Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shooter mask

A diver's facemask is their window on the underwater world, but for a photographer it is even more important. If you can't see it you can't shoot it. To that end, there are a number of things I look for in a favorite shooter mask:

1. Black silicone skirt - this is the most important thing for me, and is the first parameter I consider. Silicone because it is more comfortable than the old rubber masks of yesteryear, but black for the same reason Ansel Adams put a black focusing cloth over his head when working with his view camera outside in Yosemite. There is a need to block extraneous light from the groundglass to optimize contrast and resolution, and black does so obviously far better than a clear skirted mask. I like clear skirted masks for my models, because they are more attractive and easier to light, but for me, with my eye to a viewfinder on a housed D-SLR, black always.

2. High light-transmission glass - Some glass has higher miscellaneous mineral content than others and it can affect light transmission. In fact, when I first got my Atomic Ultra-clear I shot a photo through that mask and my old shooter mask as a comparison, just to check out the meter readings with the only variable being type of glass in front of the camera lens. I could actually deduce a significant difference in the histogram of the two shots, with the curve moving more to the right with the Atomic mask, empirically proving greater light transmission with the Ultraclear glass. Better glass is brighter glass, and if more light passes through the mask, my underwater visual acuity is enhanced.

3. Gauge reader - I wear reading glasses, but have perfect distance vision. So, I can pick out any of the big stuff on the reef, but am challenged by the little reef minutia, pygmy seahorses and such. But, the bigger issue was that I had a hard time reading all the digital menus and arcane pathways I had to navigate to change camera custom settings. But, now that I use a ground gauge reader applied to the lower left corner of my shooter mask, that issue is resolved. One is enough for me, and I had it installed in the lower left so it did not interfere with distance view, and did not affect my predominant right eye, the one I put to the viewfinder.

BTW ... I tried the easy way for years, the store-bought diopters that were meant to adhere to the mask lens. They continually fell off. Now I have it done properly, in a mask optic shop, and have asked for a customized line of sight, low enough to not obscure vision when looking forward, but optimally placed for reading detail in the lower portion of the pane.

4. Anti-fog - Even the best mask is horrible if you can't get it to clear. Which is a fairly massive problem with many masks these days. The release agent used to pop the skirts off the mold in manufacture seems to stay on there forever, sloughing off at the most inopportune times to make the mask continually fog. I've tried all the tricks ... softscrub, toothpaste, even using a lighter to burn the goop off the rubber and glass. But, the only thing that absolutely/positively works for me is "500 psi" mask scrub. It costs a buck and you can usually find it by the check out counter at you local dive store. Once the mask is adequately scrubbed, a good mask-clear works wonders. My favorite these days is the "Diver's Best" brand. But, rinse thoroughly before putting on for the dive, because some of the mask clear solutions can irritate the eye.

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