MICHAEL AW TYPICALLY CARRIES 100kg of kit when he travels, and reckons to spend at least 90 days a year in the water on four or five major underwater photography trips.
“In the past 15 years or so I haven’t seen a lot of essential innovation in diving equipment,” he says.
“I try to keep everything fairly simple, because I have enough to worry about with my cameras.
“And I don’t change my kit too often for the sake of it. I do try out new stuff, of course, but most of the time I go back to what I’m comfortable with.”

MASK
I use a very low-volume, frameless Apollo mask with prescription lens. It’s very light, very good for photography and I’ve used it for the past six years or so. I always carry two on trips, just in case.

FINS
I’ve used Apollo split-fins since they came out well over 10 years ago. I’m not sponsored by Apollo, by the way, but they’re solid rubber and I love the feeling of them.
The main thing is that I can just stop and do a nice one-point turn immediately. I can actually feel the fins move as I turn, and because they’re weighted they don’t float up. They’re good in any conditions.
Over the years I’ve bought five or six pairs of Apollo split-fins, but my first pair are still usable.

COMPUTER
Recently I’ve been using a VRX OLED – it’s the most efficient instrument ever. Before that I always used a Uwatec Air X, mainly because of its liberal bottom times. I carry two computers on every dive, and if I’m on nitrox, one will be set on nitrox and the other on air. I always try to clear both before I surface.
I like the Uwatec because I can change the batteries myself. I carry spares with me, because you never know when computers might fail. In warm water a battery can easily last for 150 dives, but in extremely cold waters people don’t always realise that this can be down to 60-70 dives.
I’m away from home so often that I can’t just send a computer away. For the $60 it costs to get a battery replaced with other makes I can buy 10 batteries for the Uwatec and pop them in straight away.

SUITS
I have a variety of wetsuits. Over the years I have used the Radiator suit from Australia, Dive Skins from the USA and IQs from Germany, but now it’s the Waterproof W3 3.5mm and Waterproof W1 and W2 for 5mm.
For drysuits, I’m planning to try the Waterproof D1 Hybrid, which looks promising. At the moment I use an Apollo. It’s the only one with the option of exhaust-valves on the ankle, so for a fast descent you just vent and go. If I buy other suits, like from Waterproof, I can buy these valves from Apollo and get them custom-fitted to my suit.

UNDERSUIT
I use one by DUI, because I think it makes very good undersuits. I’ll have to try the Fourth Element ones, which look promising. I’m not loyal to any particular brand, but whatever I choose must suit me very well.

GLOVES
If I go coldwater diving I use Waterproof wet gloves rather than dry gloves. In temperate waters down to about 15° and in warm water I don’t wear gloves so that I can feel things like the housing controls, and avoid touching marine life.

REGULATORS
I’ve used a lot of regs, but I do love Apeks first and second stages. In the past two years, however, because we’ve been doing a lot of coldwater diving, the Atomic M1 has been very reliable. It’s light to carry, and good in warm water too. I have three.
I always use a single pressure gauge. What’s the point of having a depth gauge, if depth is shown on your computer And I don’t like wireless integration, because I like to see on the gauge exactly how much air I have left in my tank.

REBREATHERS
I used to use rebreathers a lot, and have an APD Inspiration Classic, but these days, unless I’m on an assignment where I have to be bubble-free, I tend not to use them. This is mainly because of logistics issues – the problems of getting them to a location.
I also have a Draeger Atlantis semi-closed circuit rebreather sitting in the garage.

BC
I’ve been using an Apollo BC model since 2004, and I have five of them. It doesn’t have a model name on it but it weighs less than 2kg. You get a back-pack, it’s one-size-fits-all, it has a dump valve at the shoulder and one at the back and no pockets.
I don’t think Apollo made many because I don’t think many people liked it, so it’s a rare one.
But it works for me because it’s light and gives me a lot of space at the front. If my model uses one, you can see the suit she’s wearing and there’s no clutter.
I have separate OMD weight-pockets and put weights on the tank. This isn’t a BC for everybody, but it’s a good one for advanced divers.

CAMERA & ACCESSORIES
I’ve been a Nikon person from the days of Nikonos V film cameras. I evolved from the F3 through to the F100. Then I got the D1X in 2003 when it came out, and in 2005 got the D2X.
I still carried a film camera as back-up, especially for wide-angle. But by 2007, when the D300 was released, I went fully digital. Now I use the D3S and a D700, though I’ve started going back to a D7000, mainly for its hi-def video. When the next series of the full-frame camera comes out, which I’m sure will have a good video option on it, I’ll move on.
I started with Ikelite housings in the 1980s, and moved on to Tussey, Aquatica and Nexus. Then Seacam asked me to try its housings, and I’ve been a Seacam ambassador since 2000. I’m not sponsored, but I do buy a lot of housings from Seacam.
Everything about the controls is very precise.
For example, without taking my eyes off what I’m shooting I can do everything with three fingers – my index to shoot, my second to change shutter speed and my thumb to change aperture.
I have a proprietary Seacam S45 viewfinder that magnifies so that I can see the animals clearly – it’s brilliant. I may have evolved from film cameras all the way through to the D3S, but I’ve been using the same viewfinder for the past 11 years!
I travel with three housings and five strobes. I use mainly Ikelite strobes – I also have Seacams, but Ikelite is a brand that’s been very kind to me through the years, mainly because of its aftersales service.

LIGHTS
I don’t use a lot of dive lights because I have strobes, viewing and spotting lights, but I carry a couple for night or special dives. Greenforce makes some exceptional HID lights which I use for video, for directing models or for doing multi-exposures.
They’re small, they’re powerful, and the colour temperature is exactly what I need.

CUTTERS
I don’t believe in knives. I carry a very small pair of titanium scissors; they’re very lightweight and they’re always on my chest so I can reach them.
I’ve used them to cut fishing net and sometimes fish-hooks from sharks. It’s much easier to have one-handed operation – much better than a knife.

LOCATION DEVICES
I always have my safety sausage with me. I need it to be at least 1.5m long. I invested in a Custom Divers 2m one but it was just too big. I have an excellent reel that cost me £25!
I also think the Nautilus Lifeline [diver location device] should be standard kit for divers. I’ve been lost at sea three or four times, when I didn’t have one. Since I got it I haven’t been in that situation but I feel much more secure, especially as I’m so often diving alone or in new locations. It’s essential.

SNORKEL
My snorkel is quite important, because I do quite a bit of freediving with dolphins and whales. I find the TUSA a good reliable snorkel. I like it to be in a bright colour so that I can find it quickly in my dive-bag when I need it.