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  • Writer's pictureGina Lusardi

Sea & Sea YS-D3 Lightning Review

Sea & Sea YS-D3 Lightning Review

This year Sea & Sea added a new strobe to their underwater strobe line-up: the YS-D3 Lightning. While Sea & Sea’s most popular selling strobe model, the YS-D2J, is the go-to for many underwater photographers, the YS-D3 Lightning offers a notable upgrade for fast-action shooters and macro enthusiasts alike.

With features including the latest precision circuitry, superior consecutive firing capabilities, and a powerful target light, the YS-D3 will give photographers the ability to capture those critical moments. I am excited to share my experience shooting this new and innovative underwater strobe.

The Pacific Northwest provides some of the best and most challenging photographic environments for any underwater photographer, so I put the strobe to work in our local waters.

Comparison of the YS-d2J strobe with the YS-D3

Newly Designed Body

The YS-D3 has a familiar feel to the immensely popular YS-D2J and the high-quality build we have come to expect from Sea & Sea strobes is once again on show. Housed in a robust, polycarbonate body, the YS-D3 is a rugged, mid-sized strobe that features many improvements over the YS-D2J. The backlighting panel remains with newly designed control dials. When making lighting adjustments, only the power the strobe is set to is illuminated improving the overall visibility of the controls. The dials themselves are more tactile and less stiff than on other models – great for cold water divers wearing thick gloves.

Underwater photography of tires and an anemone, Gina Lusardi

Light Quality

The YS-D3 produces an even light beam from center to the edge due to a new high-precision aspherical optical toroidal lens that has been fitted over the two flash tubes. Without diffusers, the beam angle is 80° x 105° but can be increased to 100° x 110° with the included diffuser and up to 150° x 170° with the optional dome diffuser. While we did not have optimal conditions for testing the dome diffusers, we did use the flat diffusers that come with the strobe. We found that they worked perfectly for getting even lighting across the entire image when using a super wide 15 mm fisheye on a full-frame camera. 

underwater pilings with anemones growing on them, Gina Lusardi

With a 5800 Kelvin (K) color temperature without a diffuser and 5500K with a diffuser, the color temperature is significantly cooler than other popular strobe models including the YS-D2J. While warmer-colored strobes are more desirable for blue water, here in the emerald waters of the Salish Sea, cool-colored strobes are very much welcomed. While the difference is minor, the cooler strobes really bring out the beautiful green color of the water. 

Focus Light Comparison
Focus Light Comparison

Target Light 

With a newly designed aluminum heat diffuser allowing for more power, the YS-D3's target light is 4x brighter than the YS-D2J’s. It is even bright enough to use as a backup dive light. With two power settings, photographers can choose between a full and low-powered target light. The target light also automatically shuts off when the strobe fires and turns on again after 0.5 seconds. While the target light is limited to the positioning of the strobes, it really excels when using a snoot. Positioning a snoot is a skill and it takes practice and patience. The additional brightness made it easier than ever to correctly position the D3’s snoot before firing the strobe. As common with focus lights and other white lights underwater, we did have a problem with shy animals that do not appreciate the bright white light. In these instances, pre-positioning the snoot, dialing in the focus area, and then powering down the target light may help before aiming at the subject.

Example of 12 shots from the Sea & Sea YS-D3 lighting strobe

Lightning Recycle Time

At GN33 the recycle time is 1.7 seconds, which is 0.2 seconds longer than the YS-D2J at full power (GN32). However, the most notable advancement made to the YS-D3 is its lightning-fast recycle rate at GN16 and lower. We were able to test the first sample strobes available. These strobes were easily able to continuously fire at 9fps in our studio. I haven't yet had the opportunity to test faster frame rates. Overall, I found that at GN8 and lower the strobe maintained its ability to continuously shoot at 9fps. When shooting continuously at GN11 the strobe fired around 90% of the time and at GN16 the strobe fired 3-4 times out of 12 consecutive shots. Reducing down to 3fps allowed for success 50% of the time. It is important to note that these were the first test strobes available. Sea & Sea has since updated the firmware and the YS-D3 Lightning now lives up to its name and is able to keep up continuous shooting at GN16 with no trouble at all!  

Optional Accessories

Sea & Sea has also launched an extensive accessories lineup designed specifically for the new YS-D3 including a dome diffuser, snoot, and flash prism.

The optional dome diffuser, great for super-wide angle shots, increases beam angle to 150°×170° and drops the strobe power by -1.5EV. We did not use these in open water as our local conditions were ideal test conditions.

decorator crab, Gina Lusardi

The snoot, a strobe adaptor that narrows the beam angle to be directed at a target point, is excellent for macro enthusiasts. It includes an internal prism that aligns the target light’s light axis and the strobe’s light axis to the center. This works perfectly in practice. The snoot does not have an adjustable opening, the diameter 25mm which is the size of a US quarter dollar coin. It was suitable for medium to large macro subjects, but the snoot effect was lost on the tiniest of critters. 

The flash prism is an optical guiding device to fire the strobe when a fiber-optic cable is not used. It is for manual use only and is effective if multiple strobes are used in a fixed position.  However, the flash may not fire depending on the position where multiple flashes are occurring in relation to that of the master flash. We did not get a chance to test this, but we think it would be best put to use for an off-camera flash.

Strobe Specifications 

  • Guide Number: 33

  • Beam Angle: 80°x80°, 100°x100° (w/ Diffuser 100), 120°x120° (w/ diffuser), 150° with optional dome diffuser.

  • Battery Type: AA (x4) - Alkaline / Ni-MH

  • Number of flashes: AA 150 / Ni-MH 200

  • Recycole time: AA 3.0 sec / Ni-MH 1.5 sec

  • Color temp: 5600k

  • Color temp w/ diffuser: 5250k

  • Depth Rating: 100m / 330ft

  • Dimensions: 92 x 111 x 147mm / 3.6 x 4.4 x 5.6in

  • Weight: 600g / 21.2oz (without batteries)

  • Underwater weight: +40g / +1.40z

  • Others:

  • Exposure controls: DS-TTL II, Slave TTL, Guide number control dial

  • Pre-flash control: Equipped with pre-flash cancel mode

  • Auto-power off function

  • Over pressure relief valve

  • LED target light

  • Audible charge signal

Additional Images from test dives!

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