HID and LED: Types of Dive Light Heads (Part 2)

Compare the Durability, Strength, Life Span and Costs of Scuba Diving Lights

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(Continued from Part 1: Halogen and Xenon Dive Lights.) HID and LED light heads are both popular for technical diving lights, and can be used as photography and video lights.  Which is the better choice?  

HID Dive Lights

"HID" stands for High Intensity Discharge. HID lights use electronics to increase the output of the bulb. HID bulbs are expensive (usually over $100 USD), have a shorter life span than LEDs, are very delicate, so avoid impacts and rough handling with these bulbs.

An example of an extremely powerful HID light is the Light Monkey 50 Watt HID Light, which has an output of 5000 Lumens (wow!) and a burn time of about four hours on a twenty Ah lithium ion battery and retails in the neighbor hoos of $2000 USD, depending upon the features selected.  

HID lights are used almost exclusively as primary lights for technical diving, photography and videography due to their power, cost. The luminous efficiency of an HID bulb can be up to five times that of a halogen bulb.  HID lights are usually canister-style, with a waist-mounted battery pack attached to a small light head via a cable.

HID lights are often available with adjustable beams. Most adjustable beam HID lights use a reflector cone placed over the light head, which can be moved forward or backwards along the head to focus or scatter the light. HID light beams appear nearly white, possibly with hints of blue/green depending upon the model of light.

HIDs used with reflectors have long been a favorite with underwater videographers and photographers.

Finally, HIDs are delicate creatures. You have been warned. As previously stated, divers must be very careful to avoid impacts to the bulb, especially during travel. In addition, the bulbs, once turned on, should not be run out of the water for more than a minute or two.

However, turning them off immediately is also reputed to shorten their life span. Read the manufacturer's directions carefully to preserve the life of you bulb.

Finally, most HID buld will HID bulbs emit a characteristic reddish or pinkish color a few minutes before the battery is completely empty. The moment the light turns pink, pull out a back-up-light and switch off the HID.

Many experienced divers prefer HID lights to all other types of dive lights because the light quality and strength is incredible.

LED Dive Lights

LED is an abbreviation for Light Emitting Diode. LED lights are rapidly becoming the most popular type of dive light. While top-of-the-line-models can be pricey, as technology and manufacturing improves, LED lights are dropping in price, making them an affordable and durable option for even recreational divers.

LED technology has been used in nearly every type of dive light with great success, from hand-held recreational dive lights to heavy-duty technical diving lights to photography and video lights. Examples include:

• Recreational/Back Up Lights: Underwater Kinetics' UK SL3 AA eLED Dive Light, which has an output of 110 Lumens and a burn time of eight hours on three AA alkaline batteries (retails for about $55 USD).  

• Hand or Camera Mounted Primary/Videography Light:  Light and Motion's hand or camera mounted Sola Dive 2000, which has an output of 2000 lumens and a burn time of 55 minutes on full power using rechargeable lithium ion batteries. The Sola Dive 2000 is an adjustable beam light - it gets a much longer burn time on lower power settings - and it retails for about $800 USD.

• Technical Diving Canister Light:  Light Monkey's 21 Watt LED, which has an output of 1100 lumens with a burn time of 5 hours on a 10Ah lithium ion battery and retails for around $1300 USD.  The light is available with larger battery packs for an additional cost. 

LEDs are very durable, and do not break easily from impact. They have extremely long lives, making it unlikely that a diver will wear out an LED light head in his diving career. LEDs have very high efficiency, and can create light comparable or even stronger than many of the other technologies. When they first came onto the market, LEDs were generally weaker than HID lights, but this is no longer the case (although I haven't seen any commercially available 5000 lumen LEDs -- yet).

LEDs are now available with adjustable settings, often incorporating more than one LED in the light head. This allows divers to switch between output levels and beam width. LED light quality is typically bright white to blueish, depending upon the model, making LED lights excellent as a photography or video lights.

While some divers still prefer HID technology for the strength and penetration of the beam, LEDs are rapidly catching up to HIDs in nearly every aspect, and a quickly becoming the industry standard in both technical and recreational diving.  

The Take-Home Message About Dive Light Heads/Bulbs

Divers have several options when it comes to light head/bulb types. Older technologies such as halogen and xenon lights are relatively inexpensive. HIDs an extremely powerful and focusable beam. However, LEDs tend to be the most durable, provide strong light, are extremely efficient, and are improving every year. I recommend LEDs lights to most divers.  

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