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Review: Nocturnal Lights M700i Underwater Video/Spotter Light

June, 2013

Nocturnal Lights M700i Underwater Video/Spotter Light
Nocturnal Lights   $179.00

Review by Steve Douglas

When first I received two of the new underwater video lights produced by Nocturnal Lights, a well known company in the underwater community, I had some serious doubts about these lights being used effectively for any video systems that were not limited to the small point and shoot genre of underwater systems. I was wrong, very wrong.


Don't let its diminutive size fool you, this is a light made to serve your underwater filming and photography needs.

It was clear to me that these lights were well made with strong construction, durable and light weight, but they are very small measuring roughly 5" in length and 1" in diameter, so naturally I questioned just how effective their light spread could be and what kind of light penetration they might have filming in the depths.

Fortunately, I received them just in time for an expedition to the island of Anilao in the Philippines and would have plenty of opportunities to test them out.

These lights utilize a twist on and off method of the light head to switch between two power settings. The high setting produces 700 lumens of light at an 80° wide angle while the lower power setting provides roughly a 40% longer burntime. I honestly couldn't see much of a difference between the two settings under the water. When turning on the light topside against a wall the lower setting is a touch more obvious. It is the diffusion of light in an underwater setting and the minimum difference in power that makes it hard to tell when filming beneath the waves. The settings are changed by turning on the light, which provides one power and then turning it off and on again to get to the other power setting. While easy to do, I found it difficult to tell which setting I was on as there are no other indicators. In use, this is my only criticism of the lights.

Each M700i LED powered light is powered by two CR 123 batteries or one Lithium Ion battery which provided the advertised burn time of 2-4 hours depending upon the power setting used. The Nocturnal Light M700i is rated to 100 meters or 328 feet which is considerably deeper than most divers ever go. The deepest I have ever dove was 215 feet a few times which leaves me with a large depth cushion for these lights. Helping to achieve light safety at these depths are a double o-ring between the light body and lamp head. As basic and general maintenance these o-rings should carefully be removed, rinsed and wiped dry after any dive trip but it is not a necessity to do so after each dive. Described a few years back, I wrote an tutorial on proper o-ring care that still applies today and might prove helpful to those who are uninitiated with this type of maintenance.

Arriving in the Philippines I was surprised to see that the resort photographer was using the Nocturnal Lights M700i light as a focus light for his photographic endeavors. At the low setting which provides 40% less power, he was very happy with the light. At low power he had a very extended burn time.

Okay, so he had them in the water long before I did, but how would they do when shooting video either with a dedicated camcorder and housing or even for the considerably smaller GoPRO HERO 3 I was also testing and comparing to past models for the first time? In the past few years I have been shooting using the Keldan Luna 8 LA-V CRI lights which are great and powerful video lights but long, heavy and appear to be behemoths when compared to the M700s.

A tiny hairy crab hiding between an anemone and sea squirt, this frame from video shot with the M700i lights displays a natural diffusion of light and accurate colors. Any limitations to the image were due to the GoPRO's ability to focus sharply underwater.

The Nocturnal M700i lights were a complete success in all ways, especially for filming medium and tight macro shots. At no time when shooting close ups did they burn out the image, their 80° of light spread was nicely diffused with only a hint of a hot spot that was barely perceptible. During nighttime filming, the M700i produced a warm image with sufficient light for most any situation.

As an experiment, I used one of the larger Keldan lights on one light arm and the Nocturnal M700i on the other arm and found that the M700i did an absolutely great job of serving as a fill light preventing image blowouts that can occur when using 2 powerful Keldans even at their lower power settings.

Despite particulate in the water, the M700i lights caught the eye of this cuddle fish without blowing it out.

The GoPRO HERO camcorders and other small run and gun camcorders of this type do not do their best work in low light situations. I have often been asked by new divers turning to underwater videography with their new GoPROs just what lights they could use. Obviously, some of the larger and considerably more expensive video lights are not terribly adaptable to a camera the size of a cigarette box.

This video frame was taken using a Keldan video light on the left and the Nocturnal Lights M700i on the right as a fill light. Colors remain true.

For those who do use a GoPRO or any camcorder in this genre, the Nocturnal Lights M700i is the absolute perfect fit. Attach them to small arms and the optional Nocturnal Lights bracket sled, and you have complete coverage of your subject without the heft and size of a full, high end underwater video system.

While this is not a review of the Nocturnal Lights tray system, I did use it and found that, while a perfect size for both the lights and one or more GoPRO cameras, the mounting attachments did a poor job of holding the camera solidly in place. The cam tended to swivel and tilt on its own and could not be locked down as tight as it needed to be. This is something that the folk at Nocturnal Lights will need to take a look at and adjust.

I have used the M700i topside as a small flashlight and they worked just fine; the aluminum head serves as a heat sink permitting this. However, this is not how they are meant to be used as they will get warm after extended use so, my advice is to use them sparingly for topside filming as heat is the enemy of all camera gear.

Not only do the Nocturnal Lights M700i lights serve as great focus lights for underwater photography, but they served equally as well for video purposes either two of them together or in conjunction with my Keldan light. Their build quality is outstanding and while there is room for improvement in terms of some kind of needed power indicator, I am really nit picking. Bottom line, the M700i lights were surprisingly effective and especially what the doctor called for when using any camcorder in the Contour/GoPRO genre. With a one year warranty and an inexpensive price it would be hard to go wrong with these which will be with me on any future filming expeditions I lead.

Steve Douglas is a certified Apple Pro for Final Cut Pro 7 and underwater videographer. A winner of the 1999 Pacific Coast Underwater Film Competition, 2003 IVIE competition, 2004 Los Angeles Underwater Photographic competition, and the prestigious 2005 International Beneath the Sea Film Competition, where he also won the Stan Waterman Award for Excellence in Underwater Videography and 'Diver of the Year', Steve was a safety diver on the feature film "The Deep Blue Sea", contributed footage to the Seaworld Park's Atlantis Production, and Productions for National Geographic and the History channels. Steve was a feature writer for Asian Diver Magazine and is one of the founding organizers of the San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition. He is available for both private and group seminars for Final Cut Pro and leads underwater filming expeditions and African safaris with upcoming excursions to the Palau. Feel free to contact him if you are interested in joining Steve on any of these exciting trips.

copyright © Steve Douglas 2013

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