As a dive professional working on a liveaboard dive boat and logging in excess of 500 dives each year, I demand a lot from my gear. Like any professional, you cannot perform to your best without the best gear and I always like to research and select the best gear to do its job, keep me safe and ensure maximum comfort for my hours in the water.
Over the years I have owned and used a number of dive torches from entry level to top of the range models, none of which I have been overly impressed with. My latest torch has been nothing but trouble for me and seems to spend more time back with the distributor being fixed than doing its job. My particular torch retails at around the $500 mark and not only is it bulky, heavy, unreliable and cumbersome to operate, but the beam performance is quite arguably little better than some torches now available at a fraction of the cost.
With my past torch experiences in mind, and the fact that it takes a lot to impress me these days, I was sceptical when given the new Light & Motion Sola Dive 600 Light to trial. On first inspection however, I was instantly impressed with the compact size and lightweight nature of the unit which weighs in at less than a quarter of many standard dive torches. I also liked the fact that the torch is rechargeable, saving the economic and environmental cost of constant battery replacement.
It was not until I actually took the torch on my first night dive that I became an instant convert to this product. I can quite honestly say that this is THE BEST dive torch I have ever seen or used and would not dive with anything else after testing it. There are a couple of negatives which I will discuss, however, the positives make these almost irrelevant and I really never thought I could ever get this excited about a dive torch!
The hands-free strap mechanism is a little fiddly to adjust and obviously more time consuming than simply clipping my torch lanyard to my BCD which I was previously used to. I was rather sceptical of how the hands-free mechanism would work in practice but it actually proved to be a real positive, especially given my standard dive style of hands clasped in front of me. The only real negative here is from a teaching perspective, as I always brief my students to shine their torch in towards their chest to highlight their hand signals. Whilst this is possible with the hands-free strap, it is a little awkward. I am also pretty sure that I have inadvertently dazzled the odd nervous first time night diver when I have had to grab hold of them to reassure them, something that would not normally have been an issue for me before.
A small allan key provided with the system does allow the user to disconnect the hands-free strap and attach a more standard lanyard to the small D-ring, if preferred. However, after my initial scepticism, I am now a big fan of the hands-free strap and have not therefore changed the set-up.
Incorrectly positioned, dirty or un-greased O-rings are the primary causes of flooding in dive torches. But because the Sola is a factory-sealed body with no penetrations, this completely eliminates this risk and so very little can go wrong with the torch.
Operation of the torch is via a simple magnetic sliding switch on the top of the body. Slide either forward or back to switch the torch on. Then sliding forward cycles through three brightness modes (low 150 lumens, medium 300 lumens, high 600 lumens) and by tapping back allows the user to quickly switch between a spot beam and a flood beam. The torch is easily turned off by sliding and holding the switch in either direction for 2 seconds. The switch can be locked in position by turning the sliding switch 90 degrees to avoid accidental use when travelling and in storage.
Whilst the Sola Dive 600 has 3 brightness settings, I have found that the lowest setting is ample for most of the time. I prefer using the spot beam setting as the norm which really cuts through the darkness, as I find the flood beam tends to highlight the particles in the water a little more. However, the flood is excellent for highlighting areas up close such as lionfish or feeding coral polyps. Settings 2 and 3 are great for highlighting distant sharks and are easily activated when needed. Sharks seem to be dazzled by the bright spot beam settings, which has resulted in a number of close encounters, all of which have been great fun!
From a professional perspective, our dedicated lookout can always identify my group in the water from the sheer power of my beam which is clearly a benefit. I have never had so many comments about a torch since using the Sola Dive Light, with many of my customers not even bothering to use their torches, but simply tucking in behind me on the dives and enjoying the light show!
I do two night dives each week and the torch charge indicator goes from green (fully charged) to yellow (50-75% charged) after the second dive. A red light indicates 25-50% charged with a blinking red light indicating less than 25% charged. However, due to the quick charging of the unit, I have not yet seen the red indicator lights in action. The Australian charger that came with the unit is easily plugged into the back of the torch, and can not be incorrectly fitted. And the gold-plated contacts mean that it should last the test of time.
What has really surprised me about the Sola Light is how much I actually use it during the day now. Given the fact that the torch is so lightweight, hands free and easy to use, I will quite often take it out on day dives. The torch is great on deep dives for highlighting colour absorption at depth to students and the hands free mechanism means that I have 2 hands free for any event that may occur.
In summary, a truly great new product, well designed, easy to use and extremely powerful and in line with the Sola Dive Light strap line, it has changed my night diving experience forever!
Janine Woodside, PADI MSDT, Pro Dive Cairns
The full range of Sola Dive lights, Photo lights and Video lights are now available from Scubapix or online at solalights.com.au