PHOTO KIT REVIEW: Which strobe arm system?
Once you decide to add a strobe to your camera, you will you need to select an arm system. And as with all bit of camera kit, you will find there are several options to chose from. This post hopes to make that selection process easier, so you can chose the right arm, first time.
An ideal arm is lightweight, comes in a range of lengths and is robust enough to be moved frequently underwater. You want a nice, smooth movement. And it needs to support the strobe weight easily.
On the face of it, flexible arm systems can seem the cheapest solution. To start with, you don’t need clamps and they come in a range of lengths. A flexible arm can be handy for a very lightweight item, such as a focusing light. But some strobes (eg Sea&Sea YS-D1 or INON Z240) are really too heavy for flexible arms and the longer the arm, the worse this is. Over time you can find the arm joints will loosen up. I find ultimately, a flexible arm is limits the position I can get the strobe into. If you want to get a bit more creative with your lighting, you need to be able to really move the strobe around underwater.
I’m big fan of 1inch ball jointed arms. These are typically made from aluminium so will last you years to come. Available from 7.5cms to 40cms, you can add 2 arms together with clamps. It’s easy to chose how long you want your strobe arm to be. Very long arms can be unwieldy underwater. I personally tend to use 2x 20cm arms. Underwater you will find you can position your strobe around more accurately throughout the dive and you have enough length for all kinds of lighting positions.
Most photographers will find their camera set up inevitably gets heavier. By the time you add lenses/dioptres, multiple strobes and a focusing light, you have quite a fair bit of weight. Dragging around a negatively buoyant camera rig can be hard work. Think about your air consumption! If you are planning to use or have a larger camera set up, float arms make sense. Your goal is to make the camera as close to neutrally buoyant as possible. Foam float arms are a great option, and don’t cost the earth. Make sure the foam is as high quality as possible, and ideally non-compressible.
The ultimate in float arms are buoyancy tube arms. These are a high end solution that will last for years to come.