Our eyes are designed to focus in the thin medium of air. In the dense medium of water, we need to use a mask in order to carry a pocket of air in front of our eyes.
A mask comprises one or two panels of glass (which can be either plane-parallel or in the form of lenses to match your own prescription); a frame to hold the glass; a silicone skirt; and a strap attached by buckles to hold it in place on your head. The glass is tempered in the manner of an old-fashioned car windscreen.
This may be a simple, and usually inexpensive, bit of kit, yet a mask that continually floods will cause nothing but misery on a dive, and could even be dangerous. Most people tend to use one that fits them well and stick with it, but first they have to choose it.
As with most consumer items, a lot of misinformation is bandied about. For example, a bigger glass area does not necessarily give you a better field of view. Its like standing by a window - the closer you are, the broader your view. Standing far back inside a room with a big bay window may not allow you to see more of the street than you could by standing close to a small window. Its a question of how close your eyes are to the glass.
If a mask has flat glass, it will give you a fairly narrow angle-of-view and a magnified image. Thats caused by refraction of the light as it passes from the dense medium of water to the less dense air in your mask.
One company, HydroOptix, has designed a dome-fronted mask that gets round this problem, but you need to be short-sighted to the tune of -4.5 dioptres, or be prepared to wear contact lenses of +4.5 dioptres strength. Even then, it works only under water, so you need to compensate for your near-sightedness, whether natural or induced, when you break the surface.
Most people adapt to the narrowness of vision provided by a conventional flat mask, by scanning around to see everything thats going on.
If your eyes are close to the glass, the mask contains a relatively low volume of air. Should you need to clear it, the lower the internal volume, the less effort it will take to expel the water. So for this test we measured the internal volume of each mask by filling it with fine sand and weighing the sand in grams.
The higher the weight, the bigger the volume - and these masks ranged from a factor of 190 (Seacsub Extreme) right up to 580 (HydroOptix Mega -4.5DD)!
However, this method does not give an indication of the masks depth, top to bottom. Some low-volume masks have deep lenses to allow you to see your chest area more clearly, so have a greater internal volume. We measured the depth of the glass over the deepest point.
Some divers find that very low-volume masks cause the frame to press uncomfortably at a point on the forehead directly above the bridge of the nose. They prefer a mask with a deeper skirt. Peripheral vision can be enhanced by having side-windows on such masks.
Other people have narrower faces than average, so a narrow mask becomes a prerequisite for a comfortable dive. We therefore measured the width of all the skirts from side to side, although of course their flexibility renders this measurement approximate.
Masks with clear silicone skirts are popular; theyre less claustrophobic than those with black silicone skirts when youre trying them on in a shop. Clear silicone will not give you extra peripheral vision in a true sense, though it will give you some idea of whats happening outside your normal field of vision.
However, any photographer will tell you that a mask with a black skirt provides a better direct view, as there are no internal reflections from the glass.
It might make you look like the Lone Ranger, but whats wrong with that Many masks come with a choice of skirts in either clear or opaque silicone.
Many two-lens masks are available with a ready-made range of prescription negative-dioptre lenses for the near-sighted. If youre long-sighted - and thats most people over the age of 50 - solutions include +dioptre lenses glued inside the normally plain glass, bi-focal lenses or magnifying lenses glued into a corner to enable you to read a gauge.
Divers with moustaches and beards sometimes think they cause masks to tend to leak. However, divers are traditionally beard-wearers, and Albert Falco, Cousteaus chief diver, had a magnificent example. I have had a moustache for 35 years and never encountered a problem with any mask on this count. I think it has to do with positioning your mask so that it fits snugly up under the nose. Other bearded divers swear by Vaseline!
Noses can be a problem. Some peoples are larger than others. We cannot advise which mask is right for you, any more than we can recommend a pair of shoes. Try a mask by offering it up to your face and inhaling gently through the nose. Air pressure should keep it in place. Similarly, under water the pressure of the water should keep your mask in place, and it is not dependent on the strap.
Under water, if you tighten the strap too much, you can distort the frame and the skirt, which in turn can precipitate a leak. Masks rarely leak unless they are broken. Its faces that sometimes cause leaks, which is why the choice of a mask is such a personal matter.
There may be a great variety of masks but this doesnt reflect the great variety of faces available to wear them!
Every trained diver should know how to clear a mask. Some masks are fitted with automatic purge valves, but these seem to be more popular in the USA than elsewhere, and the only distributor that chose to send us one was US-based.
Because so many masks originate in the Far East, you will notice the inevitable duplication of designs that sometimes occurs between brands.


Apollo Bio-Metal
This Japanese mask breaks with tradition by using lightweight metal for its frame, the strength of which allows the glass retainer to be extremely slim for a less obstructed view through extra-strong glass.
Skirt: in black or clear; Internal width of Skirt:13cm;
Frame colours: six; Optical option: minus strengths;
Internal volume: 250; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
84.99. (www.bluesports.co.uk)
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Beaver Panoramic
This single face-plate mask can only be described as big. Its panoramic front glass is bonded to a massively made frame. Strap buckles swivel.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: four;
Optical option: no; Internal volume: 400; Depth of glass: 9cm
39. Beaver (01484 512354)
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Beuchat Primo X2
This is the French manufacturers offering in the deep-lens style of mask that has a slim frame in order to put the twin glasses close to the eyes and give additional vision that takes in the area of the divers chest. It has pivoting strap-buckles.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of skirt : 11.5cm; Frame colours: three; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 280; Depth of glass: 7cm
39.95. Typhoon International (www.typhoon-int.co.uk)
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Beaver Mini Atomic
A frameless mask that has its single-piece front-glass integrated directly with its skirt. It can be very compact when squashed down inside a pocket of a BC as a back-up mask.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm;
Frame colours: two; Optical option: no;
Internal volume: 200; Depth of glass: 7cm
46. Beaver (01484 512354)
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Coltrisub EyeMax
The Italians may have become famous for their injection-moulding skills, but this mask bears all the hallmarks of its Far East pedigree. Its the same deep-lens design that you will spot here bearing other brands, and it gives the same extra vision of the divers chest area.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: three;Optical option: no; Internal volume: 245; Depth of glass: 7cm
25. Submarine Manufacturing & Products (01772 687775)
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Coltrisub Vista
The big single-glass mask with the Italian brand that comes unmistakably from the Far East.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm;
Frame colours: two; Optical option: no;
Internal volume: 400; Depth of glass: 9cm
25. Submarine Manufacturing & Products (01772 687775)
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Coltrisub Horizon
A single-glass frameless mask that will pack nicely into a BC pocket and so make for a good back-up. Matt-black finish excludes extraneous light and suits those using cameras.
Skirt: black only; Internal width of Skirt: 12cm; Frame colours: one; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 200; Depth of glass: 6.5cm
25. Submarine Manufacturing & Products (01772 687775)
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Cressi Big-Eyes
The original deep-lens mask, with an angled frame for a wider field-of-view and more of your chest area in sight. Its so popular that nearly every other manufacturer has now introduced something similar. Is this still the best
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: five; Optical option: pos/neg strengths; Internal volume: 270; Depth of glass: 7cm
39.99. Cressi UK (www.cressi-sub.net)
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Cressi Horizon
Cressis first four-glass mask has a tilted frame (like the Big Eyes). Gaps in the sides of the frames give peripheral vision through the clear silicone skirt
.Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: four; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 270; Depth of glass: 6.5cm
49.99. Cressi UK (www.cressi-sub.net)
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Cressi Lince
A smaller lower-volume version of the Matrix, this has the same style of deep glasses but, with appreciably reduced dimensions overall, it will suit those with smaller faces or free-divers for whom the amount of air used when mask-clearing is crucial.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 9.5cm; Frame colours: six; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 195; Depth of glass: 6.5cm
42. Cressi UK (www.cressi-sub.net)
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Cressi Matrix
Said to be the natural evolution of the Big-Eyes, this has the same angled frame but with a slightly narrower fitting, thinner and more streamlined. The improved strap-buckles have a novel ratchet system that allows adjustment even when wearing thick gloves.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: five;
Optical option: no; Internal volume: 220; Depth of glass: 7.5cm
49.99. Cressi UK (www.cressi-sub.net)
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Dacor Solaris
A smart-looking two-lens mask with a coloured one-piece glass retainer set in a clear frame and sophisticated strap buckles that both swivel and allow for quick adjustment.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 12cm;
Frame colours: four; Optical option: minus strength;
Internal volume: 295; Depth of glass: 6cm
29.74. Hydrotech (01455 275030)
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Dacor Sportster
A robust frame and simple buckles mark out this mask for the cost-conscious diver.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: four; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 365; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
22.80. Hydrotech (01455 275030)
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HydroOptix Mega -4.5DD
Ordinary flat masks refract the light so that things look bigger or closer, but with tunnel vision included. This mask gives a normal angle of view but you need to wear strong +dioptre contact lenses with it if you are anything but very near-sighted. When you exit the water you need to add corrective glasses to counteract the effect of the contact lenses. If you are prepared to go to that trouble, you will be rewarded with a distortion-free normal air-side view while under water. It has double auto purge valves.
Skirt: opaque only; Internal width of Skirt: 12cm; Frame colours: eight; Optical option: not applicable; Internal volume: 580; Depth of glass: n/a
145. HydroOptix (www.hydrooptix.com)
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IST ProEar
By including the ears within the air-pocket provided, this mask has proved able to reduce the risk of ear infections for those who otherwise might suffer. The ear-cups are linked by tubes with one-way valves.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: one; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 250; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
39.06. Sea & Sea (01803 663012)
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IST Nova
Representing good value, this conventional mask looks strongly made in a no-nonsense style. It has swivelling strap buckles.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: two; Optical option: minus strengths; Internal volume: 370; Depth of glass: 6cm
14.25. Sea & Sea (01803 663012)
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Mares ESA
For those who want more glass than any other diver, this long established six-glass design will fit the bill. Its ideal for those who need vision correction for distance as well as for close focusing. For example, reading lenses can be fitted in the lower panels while lenses for near-sightedness can go in the main panels if needed. The permutations are endless. It has swivelling strap-buckles.
Skirt: clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: two; Optical option: neg/pos (simultaneously); Internal volume: 430; Depth of glass: 8.5cm
79.74. Blandford Sub-Aqua (01923 801572)
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Mares X-Vision
Designed with a deep lens to give the wearer extra downward vision, this mask has sophisticated strap-buckles that are easy to adjust even while wearing gloves.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: five; Optical option: neg/pos strengths; Internal volume: 225; Depth of glass: 7.5cm
45.60. Blandford Sub-Aqua (01923 801572)
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Mares Lirica
A single glass-plate design that gives concessions to extra downward vision. Its chunky frame nevertheless has rounded corners that give it a modern look.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: five; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 245; Depth of glass: 7cm
44.09 Blandford Sub-Aqua (01923 801572)
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Oceanic 4Site
This twin-lens mask has side windows integrated with its robust frame that add to peripheral vision. Swivelling buckles have a high degree of rotation and a conventional strap-gripping mechanism.
Skirt: available in clear only; Width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: five; Optical option: minus strengths; Internal volume: 300; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
35.25. Oceanic SW (01404 891819)
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Oceanic Xsite
This typical low-volume twin-lens mask has simple strap-buckles and a sturdy yet lightweight frame.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 10.5cm; Frame colours: seven; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 200; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
28.20. Oceanic SW (01404 891819)
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Oceanic Prizm
Twin front glasses bonded to side glasses with an invisible (from the inside) chamfered join give good peripheral vision, although the frame is necessarily substantial. The simple strap buckles have a degree of rotation for better comfort.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 10.5cm; Frame colours: three; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 285; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
34.30. Oceanic SW (01404 891819)
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Oceanic Ice (or Shadow)
A lightweight, frameless mask with its single-plate glass bonded directly to its skirt, the Ice folds and fits easily into a BC pocket as a back-up mask. Its available in three different sizes (including Mini and Micro) to ensure a perfect fit.
Skirt: black or clear; Width of Skirt: 11.5cm & two smaller sizes; Frame colours: two; (black or clear); Optical option: no; Internal volume: 240; Depth of glass: 7cm
35.25 (all sizes). Oceanic SW (01404 891819)
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Procella Pro-dive
This twin-glass mask may be inexpensive but it might also be all you need. Its a classic low-volume design with few frills, apart from swivelling strap-buckles.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: one; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 220; Depth of glass: 6cm
17.95. Procella (www.procella.co.uk)
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Scubapro Naked
This single-glass mask has a buckle system that puts the pressure on the lower part of the skirt, pulling it in, improving downward vision and making a good fit for those who have problems sealing a mask to their top lip. Swapping buckles gives a conventional arrangement.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: two; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 270; Depth of glass: 6.5cm
36.95. Scubapro UK (01256 812636)
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Scubapro Mira
An unusually stylish design that bonds its single front glass directly to a curved plastic frame with side windows for a fairly low-volume solution with good peripheral vision. It has simple swivel strap-buckles.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: four; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 265; Depth of glass: 5cm
29.95. Scubapro UK (01256 812636)
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Scubapro Crystal Vu
This single-glass design has glass side-windows, which necessitates a rather substantial frame. However, it has a fairly low internal volume for such a type of mask and the chamfered joins in the glass are invisible from the inside. It has simple swivel strap-buckles.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 10.5cm; Frame colours: four;Optical option: no; Internal volume: 285; Depth of glass: 6cm
39.95 (also available with purge valve). Scubapro UK (01256 812636)
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Seacsub Extreme
A traditional low-volume mask with a robust frame, available with the option of a black skirt and strap suitable for use by photographers, but no longer with the option of optically corrected lenses.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: three; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 190; Depth of glass: 5cm
29.50. Alpha Distribution (01709 515157)
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Seacsub X-One
An unusual-looking mask with wide twin glasses and a slimline frame that will suit those with wider faces.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 12cm; Frame colours: five; Optical option: minus strengths; Internal volume: 230; Depth of glass: 6cm
49.50. Alpha Distribution (01709 515157)
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Seacsub X-Free
A low-volume mask originally intended for free-diving. It has an unusual adjustable mask-strap buckle that operates on a worm drive for vertical positioning.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm;
Frame colours: four; Optical option: minus strengths;
Internal volume: 185; Depth of glass: 6cm
39.50. Alpha Distribution (01709 515157)
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Seeman-sub Viso
For big boys who want the largest single area of glass possible, this single-plate design has a massive frame to match. But possibly its most notable feature is its unique EZ strap-adjustment system. This sits behind the wearers head and can be adjusted with one hand. There is also a Viso Compact for ladies and others with smaller faces.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: three;
Optical option: no; Internal volume: 400; Depth of glass: 8.5cm
22.90. Swan & Co (01964 532202)
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Seeman-sub Screen
This companys offering in the deep-lens style for better downward vision.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: three; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 230; Depth of glass: 7cm
22.90. Swan & Co (01964 532202)
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Seeman-sub Zoom
Another low-volume design thats popular with manufacturers and divers alike. Its twin glasses can be exchanged for lenses to match your needs if required.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 10.5cm; Frame colours: three; Optical option: both plus and minus strengths; Internal volume: 250; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
22.90. Swan & Co (01964 532202)
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Technisub Mythos
Deep front glasses, combined with a deep skirt and a unique frame that allows some peripheral vision at the expense of more internal volume, gives a light and airy greenhouse effect.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 12cm; Frame colours: three;
Optical option: no; Internal volume: 245; Depth of glass: 7cm
36.95. Aqua-Lung UK (0116 212 4201)
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Technisub Look
Swivelling buckles add quick adjustment and comfort to the fairly solid-looking plastic frame of this well-established and popular low-volume mask.
Skirt: black, metallic or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 10.5cm;
Frame colours: eight; Optical option: neg/pos strengths;
Internal volume: 255; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
36.95. Aqua-Lung UK (0116 212 4201)
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Technisub Tyke
Cut-away sides to the extremely slim frame allow some peripheral vision through the optional clear silicone skirt. Quick-action buckles allow for slick strap adjustment.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: eight;Optical option: no; Internal volume: 230; Depth of glass: 6cm
34.95. Aqua-Lung UK (0116 212 4201)
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Technisub Kea
As lightweight masks go, they call it state of the art. It has rotating buckles and a strap that can be easily adjusted even when wearing gloves. Slanted lenses that give you a slightly surprised look combine with cut-away sides to the frame for some peripheral vision with the clear silicone skirt option.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm; Frame colours: three;
Optical option: plus and minus strengths; Internal volume: 310;
Depth of glass: 6.5cm
37.95. Aqua-Lung UK (0116 212 4201)
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Tigullio T52 ProView
A frameless mask with huge lenses attached directly to the skirt puts these lenses close to the eyes and gives the diver a unique appearance among his peers.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11cm;
Frame colours: two; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 410;
Depth of glass: 7.5cm
49. Beaver (01484 512354)
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Tigullio T52 Spy
Purposeful-looking item with exceptional access to the nose-pocket for equalising purposes. It has swivelling strap-buckles.
Skirt: black or clear ; Internal width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: one; Optical option: no; Internal volume: 240; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
35.95. Beaver (01484 512354)
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TUSA Splendive IV
A low-volume design with twin front glasses plus side windows for extra peripheral vision. It has an exceedingly robust frame and simple swivelling strap buckles.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: seven;
Optical option: minus strengths; Internal volume: 265; Depth of glass: 5.5cm
49. CPS Partnership (01424 442663)
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TUSA Viewtrek
The deep glasses of this mask that are positioned close to the eyes give wide-angle vision, especially to the chest area. Also available in all-black to suit those who may want to look through a viewfinder under water.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 11.5cm; Frame colours: seven;
Optical option: minus strengths; Internal volume: 200; Depth of glass: 6cm
49. CPS Partnership (01424 442663)
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TUSA Visualator
A huge front glass combined with a frame and skirt that puts the wearers eyes up close promises unobstructed vision and less of a mask-clearing problem than one would imagine. This one even has cut-outs in the frame to add to peripheral vision. It has the option of an all-black frame and skirt for underwater photographers, and a five-position strap adjustment for vertical fitting.
Skirt: black or clear; Internal width of Skirt: 12cm; Frame colours: seven;
Optical option: no; Internal volume: 400; Depth of glass: 9cm
49. CPS Partnership (01424 442663)
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Typhoon Exel
A low-volume mask design that has been a firm favourite among divers for many years. Twin lenses are available, with the option to fit optical lenses.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: three; Optical option: both plus and minus strengths; Internal volume: 215; Depth of glass: 6cm
19.95. Typhoon International (www.typhoon-int.co.uk)
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Typhoon Ladies Mask
We dont know whether its because its finished in pink or because it appears to be smaller than some other masks, but the name suggests that this single-glass mask is aimed at the fairer sex! It has swivelling strap buckles.
Skirt: clear only; Internal width of Skirt: 10cm; Frame colours: one;
Optical option: no; Internal volume: 215; Depth of glass: 6.5cm
19.95. Typhoon International (www.typhoon-int.co.uk)
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