Behind the mask If you need a new mask, it’s often easiest to pick up whatever your local dive shop has on the rack. It might be even better to know exactly what you want – JOHN BANTIN assesses the current crop of divers’ eyewear.
THE DIVER WANTING TO BUY A MASK is overwhelmed by choice but, as with shoes, a mask is a rather personal item and there is no single example that will outshine the rest. It can be very confusing. No wonder experienced divers simply want to replace their favourite mask with another exactly the same when the time comes. We asked all the major distributors to send us a few choice examples of their most noteworthy masks for a comparison test, and even we were overwhelmed when we found ourselves with more than 50 from which to choose, realising that these represented only a limited selection. So what makes a good mask? Well, it needs to feel comfortable and fit your face. Masks that are undamaged rarely leak but faces often do. You need to try on a mask, inhaling through the nose so that it will stick in place by air pressure alone. The strap is there merely to keep it from being dislodged. However, bear in mind that a mask that is a perfect fit in the shop may not be so perfect once a regulator mouthpiece is in position, altering the shape of your face. This is especially true for rebreather divers. Rebreather mouthpieces can need more of a firm grip because of the weight of the hoses and peripheral displays that may be attached. Often a new rebreather diver finds that a favourite mask that provided a good seal on open-circuit now mysteriously leaks water. Clearing a leaking mask can of course be a problem for a closed-circuit diver. People can be very choosy about the colour of their equipment. Often they want it all to co-ordinate. Others, mainly underwater photographers and technical divers, prefer an opaque skirt. They believe that there are fewer internal reflections to disturb their view. We can guess that a lot of tekkies will go for the retro-look of the Aqua Lung Teknika. Some masks employ expensive varieties of glass that have less colour, and this can improve the clarity of the view. An extreme example of this is the Atomic Subframe ARC, with its anti-reflective coating. Photographers tend to like their models to wear masks with clear silicone skirts, so that their faces are better lit and less like Zorro’s. Mares offers its X-Vu with a curious opaque brown silicone option, and the IST Blue Tech can be supplied in camouflage colours. Other makers offer an attractive translucent frosted look. When it comes to the fabric of the skirts, the challenge is to make a silicone that is as flexible yet hard-wearing as possible. Cressi uses a mix of silicones for its clear Crystal masks while, down the road, its fierce competitor Mares uses a material it calls Liquid Skin. Straps and buckles can be important. The buckles of Atomic masks are a dream to use but then, at the prices asked, they should be. Most of the Oceanic masks featured here eschew the more traditional silicone strap and come with adjustable webbing and a neoprene pad for the back of the head.
TWIN-LENS MASKS The most popular group seems to be twin-lens masks, and this is because they have a lower internal volume and, for those with less-than-perfect eyesight, it is possible to fit (where supplied) corrective lenses or add corrective lenses to individual sides. For example, the Beuchat X-Contact is available (at extra cost) with plus- or minus-strength corrective lenses. Many masks have adopted a teardrop shape to the lenses with the aim of giving a diver a better downward view of their chest area. Cressi was the company to pioneer this design with the lenses tilted forwards, its Big Eyes Evo being the most recent model, though Cressi also offers the smaller Eyes Evolution with the same feature. Masks such as the Aqua Lung Favola and Mares X-Vision are similar but without the tilt.
SINGLE-FACEPLATE MASKS Traditionally, divers thought that bigger faceplates meant a wider view. It doesn’t always work like that. Thanks to the refraction of light as it passes from water to the air inside the mask, there will always be a degree of tunnel vision under water. This said, while some divers like very compact masks, others go for the wider view thought to be provided by a single faceplate. One of the biggest was afforded by that of the Atomic Venom, which has expensive Schott glass that has no colour. Those who like the Crystal silicone of Cressi will appreciate the much less expensive Piuma. The Seac Boss is of a traditionally heavyweight design, while the likes of the Oceanic Accent, the Atomic Frameless and the Typhoon Pro Single have managed to do without too much intrusive structure.
COMPACT TWIN-LENS MASKS By making the lens area smaller and moving it closer to the eyes so that the view is not impinged upon, manufacturers can offer masks that have a much smaller internal volume, and that means easier clearing. For this reason, these compact masks prove very popular with breath-hold divers, but many scuba-divers opt for this formula too. Such masks are most commonly purchased with opaque skirts but in our experience this option offers no particular advantage, as the glass is so close to the eyes.
MASKS ALSO AVAILABLE IN A SMALLER SIZE Many mask manufacturers offer their products in a reduced size to accommodate those with smaller faces. These products would probably be ideal for most children and younger female divers.
MULTI-LENS MASKS In an attempt to give divers a view of what might be beside them, whether it be their buddy, an intrusive bit of wreckage or a big animal, some masks are provided with side windows. Some find such a mask a bit like sitting in a conservatory, but others love them. It’s your choice!
UNUSUAL MASKS There will always be masks that really are distinctive. The full-face Neptune Space G is a case in point. It’s one of a range of full-face masks that includes a specially adapted regulator, which accounts for its cost. Another expensive mask is the Oceanic Datamask, which includes a computer with a head-up display within it. It’s linked by radio transmitter to the gas pressure remaining in the diver’s tank. Divers who suffer from ear troubles while diving will see the IST ProEar mask as a godsend. It encloses the ears within the same airspace as the nose (linked by tubes with one-way valves). The ears are kept dry in the same way as the nose, and can be cleared of water likewise. Clearing the mask is often a problem for new divers, and there are a number of units on the market that include a purge valve to make things easier. The IST Dynasty is the example we chose to include in our selection.