THE 1,000 DIVE TEST
SOLA VIDEO 2000 VS. GALAXY 2500
Not too long ago you had to shell out some serious cash if you wanted to get that real life color you can only get with artificial lighting when filming underwater. Even then, the lights were cumbersome and involved a mess of cables attached to battery canisters which were the near equivalent to carrying around a couple of small pony bottles. At present, the realm of underwater video lights seems to be growing exponentially and we're offered an overwhelming amount of options on the market. The physical size of most lights can now fit in the palm of your hand while still delivering an impressive beam of light, thanks to the advancements in LED technology, and all at a significantly lower price. With so many options on the market though, it can be tricky to know which ones are going to be the best fit for you. With this article I will shed some light (no pun intended) on this perennial question by comparing two mid range lighting options, both of which I have personally used and abused for over a thousand dives. My chosen video lights have been the Sola 2000 from the underwater lighting industry veterans, Light & Motion, and the Galaxy 2500 from Tovatec who are a relatively new emergence into the lighting scene.
After doing considerable research into the different models and brands available, I initially purchased a pair of the Sola 2000 for filming with my Canon 7D which I work with as a full time liveaboard videographer & photographer. Given the logistical nature of my profession where I'm isolated on a boat in the middle of nowhere for weeks at a time with no time between trips for repairs or returns and doing over six hundred dives a year, I need something thats going to be high quality while at the same time very reliable. Keeping all of these same factors in mind, several seasons and over a thousand dives later, I made my next purchase with a pair of Tovatec's Galaxy 2500. Now, after using both sets of lights for a significant amount of time I've been able to get to know them inside and out and would like to take this time to conduct a side-by-side evaluation of the Sola 2000 and the Galaxy 2500.
Upon removing each light from it's box you will notice two distinct differenced in their physical appearance. Like the rest of the Sola line, the Sola 2000 has maintained an ultra sleek, minimalistic approach with a slender nylon composite body that gently tapers off from the head of the lamp and a simple magnetic slide to navigate the lights three power settings. It quite literally fits into the palm of your hand. Intova has taken a seemingly different design approach with their Galaxy 2500. It's bulky aluminum body milled with hard edges and a cogged dial to change the light's intensity is a stark contrast to the Sola 2000's slender physique. The Galaxy too can fit in the palm of your hand, so long as you have a big hand. The actual light panel for both lights is near identical in size as well as the circular arrangement of the LEDs. The difference in body size is due to the fact that the Sola uses two rechargeable li-ion batteries while the Intova uses three. There is also a considerable weight difference between the two, 15.45 ounces to be exact. This may be something you want to take into consideration especially if you're going to be mounting two of these onto your housing along with a pair of strobes as I do.
BATTERIES & CHARGING
Similarly, both the Galaxy 2500 and the Sola 2000 have taken advantage of the sealed battery compartments which is a huge help when it comes to charging time. With no loose batteries to deal with and potentially lose, all you need to is plug the charging cables into the external port. Light & Motion has installed the charging ports conveniently on the rear of the Sola 2000 which means you don't even need to un-mount the lights from the housing to charge them. To charge the Galaxy 2500 some disassembly is required though nothing to really moan about. In order to access it's charging port we need to first unscrew the light head from the battery compartment. Initially I found this additional effort required by the Galaxy 2500s slightly annoying but soon came to appreciate the fact the charging ports are well protected from salt water by twin o-rings. After a short time diving with the Sola 2000s, even with proper rinsing there was a regular build up of corrosion around the external charging contacts which actually prevented the lights from taking a charge. I would then have to clean with a bit of white vinegar and a cotton bud. Finally, there is no battery level indicator whatsoever on the Galaxy 2500. The AC charger indicates when the light is fully charged with a little green light but that is the extent of it. Most video lights on the market, including the Sola 2000, employ a small arrangement of indicator lights to show you how much juice you have left which is far more practical then guessing.
In terms of actual light output, the Galaxy appears to be the clear winner with it's ultra wide 140°beam and an impressive 2,500 lumens, in comparison with the Sola's 60°beam angle and 500 less lumens. However, one thing to consider is the the affect beam's angle has on the the overall brightness. The Galaxy's 2,500 lumens are spread out over 140 degrees, which is over twice the area of the Sola's 60° beam. This means that the Galaxy 2500 will be significantly less bright, 54% to be exact, when compared to the Sola 2000. After using both lights on my Canon 7D with the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, I must say the wide beam of the Galaxy 2500 is very convenient as I never experience any dark edges like I did if I wasn't careful about the placement of the sola 2000s beams. However, I do greatly miss the intensity of the Sola 2000's. In a controlled side by side test of the lights we can see the clear differences in the two lights' overall beam and brightness.
I'm pleased to say that both of these fantastic lights have held up to the rigorous usage I've imposed upon them. In terms of durability, they are both winners as my Sola 2000s and Galaxy 2500s have been with me for over a thousand dives each. One thing to note though about the Sola lights, is their tendency to, without notice put themselves into a sort of sleep mode which once again prevents them from taking a charge or even turning on. With no explanations as to why this happens or any way to prevent it from happening it became a regular frustration as it would happen frequently, sometimes several times a day. The manual says rapidly tapping the light's contacts with the charging contacts before fully plugging the charger all the way in can resolve this problem, but for myself along with many others suffering the same problem, this rapid tapping was not a solution. Because I needed my lights then and now, I was forced to open up the lights which immediately voided the factory warranty, and unplug the battery pack from the circuit board thereby resetting the lights back into working order. I was quite unpleased with this routine and thankfully have not had any problems thus far with Tovatec’s Galaxy 2500s.
With the Sola 2000s being the brightest of the two lights, I found them to be the more versatile despite their more narrow area of coverage. The 60° beam angle was not much of an issue for my camera's fish-eye lens so long as I had them placed correctly. With the high end LEDs used in the SOLA you get a very smooth and even light throughout the beam. Filming soft coral bommies, colorful reef fish, and even larger schools with the Sola 2000's bright lights would yield fantastic results so long as you stayed within a meter of the subject. On mid afternoon dives where the sun has really saturated the water their effect became less noticeable as the 2000 lumens is just not quite enough to compete with the sun even at thirty meters. In times like this I could still get great results from the Sola lights if I concentrated on smaller subjects, filmed in shady areas, or used them in combination with a preset custom white balance which would vary depending on the amount of natural light in the water.
In the beginning I wasn't sure the Galaxy 2500s were going to cut it when it came to producing those vibrant colors I was used to with my Sola 2000s. In the end they were able to hold their own in the lighting department though you had to really wait for the light to be just right. For the best results with the Galaxy 2500s I needed that early morning or late afternoon light where colorful corals illuminated by lights wide beam would really contrast nicely. Because they Galaxy 2500s are 54% less bright than the Sola 2000 I found myself forced to rely quite heavily on the ISO, sometime as much as 800, to get the vibrant results I wanted. While I try to avoid higher ISOs as much as the next videographer but considering most modern cameras' abilities to reduce ISO noise, 800 is not what it used to be and barely noticeable especially with underwater video. In the case of dives where the natural light is really intense, the Galaxy 2500s still could come in use especially for subjects like large schooling fish, when used in combination with some preset custom white balance settings. Using the sun's light and a custom white balance to create a brilliant natural color throughout the image, the Galaxy lights would add significant depth to the shot by creating that shimmer along the fish's reflective scales and just a touch more color as they came within the light's one meter range.
At the end of the day both Tovatec's Galaxy 2500 and Light & Motion's Sola 2000 are both real workhorses and each have surpassed my own expectations of them. Light & Motion's sexy nine ounce powerhouse of a light makes it highly versatile light and an ideal candidate if you are planning to mount it to your housing along with your strobes as I have done. What Tovatec's Galaxy 2500 lacks in overall brightness, it makes up for by offering one of the widest beams in the market along with highly durable design that will most likely keep going for another thousand dives. If I had to do it over again and choose between one of these two lights to film with for another thousand dives I think I might have to choose the Sola 2000s despite their quirky sleep habits. Because I like to have both my video light as well as strobes with me at all times on my dives, I find it hard to justify the Galaxy 2500's more than fifteen ounce weight difference while not offering brighter results. Light & Motion has been in the business of illuminating the oceans significantly longer most and is clearly visible in their industry leading products. Tovatec is still blossoming as an underwater lighting manufacturer and it will be interesting to follow them in hopes that they can refine the overall designs of their lights while not losing any of that brute strength and durability that the Galaxy 2500 has in abundance.