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  • Writer's pictureMichel Braunstein

My Flashes, Sync Cables and Flash Arms for Underwater Photography

Picture above: Housing with two Ikelite DS125 strobes, Ikelite Sync Cords and arms divided in two 8″ sections.


Amazing picture of me, by Arnon Ayal. He shot this with no flash at the precise moment while I was shooting with flashes

I began using Nikonos SB105 (previously SB103) strobes which were wonderful, but not strong nor fast enough for me. I replaced them with two Ikelite DS-125 (the present model in Ikelite catalog is DS-161).

Ikelite strobes have the advantage of great battery capacity:  they are very strong and they are the fastest on the market. DS125 need only one second to completely recharge after a full power flash. Another advantage is that these flashes light is nicely warm.

The downside is that these flashes are quite bulky and heavy, especially difficult when traveling with increased weight-restrictions on ticketed flights.

If I were to buy new flashes today, I would probably choose the Sea and Sea YS-D1 as they are very compact and light. They are also very powerful and quite fast, although still a bit slower than the Ikelite strobes. They have a nice warm light, like Ikelite. They also have the advantage of being connected with fiber optic sync cables, instead of bulky regular copper cables.

I still have one spare Nikonos SB105 flash that I sometimes use as a slave.

For info, when “dry” shooting, I use a Nikon SB800 flash (current model SB910).

Ikelite DS125 SpecificationsGuide No.64 surface – 32 underwaterPower Rating110 watt-secCoverage Angle90° 100° with diffuserDepth Rating300′ (91.4 m)Flash ModesTTL, Full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8Exposure ControlTTL, ManualSlaveYes, with optional 4100.6 EV Manual ControllerTargeting LightBuilt-In HalogenColor Temperature4800 degrees KelvinRecycle Time1 sec.

Ikelite DS161 SpecificationsGuide No.Land: 76′ (23.2 m) at ISO 100 Underwater: 38′ (11.6 m) at ISO 100Power Rating160 watt-secCoverage Angle90° 100° with diffuserDepth Rating300′ (91.4 m)Flash ModesTTL, Full, 9 fractional powers in 1/2-stop incrementsExposure ControlTTL, ManualSlaveYes, with optional 4100.6 EV Manual ControllerTargeting LightBuilt-in 5.0 W LED video light Brightness: 500 lumens Coverage angle: 45°Color Temperature4800 degrees KelvinRecycle Time1.4 sec.

Sea & Sea YS-D1 SpecificationsGuide No.32, 24 and 20Coverage AngleGN 32: 80 x 80°; GN 24: 100 x 100°; GN 20: 120 x 120°Depth Rating330′ (100 m)Flash ModesDS-TTL II, Slave TTL, and conventional Nikonos type Pre-flash cancellationExposure ControlManual in 11 stepsExposure CompensationDS-TTL II: (EV): + / – 4 stepsSlaveYes, auto (no switch)

Sync Cables

Ikelite Strobe

Ikelite Sync Cord

My history with sync cables is long and tangled.  When I began my sync cables were original Nikonos for the camera and SB105 flashes.  I kept the same cables and flashes for a long time, even after I moved to digital housing.

Later I bought the Ikelite flashes, which needed an Ikelite connector. I bought two Ikelite cables:  4104.31 with an Ikelite connector on the flash side and a Nikonos connector on the housing side. I’ve discovered that at least for Nikonos, buying off-brand, or non-factory authorized connectors is a mistake.  I’m not really happy with the Nikonos connector I own which was manufactured by another company. It’s fragile and hard to connect properly to the housing. A better solution would have been to have genuine Ikelite connector on the housing side as well. It’s now possible to transform the housing to have an Ikelite connector but I didn’t do it yet. Today, I would probably choose  optical sync cables, which is probably the most reliable way to connect flashes to the housing.

Flash Arms

Dany Weinberg photographing a shoal of jacks – Papua New Guinea

It’s important to have good flash arms that can be extended to set the strobes as far as possible from the housing for wide-angle photography, and which are flexible enough to also set as close as possible for macro and close-up photography. The arms should enable the strobes to be set wherever needed. I personally own the aptly named Ultralight arms, very light weight and they come in several pieces which are connected with clamps, allowing them to move easily. I personally own two arms each one with two 8″ sections. Ultralight arms are very good but are not the cheapest.  There are several other options for similar style arms which are also good and can be less expensive. TLC from Aquatica is worth a look in the standard “hard” arms. There are also other kinds of arms, like the flex ones, which are nice.

Some underwater photographers like to mix 8″ arm sections with 12″ or they choose only 12″ sections. I personally like only 8″ arm sections as they are not to long and they enable a usage for both wide-angle and macro shootings.

If you have strong flashes and would like to shoot only wide-angle, you may consider to have two arms with two 12″ sections. If you prefer macro or super macro, one or two arms with 8″, 6″ or even 4″ sections may be great for you.

Flash Arms attached with doubleswivel snap clip

Here’s the way I’m carrying all my camera set with a double swivel snap clip (like the ones used by the tech divers) attached to both my flash arms. There are different options to do that, some friends use two like this and bind them together to make a wider handle/lanyard for their big hands 🙂


Light and colors are disappearing fast underwater. External flashes are mostly important to retrieve colors and to be creative in underwater photography. They should be carefully chosen, as well as their sync cords. The flash arms have an important role as well to set the flashes exactly at the place you want them to remain for a great creativity.


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