• Ocean Leisure after Brexit is Complete

    Poacher turned gamekeeper, after a career in the advertising industry I made a name for myself as the scourge of poor quality under-performing diving equipment, by exposing it in the UK’s Diver Magazine. It was a time when some manufacturers threatened to sue me and others invited me to visit their factories to discuss where they might be going wrong. It was almost a thankless task – one British importer has never forgotten that he was left with a garage full of unsalable regulators after I had revealed how badly they performed, conveniently forgetting I might have saved him from a manslaughter charge!

    Another went out of business, citing me as the reason the poor quality regulators he imported stopped being made, while a third British importer sent an email (a copy of which I still preserve) telling his manufacturer that the regulator they made was faulty and that if I, John Bantin, got to hear of it, they’d be ruined!

    Then there were the diving computers that gave you extra bottom time (at the expense of risk to your health). One doyen of American diving equipment manufacturers more recently told me I was a pillar of the diving community, conveniently forgetting the lawyer’s letters he’d sent me two decades ago.

    So what has this all got to do with Brexit? Well, all this went on before the days of EU regulation and the CE-marking of life-support equipment. I was testing regulators on an ANSTI machine long before it became mandatory for manufacturers to do the same and meet the EU-mandated performance requirements.

    Today, it’s difficult to buy life support equipment in the UK that does not meet these set standards. It does mean that it has taken the fun out of being a vociferous critic in print. Equipment reviews in diving magazines have been reduced to little more that rewritten manufacturer’s press-releases. However, I moved my talents to the US where I now write for an on-line subscription newsletter called The US makes rich pickings for someone of my talents and Undercurrent has no advertisers to try to please.

    The US has none of this regulation from which we have benefitted during the last 30 years in Europe. They have a system that waits for the problem to happen and then pursues the miscreants by litigation in the courts. Good news for American lawyers! Undercurrent is frequently full of reports of such cases. When Brexiteers boast that we will do away with European red tape and regulation, they mean following the American model. Bad news if you die, but don’t worry, your estate will be able to sue afterward!

    The Editor in Chief of frequently asks me what equipment failures we have seen at Ocean Leisure. Started in 1975 as a direct counterbalance to the advertising-driven diving publications found in the US, exposing shoddy products is part of the life-blood of that publication. These examples of unsuitable or badly designed/manufactured equipment are frequently discovered on the other side of the Atlantic, but I surprise him by telling that Ocean Leisure in London rarely gets any life-support equipment for diving, or other water sports, returned because it does not meet manufacturer’s promise. That (some would say ‘evil’) EU regulation has seen to that.

    However, times might well change. Deregulation might be an opportunity for the importation of less good products into the UK and a return to the good old days for diving equipment journalists and their job of trashing the bad.

    What I can tell you is that the staff at Ocean Leisure are all keen users of what the store stocks. They are all either regular divers or sailors and will soon discover any suspect product so that you will not find them here. Leaving the EU might mean a future influx of poor quality imports but you can always rest assured that what you purchase at Ocean Leisure will be up to the task. You can use it with confidence.



  • An Avoidable Tragedy in Cozumel

    Mexico’s Caribbean island of Cozumel provides some startlingly good diving, which is often experienced by American divers since it is so conveniently close to the US. Diving tends to be organised in groups. It is not unusual for individual divers to turn up for dives.There are strong currents. This can lead to problems if one of the divers needs to return to the surface during a dive and that is what happened to a lady recently, with fatal consequences.

    The dive had not started well. It is reported that she had trouble with the inflator mechanism of her BC. Presumably, it tended to jam open or her own BC was not compatible with the regulator and direct-feed she had rented. So she disconnected it, intending to only connect the direct feed when she needed to put some air into her BC. This may be something that a well-practised regular diver can cope with but if anything else went wrong, it could lead to an incident pit.

    And something did go wrong. During the dive, she decided to abort and the dive guide went with her to the depth of a safety stop at, say, 5m deep. He had to be quick because on the current: He could easily lose contact with the rest of the group he was escorting. So he left her there, assuming she was competent enough to make it the short distance to the surface. He successfully rejoined his charges ar depth and continued the dive.

    We don't know what happened next. Her computer would not have recorded whether she actually made the surface or not, but her lifeless body was discovered by an entirely different group of divers some time later. It may well be that on achieving the surface, she forgot how to inflate her BC orally. She probably struggled to reconnect the direct-feed hose whilst finning furiously to stay at the surface. She might never ever have done that. She might have been carrying too much lead. She certainly did not drop her weights. Consequently, she eventually dropped and drowned. Drowning is never like it is portrayed in the movies. Struggling to keep afloat, she would have become exhausted and quietly slipped away. Nobody would have seen her go.

    What can we learn from this tragic series of events, a series of events that happens only too often with leisure divers? Firstly, never go diving unless your equipment is working one hundred percent efficiently. Secondly, be neutrally buoyant at all times. This means never wearing more lead than you need. If you think you need a lot of lead to go under, you are probably holding a large lungful of air. A properly weighted diver needs only to exhale fully to leave the surface.

    If you are neutrally buoyant, you will have no trouble swimming up to the surface, but wearing your tank and weights, you might need supplementary buoyancy to be able to stay afloat, breathing the atmosphere comfortably. This is when you need to inflate your BC and use it as a life preserver.  Know how to inflate your BC orally. That is why it has a corrugated hose. You do not need to use that hose to dump air (through the oral inflation valve) as many instructors still appear to teach. You have a dump valve positioned at the shoulder for that.

    If for some reason you cannot inflate your BC, you can still achieve flotation by dropping the lead weights you carry. I know that many worry about replacing integrated-weight pockets or a weightbelt after it has been dropped in this way, but it’s a small price to pay for your life, isn’t it?

    Think about it. Familiarize yourself with these actions. There is no reason to die in such foolish circumstances. And don’t expect anyone else to save you from your own folly. Don’t abdicate responsibility for your own well-being or even your life to a third person, someone you probably only met a short time before you went diving. Know how to work all your gear. Check that you know how to drop your weights and practise inflating your BC orally. Practice helps muscle memory so that it becomes second nature.

  • Shark Feeding – Right or Wrong?

    Whenever I have written an article about sharks for the mainstream media, they have invariably illustrated the item with a picture of a Great White shark, its head staring toothily out of the water. For most people there is only one type of shark and that is the type portrayed in Peter Benchley/Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. This means we all grew up with an innate fear of sharks and it certainly took me a few years scuba diving to get over it.

    There are some very diverse opinions about whether it is good to bait sharks (as in shark feeding by divers) in order to get close encounters. People don’t let personal experience get in the way of their opinion forming processes. Sharks are often believed to be dangerous undiscerning predators that enjoy hunting man. It's easy to believe that shark feeding must be dangerous!

    I was amazed and dismayed by the vitriolic response to underwater photographer Michael Aw posting a picture on FaceBook that revealed he had sustained a bite during such an event, even though it was ironically from a little grouper that was waiting in the hope of getting some crumbs form the sharks’ table.

    Sharks come in as many diverse forms as there are opinions about this subject and I confess that I am not a shark-hugger and not someone who insists that they are like pussycats. They are feeding machines with a lot of teeth and very much at home in their own environment.

    Where can you see sharks? Some sharks can be encountered where there are fast currents. Most requiem sharks need a flow of water over their gills so they either have to keep swimming or let the natural flow of a current do the job instead. Some sharks are nocturnal feeders, hunting at night, and can be found resting during daylight hours. Tawny nurse sharks, leopard sharks and white-tip reef sharks fall into this category. Be aware that nurse sharks are implicated in more attacks on scuba divers than any other species probably because divers are prone to interfere with them while they are resting. Their mouths can suck with up to one-thousand pounds of pressure.

    A good place to encounter sharks and other elasmobranchs like manta rays is at known cleaning stations. Check with the local guides as to which species of fish tend to do this important grooming task locally and look out for aggregations of them. It you wait patiently and quietly you may get a close encounter. Those with close-circuit rebreathers enjoy a stealth advantage for this when seeking to get close to sharks - provided they keep still and don’t give away their position.

    The function of most sharks is to rid the ocean of ill and injured fish so that there are no epidemics of disease.  They also feed on carrion. The oceanic white-tip roams the oceans of the world, seeking carrion and opportunistic meals at or near the surface. In the Red Sea, the narrowness of the busy shipping lanes to Port Suez and the fact that most galley waste is tossed over the side from the very many freighters passing through it means that this particular population of oceanic white-tips have learned that the noise of engines and the sound of splashing indicates a meal. It rings the dinner bell for them.

    The advent of very large liveaboard dive boats making the same noises and furnishing seductive splashing sounds by divers entering the water, at the same time visiting reefs close to these busy sea lanes, means that these predatory animals will investigate divers in shallow water who get a fleeting if high-adrenalin encounter from time to time. To my knowledge no diver has sustained an investigatory bite but avoid snorkelling at the surface or you will be asking for trouble. An investigatory bite can be catastrophic.

    So putting these cases to one side, the best way to see other sharks close-up and personal is to join a dive where there is organised shark feeding. (There needs to be some benefit to the sharks or they will stay away.) Is it right or wrong to do it?

    Well I have attended many such feeds in different parts of the world and seen them done in very different ways. Some are safe, some are incredibly safe for participating divers and some are less so.

    I’ve witnessed sharks being fed with bait dispensed with an unprotected hand from a plastic bag. This invites the shark to grab all of the bait with consequent danger to the person holding it. I’ve witnessed sharks being fed with pieces of fish held in a bare hand, the pieces cut from the head of a mahi mahi held under the arm. I’ve also seen the hand of someone feeding in such a way receiving the multiple stitches needed afterwards.

    I’ve seen people spearing live fish to use as bait. The behavior of sharks when they sense carrion in the water is entirely different to that when they sense the vibrations from an injured fish. In the first case they are relaxed and circle round. In the second case they enter a frenzy of excitement that could be hazardous for those divers in close proximity. Similarly you should keep well away from anglers. Reeling in a dying fish at the end of a line encourages a shark to chase them and because a shark closes its eyes with a nictitating eyelid when it distends it jaw to bite, it can be less than accurate and other people sharing the same water have been injured. Any shark can make this mistake.

    Some dive centres employ a frozen chumsicle of fish that is suspended in mid-water. The sharks circle round feeding from it as the bait thaws and divers can choose to get as close or stay as distant as they like. The sharks treat the divers like any other big predator there for the meal.

    On Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I’ve been shepherded into a cage to watch while little grey reef sharks are brought to a frustrated frenzy by being denied the bait contained within a ventilated steel container so that they lived up to the expectations of watching divers who believe that sharks are undiscerning will bite anything. Of course, it was impossible to take pictures under such circumstances since the bars of the cage were too close together but it was incredibly safe from the sharks.

    It seems to me that the safest and most visually effective way to feed sharks from the human perspective is to strictly control the bait as it is handed out. This is normally done either with a short spear or a gloved hand. Nowadays many such shark feeders wear full chainmail suits and helmets to protect themselves from sustaining an accidental bite although they are not immune to injury. One chainmail-clad feeder got a shark caught in the links of his suit and it broke all of the bones in his hand, his arm and his shoulder, in the struggle to get free. He wasn’t bitten though!

    Bahamian Caribbean reef shark feed Caribbean reef shark feed on a wreck in the Bahamas.

    What happens if someone does get bitten? The underwater environment is no place to be injured in such a way and there has been one case of someone dying from blood loss before they could get medical attention. On the other hand, in the days before they used full chainmail suits, a young shark-feeder, Michelle Cove, made the mistake of diving into an accidentally upturned bait-box to preserve the cuts of fish that spilled out from the competitive sharks and got accidentally bitten in the head for her trouble. Head wounds bleed profusely, so much so that the captain of her boat fainted when she climbed on board, but it precipitated no feeding frenzy. Sharks are very choosy eaters!

    With some sharks, like tigers and lemons, it is only necessary to dangle a bait-box in the water so that it lets out a seductive scent trail. Great hammerheads look for their prey under the sand so that is where the bait must be buried.

    So what about the well-being of the sharks?  Some say it causes abnormal aggregations of sharks but I can tell you that the channel of Bikini Atoll swarmed with sharks back in the ’nineties even at a time when few humans had been there. (Bikini Atoll was the site of more than sixty atomic and hydrogen bomb tests from 1945 to 1960.)

    Some say that it causes the sharks to lose the ability to hunt. I’m told a typical shark needs to eat around four per cent of its body weight each day. That means that at a typical Bahamian shark feed, the feeder would need to carry around twenty kilos of bait when in fact the sharks get little more than a canapé and many attending sharks get nothing at all. Some sharks disappear for weeks before returning to a staged feed.

    Some say that it causes sharks to associate food with humans. I’m no expert but I would offer that sharks associate food with food wherever it is. The human influence is purely incidental. Does it cause them to be more ready to attack humans?

    Florida, where shark baiting in order to view them is illegal, has more instances of shark bites than anywhere else in the world. To put things in perspective, in 1996, 43,000 Americans were injured by lavatories and thirteen by sharks. You are more likely top get killed by a falling coconut or a faulty toaster than to get bitten by a shark. In 2014, twenty-four were injured by sharks off Florida’s beaches while only two instances were recorded in the Bahamas where shark-feeding dives have become a big industry.

    So what have sharks done for us? They maintain the health of the oceans and the fast disappearance of sharks in some parts of the world, thanks to industrialised shark-finning, has resulted in mass fish die-offs recently. How can we counter this?

    Some people are appalled that anyone should try to run a business and make a profit from shark feeding dives. It offends their sensibilities yet they would happily pay to visit an aquarium or dolphinarium. Well, we are all aware that the Dollar is king. By increasing the Dollar value of a live shark it provides the animal with financial protection. Those nation states that have taken steps to prevent shark-finning fleets operating in their waters have all got a vibrant scuba diving industry. That’s no coincidence. A live shark in the Bahamas is said to generate more than 250,000 US Dollars in tourism during its lifetime whereas a dead shark is worth only a tiny fraction of that. Do the mathematics!

    One final bit of advice: If you are worried about meeting a shark whilst you are diving just be aware that if you don’t interfere with it, it will ignore you. Sharks have evolved to eat their particular prey over millions of years and, quite simply, we newcomers underwater are not on the menu.

    If you would like to read about some of my own personal experiences whilst diving close to and photographing sharks over a thirty-year period, read my book Shark Bytes, published by Fernhurst Books and available from the Ocean Leisure book department.


  • A Review of 'Shark Bytes'

    A Personal View from a Veteran Shark Diver.

    Diving with sharks, which began in earnest after the Second World War with pioneers such as Cousteau and Hans Hass. It has evolved over the years. In the early days the trail-blazers really were being brave as there was no sensible information (as opposed to myth and sensationalism) to fall back on.

    Since then there have been two basic ‘advances’ in human/shark interactions underwater. Subsequent ‘shark divers’, motivated by an interest in the natural history of these majestic animals and a determination to take decent underwater photographs of these, to date, very poorly photographed subjects, slowly but surely increased the quality and variety of their shark portfolios. Twinned with this was the growing tendency of scuba operators (especially in the tropics) to offer shark feed dives for their clients. Through the '80s and '90s more and more divers got to see more and more sharks in ever more situations and, in the vast number of cases, safely. Gradually, and despite the damage done by Speilberg's film Jaws (1975), divers began to realise that it’s quite difficult to get bitten by a shark._SSC9934

    The third, and frankly often ugly stage of shark diving is upon us. The advances in underwater photographic equipment mean that getting fantastic photographs in reasonable conditions is almost guaranteed. While there are plenty of responsible dive operators offering superb shark dives to genuinely interested divers, a considerable number of attention-seeking types have emerged who, seeking to use sharks to make themselves famous, indulge in ever more vulgar and irresponsible stunts for the sake of the camera – stunts that soon appear all over the Internet, and beyond. The perpetrators inevitably claim that their antics are for the benefit of the animals. Sharks that were previously thought to be extremely dangerous (bull, tiger, great hammerhead) are now being fed, hand-fed, handled and posed with. (So too is the great white by those foolhardy enough to leave the safety of the cage.) Elbowing each other out of the way for the limited limelight, these divers must come up with ever more idiotic stunts; one ageing ex-model recently posed naked among circling sharks as her own contribution to shark conservation. Little wonder this genre has been labelled ‘shark porn’.

    John Bantin’s new book Shark Bytes spans the many years of his own shark diving with a very wide variety of sharks and is grounded in the common-sense approach of a serious veteran diver. Thankfully, indeed refreshingly in this age of narcissists and social media, there is none of that ghastly look-at-me-posing-with-sharks approach as he clearly enjoys the thrill of shark diving for its own sake. Nor does he shy away from an occasional, though thoroughly deserved dig at those whose claims could do with deflating (for example the multi-bitten, self-proclaimed shark behaviour expert)._SSC9921

    John Bantin used to write for the UK’s Diver Magazine and his easy-flowing and informative style is present in this text. There is no information overload, nor does he treat his reader as an ignoramus. Neither is he not too proud to include some of his own trials and tribulations when diving – things every diver knows about but would rather not mention.

    Scalloped hammerheads on a cleaning station at Malpelo (Columbia) Scalloped hammerheads on a cleaning station at Malpelo (Columbia)

    An accomplished underwater photographer, John Bantin’s text is adorned with lots of sumptuous underwater photographs of sharks. The Bimini great hammerhead photos are most impressive though my personal favourites would include the oceanic whitetip with the sun behind it on page 76 and the pair of scalloped hammerheads on page 148.

    An ocean whitetip shark in the Red Sea. An ocean whitetip shark in the Red Sea.

    These are the sort of haunting natural history photographs that bring back memories, for me, of diving with these magnificent animals: no humans getting in the way or cluttering up the background, no ghastly intrusion of scuba bubbles, just the animals at home in their own otherworldly world.

    Despite the title, Shark Bytes  (ISBN 978-1-909911-45-1) is not confined to sharks. There are encounters with dugongs, dolphins, manta rays and – perhaps most intriguing – truly gigantic groupers.

    The author constantly stresses how, when combining healthy respect and common sense, shark diving can be safe. Though never entirely safe. He mentions being picked up and carried away by tiger sharks – twice!

    Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch.

    J. Stafford-Deitsch was author of Shark - A Photographer's Story, a best-selling book published in 1987. (ISBN 0-742-7996-9)

  • The Best Place to Dive?

    There’s a great team of people working at Ocean Leisure with an extensive product knowledge. I’ve joined to add to that my knowledge of dive sites around the world. After making nearly three hundred dive trips to many different places, there are few dive spots I haven’t been to. Inevitably people will ask me which is the best.

    Seahorse in Lembeh
    It’s an impossible question to answer. I ask in turn what they are interested in. How can you compare diving over a three-thousand-year-old rubbish dump that is the Lembeh Strait and its plethora of weird and wonderful macro marine life with diving surrounded by tiger sharks and lemon sharks at Tiger Beach off Grand Bahama?
    Scalloped Hammerheads at Malpelo
    How can you compare being surrounded by schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks in Malpelo, Cocos or the Galapagos with being surrounded by manta rays at cleaning stations in the Maldives? If it’s coral reefs that draw you, the remote islands of Raja Ampat in West Papua will be your ultimate aim yet as far as soft corals go these reefs fade into insignificance when compared to Rainbow Reef area of Fiji. French Polynesia has no such soft coral whatsoever but these islands have a burgeoning shark population and provide a high voltage diving experience. If its wrecks that you love diving near to, the far off dive sites of Micronesia, Truk Lagoon or Bikini Atoll, offer the dedicated wreck diver a Mecca to aim for yet the wrecks of the Northern Red Sea are a lot nearer to Europe and the Thistlegorm compares with the best.
    Military motorbike on the Thistlegorm.
    The Americans have purposefully sunk wrecks all down the coast of Florida. They make spectacular dives despite their artificial nature. Four similarly sunk wrecks are to be found off the Algarve where the Portuguese navy donated four large vessels including a frigate to make a diving destination. How many of you have dived the wreck of the Don Pedro outside Ibiza town or the wreck of the Zenobia outside Larnaca? Both were the result of accidents.
    Grouper at Ribbon Reef No10, Great Barrier Reef.
    Both East and West coasts of Australia provide fantastic diving opportunities. My favourite is diving with the giant groupers at Ribbon Reef No10 near Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Don’t forget the Caribbean. The British Virgin Islands have some great and varied diving with both wrecks and reefs as do the twin sister islands of Grenada and Carriacou further south. The list is endless. The Dutch Antilles, Mexico, Belize, and Baja California on the Pacific side of Mexico -  they are all worth visiting.
    Mediterranean Scorpionfish
    The Mediterranean may have less colourful marine life but it can provide spectacular diving during its four to five month season, with water that has incredibly low levels of plankton and incredible clarity.
    Don Pedro, Ibiza
    Maybe you should decide what you want to see and then ask which is the best place to see it. We’ll do our best to advise you. On the other hand, tell us where you are going. Between us we’ll tell you what it’s going to like and what you’re likely to see. We’ll make sure that you are properly equipped. We’ll do our best to ensure that if it’s a wide-angle location or macro location you take the right camera equipment and most of all we’ll do our best to ensure you manage your expectations. For example, if you are going to he Maldives during the wet monsoon we’ll point out that the diving is still good but a non-diving spouse might not enjoy a rain-sodden desert island. If you are going to dive in Egypt during our winter, you should be made aware that the diving is as good as ever but that it will be very windy and the boat might rock and roll more than you’d like. I’ve mentioned here only a tiny number of destinations with remarkable diving. We form a great team at Ocean Leisure and we’ve accumulated a vast amount of knowledge between us. It’s our pleasure to share that with you.  

  • The Right Stuff.

    Every day, people come through the doors of the Ocean Leisure store on the Embankment in London’s West-End with the intention of equipping themselves for a dive trip to somewhere exotic. They buy masks and fins, wetsuits, dive computers, reef-hooks, regulators and all manner of paraphernalia that will enhance their trip. Some step into Ocean Leisure Cameras, a store within the store, and buy underwater cameras or accessories for cameras they might already own. One of the questions that the staff inevitably asks them is where they are intending using the things they buy. It helps the diving experts that work at Ocean Leisure to advise customers properly. For example you’d feel a little chilly in a 3mm shortie wetsuit if you intended diving in Egypt’s Red Sea during the early part of the year. This year they enjoyed a fall of snow! It never ceases to amaze me that people baulk at the cost of some essentials. For example there was the gentleman who wanted an inexpensive red filter for his GoPro camera. When he told me he was off to Truk Lagoon in Micronesia I asked him if he had any lights and was very much surprised when he answered in the negative. Truk Lagoon is unique in that it is a place where the American forces bombed and sank a stupendous number of Japanese supply ships during World War II. Today it is a mecca for wreck divers.

    Submarine periscopes stored on the Hein Maru.
    Although I suppose you could spend a trip simply swimming round the outside of them, the joy of diving at Truk is to enter the stricken vessels and see their cargoes and to swim around their engine rooms. I told this gentleman that if he didn’t take a diving lamp he was going to bang his head a lot. As for recording video footage on his GoPro, he certainly needed some video lights. These start from around £400 and quite frankly he did not want to spend that sort of money. On the other hand, I asked him how often he intended going to Truk Lagoon. He was not young and admitted he’d probably only go the once.
    Engine room detail of the Fujikawa Maru (Truk).
    He was off on a trip-of-a-lifetime involving four long flights to get there and that was costing him around four-and-a-half thousand pounds. He soon realised that to go without the right stuff would be folly. I asked him to come back and show us his footage from his trip. Another person was off to Socorro, Cocos, Malpelo and the Galapagos, high voltage dive sites in the Pacific of the coast of Central and South America. We at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras take it as a personal responsibility that people arrive at these distant places with the appropriate equipment. On the other hand, besides those taking trips to somewhere enviable with the required huge travel costs spent, we get those people on much more modest budgets come in to the Ocean Leisure store and it’s our task to find solutions that match the funds they have available.
    Manta ray in the Maldives.
    If someone asks if it’s worth buying a diving computer rather than always needing to hire one at their chosen dive resort, we are happy to guide them towards the basic instrument that is probably all they need. If they want a gas-switching all-singing all-dancing device, we’re happy to help them in that direction too.
    Shark feed dive in the Bahamas.
    When it comes to camera kit, it’s very easy for underwater self-styled underwater photography gurus to advise people to fork out for a high quality DSLR with tailor-made housing and two top quality flashguns at around £8000 but some people just want to take a few snaps of their buddies having fun underwater and a £300 amphibious camera that goes to 25-metres deep might fill the bill. Of course, if we sense that someone will possibly get hooked on the pastime of underwater photography, we’ll direct towards something that can evolve along with their ambitions and accept an ancillary flashgun and additional lenses later when they are ready for that. We always ask where you are going. If it’s the Lembeh Strait in North Suluwesi we know you’ll need the ability to photograph exceedingly small things whereas if you are visiting the Bahamas to dive with the sharks, for example, or you want to photograph mantas in the Maldives, you’ll certainly need a wide-angle capability with your camera.
    Pigmy Seahorse (extreme macro) in Lembeh Strait.
    People often spend hours discussing their needs. That’s what we are there for. We want our customers to come back with a smile on their faces and triumphantly show us the pictures from their trip. We like the tiniest forms of marine life like pigmy seahorses as much as we like the big animals. Buying equipment for underwater photography can be daunting at times but we do our best to demystify it and send you away equipped for one hundred percent success in your endeavours and and the combined expertise of the staff at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras is at your disposal. Please visit our store, handily positioned near to Waterloo and Charing Cross main line stations and over the Embankment Underground station on the District Line.

  • New Compact Cameras for Underwater Photography

    I have to admit that during my twenty-one years with Diver Magazine as its Technical Editor, I was never much of a fan of compact cameras for underwater use. I found that generally speaking, their response time and underwater white-balancing left a lot to be desired. Even using a compact to record my children on a beach holiday in the Maldives left me feeling frustrated because the time-difference between pressing the shutter-release and recording the image left me with lots of pictures of vacant sand where the fast moving kids were no longer present. All that has changed. For example, the latest range of Canon compacts, starting with the S120 and peaking with the G7X, has a wide range of manual white-balancing specifications for in-camera jpegs that can be activated with a single press of one button once that option has been chosen when setting up the camera. Not only that but each takes a picture almost instantaneously the shutter release is pressed. They both also shoot RAW files with all the advantages those represent when it comes to home computer post-processing but these take a little longer to record onto the memory card in the camera than a conventional jpeg.

    Canon G7X
    The Canon S120 is the latest incarnation in a long-running range of little cameras that have long been popular with divers and costs only around £490 when bought as a package with its proprietary housing, but the Canon G7X has a much larger sensor meaning it can be used at higher light-sensitivity (ISO) settings without any electronic noise disfiguring the pictures. This means it gives excellent results by the light available at greater depths. With a polycarbonate Canon proprietary housing, expect to pay around £700 for it. The fly in that particular ointment was until recently the fact that the only submersible housing originally available for the G7X was one that did not accept ancillary lenses. Without a wide-angle wet lens fitted, one had to stand off the subject further than would otherwise be normal and the ensuing loss in quality thanks to the extra water it shot through lost the G7X any advantage over the S120 it might have had. recsea_rx1003_rearAgain, all that has changed with the advent of housings for the G7X by third-party manufacturers and the soon-to-arrive Inon adapter for the proprietary Canon housing. These can accept both wide-angle and macro lenses that fit directly to them without resorting to any adapter. Of course a bespoke precision machined aluminium housing such as that made by Nauticam at around £765 comes with a cost differential that puts it beyond the budget of many people but the neat little Recsea housing bridges the gap between that and the polycarbonate entry-level version. (Incidentally, there will soon be an additional fitting available at extra cost that will finally allow you to fit wet lenses to this too.) recsea_g7x_frontThe Recsea housing costs around £475 meaning this package of G7X and housing totals approximately £975. The housing is machined in Japan from durable corrosion-resistant POM and acrylic and as such is lightweight. POM is an engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts requiring high stiffness, low friction and excellent dimensional stability. In common with many other synthetic polymers, it is produced by different suppliers with slightly different formulas and sold under various names such as Delrin etc. The Recsea housing is rated to operate down to 50m deep and its clear acrylic back-plate is kept closed on to its water-tight sealing O-ring by a dial locking system. It offers full access to all the regular camera controls including the rotating front ring around the lens. You can use it in full Manual mode with access to both shutter-speed settings and lens apertures. A camera strobe diffuser and strobe mask with external strobe connection mount is included.recsea_g7x_open It weighs a mere 678g out of the water yet it is conveniently just negatively buoyant with camera installed when diving. Most importantly, the fixed front port of the Recsea housing has a 67mm thread that allows the user to fit a wide-angle or macro lens. The Inon UWL-S100 ZM80 (around £350) and the Subsee +10 Close-up lens (around £210) are popular examples. There is also a similarly neat Recsea housing available for the Sony RX100 mkIII camera that employs a sensor of almost identical specification to the Canon G7X. Both these cameras offer an interesting compact solution with picture quality approaching that of the more bulky and commensurately more expensive micro four-thirds cameras in their own submersible housings. recsea_g7x_rearI anticipate seeing a lot on the camera tables of dive boats and can recognise that the G7X and Recsea combination will appeal to those travelling Economy class by air without too much carry-on baggage allowance because it weighs so little and takes up so little space. You can buy both Canon cameras and housings at Ocean Leisure Cameras.

  • It’s Amazing!

    The aft deck of dive boats regularly ring with anecdotes of past experiences delivered with relish. Divers enjoy an adventurous pastime and we all have had experiences, both good and bad, that are unusual. As a diving journalist of over twenty years with more than two hundred and forty different dive trips under my belt I had more than most, so when a publisher approached me to write a collection of diving stories to sit alongside its Amazing Sailing Stories and Amazing Fishing Stories my ego was boosted and I thought I was obviously the man for the job. It was only when they told me they needed around sixty-five different stories that my confidence began to falter. It seemed rather a lot. So I negotiated an extra few months to the manuscript delivery date and went home to sit down and write it.

    Trapped! (p225)
    It’s funny how one story reminds one of the next and it was only a couple of months before the job was done. Although I witnessed or was directly involved in most of the events I retold, the book is in no way autobiographical. I decided to write myself out of the commentary. It reads better that way. Once I had sent copies of the text to each of the other divers featured, so that they could confirm that I had got each story factually correct, it went off to the publisher.
    Lord Tebbit and the Turtle (p11)
    I was away on holiday at my old stamping ground in Mallorca when the first finished copy of the book was delivered to me and I was able to show it to a few old friends who lived there. They immediately asked if I included the tale of when the girl diver got bitten in the face by the conger eel, followed only by enquiries about the time we fell out of my dive boat at speed and it circled round unmanned, trying to kill us. These were just two of the sixty-five stories.
    Mauled by a Dinosaur! (p157)
    It’s not a ‘how to do it’ book nor is it a book of photographs. It is simply a collection of true events, set all around the world and as varied from each other as can be possible, so that each is atypical but retold as it happened. Five thousand hard-back copies of Amazing Diving Stories were sold within the first year, which is unprecedented for a diving title. It has recently been reprinted as a paperback and it’s in stock at Ocean Leisure (£12.99) if you’d like a copy signed by the author and if you already have a copy, bring it in to be signed.

  • Be Ready To Drop It!

    Contrary to expectations of a sport that was years ago considered dangerous, there are few fatalities through scuba diving, but I was present in the Bahamas when a diver tragically lost his life during a dive. What happened? He went off on his own, ran out of air and at only around 18m deep he struck out for the surface. As designed, the Suunto computer he was wearing did not record the time he spent between 2m and the surface but it recorded everything else in its log and told the story. He probably made it to the surface but he dropped back down and drowned. He was a recently certified diver who had made a previous dive-specific trip so he was not totally inexperienced but why did he drop? When we recovered his body all his equipment was still in place. That is to say he was still wearing his weightbelt. Running out of air to breathe is obviously very serious. Every diver should manage their air supplies properly by keeping an eye on their pressure gauge. I admit that there may have been times when, distracted by an underwater photography subject, I have cut it very fine and arrived at the surface without enough pressure in my tank to inflate my BC. It’s not something I recommend but I’ve been able to orally inflate it instead. That’s what the oral inflation valve at the end of the corrugated hose is for. If this unfortunate person had reached the surface he could have done that but I am inclined to think that by this point he’d got into a panic and might have lost all sense of reason. He might have tried to use the BC’s direct-feed control but of course it would not have worked if his tank were empty.

    Make sure you get your weightbelt clear of your body before you drop it. Make sure you get your weightbelt clear of your body before you drop it.
    There is another option. Think about dropping your weightbelt in an emergency. Struggling to swim with full kit at the surface, if that diver had thought to drop his weightbelt he would still be alive today.You should not have to do this in order to swim up to the surface if you are correctly weighted to be neutrally buoyant, but you might need to do it once you are there. Dropping your weightbelt has the effect of making you buoyant so you don’t really want to do it at depth and enjoy an out-of-control ascent. You must also be careful not to drop it on divers that may be below you and for this reason practicing this act is discouraged at crowded inland dive sites. Before BCs, and their forerunner the ABLJ, were invented, dropping the weightbelt was enshrined in diver training. It was the only way to stay at the surface during an emergency. Correct use of a BC allows for neutral buoyancy at any depth and one only has to swim up a little for the gas within the BC to expand and start to become positively buoyant. You then need to jettison some air for reasons of controlling the speed of ascent. Dropping the weights effects a sudden increase in buoyancy that could get out of control. For this reason dropping weights tends to be glossed over in training. So how to drop a weightbelt? It used to be the last thing you put on in the old days. That was so that it was never fouled by other straps passing over it. Today, it’s often put on before the BC and tank.

    It is not sufficient to simply flip the buckle and let it fall. You need to be sure it falls away cleaning from you without snagging. Think about dropping you weightbelt and its ramifications. Avoid being over-weighted so that you can be neutrally buoyant at any depth but know that you can always drop your weightbelt once you are near to the surface. Unhitch it and swing it away from you and once it is clear, before you drop it!

  • Making Movies That Don't Bore Your Neighbours

    Movies4187Back in the day when I made television commercials, my first movie was quite an undertaking. It was 1980. I used a huge Panavision 70 camera, involved a lot of people with specialist skills, it cost £250,000 and lasted only thirty seconds, yet a lot of people bought a certain brand of tea because of it. A decade later, video cameras made things more economic. I shot the first commercially available instructional video for scuba diving. It only cost £10,000 to post-produce. Things have moved on apace since then and costs have plummeted. Now everyone can afford to shoot video. Some of you will only use your cameras for video clips, the moving equivalent of a snapshot. Indeed, often these clips get no further than being viewed on the LCD of the camera, never to be seen again. Others want to produce something more ambitious, in the form of a viewable programme. Whether you shoot on a Red Epic camera, digital DSLR, a compact or a little POV mini action camera like a GoPro Hero 4, air-side or underwater, the rules of move-making are the same. Still pictures can stand-alone whereas movies rely on the shot shown before and the one after. It’s a sequence that forms an event that might not have actually happened but it’s got to be believable to work. So gather your shots to tell a story. Look for an opening shot that will grab your viewer’s attention, something dramatic and something that can be used to bring your sequence to an end. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of each short shot as a brick that will go with others to form the architecture of your final result. Bear in mind that your viewers may not be as engaged with your subject matter as you are and consider twenty minutes as the longest time they’ll watch your completed production before they make their excuses and leave. Continuity is crucial. Underwater, we have to think in terms of continuity of lighting, mainly dictated by the time of day and if we feature divers in a sequence shot over more than one dive, they need to be wearing the same kit in exactly the same way. Inserting a shot from night into a broad daylight sequence will never look right. Gather the shots that will become useful when it comes to constructing your movie. Shoot a wide establishing shot, a middle-distance action shot and close-up of each subject. You’ll be amazed how useful the material so gained with be when it comes to assembling a production. The subject moves and the camera remains still. Often more easily said than done underwater, but professional film-makers go to extraordinary lengths to keep their cameras steady while the action goes on in front of it. Ironically, the latest generation of little action cameras are harder to keep steady whilst recording. Following an animal as it moves is seductive when you are actually there but don’t do it for too long. It gets boring to watch. Let the animal move into frame, follow it for a bit and then let it clear the frame. These will give you the moments to cut from a previous shot and cut to the next one. A cardinal rule on land it to imagine there is a line down the middle of the path your moving subject takes. Never cross that line with your camera or it will look as if your subject has changed direction and gone back the other way. Less crucial with underwater subjects, ‘crossing the line’ often gives the impression that there is more than one subject, and that can make the action busy. “Not another video of blue fish!” I can still hear the groans of my friends from my early days of underwater video-making now. Light underwater is filtered so that only the shorter blue wavelengths penetrate much more than a few metres from the surface so if you are shooting elsewhere than the shallows, when a colour-correction filter over the lens will work, you’ll need some independent lighting to give you a full spectrum of colour. Increasing the camera frame rate from the viewed 25 frames per second to, say, double the speed, gives a slow motion effect. This smoothes down the action and is especially useful with fast moving underwater subjects and avoids that juddery effect often encountered when panning the camera at a normal frame rate. Slow-motion is almost standard procedure with professional underwater wildlife films. A cut-away is a shot that allows the editor to cut away from the main action for a moment and comes in very useful when constructing awkward sequences. The effect is to imply that these animals so recorded are bystanders to the main action. Luckily, you can use almost any underwater subject as a cut-away but it’s important that the camera is steady if these shots are to be inserted in a moving camera sequence. Once you get to edit your material, be ruthless. The cutting room floor is as important as the retained material. Choose the essence of the action. Keep it brief. Keep your audience wanting more not less. When you’ve got a lot of footage, the cameraman can be too emotionally attached and that is why Hollywood movies are traditionally edited by people who were not present at the shooting stage.Hammerhead and Video On the other hand, you might be just as happy collecting video clips that are the moving equivalent of snapshots. The choice is yours.

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