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March 1997 Vol. 12, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hot Flash: Substrobe 200

Contents of this Issue:
All publicly available

Bayman Bay Club, Guanaja

Bargain Diving: A Caribbean Sampler

Resorting to Alternatives

Great Whites Winter in Florida

Hot Flash: Substrobe 200

Travel Notes

Looking over the Edge

DEMA: BOBS, Yes; No Bubbles, No

Flotsam & Jetsam


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Smaller, lighter, more powerful

from the March, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Everyone has been waiting for Ikelite's new strobe to be released. Earlier this year, In Depth's equipment editor took an early production model of the new Substrobe 200 to the field for a comparison with his trusty Substrobe Ai. Ikelite strobes have been his main weapons against the darkness, and he knows their strengths and weaknesses intimately. Here's how he thinks the new strobe shakes out and why.

All the marketing hype that goes with high-powered strobes is wasted on me: I normally shoot with my strobe set on half or quarter power. I try to use the sun for the light in my shots (up shots are a favorite), applying strobes only to kick in a bit of color and fill in darker shadows in the ambient lighting. These balanced exposures yield the best backgrounds, the bluest water, and the most realistic colors. I probably don't crank up my strobe any higher than halfway more than once or twice in a typical week of diving. That's why I got rid of my 150; I rarely used its full capabilities, and it was a monster to pack and to carry around underwater.

So, Was It Good for You?

During field tests I shot 40 rolls of 36-exposure film. That's 1,440 shots. I started out using the 200 as my main strobe with the 50s as a slave, thinking that I would switch to the Ai halfway through the trip and then compare the results when I got back. Alas, by the end of the third roll I was so spoiled by the 200 that I failed to do my duty to In Depth. I wouldn't switch back to using my old Ai.

The 200 is the same size as the Ai, so it's just as easy to carry. It also earns very high marks for shots per roll and recycle time. It never misfired -- not even once during two weeks of hard diving. In fact, after the first few rolls, I removed the 9 V trigger battery that I've had in my housing for years to cope with cord problems and gremlins. Later I learned that Ikelite doesn't recommend using a 9 V booster with the 200.

Other strobes' modeling lights pale by comparison with the 200, whose halogen bulb and reflector are bright enough to serve as a primary dive light. [Ed. note: Another In Depth editor found the beam too narrow, even if the modeling light is brilliant. He found it difficult to see his subject and line everything up correctly when shooting macro in a housing, especially at night.]

Hot Flash: Substrobe 200

At full power, the 200's modeling light burns about one roll of film per hour of light, according to the manual. But I cranked it up for a night dive after shooting seven rolls of film on half power, and at the end of the dive, after another full roll of film, the light was just as bright.

The owner's manual claims that the Substrobe 200 will shoot 160 times on full power, or a little more than four 36-shot rolls. Although this is accurate, the three low-battery-warning LEDs, which indicate when three, two, then one roll remain, seemed pessimistic. I routinely got at least eight rolls from each battery charge on half and quarter power before the strobe took noticeably longer to recycle than usual -- still under two seconds.

Stuff It

The 200 uses a unique, sealed battery pack that is a significant improvement over the rechargeables in the 150. It's smaller, better protected, and can accept Ikelite's new Smart Charger. This variable-voltage "switching" charger weighs a lot less than Ikelite's other rubber bricks, and it doesn't much care what kind of electricity you feed it. It automatically handles 100-240 V, 50-60 Hz input and pumps out DC at well over an amp. If you leave the Smart Charger connected, it drops back to a trickle charge when the battery is full. It costs more than twice as much as Ikelite's standard charger -- which I've melted on the road -- and it's worth every penny. With an adapter, it can also be used to charge battery packs in other Ikelite strobes.

Some Minor Beefs

You should be aware that some of the earlier production models of the Substrobe 200 have failed unpredictably due to faulty flash tubes (one of our editors went through two units before ending up with one that didn't fail). Ikelite confirms that they've had trouble with their flash-tube suppliers and assures us that they've now changed suppliers. However, if you purchased a 200 in early or mid-1996, you may want to call Ikelite (800-IKELITE). The company will repair any such failures for free.

The 200 needs a lock on the on-off switch; it's much too easy to bump that switch into batterytest mode, which can quickly deplete the charge. The 150 and other Ike strobes have such a lock, and they don't even have the 200's battery-test mode. However, I would prefer an even better lock than the 150's, which tends to jam in whatever position you set it.

One other shortcoming in an otherwise outstanding high-end product (list price $800 or $850) is that the 200 has no internal slave sensor. There are times when you'd like to be able to help your buddy with a slave shot, even if you don't normally work that way. However, there's a way to work around it. Ikelite's Remote TTL Slave Sensor mounts neatly on the shaft of Ike's quick-grip arm and connects to the bulkhead port on the bottom of the 200. The Remote TTL Slave is a pretty fine piece of gear in its own right. Its sensitivity is adjustable (a friend's strobe fired it successfully and repeatedly from about 50 feet away), and it's remarkably insensitive to flickering surface light. It's a whole lot more versatile than any built-in slave sensor in any other strobe, but still, for the money, I'd like to see Ikelite include at least a rudimentary built-in slave sensor in the 200.

On my loaner, the main Oring wasn't easy to remove or to clean with a Q-tip, although it was a bore seal (unlike other Ikelite strobes) and thus more or less self-cleaning. It made me nervous not to be able to remove the Oring and inspect its groove every time I opened the strobe. Ikelite has said it will modify the cap in later versions to permit easier access to the O-ring. By the time you read this review, this change may already have been made.

The Bottom Line

Which strobe to use? For me, this was an easy choice: The Ai moves into my backup box, the 150 is long forgotten, and the 200 and the Smart Charger go on every trip with me. It's a major improvement in underwater strobes -- faster recycle times and a new smaller, lighter, more efficient charging system. Photographers who need a wide-angle, high-output unit will find this much more convenient to carry and use than the old 150.

Delmar Mesa

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