I LIKE TO STRIP AWAY as much equipment as possible. It’s all about being smooth and streamlined and needing minimal effort under water so that you last longer and maximise your efficiency. And I’m not a gear freak. If stuff’s working I’ll just keep it going, but if I see something I think is a significant improvement, I might invest in it.
I started diving when single-hose demand valves were replacing twin-hose dvs, and the only big advances in the last 40 years have been those dvs, variable buoyancy compensation devices and the computer. And, across the board, a big improvement in the technology of staying warm.
But you could still dive with what I had in 1968 and be perfectly safe and OK.

REGULATOR
I’ve used Poseidons for a long time. I started with the original Cyklon, when I first filmed in the Antarctic in 1987. They had a reputation for performing in the cold, and you could put an anti-freeze cap on them. I’ve upgraded recently to the standard Extreme, which has a smaller mouthpiece. It’s very reliable, small and nice and light.
I went for a Cyklon originally because I think it was the only demand valve that could come in over either shoulder, and in the old days film-camera housings could come with viewfinders on the left-hand side or on the right.
I realise there are regs that are less effort to breathe from. I went to the American base McMurdo in Antarctica to do an underwater shoot for the Life series, and they used Sherwoods there because they were cheaper and easier to maintain than the Poseidons, and had a very good safety record.
We were diving all the time at around -1.5°, and they would have free-flows on no more than three in 1000 dives. So the Sherwood would be another one to consider, but you get accustomed to gear and I like Poseidons.

BC
For years I used a standard BC but in the last couple I’ve moved to a Buddy Tek Wing. I find wings really good to use. They get rid of some of the pouches around your waist, put my buoyancy just where I like it and are that bit less cumbersome than BCs. With its slightly thinner profile, the Tek Wing feels streamlined on my back.
It’s quite heavy but it was the first wing I’d used – I borrowed one from a friend and thought it made such a difference that I stuck with it.
It’s made of tough Cordura and feels as if it’s built to last. I’ve had mine a couple of years now, use it quite intensively in tropical places and the cold, and it’s never given me any problems.

SUITS
I have a very good relationship with Waterproof, which is based in Sweden. Göran, the MD and suit designer, phoned me long ago wanting some advice about Arctic diving, and he’s been supplying me with suits since then, but even if he wasn’t I’d probably go for this kind of suit.
Waterproof makes both neoprene and membrane suits and they’re very comfortable. They’re slightly bent-knees-built and fit my body shape nice and snugly. If it’s cold I find the neoprene suits are that little bit more snug and warm.
I have an excellent Waterproof 7mm wetsuit as well, but Fourth Element is also interested in me testing some of its gear, so for thin-to-medium wetsuits I’ve been using its stuff, and it’s very good.
Fourth Element also makes a lovely undersuit, the Xerotherm Arctic, which is really good, and a new one called the Halo 3D that’s intriguing.
Patches of the suit have a lot of resistance to compression, and some pretty sophisticated insulation must be woven into it. I was wearing the Halo beneath a Waterproof membrane drysuit recently in Greenland under the icebergs, and was surprised how warm I stayed.
I’m asked to test a lot of gear, and it makes a big difference if the water is -1.8°, which is as cold as it can be, versus just over zero in the Antarctic, versus 4 or 5° in some parts of the Arctic, versus 9 or 10°.
I fine-tune for the water and also air temperature, and mix and match between neoprene and membrane drysuits and different kinds of undersuit. I’m kinda spoilt!
I’m a softie really – if it gets below 19° I go straight for the drysuit, but I have wetsuits for temperatures all the way up to not needing anything above 28°.
Diving in the Red Sea with my son recently I just wore a rash vest and Fourth Element Thermoclines. You need very little additional weight, they dry very quickly and, apart from good thermal protection, you won’t get scratched by the corals if you happen to come into contact.

GLOVES
Waterproof does a range of dry and semi-dry gloves, and I find that you stay as warm with a good pair of semi-drys. If you have neoprene cuffs on your drysuit and a pair of semi-dry three-fingered mitts and a generous overlap, they’re very practical to wear. I’ve seen people fumble about with dry gloves, and they don’t come out any warmer than I do.
You learn what you can put up with and when you’ve had enough. Maybe I’m just lucky that I have a body that physiologically doesn’t get as cold as other people’s.

FINS
I use very long Cressi freediving fins for open-water snorkelling, but I wouldn’t use them around a coral reef because you’d tend to come into contact with things. My other fins are Mares Plana Avanti Quattros, which I’ve had for a long time, and they’re not super-big and just suit my leg-kick.
I tried split-fins for a while but couldn’t get into them. You tend to use shorter strokes, and I found it harder to swim smoothly. And smoothness is important when filming.
A very good cameraman called Hugh Miller swears by Force Fins. I wanted him to pose for a shot in the Antarctic but he looked so much like an old-fashioned frogman wearing them that I said “Hugh, you’re gonna have to put on a pair of proper fins!”
He can certainly swim as fast as me with the Force Fins, and says he can swim backwards with them while filming, which I have heard before. I had a go, and maybe didn’t pursue it long enough, but I couldn’t get the hang of them at all.
They do have other advantages, like being able to walk around on deck much more easily, so perhaps it’s something I should try again.

MASK
For a long time I used one of these three-faced masks. It was big enough to bail out a boat, but I liked it because the angle of refraction, the way the light passes through those side-panels, means that you can see to the side.
That makes it easier to stick with people if you’re diving in a group, or you might catch sight of animals that bit quicker.
But it was very heavy and they stopped making them, so I now have a Beaver Atomic mask.
It has a comfortable soft rubber rim, a single window and it’s black. I don’t use clear silicone masks because any sun will come straight down through the top of the mask and dazzle you, making it hard to look through a viewfinder.
It’s quite low-volume and it’s a soft mask, so you don’t need to have it on tight to make a seal.
I’ve dived with it for three or four years, though I’ve gone through a couple – one got broken in the dive-bag and one got lost – but it’s still the most comfortable mask I’ve found.

STILL CAMERA
I have a Canon EOS 1DS and can put a dome-port on a Seacam housing, with the 17-40 lens to keep the full width or the 24-105 if I need a longer lens. A Seacam flash fits onto that.
I’m also tempted to look into what I call rather disparagingly “happy-snaps” like the Canon G12, which is a little rangefinder camera for surface stuff, but you get quite nice small housings for it with a flash.
The Seacam is a lovely piece of kit, but it takes up a whole Pelican case on its own. It’d be nice to have something a bit smaller that I could carry with me to take a few snaps while I’m also down trying to film things.
The 1DS gives fantastic results but it doesn’t shoot movie under water, which is why I’m thinking of getting a housing for my Canon 5D.

FILM CAMERA
I use whatever the broadcaster wants. I myself have a Sony PMW-EX1R in a Gates housing, and I put a Fathom wide-angle lens on the front.
That’s still a very good high-definition camera. It’s got an excellent practical zoom that’s quite wide at one end and quite narrow at the other, and that gives full HD. However, it’s not as big a resolution as the newest cameras.
Gates I think reigns supreme. Its housings are mechanical, so in the very unlikely event of a flood you just rinse out and get back to shooting.
The latest models are equipped with vacuum valves, so you can pressure-proof them before you get into the water, and that’s hugely worthwhile.
Gates housings are reliable even when shallow in surf or surge. Most housings are more likely to leak in the shallows, and get more waterproof as you go deeper, but by creating a vacuum before you hit the water it’s nice and tight, with all the O-rings sucked into position – great for peace of mind.
A replacement for the EX1R is coming out later this year, and John Ellerbrook at Gates already has a housing on the way, so I’ll probably invest in that.

SNORKEL
I just have three or four very back-to basics Cressi snorkels, and grab whichever comes to hand.

WEIGHTBELT
I dive with a DUI weight-harness, and it makes a huge difference. Using a drysuit you obviously need a lot of weight, and wearing 12 or 15kg around your waist cuts you in half and bends you like a banana.
Putting the weights in pouches with the weightbelt sitting on straps over your shoulders is massively more comfortable. I recommend these to anyone who comes out from dives with a sore back. They’re not cheap, but boy, are they comfortable!

TANKS
I can usually outlast any decompression times on a bottle and I’m usually diving to avoid any in-water decompression so a single 15- or 17-litre bottle is usually enough for me.
I’m not one for pony bottles or any sort of backup. You have a pressure gauge and keep an eye on it.

COMPUTER
I’ve had a Suunto Gekko for three or four years.
I can dial up different nitrox mixes I might be using and put it on a pretty conservative setting.

SMB
I use a Scubapro SMB. It’s not even on a reel; it just kind of coils up because I tend to use it at the surface, but it has enough string on it that I can release it if I’m doing a safety stop.

KNIFE
It depends what I’m doing, but if I need one I have a small Mares knife that fits on my wrist.

COMPASS
There’s a compass in the Gecko, but if I need to do a lot of compass work I prefer my analogue Suunto.

LOCATION DEVICES
I’ve got a GPS which I could use if I was out on a vessel that didn’t have any. One of these new personal locator beacons could be useful on certain shoots, though, because it’s often impractical to drag an SMB around with you.

Doug Allan was talking to Steve Weinman