Monthly Archives: February 2017

  • Disappointments of an Underwater Camera Salesman

    Ocean Leisure Cameras specializes in underwater photography equipment. We try to match products to each customer’s needs.

    Recently, a young lady came in to buy an underwater camera. She professed to be a professional writer intending to supply articles to diving magazines. She wanted a camera that was very straightforward to use.

    olympus_epl7_packageA friend had previously lent her an Olympus EPL7 camera in a housing so she naturally asked for that. It’s a system compact with interchangeable lenses that can be matched to suitable lens ports. The salesman (an award-winning underwater photographer himself) would have been happy to take her money but once he got into explaining to her the intricacies of using it, it became clear that she just wanted to get into the water, press a button and get usable pictures. She also blanched at the price, even though the EPL7 in an Olympus proprietary housing represented remarkably good value.

    So the sales assistant then suggested she might be happier with a more basic compact camera instead. She was with him for about five hours, during which time he told her virtually everything he knew about successful underwater photography.fantaseag9x_camera_package_1

    She ended up purchasing a Canon G9X in a Fantasea FG9X housing that gave access to all the camera functions and with the possibility to add additional wet lenses later, when she felt she could afford them. It was a good choice. He also sold her an underwater strobe (a Sea & Sea YS03) with which he explained how she could get perfectly exposed TTL strobe-lit pictures. It appeared to be the perfect solution and within her limited budget although she was advised to buy a wide-angle or fisheye wet lens if she could have afforded it. She couldn’t. Both the EPL7 and G9X outfits are becoming difficult to obtain since they are coming to the end of their production runs. We hope that something else as good value comes on to the market.

    ys03_package_idas_1The company was surprised only a few days later to get an email from the customer, by now in the Caribbean, accusing it of selling her equipment that was totally unsuitable for underwater photography. She stated that she was not sold the camera she asked for (the Olympus EPL7) and that it was not possible to adjust the white-balance with the Canon she had.

    The G9X can be set up to provide a one-button manual white-balance setting – something she had been demonstrated during the hours of consultation in the shop. It can also be used to shoot RAW files, which is the professional way of shooting since many settings such as white-balance, contrast (and even exposure to a degree) can be decided on long after getting out of the water. Not only that, but the feature, properly used, should take care of a lot of the contrast and colour decisions.

    Sadly, this is a case of someone neither managing their expectations nor bothering to read the manual!idas_uwl04_1

    Famous underwater photographers like David Doubilet must despair when they hear stories like this. The years that he has devoted to learning his craft are dismissed by a new generation who think they can simply buy an item of equipment and immediately become endowed with talent such as his.

    I got my first job with a diving magazine (the very same one she intended to provide material for) because I could reliably take pictures that were correctly exposed, in-focus and nicely lit – a skill that was quite rare in the days of wet-processed film. Today, digital photography with its instant feedback from the camera’s LCD display means that it is possible to learn (by your mistakes) incredibly quickly, but learn you must. I worked as an underwater photographer for more than two decades and although I never considered I was a master of the art, I got results that were frequently published. Even so, I used a camera outfit that cost ten times as much as the budget this young lady decided she had.

    I contacted the editor of the diving magazine that this particular young lady said to which she was intending to contribute her work. He told me she was a good writer but that he’d told her she needed to be able to support her writing with good photography. He told her to buy a camera.

    It was disappointing that the editor of a magazine could think that merely buying a camera makes someone into an underwater photographer! Have the standards of magazine publishing dropped so low?

    Magazines pay extremely poorly nowadays. Not many make a living supplying original material anymore. Most take pictures for their own pleasure and are knocked out if they see their work in print. If they can get a few hundred pounds in contributor’s payment as well, that’s a bonus. For this young woman to make any return on her investment in the most basic underwater photography kit will take a great many pages published.

    Most Ocean Leisure Cameras’ customers take pictures underwater purely for their own pleasure. Digital photography has made getting good results easier than it ever has been. However, it does demand a degree of dedication in that one should be totally familiar with your camera’s functions and operation long before entering the water. Don’t buy underwater photography kit on your way to the airport and expect to come back with masterpieces in light and shade. As is so often said, “RTFM!”

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    If you're really set on wanting to be a competent underwater photographer and don’t have the time or inclination to take up an apprenticeship with a master, give us a call and we’ll try and put you in touch with someone who runs underwater photography courses.

  • Ocean Leisure Does Not Sell Rebreathers

    There’s a good reason for this but it may come as a surprise when I was at the forefront of promoting this new way of diving as far back as 1993. In those days I had the privilege of using a prototype PRISM rebreather, taught under the auspices of its inventor Peter Readey. I wrote an article for Diver Magazine (UK) that was entitled “I have seen the future and it works”.

    However, the units we used had neoprene counter-lungs and we even dried out our scrubber material in the sun before repacking it, promising CO2 poisoning. How we were not killed was down to luck.

    The author with Peter Readey 1993 The author with Peter Readey in1993 (note the stylish wetsuit!)

    I experimented on terra firma with hypoxia by breathing from the unit with the O2 turned off. I wanted to know what the symptoms of oxygen starvation were. I discovered there were none. I simply went out like a light. If I was underwater I would have drowned but luckily I only suffered a severe headache for a day.

    Next, I was certified by Rob Palmer as TDI SCR diver No4 on the Dräger Atlantis, even though during the course one of the other trainees suffered a bad soda lime influx.

    My introduction to closed-circuit came courtesy of Martin Parker and Dave Thompson who had made some prototype rebreathers that were the forerunners of the Inspiration. Every time we surfaced, we joked it was amazing that we were still alive, we used so little gas. An article in Diver Magazine (UK) followed. I couldn’t wait to get to use a production model and within a couple of years, I found myself away in the Maldives with Martin with the very first units.

    Dave Thompson and Martin Parker with prototype Inspirations Dave Thompson and Martin Parker with prototype Inspirations.

    I was so excited about the performance possible that I wrote about this too in Diver Magazine (UK). We didn’t have any dive computers that were appropriate for closed-circuit diving so we introduced a bit of guesswork into the dives by setting the equivalent nitrox mix on our OC computers for the planned deepest part of the dive. One dive did not go as planned!

    I became certified as APD CCR Rebreather Diver No4. It seemed No4 was my lucky number. At that time, the duration of the Inspiration scrubber unit was thought to be to be 6.5 hours but the manufacturer had not considered how mean divers were and there was one notable death caused by running the same material for more than 10 hours. The manufacturer’s specification for the duration was soon changed to 3 hours to accommodate this phenomenon. That’s the duration at the CE test rate - 40RMV in 4°C. Later, the manufacturer introduced a temperature stick that gave an indication of scrubber efficacy. Nevertheless, divers still had to pack and manage their CO2 scrubbers efficiently.

    I then took an Inspiration on various diving trips and boat owners were very accommodating, allowing me to dive alone since CCR divers were few and very far between. The popularity of CCR seemed assured.

    It was in Cocos when I managed to do a dive and, being distracted by a whaleshark, failed to set my high set-point and could have seriously injured myself if I had not opted for in-water recompression (using the unit as an oxygen rebreather). Later, manufacturers introduced automatic set-point switching after they realised there were stupid people like me using them! Nowadays the calculations of deco computer built into the units take care of that sort of error too.

    The author with a Sentinel CCR (photo: Kevin Gurr) The author with a Sentinel CCR (photo: Kevin Gurr)

    However, during this earlier time there were some mysterious deaths by early adopters, all very experienced divers. Some had turned off their O2 supply in the shallows (to save gas?) not realising that the body needs a greater volume of oxygen as the ambient pressure decreases. Some were simply unexplained. I gained my own theory about these unexplained deaths when away in the Sea of Cortez with a closed-circuit PRISM. I found that it was possible to install the scrubber canister upside-down in the darkness of early morning and thereby by-passed it. I suffered a CO2 hit on the surface before diving but managed to still jump in the water, I was so confused. Recovered to the boat, I nearly suffered a heart attack but survived after a full day’s rest. It was devastating. If it had happened during the dive, I would have been credited with having had a heart attack. The scrubber canister was redesigned!

    The author and Dave Thompson with JJ rebreathers. The author and Dave Thompson with JJ rebreathers.

    I then went on to use the Sentinel rebreather under the watchful eye of its inventor Kevin Gurr, and the Scandinavian-made JJ Rebreather with Dave Thompson. Articles in Diver Magazine followed. Advances in oxygen cell technology and electronics had made oxygen level management a cinch. There were also adventures with the Evolution, a travel version of the Inspiration and Recreational versions of both Evolution and Inspiration that promised to take all the errors out of practical use. I then tried the user-friendly Poseidon Mk6 under the guidance of Jack Ingle. That company hoped to start a mass market for ordinary leisure divers. A vast number of divers have taken to rebreather diving.

    Technical divers began doing dives that were unheard of using traditional open-circuit scuba due to the amount of gas they would have needed to carry. However, obsessed with hypoxia as a danger, we had all overlooked hypercapnia or CO2 poisoning, another real killer. It had taken a back seat as a danger from the past.

    Familiarity can breed contempt. Confident divers were still coming to the surface with counter-lungs inflated as their unit attempted to give them more oxygen in the shallows than they needed at depth. This meant they could float comfortably without resort to their BC. If they closed the mouthpiece and breathed fresh air, I suppose there was no problem. However, many stayed breathing from the unit and if they turned off their O2 supply, as a prelude to getting out of the water, unconsciousness followed by loss of buoyancy as the mouthpiece fell from the mouth. It could occur almost within seconds, followed by drowning.

    Whether this was actually what happened or not, one could easily imagine the Sharkwater film director doing something similar before he dropped and died in the first days of February 2017. He had surfaced and given an OK signal when his buddy went unconscious. The boat crew, distracted with saving his buddy, took their eyes off Rob Stewart who was found drowned in the seabed directly below where they were, some days later. It was a tragedy.

    The author with a modern Inspiration The author with a modern Inspiration/Evolution CCR

    Modern CCR units have many convenient features built-in, unlike those early prototypes. However, there will always be the insidious dangers of hypoxia and hypercapnia, both unforgiving in a water environment. People often obsess with oxygen toxicity but subject to effective oxygen cells being employed, this rarely happens. Nor has any CCR manufacturer been successfully sued for making a faulty unit although one manufacturer found all its profits going to lawyer’s fees. Many CCR users have personally modified their units from the manufacturer’s specification and some have paid the ultimate price for that.

    Unlike conventional open-circuit diving, rebreathers leave little room for mistakes. The fact I got away with it in the early days, I put down to luck and nothing more. In the meantime, Ocean Leisure prefers not to supply such equipment. It’s not for every diver.

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