RELIABILITY’S VERY IMPORTANT TO ME, because I’m often away for a long time and in remote parts of the world. But travel weight is also very important, because every half-kilo I take up with dive equipment is a half-kilo of camera equipment less that I can take.
So over a long period of time I’ve selected dive equipment based on light weight. I pack my luggage within limits, and weigh it very carefully.
When it’s coldwater diving, or a trip where perhaps several different wetsuits are needed, the weight of the diving equipment goes up. But for most of my tropical travel, where it’s the difference between a 3mm and a 5mm wetsuit, my entire equipment plus bag weighs 6-7kg – whereas most people are travelling with 15-18kg.
It’s those savings that allow me to pack up to the weight limit on camera equipment.

DIVE-BAGS
Many people travel with dive-bags that weigh 3-4kg on their own. I have just a Beaver string bag that weighs half a kilo. It’s super-strong.
I pack my dive gear in there wrapped in a wetsuit and the whole thing comes to under 7kg. And that just makes a huge difference to packing.
If I’m not using the dive-bag, I like to pack my stuff in normal-looking suitcases. I think it facilitates your transit through customs and immigration, particularly if you’re travelling with a lot of expensive equipment.
If a bent official is looking for a bribe, he’s always going to stop the guy with the big Pelican cases.
I use a lightweight hardshell Samsonite suitcase, and normal duffel bags for the non-delicates, so I look like every other traveller and don’t get stopped and harassed. My friends who travel with big Pelican cases are always getting a hard time.
I used to have a Pelican case but it would go missing. Three times in one year it didn’t make a flight. I was starting to wonder if someone was putting it aside hoping it wouldn’t get claimed, because it clearly had something valuable in it.
The Samsonite suitcase isn’t watertight like a Pelican, and you can’t drive a car over it, but it’s very strong on the outside, and with delicate items bubble-wrapped it’s fine.

REGULATORS
For coldwater diving I use Apeks regs, which are not lightweight. They’re DIN regs, because all my UK cylinders are DIN. In the past few years I’ve done a lot of very cold diving and it’s the one area where I don’t want to save weight. With regulators to dive down to 1 or 2° you want something to be bomb-proof.
For my tropical travel I’ve had a Scubapro titanium reg that’s been super-reliable for a very long time, and I’ve been happy with how it has performed.
However, I’ve just gone over to Apeks Flight regs, because they’re even lighter. I’m a sucker for saving half a kilo, because it means I can take another little strobe or another piece of camera equipment. Every little helps!
A friend is sponsored by one particular brand and he’ll use his sponsored regs whenever he has to – and then dive with Apeks regs the rest of the time!
I’ve had help and support from a number of manufacturers, but although I’ve been offered it I don’t take everything I’m offered. I’m not a gear-hog, because in the end I can’t travel with it.

BC
All my BCs have been around the bottom of the range, because they’re usually the lightest. I have two Scubapro BCs and the main working one is the Equator. I made the mistake in the early days of lightweight BCs of going a bit too light, and the manufacturers were going for thinner and thinner materials that weren’t quite hard-wearing enough for those doing a lot of diving. When BCs start to be leaky they basically lose their functionality.
You can get the right balance by investing in a very lightweight BC that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but is made of the right material.
The Equator is a low-end Scubapro BC but I find it very good.
For photography I much prefer a BC to a wing. The most efficient way to dive is horizontally but the most comfortable way to take photos is at a 45° angle. A BC makes it easier to trim yourself than a wing, which is designed to keep you in a comfortable horizontal plane. I go in the water only to take pictures, so for me it makes a big difference.
When I dive in a drysuit I use a weight harness for the sake of my back, and tend to spread my weight a bit to give me that trim.
With less maneuverability in a drysuit, it’s even more important to be correctly trimmed for holding the camera. Anyway, I don’t like swimming that much, so the loss of efficiency doesn’t bother me!
You often find that getting your camera in the right position relative to your subject is the most fundamental element to getting good pictures. Usually that means getting your camera low.
Coming from a marine biology background, it’s very important to me to take pictures without damaging the environment. So swimming low over the reef or seabed, trim and balance is very important and I don’t want anything hanging down.
Rather than have any clips for my octopuses and gauges, I dive with them all tucked into the BC straps to give me a very flat front.
For this reason, although it’s a slightly naughty thing, I do a lot of tropical diving without an external contents gauge and just use my transmitter.
I’ve never had any reliability problems with my transmitter and I’ve learnt to trust it.

COMPUTER
It’s very rare that I go into deco. I’m a shallow-water diver so I don’t need a high-performance computer, but I do have a Galileo from my Scubapro sponsorship days which I like because it’s large.
I keep it on the strobe arm of my camera, because if you always dive with a camera it’s much easier just to glance away from it to the computer.
I used to have an O’Three drysuit with tapered arms, and my Galileo would slide down my wrist and, being a big computer, stop my hand moving.
So I started putting it on my camera, found that I much preferred it there, and because people see lots of pictures of me or come to my underwater workshops, it seems to have caught on and become a trend.
The buoyancy foam we use on the strobe arms makes them about the same size as a wrist, so the computers fit perfectly on there and stay in position.
I also have a Suunto D6i as a back-up but it stays in my room or cabin as an alarm clock. It’s a back-up on the boat, not on the dive, as I’ve never had a problem with the Galileo. I don’t see the point in using it in the water until it’s needed.

DRYSUIT
I tend to be a long, shallow diver and an immobile one, so I tend to marginally overdress for the conditions, because I don’t like getting cold. Cold distracts you from the concentration necessary for photography.
Particularly with a drysuit, I’m a real stickler for knowing before the trip exactly what temperature the water’s going to be, because I know exactly which undersuits I need to wear with a drysuit for any given temperature.
I use a White’s Fusion, which is a Canadian brand. I know a few people have tried it and don’t like it because it doesn’t feel like any other drysuit. It’s an oversized bag-suit, held in place by a stretchy neoprene outer suit. It’s designed for technical divers to enable them to reach tank-valves behind them.
The one thing a photographer wants in a drysuit is great shoulder flexibility so that you’re not having to pull against the suit to hold the camera in position, which you often have to do for quite a long time.
A back-zipped drysuit gives you too much shoulder restriction.
The flexibility of the Fusion makes it one of my most important pieces of dive equipment. It really does help my photography – everything else is about being more comfortable.
The Fusion is also very lightweight, so it’s great for travelling, and with such a stretchy design I can use it over an incredibly wide temperature range.
It you dive mainly in the UK, you have to deal with something like 10° in winter and up to 18° in summer, so that’s an 8° temperature range. A lot of UK divers start when it’s 14° and maybe go up to 16-18°, so they don’t have to do much more than change one layer of undersuit.
As a travelling drysuit diver I’ll use it from 1° up to maybe 21°. What I need to wear beneath it is hugely different for those temperatures, and with a neoprene or a tailored drysuit you just don’t have the space to have that flexibility of layering.
The physical change in size is quite dramatic – I’m Michelin Man when I’m at the cold end and at the top end I have just one base layer underneath.

UNDERSUITS
I’m a big fan of Fourth Element – I like the quality of its products and the people behind it. I like supporting a British business and one from my part of the country – the West Country. I have a good range of its products because of the wide range of temperatures I dive in.
Its big Sub-X undersuit is my ultimate coldwater, pull-out-of-the-bag effort. It’s fantastically warm but it does have quite a big weight penalty.
Last year I was diving in Canada one week and wearing that and something like 20kg of weight because I had so many layers on.
I went straight from there to the Maldives, diving in a rash vest with no weights, just an aluminium cylinder. So all that weight is basically for the drysuit, because I’m quite a “‘negative” person.
A lot of people just buy a Fourth Element Arctic or something, and I do have an Arctic top and bottom, but I think its base layers make a big difference.
In Iceland I was introduced to Icelandic wool, so I have a pair of Icelandic wool socks, which are miraculous for keeping your feet warm in a drysuit.
It’s the combination of the very coarse and the fluffier hairs of Icelandic sheep that makes pure Icelandic wool so good.
All the guys in Iceland dive in these socks but they use home-made ones, not the ones from shops, where the wool has been processed to be smoother – it looks nicer but loses a lot of its insulation. I bought mine at a service station in the middle of nowhere, and now I bore everyone to death about my Icelandic socks.

WETSUITS
Again, I’m very specific on temperature. I really like semi-drys, and sadly mine is falling apart at the moment and I’m about to change it, but I really like the back-zip 6.5mm semi-dry. Most of the big manufacturers offer it – I think they’re all made in the same factory – but I really love that suit, which is very warm in the right conditions.
I spend a lot of time diving in the Mediterranean and that’s my go-to suit except in summer. I’ve also used it for everything from diving with manatees to diving in the Pacific, and it’s very comfortable.
That suit is a bit of an exception because I’m a great believer that wetsuits lose much of their insulation with age, particularly if you dive a lot, so I usually tend to change them pretty regularly.
I’m not one of those people you’ll see on the dive-deck in a faded wetsuit to show how long I’ve been diving. I reckon those people in a 7mm suit they’ve had for 20 years will be colder than me in a new 3mm.
Old suits are also much less comfortable and flexible. Thanks to advances in neoprene in the past 10 years, a good new wetsuit is really worth the money. I like Fourth Element wetsuits, and also have a number of Scubapro ones I rate.

GLOVES & HOODS
For the coldwater stuff I really like Waterproof’s gloves and hoods.
I have a 10mm hood for when it’s really cold, and a 7mm for just cold, and they’re very warm and comfortable. They’re expensive but worth the money.
I do have a dry-glove system on my drysuit but I prefer wet gloves for holding the camera.
If your core temperature is warm you don’t get cold, so I have some Waterproof 5mm wet gloves and 7mm mitts, and 5mm and 3mm gloves from Fourth Element, which are more dexterous than the Waterproof ones but not as warm. For me it’s a sliding scale.
For shark-diving I have some no-insulation black gloves, so there are no white bits flashing about.
On a British trip I travel with two or three pairs of gloves, and stop at motorway services to get plastic gloves to wear inside them. I don’t think you get any better insulation but it makes the gloves go on straightaway and you get a much better fit.
Camera housings are designed to be used through gloves but you still want as much dexterity as possible to be able to change settings easily and get those special shots.
I’d go for dexterity first and rely on keeping my core warm to keep my hands warm.

FINS
I don’t use strap-heel fins for warmwater diving, though I do have some neoprene socks and own some boots. I nearly always travel with full-foot fins, even when I’m wearing a semi-dry.
For years I had some of Scubapro’s cheapest fins, a pool fin that was discontinued about four years ago. I had four pairs, but they’ve all worn out now so I use a pair of Mares Volos, which are again relatively low-end, cheap and lightweight.
The difference in weight between those and, say, a pair of Scubapro Jetfins and boots is 2-3kg, and for me that means being able to carry a big port or something, so it’s worth it.
And I like light fins – I have quite heavy legs, so they’re not floaty.
For big animal photography I use Cressi freediving fins for the extra propulsion.
The key if you’re not particularly fit is to buy soft freediving fins, because you really need to be trained to use the stiffer ones. In Cressi speak the softer ones are long-distance fins for wearing all day in comfort.
They give a big advantage with big animals, because when you want to get yourself into positions easily, perhaps going under sharks to get silhouettes, it’s good to have that speed.
I also have a number of fins for drysuits. I really liked my Scubapro Novas but they snapped, so I’ve recently got some Mares X-Streams with a similar design philosophy.

MASK
The important thing for a photographer is to be able to look clearly through your camera, so a dark-skirted mask with two separate windows is the way to go. I have a couple of masks that look identical, a Scubapro Spectra and a Cressi model.

CAMERA
My main camera is a Nikon D4. It’s not the highest-megapixel camera but it’s about the quality of the image. It’s also about the build and quality of the camera, and being super-reliable. I alternate between very big cameras and slightly smaller ones
I have the D4 in a Subal housing from Austria. Although I’ve used the brand for a long time I did consider others for this camera, but I’ve done hundreds of thousands of pictures with the Subal without problems and that’s worth a huge amount to me. And because of luggage restrictions I frequently go on a big trip with just one camera and one housing.
I use a very large amount of camera equipment and the choices I make are based around the shots I’m taking. People will see from reading my column how I’m often changing cameras and strobes.
But the two main systems I use are the Nikon SLR with all the lenses and strobes and an Olympus OM-D, which is a micro four-thirds camera and much smaller, but produces very high-quality pictures.
I rarely dive with two cameras but when opportunity allows I’ll have two on the boat and dive with them separately.
I think I get better pictures if I’m just focusing on one thing, but if something once in a lifetime comes along, I’ll surface and get what I need.
I could talk for three times as long about my camera choices as my other equipment, but it’s the other equipment that’s more interesting in the context of My Favourite Kit.

ACCESSORIES
If you dive close to home, you may have a lot of things clipped onto your BC that perhaps you don’t need to take on a tropical trip.
A mini-knife and a mini-line-cutter usually sit in my BC pocket but generally my accessory count is very low, because it’s amazing how easily you can add another couple of kilos.
For example, you don’t necessarily need to take that big reel abroad – just an SMB with a line is enough to protect yourself at the surface.
For safety, my BC has a whistle and I’ll always have some sort of safety sausage in my pocket.

Alex Mustard was talking to Steve Weinman.