(on its way)
Fantasea Nano 1W Torch and Nano Focus light
Any diver knows that once a simple common or garden item moves from being plain outdoor kit and becomes a dive accessory it normally doubles in price. Sometimes it seems fair enough as divers are difficult folk and give good a rough ride but often its just taking the mickey. For a couple of years I had been watching the range of affordable add ons which Canadian firm Fantasea have been building. The only drawback was as a new North American supplier they weren't well represented over here.
Now at last a bigger name has started carrying much of their line. Originally Fantasea come to public notice as the vendors of cost effective underwater housings for little Nikons but diversified into a pretty broad range of keenly priced accessories. Whereas their housings are perhaps not quite cutting edge their accessories are a very useful selection from strobe arms and trays for big rigs to some very handy little lights. It was two of their Nano range of torches that I dropped into Warehouse Express' new showroom up in Norwich to see. It's very encouraging to see a large supplier dip it's toes into the underwater market and introduce some competitive pricing - it's something of a bonus for me that they are based in East Anglia.
The range was so new that it took a while for them to appear from the storeroom but as we were nervously eyeing a very mean 20kg baggage allowance for our trip to Borneo we were very pleased when some very small boxes arrived. Not an earth shattering purchase but a key part of any divers kit.
Nano Torch - £15
Click to go to Fantasea page
The first version is just a torch. LED technology has advanced fast and this little light, which runs off 4 AAA batteries, has a very bright, single 1 Watt chip. Thats not enough to light whole wrecks but it's that intense clean light which slices through the dark and picks out interesting beasties. So it makes a great backup torch for anyone and as my preferred nocturnal mode is somewhat more stealthy than god like I found it perfectly adequate for night dives. It's not going to make much difference during the day though so carry it to scan for beauties on anything but a very dull day is pointless.
The exterior is very simple, the body and the head simply screw together although the torch turns only when slightly unscrewed which can catch people out. The older style where the torch is screwed down to mechanically clamp contacts together was prone to grinding metal into seals, so this is preferable. Just tell anyone you lend it to in case they misguidedly open it completely underwater. There's a single reasonably sized plain rubber 'o' ring so no funny grease is needed and the coarse thread runs very smoothly. The sealing surfaces feel well molded so it should stay dry. When unscrewed to change the batteries the LED and lens units are loose so be ready to catch them. It would have been very easy to fix the lens in place, wonder why they didn't. At least it doesn't matter if you handle the LED, they aren't sensitive to that like halogen bulbs. I ran it on rechargeable AAAs and found it impressively bright for 2-3 hours after which it dimmed but was useful for another hour or two. Runtime would have nearly doubled with disposable batteries but I would have needed to carry three or four sets.
On land it was a very useful little torch too. An advantage of its small size, and the rubber sleeve which makes it pleasant to hold, is that it fits comfortably in your mouth between your teeth. This is the default position for the photographer staying in a resort where the power goes off unexpectedly half way through cleaning and refueling their rig ready for the next day - its as good as an extra hand but I wish I'd remembered my head torch :-) I find LED torches the very best light source for searching out crud on 'o' rings and the focussed beam in the Nano is prefect for that vital maintenance.
So was it a good buy? Definitely! At only fifteen quid its very good value for a dive light, stood up to 6 weeks away and worked well. Whats not to like?
Nano Focus Light - £25
Click to go to Fantasea page
The Nano torch, or any other torch for that matter can be a great help getting cameras to focus in low light. Once the camera is focussed their job is done and since they can't usually light the whole scene there's a real risk of an annoying bright spot which may spoil the picture or confuse metering. So the ideal focus light would butt out when its job is done. That's exactly what this little light does.
It's clearly the same moulding as the torch, so it takes 4 AAAs and turns on when its unscrewed, slightly. Instead of one large LED chip the focus light has a ring of eight smaller sources. This allows a detector to be placed in the centre which is triggered by a strobe and douses the LEDs for a couple of seconds.
Instead of the rubber handgrip the light has a clamp which will fix it to a YS style strobe mount - the Sea and Sea fitting - which is pretty common. It's this kind of clamp which makes all the difference to how well the idea works. In this case it works if you have a spare YS mount... there are handy little brackets which offer a YS mount which and mount on camera acessory slots - but they cost as much as the torch! The torch really wants to be on a fairly simple mount which allows it to move only up and down the centre line of the lens to light the centre of the scene. Since approaching 100% of users would want to mount the light this way its something of a failing that Fantasea haven't included and don't even offer the option of buying a matching bracket. A nice bracket might add a pound to the cost of the light and make it a complete solution. Paying the same again for an over engineered widget is annoying so I made brackets out of my favourite mouldable plastic - Polymorph. I found that the clamp allowed the light to slip back and forth, which was slightly annoying but easily cured with a layer of gaffer tape around the body. It doesn't really affect operation but I hate loose stuff which knocks and clicks as it feels like something is about to drop off.
Whinging aside the unit works very well. It seems just as bright as the 1Watt torch, it can afford to have a tighter more intense beam since there's little risk of it spoiling your photo. It doesn't shut off 100% of the time, perhaps the detector has too tight a view of the scene or isn't quite sensitive enough. I didn't notice any bright spots on the 10% where the light didn't cut off, which tended to be in brighter conditions anyway, so the power of the light is quite well judged. Its enough light to aid focus but not so intense that its a liability. In case it's not obvious the light is intended primarily for aiding macro photography as it simply isn't large enough for large objects and scenes.
So 'must have' or 'must be kidding'? Ignore my whinges, it's a nice little unit which works well once you sort out a mount for your housing. It's not a bad price for a torch and for a self dousing focus light it's very good value. Dropping a YS to accessory shoe mount into the box would add pennies and make this into a very neat and complete package - I hope they add one soon.