Hero Lights: Light and Motion Sola Video 2000F LED Lamps

Neufelder See (LA/Ö).
When filming under water a well-proven rule of thumb applies in many situations: you need a lot of light to get good footage. Without light you quickly hit unpleasant limits and all you get are grainy shots in dull colors.

However, the wide field of view a GoPro HD Hero 3 cam has to offer isn't exactly easy to illuminate: your lights should feature evenly distributed light cones and yet still cover a significant area, and all this without bright spots. Otherwise you will get the desired bright colors only in a small spot and everything else drowns in darkness and flat colors.

After my previous LED dive and video light had bugged me long enough, I finally made up my mind and invested in decent video LED light: I allowed myself two Sola Video 2000F's by Light and Motion which give real good light. Luckily, they arrived in time to give them a first try in Neufelder See, just at the gates of Vienna...

Krebs im Rampenlicht. Oder beim Sonnenbad?
Previously being armed with just a single LED video light didn't exactly cut the mustard when it came to illuminating the (fish-eye) field of view of a GoPro HD Hero 3. Typically, photo and video LED lights feature beam angles around 90°, rarely up to 120°. And lights with larger beam angles tend to have inhomogeneous beams and thus inhomogeneous scene illumination. As I learned from my previous LED light the hard way, the results are often less than satisfying.

Also, if all you have is a single light, you often need to place it in line with your cam in order to avoid clearly visible one-sided shadows (the shadows then end up behind your subjects and not to their sides). Moreover, you often mainly illuminate all the debris in the water. This won't exactly give you a beautiful scenery to shoot.

For these reasons I finally carved in to getting myself two LED lights for filming. This way, I can place both lights sideways to illuminate the scenery ... but maybe blinding will be more to the truth. I decided in favor of Sola 2000F (flood) video lights made by Light and Motion. According to the manufacturer, they come with a flood beam angle of approximately 90°, which is in agreement with reality. For some reason, Light and Motion's website specifies a 70° beam angle, which clearly is wrong; the packaging the lamps arrived in correctly state 90°.

Compact cam, compact cam light.
I find the Sola Video 2000F to be amazingly compact and light-weight: only 4" (10cm) long, and less than 9 oz. Far from being chunky, these lamps are thus a perfect match to my tiny GoPro HD Hero 3's. So I'll take two! Solas, that is. I already dive with two GoPro HD Hero 3s. Even then, my cam tray with the handles and lights attached really stays compact and light. It has good balance with barely any top-heaviness. Very sweet setup, indeed.

Light and Motion also makes several other Sola Video lights, such as the Sola Video 2000SF: while the 2000F only has a flood beam, the 2000SF additionally offers a spot beam. But judging from my previous filming experience I knew that I'm hardly needing a spot for filming ... and declined the premium to pay for the spot. As I need to diving lamp anyway, it's much cheaper and safer to go for a separate spot beam light. Alas, Light and Motion also offers their Sola Video 4000 with twice as much lumens as the 2000(S)F. Since I don't need the incredible high amount of lumens and since I rather need to illuminate a wide-angle area, I went for two lesser lights instead of a single, more powerful light. Taking the fish-eye of the GoPro HD Hero 3 into account, I need to get close to my subjects anyway. Thus, I went for the two Sola Video 2000Fs which should be sufficient.

Good light. Just 500 lumens.
I've clamped both lights to floating handles; my Solas are thus equipped with photo (ball) mounts. The handles are connected to a tray on which I've also mounted my GoPro HD Hero(s) 3. You can see the overall construction in the photos above. I've got the necessary parts from uw-fotopartner.com, which also runs an English-language web shop. The total weight under water is very satisfying, not really much to carry around.

The flood beam of the Sola Video 2000F is very pleasantly homogenous. There are no bright spots or visible asymmetries. Simply slightly overlap the two beams and you get a decent wide-angle area illuminated. Exactly what I need for the wide-angle field of view of my GoPro HD Heros. What a difference from my previous LED light.

Light and Motion Sola Video 2000F.
What a luck fish can't read the warnings...
So far I had only two dives with my new lights ... yet I'm already blown away by the beam quality that Light and Motion has to offer with their video lights. One reason for this beam quality surely is the ring of six LEDs instead of a single or a triangle of LEDs. When you dim the light, all LEDs get dimmed, so the beam stays homogeneous. With my previous LED light I then got a slightly inhomogeneous beam, not exactly suitable for video.

For me, it's a real please to shoot footage illuminated from these lights. While a LED color temperature of 6500K yet isn't exactly perfect, it is quite useable nevertheless. There is still some red in the beam. And then, you have GoPro's white balance settings, one of those being 6500K for some reason... (not that I really would trust GoPro's white balancing after my experiences with the Hero 1 and 2.)

The Sola Video 2000F offers three different beam intensities: 500, 1000, and 2000 lumens. Operating time is roughly 55 mins with max beam power, and 220 mins at 500 lumens. Contrary to several other manufacturers, Light and Motion specifies the real measured beam output and not some nominal catalog specifications. For instance, my previous lamp was specified with 850 lumens, which turned out to be a catalog specification of the LED chip used, whereas the real beam had considerably less bang for the money. Luckily, this isn't true for the Sola ... albeit the name Sola isn't exactly well thought out, as in Italian it means mucker, con.

A full charge of the Li-Ion batteries takes approximately two and a half hours. The light always stays sealed, even during charging, which is a real plus to me. You cannot accidentally reverse the charging cable as it comes with mechanical protection. Charging status is also concise and clear: with a full charge, all three small LEDs on the Sola's top face are solid green. For anything in the world I never figured out why the guys who designed my previous LED light showed a solid red light for a full charge...??

According to some forum discussions as well as some photos published of the Li-Ion battery pack inside the Solas 1200 and 2000, it consists of two standard cells and is replaceable. You may get a replacement from Light and Motion. Understandably, Light and Motion prefers to carry out any replacement themselves, as they also do a pressure test to test for any unwanted leak.

You only use a single knob on the top face of the Sola to operate your video light. To keep the light completely sealed, the knob operates a magnet and the electronics inside the light body detects when you slide the knob into one of its two end positions. Sliding the knob towards the front switches the light on or increases beam power. Sliding the knob backwards then reduces beam power or switches off the light completely.

For transportation, you can lock you Sola agains accidentally switching it on both mechanically as well as electronically. The electronic lock is engaged by sliding the knob forward and holding it in its forward position for several seconds. Then, you can slide the knob back into its neutral middle position. Turning it 90° there engages the mechanical lock. And if this doesn't satisfies the Security Theater, you can untwist the bezel, remove the LED board, turn it slightly, put it back so it hasn't any electrical contact anymore, and screw the bezel back in place. Not that any laptop battery is more dangerous than this small lamp and its battery...

You need to order in addition:
D-Ring kit and Photo Mount kit.
When it comes to mounting your lights, take care to additionally order your required mounting kits. Light and Motion usually sells their Solas without any mounting kits included, just the bare lights. For my setup I had to order the so-called D-Ring kit LMI-800-0220 as well as the (ball) Photo Mount kit LMI-800-0226 in addition. This increases the steep price of the Solas even more, which I find slightly annoying.

Judging from the first two dives I took with my new Solas 2000F, I'm totally pleased with the beam quality and beam intensity. Especially getting a wide-angle illumination really works very smoothly. It's a pleasure to shoot with such an illumination. No more bright spots or even overexposed spots while simultaneously seeing to many dark regions in the footage shot. There's now enough illumination for a wide angle view, so vivid colors can be seen again. What a big difference compared to my previous LED light.

I wouldn't have thought how good LED lights have become: the Solas really convinced me. Unfortunately, good light still comes at a price; a price for which you get two GoPro HD Heros for a single video light...

PS: Many thanks again to Axel Eisele for the photos shot of my new equipment. Also, many thanks to Kurt for being our patient guide and showing us several cat fishes.