst-case scenario ever happen and the battery compartment floods, the internal electronics are completely separate and safe from harm.
 

Reflective fish require only a fraction of the 5,000-lumen output of the Sea Dragon 5000+
 

A still of a friendly reef octopus captured with a DSLR and the Sea Dragon 5000+

 

The Sea Dragon 5000+ In Use

On paper, the Sea Dragon 5000+ has some impressive specifications and features, so I was excited to dive with a pair of them and put them to the test. SeaLife provided me with variety of ball mounts and adaptors so that I was able to shoot the lights with their own tray and cameras, as well as other camera systems. I spent most of my time underwater using the lights with the SportDiver smartphone housing, but also occasionally with a GoPro and my Nikon Z8.

Initial setup of the lights is as straightforward as charging the batteries and attaching them to the camera, and the single control is easy to operate underwater. Hold down the button for three seconds to turn the light on, and after that every press of the button cycles you through the various modes. It doesn’t take long to figure out what mode you are using just by looking at the beam and watching the brightness change. Color Boost modes add an obvious warm glow that is also indicated by a flashing light on the power button.

As mentioned above, there is also an “Advanced” setting, giving you the option of a power boost to 6,000 lumens and additional Color Boost modes. I didn’t really use the “Advanced” setting much, partly because I found it a little tricky to activate and keep track of during a dive, but mostly because I didn’t really feel like I needed it, as the basic five settings were more than enough for my shooting needs.
 

Even at distance, two 5,000-lumen lights enhance the patterns and colors of large subjects
 

I live in the Caribbean and normally dive in sunny conditions and good visibility. I mostly shoot wide-angle scenes and fish portraits, with some occasional macro critters thrown in for good measure. After a couple of dives, I was already comfortable using the lights and soon figured out when best to use each mode as well as the benefits of Color Boost.

When shooting big animals or reefs at distance, I would always shoot the lights on full power and be ready to activate Color Boost at the press of a button. That being said, shooting large wide-angle scenes is difficult with even the highest powered lights, as you are often too far away from your chosen subject for the lights to have a noticeable effect. This is not a fault with the SeaLife lights, just a limitation with nearly all continuous lights that video shooters should be aware of.

The Sea Dragon 5000+ lights work best with subjects that allow for a close approach and excel when shooting fish portraits and macro. Luckily for me, there is plenty of cooperative marine life in my backyard that fits that description, and I had lots of fun shooting friendly turtles and eagle rays and inquisitive sharks.
 

Divemaster Anthony Bonomi demonstrates the optimum distance to subject at which the Sea Dragon video lights work best

 

Adding Warmth with Color Boost

There are hundreds of underwater lights on the market, but SeaLife is the first manufacturer that I know of to combine white and red LEDs to adjust the color temperature of the light output. In much the same way that red filters are used to add warmth to an image when shooting natural light, the Color Boost mode does basically the same thing but with artificial light. This can be very useful when shooting in dark conditions where sunlight fails to properly light the scene.
 

A few clips highlighting the effectiveness of the Color Boost feature on the SeaLife Sea Dragon 5000+ photo/video light in different shooting situations
 

It is easy to activate this mode at the press of a button, and I found myself going back and forth often between full power white light and full power with Color Boost. Not all images will benefit from Color Boost, but if you are close to red, orange or pink subjects, especially at depth, it is a great way to improve the overall color of the shot and is a great option to have in your arsenal.

As it is so easy to switch to the Color Boost mode, I often shot clips with and without Color Boost, and chose which one I preferred later when reviewing on the computer. In the above video, I put together a few clips that will give the viewer a good idea how Color Boost affects the final result. Approximately 50% of the clips featured in my final film at the end of the article were also shot in this mode.
 

Macro subjects are illuminated easily with the Sea Dragon 5000+ video lights, and you can bring out the colors even more using the Color Boost feature
 

Utilizing Color Boost when close to subjects in dark environments is the most effective way to improve saturation and color in both video footage and still photos

 

Making Films with Your Phone

I wanted to put together a short video in order to properly demonstrate the capabilities of the Sea Dragon 5000+ photo/video lights when combined with a smartphone in SeaLife’s SportDiver housing. For that reason, I spent the majority of my time underwater with the rig shooting clips for my final film.

Having said that, capturing a few photos for the article was a breeze. I have shot stills with strobes for many years, but I could quickly appreciate how comparatively easy it is to use continuous light for photography. While there’s no doubt that you can achieve images with flash photography that you can’t with LED light, there’s a lot to be said for the freedom and simplicity of “what you see is what you get”!
 

A short film captured entirely with an iPhone 14 Pro Max in a SeaLife SportDiver housing with two SeaLife Sea Dragon 5000+ photo/video lights
 

It’s worth nothing that the 4K footage captured with a smartphone like my iPhone 14 Pro Max produces decent 8.3-megapixel images that can be extracted from the video footage and edited as TIFFs in Adobe Photoshop. This resolution is not comparable to modern mirrorless or DSLR cameras, of course, but it is still plenty of pixels to produce usable images.

In fact, I was so happy with the results that I now think it makes more sense to just shoot video with continuous lights and simply take stills from the video later if needed. As long as you properly light the scene and nail the focus, the Sea Dragon 5000+ lights produce more than enough brightness to capture stills that look like they have been shot with strobes.
 

Extracting images from 4K video clips produces perfectly usable 8.3-megapixel stills
 

Another still taken from 4K video demonstrates that it is possible to get well-lit images with video lights

 

Final Thoughts

The challenge for all underwater filmmakers is to accurately reproduce the vibrant colors of the reef and marine life on camera, and there is no doubt that the Sea Dragon 5000+ with Color Boost can help you achieve that. Performing well with a variety of different cameras, especially smartphones, these lights are a simple yet effective tool for shooters of all levels, and with the added flexibility of Color Boost, you’ll be creating pro-level photos and videos in no time.
 

Close-focus wide-angle shots are another great way to make the most of the 5,000 lumens of light from the Sea Dragon 5000+

 

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