Marelux Smart Optical Flash Tube (SOFT) Snoot Review

A premium snoot for the most avid macro shooters
By Nirupam Nigam

Underwater macro photography is the artform of manipulating light to paint the images in your mind's eye. Having the proper lighting tools is essential, and the primary staple of macro photography is the snoot. A snoot is a any device that reduces the diameter of light output from an underwater strobe. It is used to produce the most sought after "look" among underwater macro photographers - a high-drama, high-contrast isolated subject with a black background. 

There are countless snoot designs on the market today, but perhaps the most innovative that we have seen thus far is the Marelux Smart Optical Flash Tube (SOFT). The Marelux SOFT equipped with an array of features that make the shooting experience a breeze and no longer the "guess and check" experience of snooting. The snoot includes an optical condenser for a brighter beam; an aiming light so you always know where the light is going to hit; an iris so that you can adjust the size of the beam coming from the snoot to match your subject; a quick disconnect feature to easily remove the snoot from the strobe; and a neoprene tube cover to help with buoyancy and trim underwater.

At the Underwater Photography Guide, we had the opportunity to be the first to use the SOFT in the macro-infested waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. After a few short dives, we now have an incredible portfolio of macro images of everything from difficult-to-shoot sculpin to nudibranchs to anemones. It's clear that the wide range of features on this snoot are catered towards demanding macro shooters. Read on to find out why we think the Marelux SOFT could revolutionize snoot photography. 

The Marelux SOFT in the field

Availability: Available now at Bluewater Photo

U.S. MSRP: $399 + ($99-149) for the strobe mount

Compatible Strobes: Sea & Sea YS-D2J, Sea & Sea YS-D3, Inon Z240, Inon Z330, Retra Flash Pro X, Ikelite DS 160 Mark II, Ikelite DS 230, Seacam 150/160, Inon s2000, Inon d200

Don't see your strobe listed here? Contact Bluewater Photo for a customer strobe mount.

A mosshead warbonnet photographed with a Nikon Z6, Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobe, and a Marelux SOFT snoot. f/29, 1/160, ISO 400


 

The Mareux Smart Optical Flash Tube (SOFT) is available now at Bluewater Photo! Feel free to email them at sales@bluewaterphotostore.com to get set up with what you need.

Marelux Smart Optical Flash Tube (SOFT)

SOFT Strobe Mount

 


Marelux SOFT Key Features

  • Compatible strobes: Sea & Sea YS-D2J, Sea & Sea YS-D3, Inon Z240, Inon Z330, Retra Flash Pro X, Ikelite DS 160 Mark II, Ikelite DS 230, Seacam 150/160, Inon s2000, Inon d200
  • Built-in aiming light that turns off when your strobe fires
  • Built-in iris that allows you to adjust the beam output from the snoot from 2mm to 60mm (with an external control dial)
  • Quick release button so that the SOFT can be easily removed from your strobe
  • Focal point of beam is 170mm from the end of the flash tube
  • Anodized aluminum construction
  • Neoprene tube cover for additional buoyancy
  • Length (of main body): 210mm
  • Weight (or main body): 972 g in the air, 270 g underwater
  • Battery for aiming light: 18650 lithium ion rechargeable (not included)
  • Depth rating: 100 meters/300 ft
  • Aiming light power: 180 lumens
  • Ball mount included

Clown dorid photographed with the Marelux SOFT. 1/160, f/11, ISO 400

This Snoot Fits Any Strobe - No Need for a Proprietary Flash

Marelux offers a wide range of mounts (seen here) that can be used to mount the SOFT onto your strobe. If you don't see one listed for your strobe, be sure to reach out to Bluewater Photo and they'll find the right mount for you. Unlike other snoots on the market, you don't need a proprietary flash to use the SOFT. Chances are, it can be adapted for the strobe you currently own, as well as future strobes you might have down the road. This saves you money in the long run as you don't have to buy a proprietary flash.

 

Marelux SOFT Design and Quick Release Mount

The Marelux SOFT is rugged, elegant, and utilitarian. It is machined from anodized aluminum and is equipped with a neoprene flash tube cover for added buoyancy and improved trim underwater. Although the SOFT seems a little heavy above water, we found that it was quite easy to move around and manipulate underwater. 

The SOFT attaches to the strobe via a machined mount and a couple of screws. These crews ensure that it is virtually impossible for the snoot to come off the strobe during your dives. If you'd like to release the snoot from the strobe during the dive, there is a quick release button for an easy removal. While the mount stays on the strobe, we might be expecting some additional lighting accessories that can be used with the mount around the corner! 

Aggregating anemones clinging to their mother. Photographed with the Marelux smart optical flash tube. 1/160, f/29, ISO 400

A "Smart" Built-In Aiming Light

As any snooter knows, most difficult aspect of snooting is aiming your small beam of light at your potentially-moving underwater subject. This is especially difficult with snoots that don't have aiming lights or use a strobe's modeling light - which can often be faint. Thankfully, the Marelux SOFT has a buil-in aiming light with a dedicated battery pack. The aiming light shines from the same flash tube where the strobe light is released from and is the same size as the aperture that is set on the snoot. This means you have a perfect representation of your shot before you take it. I found that the aiming light helped my camera focus on the focal point of the shot, and it was visible for me to line up the shot through the camera's LCD. I was diving in darker water, so I can imagine that it could be potentially difficult to see if you are diving in shallow, tropical water during the middle of the day. 

As the 18650 battery is not currently included with the SOFT, I had to initially shoot it without the aiming light while waiting for the battery to arrive. After I began using the aiming light, my shots when from a 20% hit rate to 100%. It's an incredible tool that makes snooting as easy as shooting with strobes. 

To top it off, the built-in aiming light is "smart." When you fire your strobes, the light will shut off for 1.2 seconds so that it does not interfere with your photo. It only takes the aiming light 1/50,000 seconds to detect that the strobe is flashing! 

This tiny nudibranch crossing the edge of a blade of kelp was only possible to photograph with the Mareux SOFT. f/29, 1/160, ISO 400

Built-In Iris to Control Beam Width

Perhaps my favorite feature of the Marelux SOFT is the built-in iris/aperture that controls the width of the flash tube beam. Unlike other snoots, you don't need any cumbersome barriers to change the beam - the process is fully internal in the flash tube. The beam is adjustable from 2mm in diameter (for super macro subjects) to 60mm (for larger portraits). Although Marelux calls it an aperture - it's an iris because it does not have defined stops which makes it extremely versatile. All you have to do to change the size of the iris is spin an ergonomic, easy-to-use knob on the side of the SOFT. I very much enjoyed playing with different diameters to see how it changed perspectives on a single subject. I found it to be an extremely useful creative tool that added another dimension to my macro photography. 

The beam with a fully open aperture/iris

 

The beam with a half open aperture/iris

 

The beam with a mostly closed aperture/iris to create dramatic lighting

Beam Quality

The beam from the Marelux SOFT is unique in that it had both a diffuser and optical condenser. As the beam is released from your strobe, it goes through a diffuser which "softens" it up. After that, the beam is condensed in the flash tube with an optical condenser. This makes it more concentrated on the subject than if you were using a barrier-type snoot. In practice, you don't need your strobe power as high as you do with other snoots which saves strobe batteries and allows you to expose your image properly with higher f-stops. Overall, I found the beam to be not too harsh but also not too soft. I usually didn't get any hot spots on my subject but still had nice contrast in everything I shot. The one time I did get a hotspot was with a bright white subject, and then I turned down my strobe power to fix it.

***Pro Tip: The Marelux SOFT is packaged with a blue protective plastic over the front glass of the flash tube. Please remember to remove it, or your photos will look blue!

A dramatic beam from the Marelux SOFT with an excellent mix of contrast and diffuse lighting.

Final Thoughts

Pros

It was an absolute pleasure diving with the SOFT in some pretty challenging dive conditions. Despite surf and current - too things that aren't conducive to macro photography - I had no problem lining up the SOFT with the extremely convenient aiming light. I was quite happy with the quality of the beam but not surprised - optical flash tubes and video lights (like the MP 30 and Kraken snoot) often produce the best beams for snooting. What I did find myself surprised about was just how fun and easy it was to control the width of the beam. It really opened up creative potential with a number of subjects. Before the SOFT I've always lamented that I couldn't quite photograph super macro subjects and normal macro subjects on the same dive with the same snoot. Now I can! 

 

Cons

There are very few downsides to using the SOFT. I only wish it was a little lighter out of the water. Underwater, I didn't notice the weight too much due to the neoprene sheath over the flash tube. But a device with as many features as the SOFT does need to be hefty above water. Those optical lenses need to be protected by something and anodized aluminum does the job! If you want to keep the size of your rig a bit smaller or already have a large strobe, the SOFT could pose a bit of an issue to the overall ergonomics of your system.

A snooted anemone with the Marelux SOFT. f/18, 1/160, ISO 400

 

An anemone after closing the iris/aperture

Who Should Buy The Marelux SOFT?

Personally, I think the Marelux SOFT should be at the top of the list for any macro photographer who is looking for the easiest to use snoot. While it's not the most affordable snoot on the market, it's not all that much more than its competitors - and certainly less than buying a flash to go with your snoot. The SOFT has all the bells an whistles a DIY snoot can't replicate. From the aiming light to the iris to the quick release mount....I'm sold!

A white lined dirona photographed with the Marelux SOFT and the Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobe. f/18, 1/160, ISO 400

 

A beautiful sculpin photographed with the Marelux SOFT. f/22, 1/160, ISO 200

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.