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January 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Have to Replace Your Mask?

downward vision is a distinguishing feature

from the January, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When your old mask starts leaking, you have to replace it. The primary criteria to use is the same as when choosing a pair of shoes: Get something you feel comfortable with. While there are scores of masks to choose from, many are made in the same factories in the Far East, with only the brand names being different.

For this story, I collected a number of unique masks and had my team of divers try to distinguish the main differences between them. I tried all the masks on adults and my young daughters, including an eight-year-old. All but two worked successfully with the smallest face. I myself sport an untidy moustache but never encountered any problems.

As an experienced diver, you donít need the basics of mask replacement, but I can offer a few tips - - and one very important consideration. First, swiveling buckles can make the strap more comfortable, especially for those with longer hair. The smaller the interior volume, the easier it is to clear a flooded mask. (My team filled each mask with fine sand, shaping it to fill the sides of the skirt, then weighed the sand to get a comparison figure for each mask. The results are in ounces, an arithmetical figure that can be compared directly mask for mask).

Black silicone skirts give a better view than clear silicone in low-contrast lighting conditions, but clear silicone feels less claustrophobic and helps a diver see whatís coming up alongside. The refraction of the light as it passes from the water to the pocket of air in your mask magnifies the view and makes it narrower. Some people claim a larger faceplate gives a wider field-of-view but this is nonsense. Itís like looking out any window -- the closer your eyes are to the glass, the more you see. Same with side-windows -- because the front glass must be farther from the eyes to accommodate them, they can actually narrow the view. Compact masks are often just as good as those resembling goldfish bowls. Masks with deep lenses that are tilted downward usually offer a better view of chest-mounted items. Underwater, we compared the angle-of-vision in each.

Those needing prescription lenses can usually have them fitted to any twin-glass mask. (Ask your local dive store.) Minusdioptre lenses for short-sighted divers are often off-the-rack, whereas plus-dioptre lenses for the far-sighted are often bonded to the existing plane-parallel glass. Sometimes, lenses are available as replacements for the regular glass but they can make the mask heavy if fitted in strengths of more than two dioptres.

Fogging is often a problem with a new mask. Itís a result of the glass becoming contaminated with a fine layer of silicone during the manufacturing process, attracting tiny, clinging globules of condensation. Scrub it off with a fine abrasive, like toothpaste, even though it can be time-consuming.

Atomic ARC Subframe

Atomic ARC Subframe

Atomic ARC Subframe (11.6 ounces of internal volume) Coated with layers of metal oxide for a clearer, sharper view, this twin-lens mask didnít fog up. You need to take care to protect its coating from abrasion. The highest-priced mask we tested, it was a favorite - - unobtrusive to use with good all-round vision. (List price: $150;

Cressi Matrix (10 oz.) Its teardrop-shaped twin lenses are tilted to aid downward vision. Fixed buckles have a push-clip. Of all masks listed here, it had the best view of the chest area. ($67;

Cressi Occhio Plus (7.6 oz.) Itís stylish but gives you a surprised expression. (Should you care?) Though of low internal volume, it has a generous nose pocket, and the strap buckles swivel in three dimensions. It gave a good view of the chest area and was unobtrusive, apart from the Cressi brand marked on the glass that made me feel like I was looking past a pair of eyebrows. ($74;

IST Dynasty (16.7 oz.) This popular mask has an automatic purge valve -- and it needs it because of the huge internal volume and massive single faceplate, which sat much too far from my eyes. Strap buckles are rigidly fixed in place. Underwater, the purge valve was as obvious as the silver lady to a Rolls Royce driver -- it always pointed wherever I looked. ($40;

IST Pro Ear

IST Pro Ear

IST Pro Ear (9.7 oz.) You may field unkind jibes from fellow divers but if you suffer ear problems underwater, this low-volume mask is a godsend. It encloses the ears in the same airspace as the eyes, keeping them from getting flooded. If the worst happens, flexible tubes with valves mean flooded earpieces wonít flood the mask. However, the heavy frame intruded into my line of sight, and downward vision was restricted. ($100;

Mares Star LiquidSkin (7.4 oz.) It may leave you looking like a superhero from The Incredibles, but Maresí new low-volume mask has a comfortable opalescent skirt. Those with narrower faces will especially like it, and it resisted fogging well. It gave a fair to moderate field of vision with a good downward view, but everything was surrounded in a disconcerting bright circle caused by the colored frame and skirt. ($80;

Mares X-Vision Liquid Skin (8.5 oz.) The multi-silicone ďLiquidSkinĒ skirt and flexible strap buckles mean extra comfort. It has plenty of downward vision for seeing anything chest-mounted. Excellent all-around vision underwater but the bright-colored sidepieces were too distracting. ($90;

Oceanic Pioneer

Oceanic Pioneer

Oceanic Pioneer (10.4 oz.) This retro-design, twin-lens mask with a black rubber skirt evokes the over-engineered style of diving equipment used by WWII frogmen. But underwater, we were surprised to find it unobtrusive and giving a wide field of view area, including the chest. Another favorite. ($110;

Scubapro Scout (8.8 oz.) Narrow-faced divers will appreciate this low-volume mask with twin glasses. Strap buckles are adjusted by pinch-releases attached to the black silicone skirt. The field-of-view was more restricted than expected, and the skirt was obtrusive at the sides. ($79;

Scubapro Spectra (10.4oz.) It offers a good downward view of the chest area. The strap is adjusted by pinching two parts together. Underwater, the clear plastic frame intrudes into the field of view. ($93;

Seac sub Italica (11.8 oz) This unusual-looking mask has a rigid plastic frame and youíll need some muscle to operate the single button to release the strap. Big, deep twin lenses in a vertical oval format promise a good view of anything mounted on the userís chest, but underwater we found it not so great. ($54;

Seac sub Libera (10 oz). This mask has a single faceplate that includes the strap buckles at the sides. A firm press was needed at the single button to release and adjust the strap. Underwater, the frame edges, especially the part over the bridge of the nose, were obviously in our field of view, and the downward view was restricted when it came to seeing even our weight belts. ($47;

TUSA Geminus (11.3 oz) Wider than other low-volume masks, this one has swiveling strap buckles easily adjusted by pinching the release. Underwater, we discovered the field of view was narrow overall, with a poor view toward the chest area. (Price $70;

TUSA Visio Tri-Ex (18 oz.) This boxy single-plate mask has odd-looking, bubble side-windows that give a little extra (though distorted) peripheral view. Its internal volume is large, although the nose pocket may be small for some divers. Underwater, the side bubbles certainly alerted me to what was alongside, and vision was good all round, at the expense of a goldfish-bowl effect. ($75;

John Bantin is the technical editor of DIVER magazine in the United Kingdom. For 20 years, he has used and received virtually every piece of equipment available in the UK and the U.S., and makes around 300 dives per year for that purpose. He is also a professional underwater photographer. For this story, Bantin was aided and abetted by Colin MacAndrias.

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