Each month, the SCUBA DIVER test team assembles to rate and review a selection of dive equipment from a range of manufacturers.
Products are split into price categories and are then evaluated for performance, comfort, ease of use, build quality, looks and value for money. The Test Team comprises Editor in Chief Mark Evans and a squad of volunteers, whose dive experience ranges from a couple of hundred dives to well over 7,000.
This test, we look at the 6 best scuba diving back-up dive lights. A decent torch is a must for any diver, whether you are a hardcore UK diver, an occasional holiday diver, or anywhere in-between. Dive lights are not just for ‘night dives’, thay can be invaluable in a cave, cavern or shipwreck, and can also put some of the colour back into an underwater scene on an overcast or dull day. They are also useful as a signalling device between buddy teams.
Our criteria for the test was a torch that is ideal for use as a back-up dive light, that is, your secondary source of illumination on a UK dive, or as a primary source of light on a night dive in the tropics, when weight and size are more of an issue. It could be battery powered or rechargeable. We looked at the build quality, ease of use (how to turn on/off while wearing thick gloves, etc), type of beam (spot or wide/flood), burn time, accessories and size.
The continued development of LED lighting technology has seen dive lights come on leaps and bounds, and it is astounding the power developed by some compact units these days – in the past, you have been carrying a much-bigger torch around for a similar sort of output.
Anchor Dive Lights Series 1K Spot and Wide
Anchor Dive Lights are an Ireland-based company that is earning high acclaim in the world of underwater lighting. The Series 1K is one of their staple products, and there are two versions – the Spot and the Wide. Both are made from aviation-grade anodised aluminium – with a nifty, distinctive blue head – depth-rated to 100m, and come with battery and charger.
They have three power settings, and burn times of around 70-80 minutes on full, two and a half hours at 50 percent, and five hours at 25 percent. It is simple to cycle through the different power settings by pressing the on/off button, which also features illumination to let you know the charge level of the battery.
The Spot, with its CREE XM-L T6 LED, produces a tightly focused, bright ten degree beam which still has some peripheral light that illuminates around the main beam.
The Wide, with its CREE XM-L U2 LED, puts out a 72 degree wide beam, which literally illuminates a huge area with a bright, even flood light.
The Spot and the Wide are powerful enough to be used as a primary in UK waters, and are so small – and well-priced – that you could buy both and be able to switch between a spot light and a wide beam as conditions dictate. You also have a built-in redundancy then too! Either of these would also be great for a tropical night dive, but knock it down to 50 percent power.
BigBlue AL450 NM
The BigBlue AL450NM is a compact torch that pumps out a decent amount of power – 450 lumens, in this instance, with a burntime of four hours.
It is made from anodised aluminium, and the CREE LED produces a nice, tight eight-degree spot beam, which actually penetrated gloomy water with ease.
It is depth-rated to 100m, and it is operated by pressing a push button on the hilt, which is easy to use even with thick neoprene gloves on or even drygloves.
It is powered by three AAA batteries, which are supplied in the pack. It also comes with a safety wrist lanyard.
In use, we found this little torch to be nice and bright, and exceptionally easy to switch on and off. It makes a fine back-up light for use in UK waters, slicing through green water full of floating detritus, but equally that bright spot means it is ideal as a primary dive light for the travelling diver, and this would work well on a night dive or even for mild wreck penetration.
There is also a handy optional pouch – £26 – to store the torch in. It has a velcro-closing flap, and the torch itself attaches to a retractor in the bottom of the pouch so you never have to worry about losing it.
The DivePro D5-3 is made from aircraft-grade anodised aluminium and boasts a single CREE XP-L LED pushing out an impressive 1,380 lumens into a bright spot, with a light peripheral halo around it.
The D5-3 is turned on and off with a twist of the head, which is easy to do even wearing gloves. However, by turning it on and off within two seconds, you can cycle through high, medium and low power settings, and a strobe and an SOS mode, which is pretty neat. You get a burntime of one-and-a-half hours on full power, and eight hours on low power.
The small nature of the D5-3, along with its relatively low weight (for a metal torch) and good burntime means it is a good option as a primary torch for use abroad, as it won’t eat up too much luggage allowance, and as it comes with a battery and charger, you don’t have to haul packs of batteries with you.
It is depth-rated to 100m, so will even suit most techies wanting a compact but bright redundant torch.
Finally, let’s touch on that stunning price point. Under £80 for a metal-bodied rechargeable torch of this quality is fantastic value
Exposure Marine Action 1-16
Exposure Marine turned the dive light market on its head a few years back with their innovative torches, which were incredibly bright and compact. However, the method of turning them on/off and cycling through power settings left some divers bemused. The new versions have all of the positives of the previous incarnation, and none of the negatives.
The anodised aluminium, rechargeable Action 1-16 has a single White XPL2 LED, which delivers 1,000 lumens on full power – in a bright wide beam that is amazing for its size – for a runtime of one and a half hours. Medium power gives you three hours, and low power six hours.
Gone is the old method of turning it on and off, instead you now have a more-traditional and user-friendly push button on the bottom. A bright LED on the back near the button shows when the battery is getting close to low at that power setting.
The clever bods at Exposure Marine couldn’t help themselves, though, and so the torch also has a ‘tap’ function, where you can cycle through the power levels simply by tapping the light itself.
The Action 1-16 is a very small unit, but would be a great back-up, or a tropical primary.
Finnsub Bang Wide
Finnish-brand Finnsub offer a wide range of dive lights, but the Bang Wide is one of its newer units. The head has a single CREE LED that puts out a ten degree beam, which at full power of 1,100 lumens is incredibly bright and cuts through British waters. This full-power mode has a burn time of two hours, but knock it down to 30 percent power of 366 lumens, you get a stonking ten hours, and this is still reasonably bright.
To cycle through the power settings is where the ‘Bang’ name comes from. An accelerometer within the housing is activated by tapping the light to turn it on/off, and to switch between the 30 percent and 100 percent modes. It takes a while to get the tapping rhythm right – you need to do three taps with a time span of 0.3-0.8 seconds between each stroke – but once you get the hang of it, it is relatively straightforward. It would make an over-the-top back-up unit, or a damn fine primary in tropical waters, or even the UK!
It is depth-rated to 100m, and features a rechargeable lithium-ion battery – the supplied charger just magnetically attaches to the rear of the light. It also comes with a soft Goodman handle.
Mares XR Back-up Light
Made from anodised aluminium, the XR back-up light offers up 850 lumens, with a burn time of nearly two and a half hours, which the XML2 U2 LED puts out in a bright eight degree beam, with a solid spot and an even peripheral halo.
It is powered by a 18650 battery, which can be recharged in four to five hours.
It is depth-rated to 100m, so enough for most divers, and is switched on and off by twisting the head, which is easy to do even while wearing thick 5mm gloves or drygloves as it has a neat rubber ‘grip ring’ embedded into the aluminium.
It is ideal as a back-up light to the EOS torch reviewed last month – or any other primary unit – but with its compact size, great burn time and solid light production, it is ideal to accompany you abroad as your primary dive light in more tropical climates. It comes with the battery and charger, and a safety wrist lanyard.. At £88 for a rechargeable back-up torch, that is more than capable of being used abroad as your main light, it is awesome value for money.
Scuba Diver Verdict
Dive lights are an essential piece of a diver’s kit arsenal, and all the torches here performed admirably, which made dishing out the awards incredibly hard.
For the Best Value, the DivePro D5-3 and the Mares XR back-up light went head to head. The DivePro pumps out an impressive amount of lumens, has a good burntime, and is easy to use. The Mares similarly has a great performance, has some neat features, and gives a decent burntime. Both represent great value for the performance and build quality, and we literally could not decide between the two of them, they were that neck-and-neck, so we gave the award to both.
The Choice award was similarly tough. The Exposure Marine, Anchor Dive Lights and Finnsub were all contenders. They all put in a superb performance, and we liked the Exposure Marine’s compact size, the Anchor Dive Lights’ build quality and performance, and the Finnsub’s unique ‘tap’ switch, but the Anchor Dive Lights 1K Series merged a combination of being well made, well priced, and with a great performance (in both Wide and Spot variants).
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