As an avid scuba diver, having a reliable dive torch is just as essential as having well-maintained scuba gear. Your underwater dive light serves as your lifeline, lighting your way through the murky depths and illuminating everything from vibrant coral reefs to shy octopuses hiding in crevices.
With so many options on the market, it can be tricky to determine which dive torch best fits your needs and budget. This buyer’s guide will provide you with the key factors to evaluate when shopping for a new dive light.
The most important factors to consider when purchasing a dive torch are brightness in lumens, redundancy through primary and secondary lights, depth and pressure ratings, waterproofness, beam types, battery types, bulb, SOS features, and last but not least, how hard it pinches your pocket.
So without further ado let’s dive in and address each of these factors one by one in greater depth.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Many Lumens Of Brightness Is Enough for Your Scuba Needs?
- 2 Primary vs Secondary Dive Lights: The Importance of Redundancy
- 3 Check Depth Ratings and Underwater Pressure
- 4 Waterproofness – IPX8 Rating Is The Bare Minimum
- 5 Choosing Light Beams: Spot, Flood, or Both?
- 6 Strobe or SOS Mode – A Potential Lifesaver Underwater
- 7 Key Differences Between Battery Types
- 8 Light Source – LED vs. HID Bulbs
- 9 Why Does No One Talk About Light Temperatures – Kelvin Ratings and Brightness
- 10 Budget – How Much Should You Spend?
- 11 Choose Your Perfect Dive Light
How Many Lumens Of Brightness Is Enough for Your Scuba Needs?
Selecting a dive torch with the right brightness is crucial – too few lumens and you’ll be left in the dark, but too many can cause distracting backscatter if sediments are stirred up. With torches ranging from 150 to 4,000+ lumens, how do you pick the right amount of light for safe diving?
The number of lumens you need largely depends on the conditions where you dive. Clear tropical waters require far less light than dark, silty rivers or night dives. Also, consider your role – a primary light needs greater output than a backup.
Here’s a breakdown of lumen brightness levels and how they match various diving environments:
|INTENSITY RANGE (IN LUMENS):||BEST SUITED FOR:|
|150-450||1. Best suited as an emergency backup light on recreational dives. |
2. Provides minimal but usable light if your primary torch fails, enough to exit a dive safely.
3. Comes in handy as focus lights for macro photography.
|1000-2000||1. Ideal brightness range for primary dive lights used for general recreational diving to 60m/200ft. |
2. Provides excellent visibility even in low light conditions, but without excessive glare or silt backscatter.
|2500-4000+||1. High-output brightness suited for very deep diving, navigating in near-zero visibility, cave penetration, wreck diving, or underwater videography.|
As you can see, there’s a significant variation in dive light output. Most recreational divers find the sweet spot in the 1000-2000 lumen range for primary lights as it provides the best balance of visibility and battery life, with a dimmer backup light as an emergency reserve. The combination keeps you safely illuminated at any depth.
Primary vs Secondary Dive Lights: The Importance of Redundancy
Serious divers know never to rely on just one underwater torch. Having backup lights provides critical redundancy and safety if your primary light fails. Here’s why carrying both primary and secondary dive lights is essential:
Primary Dive Light
Your primary light is your main source of illumination. It should have the highest output in lumens to cut through murky water, penetrate distance, and light up dark wrecks or caves. Primary lights often have wide flood beams to illuminate surroundings as well as focused spot beams to see into the distance.
Secondary Dive Light
While not as powerful as a primary light, your secondary light serves as a backup in case the primary malfunctions. It provides enough illumination to exit a dive safely. Secondary lights often use simple and reliable alkaline or NiMH batteries.
Never Dive With Just One Light
No matter what environment you dive in, depending on a single light source is extremely risky. Burned-out bulbs, dead batteries, or flooding can leave you stranded in total darkness. Without a light source as a reference, it’s pretty easy to get disoriented and lost in the blue depths.
Even on routine recreational dives in clear tropical waters, each diver in a buddy pair should carry one primary light and one backup light at a minimum. For technical diving, doubles of both primary and backup lights are recommended for complete redundancy.
When it comes to underwater illumination, don’t cut corners. Investing in both primary and secondary dive lights provides cheap insurance for a safe return to the surface when you need it most.
Check Depth Ratings and Underwater Pressure
Before purchasing any dive light, confirm that its maximum depth rating meets or exceeds the depths at which you plan to dive. Most recreational dive torches have ratings of 100m/300ft to 200m/650ft. Models built for technical diving may be rated to 300m/1000ft.
The components in dive lights must withstand significant underwater pressure which increases by 1 bar for every 10m/33ft of depth. At 100m/330ft, the pressure is already over 10 bars. Most torches specify their pressure resistance or depth rating – make sure to verify this matches your needs.
Other Pressure Points to Consider
In addition to verifying the overall diving depth rating, look for additional pressure ratings on:
- Button interfaces – Rating of 100m/300ft or more
- Lens – Should be pressure-resistant acrylic or sapphire crystal
- Battery compartment – Isolated from pressure incursion
Waterproofness – IPX8 Rating Is The Bare Minimum
A dive torch simply won’t function if it leaks, so excellent waterproofness is non-negotiable.
IPX8 Waterproof Rating
This international standard indicates an electrical device is submersible and waterproof to specification. IPX8 means it’s watertight even when continuously submerged. Anything less than IPX8 is not suitable for diving.
Lubricated O-Ring Seals
Silicone or rubber o-ring seals provide waterproofing around openings like battery compartments and lenses. However, the seals must be lubricated and maintained to stay watertight under pressure.
On lights with swappable batteries, battery contacts should be electrically isolated so that if flooding occurs only the battery compartment floods. The drive electronics remain protected and undamaged.
To keep your dive torch waterproof, be sure to rinse it thoroughly in fresh water after each use and relubricate o-rings every few months. Limit unnecessary battery swaps which risk compromising the seals. Store your light in a cool, dry place.
With a proper selection of IPX8-rated lights and ongoing maintenance, your torch will illuminate your dives reliably in any underwater environment. Don’t trust your lighting to anything less than waterproof!
Choosing Light Beams: Spot, Flood, or Both?
Dive lights produce various beam patterns suited for different tasks:
Spot Beam – A tight, focused beam that can penetrate through the darkness and sediment to illuminate subjects at a distance. Ideal for navigating and attracting attention.
Flood Beam – A wide dispersed beam perfect for lighting up your immediate surroundings for close-range viewing. Reduces backscatter.
Evaluate the beam angle along with lumens to choose the best option for your diving. Wider flood beams above 100° are preferable for seeing reefs and wrecks, while narrow 10° spot beams are great for long range. For versatility, customizable combo beams offer the best of both worlds.
Strobe or SOS Mode – A Potential Lifesaver Underwater
While not found on every dive light, having a built-in intermittent emergency strobe or SOS mode could make all the difference if you get separated from your group. Flashing the light intermittently allows you to signal your location and get attention even in low visibility conditions.
Many dive lights now come with programmable SOS or strobe modes. Just make sure the flashing light is bright enough to be an effective emergency beacon in murky conditions.
Key Differences Between Battery Types
Dive lights utilize three main types of batteries, each with pros and cons:
Alkaline – Disposable batteries like AA or AAA. Affordable but provides less burn time. Prone to leaking if pressure rating is exceeded.
NiMH Rechargeable – Affordable rechargeable batteries offer improved burn time over alkalines. Must be recharged after each use.
Li-Ion Rechargeable – Provide the longest burn times and consistent brightness. Conveniently recharge via USB. More expensive but overall best performance.
Choosing the battery type depends solely on how deep your pocket is. But Lithium-ion battery-powered dive torches win hands down on a cost-to-utility ratio. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries deliver the longest burn times with consistent illumination, avoiding dimming as the charge depletes. For primary dive lights, most divers prefer Li-ion.
Alkaline disposables work well too, but mostly as redundant backup light sources during emergencies.
Light Source – LED vs. HID Bulbs
The internal bulb or light source directly impacts your light performance. Dive lights mainly use LED or HID bulbs:
LED – Most commonly used for their efficiency, compact size, durability, and long life. Provide bright white or blue light. Moderate heat generation.
HID – High-intensity discharge bulbs produce an extremely bright directable beam in a small unit. However, more expensive with shorter bulb life. Run very hot.
Halogen – Older bulbs are not as efficient as LED or HID. High power consumption and heat. Less durable. Mostly phased out except in budget backup lights.
Modern LED bulbs strike the best balance for dive lights – efficient, long-lasting, and bright. HID lights offer intense output for advanced divers but come with higher costs and heat generation.
Why Does No One Talk About Light Temperatures – Kelvin Ratings and Brightness
Most people don’t mention this factor but this is equally important. Light color temperature is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K). Higher Kelvin ratings produce cooler blue-hued light, while lower Kelvin ratings give warmer, yellow-tinted light.
Cooler blue light penetrates water better, while warm white light provides better contrast and clarity once you’re underwater. Consider using a variable temp light with a sliding Kelvin scale for the best of both worlds:
- 5000-6500K – Cool blue light best for surface water penetration
- 3000-4500K – Neutral white light ideal for general diving use
- 2000-3000K – Warm white light for best contrast and visibility underwater
In addition to Kelvin temperature, also look at overall lumen brightness – the combination of both gives you the full picture of a light’s performance and visibility underwater.
Budget – How Much Should You Spend?
With dive torches ranging from under $50 up to $2000+, you have to be considerate of your budget and not get carried away by the sales pitch of dive shop owners.
As a basic guideline:
- $30-80: Backup/secondary lights, 150-450 lumens
- $100-250: Primary recreational dive lights, 1000-2500 lumens
- $300+: High-output primary lights 2500+ lumens for advanced diving
Scott’s Budgeting Hacks to Save A Fortune While Buying Dive Lights
- Don’t skimp on your primary light! This is your lifeline underwater, so invest in the brightest, highest-quality light you can afford. Consider it cheap insurance on all your future dives. For your primary, expect to spend $100 to $300+ depending on lumens.
- On the other hand, backup lights can be more economical since they (hopefully) never get used. A basic $30 to $80 backup light provides cheap peace of mind.
- Shop end-of-season sales for deals on lights. Manufacturers will deeply discount last year’s models when new versions come out. You can score quality gear for 30-50% off.
- If buying online, don’t forget to factor in batteries and chargers. Buying complete ready-to-dive packages helps avoid surprise add-on costs.
- Rent high-output specialty lights for occasional tech dives. No need to buy an expensive 4,000-lumen torch if you only dive wrecks twice a year. Rent on an as-needed basis instead.
- Share costs with your regular buddy by buying two lights together. Split the upfront purchase, then alternate who carries the backup on each dive.
- Consider rechargeable systems like Li-ion to save ongoing costs over alkaline batteries. And take care of your gear – a well-maintained light can last 100+ dives and provide years of service.
- Get the features you need, not everything on the box. Locking on and off switches sounds cool but do you really need them? Stick to the essentials.
Choose Your Perfect Dive Light
Finding the right dive torch is a personal choice based on your diving style, typical visibility, depths, budget, and more. By carefully considering brightness in lumens, beam types, battery life, durability, and emergency modes, you can select the perfect light to see and stay safe on all your underwater adventures. Don’t forget redundancy – invest in a solid primary light supplemented by a backup option too. With this complete buyer’s guide, you now have all the knowledge to pick the ideal dive torch and illuminate your dives!