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Vandit Kalia

How To Make Your Scuba Diving Holiday Go Smoothly

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How to Make Your Next Scuba Diving Holiday Go Smoothly

Scuba Diving Articles

It is the one thing we all dread the most – having a much-anticipated holiday not go as planned.     After the anticipation, use of valuable vacation time and the not-inconsiderable expensive involved in going on a dive holiday, we all want things to go smoothly.

And the good news is – so do most dive centers and other divers.    The people running the dive center got into the business primarily due to a love for the sport – and the other divers are in the same boat as you (literally and figuratively):  they want to have a great trip.

But often, small mistakes, minor miscommunications, cultural differences and varied expectations can cause stress on a diving trip.       But it is very easy to avoid them – and with just a little bit of care and attention, it is very easy to ensure that your trip goes smoothly.

Join Vinnie in this recording of his FB Live Session on how to ensure that your diving trip goes smoothly.

About Vinnie:
Vinnie is a fictional character created by the golden retrievers that secretly run DIVEIndia (and generated using CGI in this video). In the narrative, he is an experienced tech diver, long-standing instructor and keen underwater photographer. Carefully planted rumors lend credence to his existence – some people have been paid handsomely to claim that they have seen him and even dived with him.

Scuba Diving in the city

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Scuba Resources in your Home City

Scuba Diving in the city

If you are a beginner looking to try the sport, why not give it a go right at home?    No need to book an expensive holiday – try diving in a pool and see if you like it (be warned – you will!).   And after that, complete your theory sessions as well as skill development sessions in the city itself, as your convenience and without feeling rushed.    Then, when you go on a holiday, you can go straight into the ocean and not spend valuable vacation time in a classroom.

And the benefits don’t stop just with certification.    Diving does not have to be something you only do a couple of times a year on vacation. Stay involved with the sport, keep your skills fresh and continue to develop as a diver right in your home city…. Vinnie tells you how in the video below.

While this video was shot during the COVID lockdown, a lot of the benefits of staying involved with diving on a continual basis still apply – whether it is polishing your skills, trying equipment, doing some theory online or generally hanging out with fellow divers.

And yes, we almost always have something or the other going on with regarding to diver training @home as well, in our dive  centers in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai.   So do contact us if you have any questions or are interested.

About Vinnie:
Vinnie started to dive back in 1991 and spent the first decade of his diving existence exploring the shipwrecks of the cold frigid waters of the North Atlantic (including the Andrea Dorea, although he regretably was unable to get a plate from the wreck).    A trimix diver since the late 1990s, a scuba instructor since 2001 and a Course Director/Instructor Trainer, first with NAUI and then with SSI since 2008, he is India’s most experienced dive instructor and also founder of DIVEIndia.     He currently conducts training in DIVEIndia’s @Home centers in Bangalore and Chennai.

How To Prioritize What Scuba Gear To Buy?

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How to prioritize what scuba gear to buy?

What scuba gear to buy 1st

Article by:   Vinnie

One of the most common questions newly certified (or even moderately advanced) divers have is, what gear should I buy?      This is fuelled in no small part by the various certifying agencies and dive centers, all of whom have a vested interest in pushing sales of gear.   In fact, in a lot of places, divers are required to buy their own set of personal gear before they sign up for even their first certification course – and many places often push divers to buy a full set of dive gear before they have even gotten certified!

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are very good reasons to buy/own your dive equipment:  good fit, convenient features like integrated weight pockets that are usually not present on rental kit, lighter gear for easy traveling, consistency in buoyancy and trim, familiarity with gear (which can be critical in an emergency) and also pride of ownership (let’s face it – dive gear is cool).    And a lot of these benefits are not obvious until you have actually owned your own dive gear and realized how much better your dive experience is, as a result.   If money wasn’t an issue, I’d suggest everyone buy a full set of gear as well.

But sadly, money is an issue for most of us.    So the question becomes, how do you prioritize what to buy?      As with most things in life, there are no short and easy answers which apply to everyone.   But the purpose of this article is to give you the pros and cons of each piece of kit, so that you can decide for yourself.

A word of warning:  the video and the attached article are unabashedly subjective and opinionated.   My opinions.    I have been doing this long enough that I think my opinions have a very sound basis in reality, but there certainly are other sensible ways to look at this issue which may be different.      Also, this article is geared towards the typical tropical/vacation diver and also does not take into account any unique needs or specific requirements people may have.

MASK

Masks are the most commonly recommended item for people and with good reason.   An ill-fitting or easily-fogging rental mask can reduce the enjoyment of your dive.   As masks are fairly inexpensive and easy to carry, there is no real reason to not get a mask.    That said, the downsides of not having your own mask are fairly low as well –  fogging is relatively easy to fix, and most people generally are able to find a mask that fits their face fairly easily.     However, for those of you with prescription glasses who do not want to wear contacts, a prescription mask becomes a near-essential piece of kit.

Recommended for:   Everyone
Essential for:  People who struggle to get a good fit with regular mask, people who need a prescription fit

SNORKEL

Snorkels are great for snorkelling.    Or if you are doing long surf entries.     They are absolutely a menace around dive boats – having your face in the water, unable to see or hear anything, is not really a good idea around a boat that may be pitching in the water.      29 years of diving, 6000+ dives later, I have yet to have a single dive where I have gone “gee, I sure wish I had a snorkel with me”. But your mileage may vary – if you feel uncomfortable on the surface with your head upright, then yes, a snorkel does make it easier to breathe, especially in choppy seas.

Recommended for:   Those whose special dive conditions require a snorkel
Essential for:  Snorkelers

THERMAL PROTECTION

Most tropical water dive centers issue 3mm shorties to divers.    These are great for a moderate amount of warmth and some protection from stinging objects.      If you tend to get cold easily, you will need a 3mm wetsuit – and it is nice to have your own, to ensure you get a good fit.   Other pieces of kit that are nice to have are a full sleeved rashguard (sun protection, protection from small stingers in the water) or neoprene vests/jackets like the Mares Ultraskin / Sharkskin.      There are various bits of kit you can buy, which can let you dial in the perfect combination to cover your diving situations – eg, I own a 1mm lycra fullsuit, a 3mm neoprene wetsuit, a full sleeves fleece+neoprene jacket, a hooded vest and a separate hood (and this ignores my older cold water gear – a drysuit, 7mm suit, etc).        To get the most of this, it is  better to gain some experience and understand how prone you are to getting cold, what sort of conditions you will be diving in, etc and then make a purchase decision, however.

Recommended for:   Everyone, as they gain some experience and start to understand their own requirements
Essential for:  People diving regularly in colder water

FINS

Making people aware of the importance of fins has become a bit of a personal crusade of mine.     People obsess and agonize over what regulator to buy, for example, when you can pretty much pick any regulator in the market and get more-than-adequate performance.     But pick the wrong fins and you have ruined your dive.    Wrong fins make it harder to swim in challenging  conditions (read:  stronger currents) and can also ruin your trim by making your legs go up/down too much.

Recommended for:   Everyone
Essential for:  Those who struggle with currents or trim

BCD

Diving with the same BCD helps you dial in your trim more consistently, manipulating all the buttons and clips becomes a part of your muscle memory and you can customize your setup (storage of things like cutting tool, octopus, lift bag and reel) to be consistent every time.     And most importantly, you know where the emergency dump valves are located and how much modulation they (and the inflator) need.    The reason not to buy?    These are all mainly matters of comfort and convenience.   But don’t under-estimate the value of comfort and convenience:  this is one of those products where you will not really miss having your own, higher-end BCD until you actually own one – but once you own your own, you will not want to go back to a rental.

Recommended for:   Everyone, budget allowing;  underwater photographers, wreck divers, people who dive enough to justify the savings in gear rental
Essential for:  Cold water divers

REGULATOR

It is somewhat ironic that the most essential item in scuba, in terms of being safety-critical, is also the most reliable and relatively undifferentiated.   Yes, manufacturers all tout superior materials, better breathing rates, etc. etc. but in real world conditions, there is very little difference between regulators that you would notice without doing an A/B  comparison.      That said, for experienced divers, it is good to own your own reg so you can customize hose routing, gauges, etc as per your requirements.    Also, if saving weight is important for you, then having a travel-specific regulator can save you 500-1000gm over a normal regulator.    Lastly, having your own regulator means that you know its service history and it is less likely to have minor leaks and issues than a rental regulator.

Recommended for:   Those who value low weight, who want the peace of mind of knowing their regulator’s service history or experienced divers who like consistency in all aspects of their gear setup, people who dive enough to justify the savings in gear rental
Essential for:  Tech or cold water divers

COMPUTER

To me, a computer should be mandatory for diving.  When you have your own dive computer, you have all the information that you need to dive safely, and also to handle any emergency that may come up:  depth, time, no-deco info (or deco info), ascent rate and with high-end computers, compass/heading and air time remaining.      Relying on a dive guide’s computer or sharing a computer between buddies – both common practices – is a little better but over the course of a dive holiday, small variations in dive profile can add up to a significant difference.   Not to mention what happens if you are separated from your buddy:  that is a stressful event and being without a computer at that time only makes things worse.    Quite simply, as a diver, you are in charge of your own safety – and you cannot do that without a dive computer (don’t even mention tables).   Yes, you can rent dive computers on trips – but it is preferable to have your own computer, where you understand what the displays mean, how to adjust the settings, etc.  Dive computers are fairly cheap, starting at a little over Rs 20k for a computer –  there is no real reason not to own one.

Recommended for:   Everyone
Essential for:  Everyone

ACCESSORIES

There are plenty of useful accessories divers can own – SMBs, whistle, reels, a small cutting tool, a small dive light, reef hooks and pointer sticks.     Of these, I would say SMB/whistle are essential if you are boat diving;  cutting tools are handy if there is a risk of entanglement, reef hooks for hooking in during currents (if allowed by the dive center – this is a debatable practice, which is a separate discussion), etc.     A lot of these can also be rented as needed, so there is no great impetus to own these other than the convenience of always having them with you in case of an unexpected need.

Recommended for:   As needed
Essential for:  n/a

SUMMARY

So – what do you actually need?       Personally, I would suggest starting with the following 2 items as your initial purchase:  mask and computer.   These have the biggest and most immediate impact on comfort and safety.      Then, once you have gotten some experience, add a pair of suitable fins (based on having tried out various options) and appropriate thermal protection (rashguard, jacket, vest or full suit) – both of these are probably just as important, if not more, for comfort than a mask but you need some experience in order to make the right purchase here.   The regulator and BCD can come last – or you might find that you don’t dive enough to warrant purchasing these and are ok to rent – these definitely fall in the “nice to have” category (or the “will save money” category for frequent divers).

With all diving products, especially if you are starting out – nothing beats the advice of experienced professionals who can help you select the product that best fits YOUR needs, as opposed to what they have in stock.   As much as possible, do try out the product you are buying in the water, if you can – just because something works very well for others doesn’t mean it will for you.

Ultimately, there is only one question that matters:   will a particular piece of kit make diving more comfortable/enjoyable?         Anything that gets you diving more is a win – the sticker shock of the purchase goes away, but the memories of great dives stay with you forever.

How to Become a Better Scuba Diver

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How to Become a Better Scuba Diver

How to Become a Better Scuba Diver

A common misconception among divers is that learning to dive is where you acquire all the skills that you need to dive.   That is incorrect.    The certification course gives you enough skills in order to get you STARTED in the post.  It is only the beginning – becoming a better diver is a path on which each and every one of us are walking.

And while we would love to have you spend all your money with us, and do as many courses as possible with us, you don’t have to do so in order to improve.      In fact, for most divers, just continuing to develop the skills and concepts that they learned in the Open Water course is all that is needed in order to improve their scuba skills and comfort significantly.

In this recording of a Facebook live session shot during the COVID lockdown, Vinnie shares some practical, real-world tips on how to take ownership of your dive experience, and how you can do small things to continually improve your skills, both mental and physical.

About Vinnie:
Vinnie started to dive back in 1991 and spent the first decade of his diving existence exploring the shipwrecks of the cold frigid waters of the North Atlantic (including the Andrea Dorea, although he regretably was unable to get a plate from the wreck).    A trimix diver since the late 1990s, a scuba instructor since 2001 and a Course Director/Instructor Trainer, first with NAUI and then with SSI since 2008, he is India’s most experienced dive instructor and also founder of DIVEIndia.     He currently conducts training in DIVEIndia’s @Home centers in Bangalore and Chennai.

Underwater Photography Guide For Beginners: Building A System Around A Compact Camera

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PUTTING TOGETHER AN UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY SYSTEM BASED ON A COMPACT CAMERA

Are you interested in taking high quality underwater photos?  Or perhaps upgrading from your GoPro to something that takes better images and also is more scaleable?   Does the complexity of an underwater camera system and all the bits and pieces needed put you off buying one?

In this video and article, we are going to talk about the various components of an underwater photography system and what attributes to look for – a system that may not be the cheapest to start with, but also a system that will grow with you as your interests develop (which works out to better value in the long run).

For the purposes of this article, we are going to ignore ILC (Interchangeable Lens Cameras, like DSLRS and Mirrorless) – while they are technically the best solution, they also require a commitment in terms of money and approach to diving that is not suitable for most people, atleast not initially.   For the vast majority of divers, a compact camera system actually is the better tool.

1:  THE CAMERA

When picking a camera, the obvious point is to make sure there is a housing that is made for that specific camera model.  That aside, please look for one with the following attributes:

  1. A good wideangle – the wider the better: Underwater photography is all about getting close to your subject, and a wider angle lens lets you get closer to subjects ranging from turtles, large coral outcrops, divers, etc.  This means that your images are going to be better lit, sharper and have more detail/contrast.  By contrast, the telephoto range is not as important, as you will rarely be shooting something too far way.
  2. A good close-up/macro mode: Among the most rewarding – and easily accessible – category of subjects in underwater photography are macro subjects: nudibranchs, shrimps, etc. And here too, you want to get as close as possible, to fill the frame with your subject.
  3. Fast autofocus: While modern cameras have improved substantially compared to the Olympus C3000 I started shooting with, back in 2001, there still is a difference in autofocus, especially in poor light and low contrast (ie, your typical dive).  Faster AF will result in a much greater percent of keepers, especially for fish portraits.
  4. Easy to access controls:  Operating a camera underwater means working through a housing, which is typically via buttons and dials.   A camera which requires a lot of use of touchscreen or rotating dials typically does not pair well with these buttons and dials, and so may limit your ability to set key parameters underwater.
  5. Built-in flash: One feature I didn’t mention in the video is a built-in flash, mainly because virtually every camera does come with a flash. This is mandatory – that built-in flash is what controls your strobe (see section 3).  No flash = no strobe, and you might as well just shoot with a GoPro.

In addition to this, a nice-to-have feature (for me) is built-in waterproofing.  This way, if or when the housing floods, there is a good chance you may save the camera.  You can also use the camera for other activities associated with the diving trip – beach, snorkelling, etc. and not have to worry about it getting splashed.

This is the camera I used underwater (at the time of writing this article): an Olympus TG5.  It has the best macro modes out of all the compacts in the market at present

As camera housings are specific to individual cameras, you obviously need to pick a camera model which has at minimum a housing made for it and ideally, a range of accessories to support the system.   The 3 brands which I recommend are Canon, Olympus and Sony.  Each of them make cameras that are very popular with underwater photographers, and so it is easy to find housings and other accessories for them.

Do note – if you have a compact camera already, you can likely get a housing for it and wont need to buy a separate camera.  However, I do encourage read up on the housing section to determine what features to look for when it comes to building a scaleable system, and whether you particular camera + housing combo meets those requirements.  In some cases, it may be better in the long run to buy a new camera, rather than build a compromised system around a less-than-ideal camera.

2: THE HOUSING

The housing is the waterproof case within which the camera is kept while shooting underwater.    When looking for a housing, look for the following 3 main attributes:

  1. Ergonomics: What you want is a housing which feels easy to grip in your hands and where the important shooting controls – focus, change AF point, change exposure – are easy to reach with your fingers, without you needing to take your hand off the grip every time.  I cannot overstate what a big difference this makes when you are actually shooting – if you are struggling with your camera, you will not be able to get the best shots.
  2. Access to controls: Most camera housings do give access to all the essential controls when shooting underwater – however, in several cases, many “nice to have” functions may not be accessible. For example, if you rely on a particular custom function button or a rotating control dial, please make sure you can access it from within the housing.
  3. Ability to easily add accessories: This is the single biggest attribute when it comes to determining whether your system will scale up or not.  As your needs evolve, you may find you want greater close-up capabilities or the ability to go wider for impressive reefscapes.   Does your housing allow you to add these components easily?   At a more basic level, can you connect to your strobe using standard connectors or are you dependent on proprietary connectors that limits your choices?  Ideally, you want a housing with a threaded filter mount in the front, which will let you screw in additional accessories and a port for plugging in an optical fiber cable to sync your external strobe with the camera’s strobe.

This is the Olympus PT-058 housing I use with the TG5.  The front of the port has 58mm threads for screw-in accessories and there are 2 ports for fiber optic cables on the upper right of the port – allowing me to attach 2 strobes directly to the camera

Housings can be made by the OEM (camera manufacturer) or by a third-party manufacturer like Nauticam, Fantasea, Seafrog, etc.    OEM housings are generally relatively inexpensive and made of polycarbonate.   Third-party housings often tend to be a bit more expensive, and often made of metal.

Often (but not always), third-party housings may have a better ecosystem of accessories – which is a good reason to pay a premium for them.  In addition, while OEM housings are typically rated to 30m or 40m, metal third party housings may be rated to 60m or deeper – for divers looking to shoot at tech depths, a more expensive 3rd party housing may often be the only solution.

The housing has a large window in the back for looking at the LCD screen and all the buttons are large and easy to access

However, purely in terms of reliability and functionality, I have not found 3rd party housings to be more reliable or less prone to flooding.  Personally, as long as the housing met my preferred depth rating and checked off the three attributes listed above, I would happily buy the cheapest housing – as long as it was from a reputable brand.  There are plenty of horror stories about ultra-cheap housings flooding due to poor QC – that is not a risk I am willing to take, so save $100-200.

The shutter button has a large lever, making it easy for most hand sizes, and the zoom and power buttons are also easily accessible.  There is also a cold shoe on the left, for mounting additional accessories

3: THE STROBE (UNDERWATER FLASH)

Photography is, in its essence, the act of recording light.   It doesn’t matter how expensive your camera – if the light is poor, the image will be poor.  And underwater, the natural light is always poor: you will need a powerful flash to not just brighten the scene but also to add in the reds that have been absorbed by the water.

Simply put – the strobe is the single most important element in taking high quality images.  Period.  This is one area where you should not skimp (and unfortunately, this is the one area where most people do try to cut corners).   A good strobe has the following attributes:

  1. Power: Power is represented by something called Guide Number. Without getting into the specifics of what it means, the main thing to know is that bigger = better.  You want as high a GN as possible – ideally, atleast 20-22, or even more if budget allows.   Once the payment is made, you will never regret having a more powerful strobe.
  2. Angle of coverage: Along with power, you also need to know the angle of coverage of the strobe beam.  Many cheap strobes may appeal due to their high GN, but the angle of coverage is very low, which can be a problem when it come to lighting a scene.  You want an angle of coverage of atleast 90 degrees – and as before, more if you can afford it.
  3. Beam uniformity:  This is another area where cheaper strobes cut corners.  A good strobe will have even lighting across the entire beam.  No hotspots, which can cause uneven exposure when shooting underwater
  4. Manual controls: Most strobes have an automatic mode, where they work seamlessly with the camera’s TTL exposure mode (unsure what TTL is?  Just think of it as fully automatic, with the camera effectively controlling the strobe).  This is great when you are starting out or for macro, but auto mode is unreliable with many subjects, such as wide angle and reflective fish.  For more consistent results, you want the ability to set the strobe’s power manually.   This is a lot easier than it sounds, and is something many photographers gravitate to as they evolve.    Is it essential?  No.  But having this feature ensures you will not outgrow the strobe.
  5. Additional features:  These include things like focus lights, torch functionality and red light (for focus assist in the dark with shy subjects).   While not essential, they do make your diving a lot easier – which is always nice.

The Inon Z240 (top of the range strobe from Inon in its time) has a full array of controls and also a standard 1” ball mount for attaching to other hardware.

One thing worth noting- manufacturers often tend to be very optimistic with their claims about power and angle of coverage.  And unfortunately, in the case of really inexpensive products sold on Ali Express and elsewhere, they flat out lie – and I say this as someone who uses dive lights and bicycle lights that I have bought (and will continue to buy) on those sites.

Also, video lights are not a substitute for strobes.   Video lights put out a lot less power than strobes – even a $1500 video light will not have as much power as a $500 strobe.  So while they may work for macro and closeup work, they are not as good for wide angle photography.

Given the importance of the lighting to underwater photography (I really think your strobes are the centrepiece of your system), I cannot overstate the importance of allocating ample budget towards them.    Typically, most people skimp out and get budget strobes.  Then after a few dive trips, they end up upgrading.  It is better to just get it right the first time – and also more economical in the long run.

It is one thing to buy inexpensive torch lights or video lights (which are really torch lights with a wide angle of view) – however, the moment you add in sync circuitry and greater power needed for strobes, cheap becomes a losing proposition.  I recommend Inon and Sea&Sea as 2 brands offering very good power, reliability & features for the money.

Also, as your photography skills improve, you may want to add a second strobe.  But for now, it is better to start with 1 good strobe.

The controls may look intimidating, but are fairly easy – clockwise from bottom left: (1) button for turning on the torch (and locking it), (2) setting the various strobe exposure modes, (3) adjusting the strobe power in manual control modes and (4) adjusting for camera with or without pre-flash.  I typically set the strobe on M on the upper left dial, and use the upper R dial to increase/reduce the power.

4: THE SYNC CABLE

This is a piece of fiber optic cable that connects your camera to the strobe – when your camera’s flash fires, that triggers your external strobe.  Depending on what mode you are using, the strobe will either then put out a specific amount of light (manual mode) or will also shut off when the camera’s strobe shuts off (auto / TTL mode).

The main thing to look for is a cable whose terminators are compatible with your system.  The standard used is a push fit (also known as the Sea & Sea connector, after the popular strobe maker).   Inon strobes use a screw-in terminator, which is not very popular outside of Inon products, but less prone to popping out (which isn’t really a big deal, though).

The cable on the left has Sea&Sea connectors on both ends;  the cable on the right has a Sea&Sea connector on one end (this plugs into the housing) and an Inon connector on the other (this screws into my strobe).

5: THE CONNECTING HARDWARE

Note – you can also connect your strobe to the camera via electrical cable, but that is for DSLRs with hot shoes only, not for compact cameras.

The camera, housing, strobe and cable are the essential bits needed to take the photo.  But you also need a bunch of accessories to physically combine them into one unit and also to position your strobe underwater when shooting.  These are the following:

a. The base tray / handles:

The base tray is a plate that connects via a screw to the tripod mount at the bottom of most housings.    It will have 1 or 2 handles on the side (depending on the option you get), for mounting most accessories.

The standard for connecting multiple pieces of hardware is 1” ball mount, as shown in the photo below.    There are other connecting mechanisms as well, but try to get this, as this gives you the most options for putting together different hardware elements.

Two different trays – one is a single-handle tray (the handle actually goes on the left as my right hand holds the housing), and the other is a dual-handle tray.  The latter lets you attach 2 strobes.  Both the trays have the standard 1” ball head terminators for adding more hardware

b. Strobe arms:

Strobes are typically mounted on strobe arms, to get them further away from the central axis of the camera/lens (this reduces backscatter).

A common option are flex arms – they are easy to use and do not require a lot of other hardware.  The downside is that they are limited in length and also positional flexibility.

Flex arms are an inexpensive solution to get started but limit flexibility when it comes to strobe positioning.  Note the 1” ball heads at each end

In my opinion, rigid strobe arms are a better option for enthusiasts – by using 2 of these arms to connect each strobe, you have maximum positional flexibility for lighting (and remember – underwater photography is all about lighting).   Strobe arms come in various lengths – for someone starting out with underwater photography, two 6” arms per strobe is a good starting point and well suited for everything from macro to wide angle.

Different types of arms. From left to right: 10” arms used for wide angle photography on my ILC system; 6” arms recommended for compact camera systems and 4” arms used for macro photography on my ILC system.  The 10” and 4” arms have floats to adjust the buoyancy of my ILC system.  As with everything else, each of these arms ends with 1” ball adapters and you can see how they connect using butterfly clamps.  

As with the tray/handles, may sure you get arms with 1” ball terminators on each end.

c. Butterfly Clamps

These are clamps for connecting 2 separate hardware components, each of which has a 1” ball terminator.

For each strobe, you will need 3 of those – one to connect the handle to Arm 1, a second to connect Arm 1 to Arm 2 and a third to attach the strobe to Arm 2.

Butterfly clamps are used to join 2 separate pieces of hardware via their 1” ball heads.  The nature of the ballhead and clamps allows for very easy movement underwater, along any axis

The good news is that here, you can DEFINITELY save money by buying inexpensive arms and clamps off Ebay, Ali Express or wherever.  These are simple pieces of machined metal and do not require high technology or high QC – and the generic hardware costs a fraction of what the branded ones do.

So once you have a camera, housing and strobe, all neatly mounted on a tray and strobe arms, you are ready to go shooting.   And indeed, you have all the tools you need to take excellent photographs – in fact, as long as you can get close to the subject and light it properly, the images from a compact camera will not be too different from that taken with an ILC.

However, where the compact camera typically falls short of an ILC is in ability to get really close (near lifesize or 1:1 reproduction) of really small objects, or its ability to encompass sweeping wide views of reefs or really large animals like whalesharks, etc.

The former requires really good macro capabilities (which most compact cameras lack – the Olympus TG series being an exception).  The latter requires an ultra-wide angle of view, which is also not possible with compact cameras.

However, there are ways to get around this – by using adapter lenses.   You can get close-up adapters, which let you get closer to a subject (and thereby increase magnification).  You can also get wide angle adapters, which widen the field of view of the camera, thereby letting you get closer to large subjects or wide vistas.  These are typically called wet lenses, as you can attach and remove them underwater.  There is a small optical tradeoff compared to the specialized gear that ILCs use, but you make up for it by being able to shoot both wide angle and macro on the same dive.

6: ADD-ON ACCESSORIES

A Kraken UWL wet lens – this increases the field of view of my Olympus system from an average 100 degrees to a very wide 140 degrees: great for impressive wide angle shots.

Ability to use wet lenses depends primarily on being able to attach them to the front of your housing – typically, this can be done via a proprietary bayonet mount (specific to individual 3rd party manufacturers) or via a standard threaded screw mount (58mm or 67mm are typical sizes).   I am a big fan of screw mounts, as it lets you add components from a wide variety of manufacturers.

If you are starting out, you do not need to spend money on these – but do make sure your housing has an option to add these later.

Summary

If you were looking for a magical solution to putting together a system for underwater photography on the cheap, I am sorry to disappoint.  Versatile, cheap, quality – you can only pick two, unfortunately.   I have chosen to focus (no pun intended) on putting together something that is significantly better than what you can shoot with a GoPro.

The system I have suggested is going to cost somewhere in the following ballpark:
– Camera:  Rs 30,000
– Housing:  Rs 25,000
– Strobe:  Rs 35,000
– Sync cable:  Rs 5,000
– Tray:  Rs 2,500
– Arms + connectors:   Rs 6,000

So about Rs 1 lakh / $1300 or so for the whole thing, give or take 10-15%.

Is it cheap?  No.   But I also think that there is no point spending $400-500 / Rs 30,000-40,000 and getting something that is only a little better – you might as well just stay with what you have.  If you are going to upgrade, you might as well upgrade to something that is truly and noticeably better.

Also, it is better to spend a little more to buy the Right Stuff, as opposed to buying something cheaper which is a compromise, which you have to upgrade later.   Almost every photographer goes through a stage like this (eg, with tripods) – and virtually every experienced photographer later advises against it.

If you are on budget, consider buying used/NOS.  The previous generation camera and the previous generation housing can be had for substantial discounts and with relatively negligible difference in performance.    Used strobes can also be a good deal, but a bit harder to source in India.

In the grand scheme of things, look at it from the lifetime utility point of view.  Given how much a diving trip costs, the small increment you pay for better quality pales into insignificance, especially when you amortize it over the number of years of use you will get from it.

Anyway, I hope you found this article useful – do give us a follow on Facebook and Instagram, and perhaps share this link, if you did.

How to become a marine biologist – Tamanna Balachandran

Posted by | Andaman scuba diving course, Articles, PADI underwater naturalist, Scuba Diving Careers in India, Underwater Naturaliast Course | No Comments

How to become a marine biologist?

Essay by Tamanna Balachandran
How the marine ecology camp from last year influenced her and her decision to become a marine biologist.

The first time I experienced what the ocean had to offer was when I scuba dived, in the waters of Havelock. Then, I was a ten year old girl who had just fulfilled a life-long dream, mesmerised by the beauty of the underwater world I had gotten my first peek into.

When I returned five years later, a couple inches taller but with the same zeal for marine exploration, I decided to take part in the marine ecology camp. Over the course of the camp, I learnt more about the ocean I adored, from how corals were formed to figuring out how a particular fish hunts just by observing its features. I went on dives, guided by Chetana, where I was able to observe the subtlest interactions and behaviours, like the goby fish protecting the shrimp as the shrimp dug a safe home for the two of them, or parrot fish sleeping in mucus bubbles of their own making. The more I learnt, the more I felt like I understood. And I began to view the ocean no longer as a picture perfect fantasy world, but as a living breathing ecosystem held together by fragile, intricate relationships between its biotic and abiotic components. I realised that our ocean is straining to deal with the effects of our actions and it is our responsibility to fix what we’ve caused.

After the camp, I learnt and explored even more, and firmed my decision to play my role in marine conservation more actively. I attended wildlife conferences, heard from experts that had spent decades studying animals. And I decided to share my thoughts with the world; in August of 2019, I gave my first TED talk, titled “Bulldozing Our Oceans’ Integrity”. I shared my concerns about the effect that commercial fishing techniques like trawling were having on our oceans. Having decided a career path that will lead me to becoming a marine biologist, it is vital I continue learning and sharing my ideas but, also starting to take action for the cause. And so, this summer as well I’m returning to Havelock to intern in their marine conservation programme.

Photo credits Umeed Mistry

How to Plan A Trip to the Andaman Islands – Zero Waste and Ecologically Responsible

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5 Eco-friendly Ways to Travel In the Andamans

How to Plan A Trip to the Andaman Islands

Emerald hues!   Picture credit: Umeed Mistry

Coral reefs, beaches and islands in the Andamans are now world famous for being some of the most beautiful and quiet places to be in nature. There is this ‘wow untouched paradise’ notion associated with these islands; a sense of which you get when you are flying into the islands. Approximately 2000 sq.km coral reef surrounds these islands. And a majority of these islands are densely forested and uninhabited by people.

The Andamans is a fairly remote island chain, nearly 1600 km away from Chennai but it is definitely a top tourist destination for people across the world. The remoteness coupled with the fact that well, these are islands, means that resources are limited and any waste that we generate goes nowhere!

top 5 Zero Water Ecologically Responsible Ways to Travel the Andaman Islands

Andaman Islands: The ‘untouched paraside’     Picture credit: Umeed Mistry

Waste management is currently unplanned here in the Andamans and this becomes a particularly big problem in Havelock which sees huge tourist turnover on a daily basis. Resorts need to call a truck to take garbage to a common unsegregated landfill. It is unclear how many resorts compost their organic waste (we do!). Many will simply incinerate their waste within their property or dig a hole in the beach outside their resort to bury the trash. Several people are trying to work with the administration to bring a waste management system in place but that will take time.

Platic dump in havelock - shahid dweep

Havelock’s trash solution is a burning landfill   Picture credit: Mahima Jaini

All of these factors make it all the more important for us to plan ecologically responsible holidays. Nothing short of ‘zero waste’!

DIVEIndia has been working in the Andamans for a long time now (16 yrs and counting) and we are still deeply in love with these islands. Here is a link to some of the ways we try to make our operation minimum impact: https://www.projectaware.org/updates/diveindia-what-we-are-doing-be-ecologically-responsible-dive-operation-andaman-islands

Now here are 5 ways in which you can plan and execute a zero waste ecologically responsibile holiday in the Andaman Islands. We always welcome recommendations from travellers so do feel free to give us feedback!

#1 RESORTS, RESTAURANTS AND DIVE CENTERS- DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU COME!

There is plenty of information about resorts, restaurants and water sport operators available online, along with scores of reviews and limitless pictures! Be sure to support businesses that operate in an ecologically friendly manner.

This could include resorts and restaurants that make a concerted effort to AVOID single-use plastics, segregate their waste, compost their kitchen waste and DO NOT throw their trash in the sea. This even includes choosing dive and snorkelling boats that are careful not to throw their anchor on coral beds, shops that do not sell coral, shells, or similar prohibited items. Please choose restaurants that serve local and fresh seafood caught by local fishermen. Avoid places that sell shark-fin soup, or threatened animal meat. If possible, let the person know why they have lost your business and in the event of illegal items for sale, please inform the local authorities.

Air conditioning is a luxury on an island heavily dependent on the import of diesel, which is unsustainable and contributes significantly to warming. While it may be nice to have access to AC, we suggest reducing its use to only when absolutely needed, or even turning it on for an hour, instead of having it running all night. Besides, the sea breeze is the best AC!

#2 DON’T BRING DISPOSABLES, DON’T LEAVE BEHIND DISPOSABLES

It is a common practice for travellers to purchase disposable products before or on arrival that they will toss out at the end of their holiday before heading back home. Most often these products include toiletries – toothbrush, shampoo and soap sachets. Even if you throw these into your resort-provided dustbin, they will end up in a burning landfill or land up on the beach.

We recommend carrying reusable, travel-sized bottles topped up from your home supply of soaps, shampoos and other things that you can use one trip after another.

If you are in India:
Something like this: https://barenecessities.in/
Switch to a good bamboo brush, please: https://www.instagram.com/thegrassroute.co/?hl=en

#3 AVOID FASTFOOD, PARCELLING FOOD AND ORDERING IN

If you have travelled from mainland India or from across the globe to these islands, the last thing you want to be eating is packet chips and biscuits right? Why indulge in packet snacks and aerated drinks when there is plenty of amazing FRESH food and drink available? The Andamans is definitely a great destination for a food holiday, with delicious local cuisines, numerous restaurants and street food!

Top on our list of plastic trash collected from beaches are plastic bottles- coke, pepsi, water and others. The islands are known for fresh fruits, and fruit juice bars are everywhere- try those as mixers instead!

Last but not the least- please do not order-in food, or request for parcelling your meals. This results in unnecessary plastic and aluminium packing used for 15 minutes before it is on its way to the landfill. A majority of restaurants are walking distance from one another if you are feeling adventurous, and seconds away if you are the lazier kind and would rather rent a motorbike!

#4 BRING YOUR OWN METAL, CLOTH, REUSABLE ALTERNATIVES

Carry your own steel water bottle from home to avoid buying packaged drinking water during your holiday, starting right from the flight, in your hotel and to your flight back. In-flight attendants might seem surprised when you deny the complimentary plastic bottle but they will happily top up you water bottles. There are water filling stations available in the Port Blair airport and island ferry terminals. Hotels and most restaurants will provide you free filtered drinking water as well.

PLEASE carry your own cloth bags and reusable straws. Coconut water vendors and most restaurants still provide straws for fear of losing business. It is up to us as consumers to insist on NO STRAW while placing an order.

Look here for great non-plastic lifestyle alternatives: https://barenecessities.in/

#5 SAY NO TO SUNSCREEN

Say hi to natural oils (https://amzn.to/2ZvLVgy) instead!

We encourage people to avoid using sunscreen before a dive. Read this to understand what skin care products do to the marine life we go into the water to see: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/sunscreen-corals.html

Wear full sleeve rash guards and full length swimsuits instead (for UV protection) and carry a hat and sunglasses for your surface intervals. All our boats also have roofs to give you shade.

#6 PICK NO SHELLS, LEAVE NO BUTTS

Yes we said 5 ways, but here is a number 6! Sea critters use seashells to protect themselves, and use them as homes. Collecting certain seashells, coral (alive and dead) not only endangers these marine animals, but is illegal as per the Wildlife Protection Act of India, 1972.

Cigarette butts take up to 10 years to break down (plastic bottles take 450 years at least), they stick around, like sore thumbs, long after we are gone. Please toss them into dustbins.

Be sure to check our website for more articles on how to have a reduced-waste lifestyle in general!

The Andamans Islands- Our treasured paradise   Picture credit: Chetana Babburjung Purushotham

Our dream is to continue to dive and explore these beautiful emerald islands for as long as we can. Thank you for helping us keep the Andaman Islands happy, healthy, safe and clean. <3

The Role of the Instructor in Creating Responsible Divers

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Quick question:   when was the last time you were on a dive boat and saw everyone diving by the book?    Getting familiar with their gear beforehand, planning their dives independently of the instructor, discussing contingency plans with their buddy, doing a thorough buddy check, staying close enough to the buddy to intervene within a few seconds in case of an emergency, etc?
I cannot think of a single time that has happened – and I have been guilty of lapses here myself.
So why does this happen?   Is it because divers don’t know the buddy system?     Or the usefulness of planning the dive?     Or even the value of getting  familiar with your gear before getting in the water with?        Unlikely – this is covered quite extensively in the Open Water course and most divers are quite familiar with all of this.   So is it a deliberate decision to take on additional risks for no reason, then?    I think we can agree that this is not the case either.
Before we go any further, let me touch upon the 3 domains of learning:
– Cognitive:   basically knowledge – in the context of diving, these refer to what you learn from reading the books, watching the videos or via discussions with the instructor
– Psychomotor:  these are the physical skills – for diving, how to clear the mask, how to achieve neutral buoyancy, how to put on your gear, etc.
– Affective:  this is your personal beliefs, attitudes and emotions – to put another way, what you consider important, what you pay attention to, etc
Within each domains, there are different levels of mastery (eg, in the Cognitive domain, being able to merely recite the correct answer, vs understand the reasoning behind it vs being apply to apply different pieces of knowledge to come up with an answer to an unfamiliar scenario, and so on), but that is not so relevant for now.
Instead, let’s focus on how the Open Water course is taught:   The student does the bulk of the theory via self-study (online, watching videos, reading the book, etc), with perhaps some additional sessions with an instructor re-visiting a few salient points and adding some additional content.   Then there is an exam to review the knowledge – which includes the importance of dive planning, of taking responsibility of your own safety, of the buddy system, of being conservative, etc.   That covers the Cognitive domain.  Then (or in parallel) the student goes into the water and completes the various skills needed to get certified as an Open Water diver.   That’s the Psychomotor domain right there.
What about the Affective domain?     Sure, in the course, a conscientious instructor will make sure the students plan their dives, stay close to their buddies, etc. etc.   But is that really the same as instilling the value of those things, to the point that it becomes something that the student takes seriously and integrates into his or her diving routine?     Very rarely so.
Simply put – while students leave with a knowledge of the buddy system, of dive planning, of getting familiar with their gear, etc., this is rarely internalized.   Then they go diving and see other divers being pretty loose about such things, and these things tend to get ignored – and repetition reduces the value even further.
And to some degree, this is understandable – in a typical course, often even teaching the psychomotor skills to a sufficient degree can be challenging.        So the instructor’s time is focused on knocking off the skills and making sure the student is safe during the course.    Furthermore, there is no checklist or requirement in the Standard manual of any agency that talks about this – after all, how can you measure this?    So often, instructors coming from a system where they aren’t mentored by more experienced instructors fail to even realize the importance of this, and end up following a checklist approach to teaching a  course:  ticking off every requirement individually but failing to integrate it into a cohesive whole.    To me, that is directly comparable to teaching someone to cook merely by teaching them to slice, dice, fry, grill, bake and roast separately, and not telling them how to put these things together.
But even when an instructor tries to teach it, they often to not face a lot of success:  the student diver is overloaded with theory and physical skills which they are doing right then – all this talk about dive planning, buddy system etc is merely theoretical noise for them, as they lack the experience to appreciate how and when it can be valuable (and typically, this realization often comes too late to be immediately useful – for example, only when you are low on air and your buddy is nowhere to be seen do you realize the value of the buddy system).
So what is the solution?     Fairly simple, really.
For one, spend some time in the Open Water course covering this.   Merely saying “remember, always stay with your buddy” or whatever isn’t going to cut it – you have to have an actual session on this.    A good way to do it is in an informal setting after the dives, where the instructor can discuss any lapses that may have happened in these areas and use that to segue into anecdotes from his or her diving experience, talk about specific situations that may have occurred on that dive site involving such lapses, etc.   Really hammer home the point, but in an interesting manner that catches the student’s interest.
Second, use the Advanced Open Water course to really drill this in.   Let’s face it, the curriculum for the Advanced Open Water course is fairly light on theory and skills – it is just meant to give the diver a taste of different types of dives, with more substantial theory in the corresponding Specialty course.    And by the time the student starts the AOW, s/he already has most of the basics of diving mastered (hopefully, anyway).    So they are less overloaded, and by virtue of having some diving experience already, more able to relate to a discussion on this diving behavior.
I have spent the last 10 years conducting one session in the Advanced  course focussed on what being an Advanced Diver entails – and PADI has also recently formalized that into their AOW curriculum.   However, this tends to get ignored a little bit as there is no checklist to measure how effective this session is, and instructors often tend to focus on what they consider the more material skills.    But really, teaching new divers to value the importance of these safe diving practices is probably the single biggest contribution an instructor can make to helping them continue to develop as divers.
What is the content covered in this discussion?  For me, it consists of, at minimum, the following:
–  How to do a self-assessment of skills at the start of every diving trip
–  The importance of checking gear – along with a practical workshop on different types of kit, what is useful where, etc.
–  Essential safety equipment to carry
–  What is sufficient real-world dive planning and the value of doing so
–  The mindset of being responsible for one’s own safety and diving with one’s comfort zone, with anecdotes on how peer pressure, etc. often make it difficult to do so
–  How to continue to improve one’s skills – short games one can play on each dive (air consumption, safety stop drills, etc)
–  How to balance staying within one’s comfort zone vs expanding that comfort zone and getting better as a diver
–  Learning the importance of saying “no, i will not dive”
–  The value of a buddy
–  How small issues can snowball into accidents
To me, a dive instructor’s role is to not just check off the list of skills in the course standards book, but to prepare the student diver to enjoy a lifetime of safe and fun-filled participation in the sport.   And that means passing on ownership of the diver’s safety from the instructor to the diver.   And this is a good way to do so.

Best Scuba Diving in Chennai

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Best Scuba Diving in Chennai

We had a run of a few clear and calm days in Chennai, and decided to go exploring.   However, as one would expect, on the day of the trip, it rained in the morning and the winds picked up.   But since we were all psyched for exploring, we went anyway.     The vis was fairly low, but the fishlife was amazing – and that ornate seasnake was a new one for me!      It definitely had us psyched about the potential, and we’ll be going out and shooting more often, that’s for sure.

Location: Chennai, India
Dive Site: Middle Rock

Mares Epic ADJ 82X Regulator Review

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Testers:  Devatva Raj, Arijit Dasgupta
Article Text:  Vinnie
mares epic adj 82x regulator review
mares-diving-regulator-82x2
The Mares Epic ADJ 82X is the new heavyweight (in more ways than one) from Mares – their top of the line regulator.   As per Mares, it is certified for performance at 200m and proven to work at 400m and so of course, in true Mares fashion, they advertise it on their website as going “perfectly with the SSI Advanced Adventurer” course.   Cos, you know, nothing pairs as well with learning to dive to 30m as a top-end regulator designed to perform at the depths of the human ability.   I am sure the fact that Mares now owns SSI has nothing to do with this forced bit of cross-promotion.
Anyway, back to the regulator.   We tested the regulator at depth, and also compared it to our 2 benchmarks, the Aqualung Mikron (which is currently the easiest-breathing regulator we have ever tried) and the Apeks ATX (which, despite being a supposedly “entry-level” regulator, is my personal favorite as the best-value regulator in the market, period).  We also added the Mares Abyss (their former top-of-the-range model, used for a world-record-beating deep down to past 1000 feet) to see if the new boss was the same as, or better than, the old boss.      So read on.
Disclaimer:  this regulator was provided to us for testing, with the understanding that it would be sent back afterwards.    Whether we buy or test, our reviews are as honest as we can make them.   Unlike magazines who get their money from manufacturers and other advertisers, and so have an incentive to say positive things about everything, we do not get any financial benefits from anyone for our reviews.    Our organizational philosophy is to bend over backwards to make sure that we offer you the best advice (and service) that we can – after all, it is your choosing to dive/get gear from us that keeps us afloat as a business.
FEATURES 
The Mares website touts a lot of features, and is packed with TLAs (Three Lettered Acronyms) which make things sound very profound.   You can GRT (Go Read That) if you want to KST (Kill Some Time), but we’ll SIU (Sum It Up) for you.
The first stage is very sharp-looking balanced diaphragm design (pretty much the de facto standard for most high-end regulators), with a black coating on both the first and second stages.    This coating is done via PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition – a legit TLA, in case you were wondering), and not regular electroplating.   Why does that matter?  Because PVD coatings are typically a lot more resistant to scratches than simple electroplating, and is a better option for a piece of gear that is going to get banged around, jostled, rub against other metal, etc.:  it reduces the chances of unseemly scratches exposing the shiny metal below.      Further, the first stage isnt a simple cylindrical tube like most first stages, but has some decorative contours and curves on it, and in terms of looks, this is one the nicest-looking regulator that we have seen.      It is definitely going to turn heads on a dive boat – I wanted to buy it purely based on how nice it looked!
Moving in to more practical features – the first stage comes with 5 3/8” LP ports (4 on the sides, 1 vertical – possibly for that weird TIE Fighter style Mares Loop second stage, where the second stage hose comes from directly under the second stage and not the sides like normal: a design that carries on the proud tradition of the Mares Hub).   The 4 radial ports are on a swivel turret – a fancy way of saying it moves around – which reduces strain on the hoses and allows for more flexible routing.   The two 7/16” HP ports are also tilted – one downwards, for attaching a traditional SPG and one upwards, presumably to fit a remote air transmitter for your computer of choice.   The ports are also at a sensible enough distance that they are all usable (which is not true of atleast 2 other regulator models I can name).    Nicely done, Mares – perhaps you guys are ready to offer a scuba training course on product design now (SSI course, of course!).
1st stage - mares epic adj 82x regulator

First Stage – you can see the 2 differently-angled HP ports

angled port

You down with OPD?  Yeah, you know me.   Oh, and swivel turrets are good

Like the first stage, the second stage is also made of nickel and chrome plated brass, which is then also given the same PVD treatment.   It contains two adjustment mechanisms:
– A flow control knob at the junction between the first stage and the second stage (aka, VAD):   one position delivers maximum air flow, the other reduces the air flow to provide more of an on-demand breathing experience
– The left side of the second stage also has a more traditional breathing resistance control knob, which affects the amount of breathing resistance before the regulator supplies air.
Why would you ever want this to be anything less than maximum?    For one, regulators with very low breathing resistance/very high flow rate can often free-flow when held upside down.   Second, if you are a slow, deep breather (as you should be!), you dont want the regulator to pump out a lot of air – you want the air coming through the hose to match your inhalation duration and lung capacity.   More is better than less, but “just right” is even better.   Ask Goldilocks!     I generally tune my own regulator to have slightly lower flow rate and also a higher cracking pressure, as i want my inhale to be a measured process.    However, it is always nice to know that a lot more air awaits, merely a couple of knob turns away.
Like the sealed first stage, the second stage is also rated for cold water diving, and as is increasingly becoming the norm for top-of-the-line regulators, Mares provides a superflex (weave) hose as standard with the regulator.      So all in all, you have a very well-specced, well-designed and smart-looking regulator, as one would expect from a top-of-the-line model.
You can see the flow rate controller (VAD) and breathing resistance control knob above

About the only downside is the weight.    Mares states the weight of the first stage with a INT/Yoke vale as 964gm, and the second stage as 329gm, with a total weight, including the supplied regulator hose, of 1429gm.   This does not include the octopus or SPG.   If you get a DIN valve, the system weight reduces to 1255gm.    This is heavier than the XTX200 (1272gm for the INT/yoke), ATX (1130gm for the INT/yoke) and of course, the Aqualung Mikron spanks them all with its waif-like 893gm in the same INT/yoke configuration.    However, leaving aside the travel-oriented Mikron, the weight difference compared to other top of the line regulators isn’t that significant, and shouldn’t be an issue from a travel or packing point of view (and in the grand scheme of things, paying for an extra kg of excess baggage is not even a rounding error, compared to the overall cost of a typical dive holiday).

USE EXPERIENCE/ USER EXPERIENCE
Our intrepid testers, Dev and Arijit, bravely took this regulator, along with the ATX, the Abyss and the Mikron all the way to the depths of the ocean – or atleast, part of the way down the Wall and swapped multiple regulators back and forth at depths which we shall not reveal, while possibly being narced (the things we do in order to play with shiny gear – please don’t try this at home.   Dev and Arijit are professionals).   A fun time was had by all, and there may have been underwater giggling, but since we don’t have any videographic evidence, we wont pursue that line of discussion further.
The breathing from the Epic was as natural as it could get – regardless of depth.   There was no sense of strain at any time, and the regulator was comfortable to breathe at all head angles and body orientations.   Absolutely no complaints.     When turning both the flow control knob and the resistance control knob to their “max flow” positions, a slight tilt of the regulator did make it free flow – but this was with the regulator out of the mouth, and there is absolutely no reason for anyone to keep these 2 knobs set to max when the reg isnt being used.   So in practice, a non-issue.

The entire first stage, including the yoke clamp, is beautifully finished

The only issue was the weight of the second stage, which made a little awkward to hold in the mouth.   The VAD system didn’t help with the weight or the balance of the regulator in the mouth.      However, to put it in perspective, this wasnt extremely awkward or uncomfortable – merely noticeable.     It is something that you definitely notice if you were, oh, i don’t know, swapping back and forth between regulators at depth – but if you were always diving with the same regulator, I think you could probably get used to it as well.
In terms of comparisons:   the easiest regulator to breathe was, surprisingly, the Aqualung Mikron.     This small, plastic, lightweight wonder provided air like an excited Labrador provides drool – in vast, vast quantities and at the slightest provocation.    It has provided more than pretty much every other regulator we have tried – from the entry-level Aqualung Calypsos to the mighty Apex XTX200.    But it is also a little more prone to flee flowing, so there is a trade-off there (do note – it can be tuned to be a little less enthusiastic – a service we provide at no charge if you buy it from us).      The Epic 82X was the next best, with a near-perfect balance between breathing resistance and risk of free flow.    The ATX, the cheapest regulator on test by far, was, by comparison, slightly harder to breathe (but comfortable nonetheless) and did not free flow at all.   The Abyss was the hardest breathing of all 4 and by a significant margin.
So what does this mean?    Should you run and buy the model with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow?     In principle, yes, you want the regulator with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow.   If you are swimming in a current or working a bit harder, this gives you the comfort of knowing that you are not going to “overbreathe” your regulator.     However, there is a cost associated with this – tendency to free flow.     Keep in mind that the differences above end up being more noticeable when you do a direct comparison:   in normal use, you may not notice.     The Abyss in the test above is one of my two personal regulators, and I have never noticed or felt that it was hard to breathe.  Only when I did an A/B comparison with my XTX200 did I notice the difference.      And I actually prefer a very slight amount of breathing resistance over a fire-hose.   So personal preferences and breathing patterns, as discussed earlier, also play a role.
Of course, Mares being Mares, they are simply unable to release a product without adding atleast one completely unnecessary and useless quirk – but atleast they have gotten to the point where these quirks usually no longer affect the  functionality of the product, but just make you scratch your head and go “err.. what?”.   I call it the “Nipples on a Bull” feature.    For example, on the otherwise fantastic Mares SLS Pure, a BCD that I reviewed in some detail and loved enough to purchase, they added a ridiculously over-engineered locking mechanism for the weights that serves no practical purpose other than to be different and just adds one extra and un-needed step to locking in the weight pocket.   On the Epic 82X, this Nipple-on-a-Bull feature manifests itself in the purge valve.  Now, on most regulators, the external purge is something that you can press anywhere on the surface and it depresses straight in.   On the 82X, the purge valve doesn’t go straight in but pivots.     Mares is very proud of it, too – this is boldly listed as one of the features of the regulator, along with PVD, VAD, PAD, GFY and the rest of the alphabet soup.     Luckily, as i said above, this quirk doesn’t actually affect the functionality and by now, is becoming a somewhat endearing trait of the brand that I look forward to on my reviews.

This is like using a fork and knife to eat a pizza at Pizzeria da Michele – it doesn’t affect the taste of the pizza, thankfully

SUMMARY
Let me cut to the chase there:   this is a fantastic regulator.    Great looks, superb functionality, a lot of adjustability to meet individual breathing preferences and great ergonomics (and that too, from Mares – I guess the lessons from the Hub finally have been absorbed!).    To me, there is no question that it deserves its place in the pantheon of the top regulators in the market, such as the XTX200.
However, with a MRP of Rs 51,750 and even factoring in our special pricing on this (hint hint), this regulator faces the same challenge that other top-end regulators do:   is it worth paying the premium over something like the ATX, which is less than half the price?   This is a tough call.     The logical part of me says – the ATX is functional, it does everything you need it to do.      And you can make the same argument about entry-level computers like the Mares Smart and the Aqualung i200.   So why, then, do I dive with an XTX200 and an Abyss, and have a Shearwater Perdix (for which I paid full retail, btw)?     Hell, why do we drive anything more than an entry-level compact in cities, or pay a premium for anything?
It really is very simple:  the additional features, while not strictly essential, are definitely nice to have and make things a lot more enjoyable on a daily basis: the ability to adjust hose routing on the XTX200, the ability to fine-tune the air supply on the Epic 82X, the amazing display and features of the Perdix – these are things that you only appreciate when you have them.   And once you get used to it, you don’t really want to go back to a more utilitarian model.     So yes, while there are plenty of very reliable regulators at a lot lower price, the additional features, superior ergonomics and yes, the drop-dead good looks of the Mares Epic 82X certainly make it a regulator worth considering if you want something higher-end.
Especially at the great prices that we have for this model.   Contact us if you want to purchase this unit.