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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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April 1998 Vol. 13, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Equipment at DEMA

I'm not trading in my old gear yet

from the April, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While manufacturers always hope for major breakthroughs at the DEMA convention, I saw little this year that would make me want to replace my trusted gear. Last year’s all-black James Bond style has already begun to fade, thanks to photographers who don’t think that black-on-black makes much of a shot. And BCs and wetsuits are reappearing in photogenic colors: dusky purple and teal were everywhere.

Diving or Climbing, Go for the Burn

The hardware-laden tech BCs that offered divers the opportunity to look like a body-piercing artist while simultaneously increasing their drag in the water have given way to sleeker, smaller models. Only a few manufacturers were pushing BCs covered with stainless-steel D-rings, carabiners, and clips for those who don’t understand the relationships between drag, swimming effort, and air consumption.

This Is Your Wallet on Nitrox

Nitrox (pardon me, “Enriched Air Nitrox” or “EAN”) is THE trend of the year: yellow and green stickers and cylinders were everywhere. Many regulator manufacturers have stopped using silicone grease in the pit and started filling their regulators with Krytox so that they can push Nitrox-safe setups. Nitrox computers are also being promoted in the hope that people who complete Nitrox courses will dump their old dive computers — and perhaps their regulators, even if they’re working perfectly — to buy Nitrox capability. For the most part, the move to Nitrox has begun to look like a great opportunity to sell more equipment, training, and tee-shirts. (This is your brain underwater [picture of a fried egg], and this is your brain on Nitrox [picture of a brain.]”)

Smaller, Cheaper, Better

In general, high-end dive computers are getting smaller. Bridgetown — a division of the Japanese tire company — displayed a mockup/demo of a watch-sized dive computer. And the long-heralded Suunto Spyder with downloadable memory, full deco capabilities, and Solutionclass electronics was already on sale.

Of course, you can get a good computer for less money. A USD Matrix with decent decompression diving capabilities and a clear, simple display is an excellent lowprice model. I took a Matrix Master (the luminescent version of the Matrix) on a dive trip after DEMA, and I liked it a lot. Its display was clear and intelligent; it had backlighting that worked perfectly, allowing me to read the numbers down deep at night; it had user-changeable batteries lodged behind a decent bore seal; and its dive log played me summaries of the last dozen dives while I was sitting disconsolately on the plane back to Miami. The playback made sense, too. It showed the most recent dive of each day with the highest number, counting back to the first dive of the day, and then rolled over to previous days. Anyone who has tried to reconstruct a series of dives from a computer log will appreciate this common-sense approach.

Less Weight, More Money

Atomic titanium regulators were selling fast. While you can buy any number of sweet-breathing regulators that pass all the relevant standards (US Navy Class A, CEN, etc.) for $500, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would pay more than a grand for a regulator whose primary draw is its light weight. It seems like a manufacturer has found a product that hardly anyone needs, but a lot of people want, which seemed to me like a perfectly good reason to give one a go.

The Atomic did everything it was supposed to do. I saved about three-fourths of a pound in my carry-on -— but is that really a big deal? -— and inspired awe whenever I asked other divers to heft the thing. Responses were pretty much the same: “Is that thing made out of plastic”? “Why is it so light”?

Underwater, the Atomic was smooth and easy-breathing at all test depths. It was resistant to free-flow, even when dragged into a current as a safe second on my pony bottle. Its selfadjusting venturi vane made the second stage reluctant to gush near the surface but quick to supply air at depth. Its cracking pressure was slightly higher than I get from my Scubapro D400 when it’s in tune (which is definitely not a given between dive trips), but overall the Atomic was linear and fine. That’s not surprising, considering that the engineers behind the Atomic were responsible for many of Scubapro’s finest products.

Atomic claims a lower-thannormal maintenance requirement (first service at two years) and a tendency to stay in tune throughout the intervals between service due to a complete lack of corrosion and seats that unload themselves from their orifices when not in use. I doubt that anybody who can afford a $1200 regulator cares much about spending a few bucks on routine maintenance, but the latter is significant for somebody who is in the water a lot.

For the Shooters

For underwater photographers, one of the more intriguing products was a potential replacement for the now-discontinued Nikon 35-mm underwater single lens-reflex camera. Heavy, extremely expensive, and costly to service and repair, the SLR never lived up to its advance billing. But a couple of guys from Switzerland were showing a hand-machined watertight camera body about the size of an ordinary SLR! The body houses a film transport mechanism, electronics, viewfinder, and shutter, and can accept standard 35-mm cassettes or bulk-loaded long rolls. On the front of the body is a standard autofocus Nikon lens mount surrounded by a fitting that mates with several flat and dome ports. The seals are between the body and the port, just as in a housing, which means you can attach ordinary topside lenses to the body. It will be a real coup if these guys manage to bring this product to market at a reasonable price.

Mom, Please... Not Now! I’m DIVING, for Chrissake

The Bellaqua BOB, a “Breathing Observation Bubble,” looked like a little motor scooter with a seat, a steering wheel, an instrument console, and a clear bubble for your head. You sit on the seat, put your head in the bubble, turn on the tank, and motor around the reef. You could even get one for your mom, and she could follow you around the reef and bring you a snack in the middle of a dive.... Now doesn’t that sound great? BOB is available singly or with a 40’ catamaran that holds 10 BOBs for rental operations.

As I finished a long day of walking the aisles and was headed out the exit, I ran into a salesman preaching the merits of pre-made orthotics to improve the way your feet worked. Since by this time my feet had started to scream for mercy, I was a sitting duck for this guy’s pitch. When he offered to let me slump into a chair while he measured my feet (totally flat, size 14), I surrendered and was drawn in. Oh, the orthotics were about $200, and no, I didn’t buy a pair, because they looked as if they had come out of a cereal box as a free prize.

Now why was this guy at a wholesale diving trade show? Because anyone who thinks he can find a market can buy space. And it’s odd products like these that add just enough fun to the show to make it interesting, even if there are no breakthroughs.

Delmar Mesa

Our longtime equipment editor, Delmar Mesa, who has been on sabbatical from Undercurrent, will once again be sharing his invaluable tests and opinions of new dive equipment in upcoming issues.

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