Sola Dive 1200 a dive changing experience – EDITOR’S CHOICE

Sola 1200 D is a ScubaGadget Editors Choice Winner.

How can you tell the cold water divers from the holiday divers among a group on a tropical dive boat? The cold water most always divers bring a dive light with them. All new divers learn the “red drops out of the light spectrum first, etc.” lesson in Scuba 101. But many tropical divers do not carry lights on daytime dives or they carry a small light for “looking in crevices and whole.” But, below a few feet, everything looks better under a dive light. Many divers may only see the true colors shinning through back at home in their underwater flash photos. Tropical or not, I am still amazed at how the colors pop and how that brown turns to brilliant crimson when I have a good dive light. I thought I had learned what a good dive light can do for the dive experience, then we got the Light & Motion Sola Dive 1200… and not be cliché, “but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The Pacific Northwest is the perfect venue to test dive lights. Our emerald sea nurtures a massive spectrum of plankton feed life that often puts a Caribbean dive to shame. But, in these waters, whether day or night, you can only experience the brilliance of it all with a decent dive light. We have used and tested quite a few lights boasting the full range of powers. But we have never had anything like the Sola Dive. This is a light and compact combination of power and technology that sits on back of your hand and opens up a whole new world of diving. We found that familiar dive sites, which we have been to dozens of times, now became a brand new experience with the 1200D. It is true that a big, old canister light can illuminate point of interest and a massive video light can open up a scene, but the Solo Dive 1200’s hand’s free combination of beam and flood exposes creatures that we previously missed…and with less cost and much more comfort than a canister light.

Wanna have lots of dive buddy’s? Dive a Sola. After group dives with the 1200D, we consistently heard divers ask if they could follow us around on the next dive and watch what appears under our Sola. We have been astounded by the intense interest and response we got when showing this light around. Seasoned divers, tech divers (used to canister lights), photographers, instructors and dive shop owners all seemed to salivate to get one when they see this light.

The Light:

Going over our checklist list of dream options for a dive light, we found that the designers of the 1200D added features that we hadn’t even considered. It is smaller and lighter than almost any normal primary light, easy to use, completely sealed and has a non-penetrating magnetic switch – you never open it up. It’s rechargeable – no batteries to buy and easy to charge. You do not open it to charge it. It, has both spot and flood beams and is BRIGHT. Even though it is a “hands free” light is nearly double the power of any hand held light on the market (as of our testing). And, as Steve Job’s says, one more thing … it can also double as a camera focus and video light. Additionally, it has three color indicator lights adjacent to the switch to keep you explicitly informed of both your current power setting and remaining battery reserves (they also indicate charging or a failure mode on the surface).

We liked the color of the this light too. The light from the 1200D seems to bring out truer or at least more pleasing colors and better contrast that other we have tested.

Specs

  • Lumens = High- 1200/500 | Med- 600/250 | Low- 300/125
  • Run time = High- 70/70 Min | Med- 140/140 | Low- 280/280
  • Charge time = 150 minute
  • Size = 57mm x 101mm
  • Weight = 287 gr/10.12 oz. w/ Wrist Strap

Controls and Indicators

All the features of the 1200D are easily controlled by one locking magnetic coupled slider on the top of the body. It is easy to use, even with bulky dry gloves. The one switch controls all 10 functions, which include on, off, a safety SOS mode, switch beams, and three levels for each beam. This may sound overwhelming but it is not. Even during the first dive it was simple and became almost second nature after a few dives.

We were happy that the 1200D also has LED indicators, because you never want to look 1200 lumens in the face to see if its on.

Only half the story…

Those amazing specs still can only hint at an experience that you cannot know without using the 1200D.

The flood beam lets us feel like we are carrying the sun with us to any depth. We shine the spot beam on a rock and see a tiny opalescent nudibranch. Flip on the “sun” (the flood beam) and now you see there or 15 of them on that small table. In addition, you may see a baby warbonnet or a lumpsucker that was not visible to your eyes with the spot beam light. On shore dives, during safety stops we “turn on the sun” and enjoy the previously unnoticed microcosm of macro life. Spot or flood, we just see more critters and colors than we ever saw with previous lights.

While schools of frys and baitballs will scatter when hit with any bright spot beam, we found the flood beam of the 1200D does not spook them. We can hang there and get a close up view of the school in full shimmering color.

Lumens, Lux and obfuscation

An old Yogi-ism that computer geeks often quote is, “standards must be very important, because there are so many of them.” With dive lights we find the opposite problem. The current standard for measuring LED flashlights (ANSI/NEMA FL 1-2009) is not used byt any current dive light manufactures (Although Light and Motion has purchased the standard and considering implementation for their products). Additionally, manufactures argue as to whether we should be stating dive light output in lumens or lux. Some choose one and some the other. Both methods offer an easy path to obfuscation and there is a lot of that going around. Neither lumens nor lux can tell you how the light it going to perform for you underwater. So what is a diver must do!

We have come to a couple of opinions and a conclusion. Our opinion is that you cannot trust a lumen spec for comparison. Sure a 150 lumen light is going to be dim compared to a 1500 lumen light. But we have seen a light rated at 230 lumens look better than one claiming 600 lumens in a specific situation. Another opinion is that many manufacturers MAY be understating lumens. Light and Motion is so confident that their light meets the standard and others that they purchased and sent a series of dive lights to an independent testing laboratory. The results indicated the only Light and Motion and one other brand came close to matching the rated lumens to the output during the tests. One other manufacturer’s light rated at 500 lumen only tested at 164 lumen. Another rated at 825 lumen only tested at 652 lumen. They have boldly posted findings online and we look forward to finding out what these other manufacturers have to say.

Our conclusion is this: 1) We need a standard that is specific to dive lights and involves testing them in water, 2) We think that it can be done and 3) customer pressure will be needed to get manufactures to adopt it, because it is to easy to blow smoke with the current lumen ratings. We are talking with a few people about creating a standard. We would appreciate anyone wanting to participant in the adventure contacting john@jmckenzie.com

Details and Issues

Divers who choose a Sola light must understand that, just like complex computers and other smart devices, that same complexity that gives us a dream light, also means that we cannot expect every light out of the box will be trouble free. We found one of those and of course Light and Motion instantly replaced it. No problems since.

We are finding more dive products these days with magnetic switches like those found on the Sola lights. We have learned a new lesson in preventing issues with these type of products. We soak them overnight in fresh water after the dive to remove grit and keep salt crystals from forming. After the first time, we were sold on this practice when we saw how much particulate matter was left in the water after the soak. Some divers commented that they worry that the switch unit may get broken. But if this were to occur the whole switch and slider mechanism is easy to replace.

While we like the design of the Velcro strap-on saddle that holds the light to your hand, we made one modification for using it with bulky dry gloves. We replaced the back Velcro strap with a bungee looped through the D ring. This made it easy to pull it on over the dry gloves. The D-ring is there if you want to remove the hand saddle and just use the light as a clip on. Daniel Emerson of Light and Motion, said the are working on refined version of the light saddle, a lightweight pistol grip handle and other mounting options to fit personal preferences.

Pricing

The 1200D retails at $679. If you have not priced out high end or canister lights this may seem expensive. But, while those lights have their place, for most dives the 1200D offers a lot more for a lot less in dollars and pounds. Additionally, of you compare lumens per dollar or lumens per ounce, Sola lights win on both accounts.

Light & Motion – the company

Repeatedly recognized for their leadership in green business practices, Light & Motion was started by two started by two Stanford graduates in 1989. The company and entire staff are still located in the historic Monterey, California and their products are 100% built in the USA. Their initial product line was underwater photo lights. They are also well know for quality and powerful bike lights.

Bottom Line

Light and Motion could confidently paraphrase the slogan used by wet/dry suit maker WaterProof, “We would compare our [light] to its competition – if it had any.” We would back them up. There are lots of bright lights, a lot of lightweight lights, a lot of spots and floods, but the nothing like this compact 10 oz. little bundle that puts power of a canister light and a video flood on the back of your hand. For that, we give it our editor’s choice and as many stars as you will see if you accidently look into this portable sun.


Editor’s Choice – What does it mean

Unlike in other journals, our editor’s choice award is not just a default pick for best among a few tested. For us, “editor’s choice” awards are only given to products which raise the bar and set a high standard for quality and innovation. These are products, that given all available options we personally would and often have purchased and use on our own dives. We rate them as these products as the best choice in the category at any price.

Special thanks to Amy Mack, Daniel Emerson and Michael Hooley for their help with arrangements and information. We also send cudos to Light & Motion for their well designed website that is easy to navigate.

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