Apollo Bio-Metal – A new SS mask delivers a high-end view
If you’re the type of scuba diver who gravitates toward the most high-performance reg, the most feature-rich BC and the most high-tech dive computer, you might want to take a gander at the most high-end mask. That would be Apollo’s newest offering, the dual-lens Bio-Metal. This top-end mask sports a sharp-looking metal frame made of ceramic-coated 316 stainless-steel that is corrosion-resistant and virtually bullet-proof. It attaches to a super soft silicone skirt that, according to Apollo, is made of high-grade surgical silicone that’s been treated to resist bacteria build-up. All we know is it’s as soft and comfy as can be. The mask is available in three sizes so your chances of getting a great fit are excellent, whether you’re big or small, male or female. The 60cc model is the narrowest of the three, designed for small faces. Then there’s a mid-sized 85cc model, and the largest model with a skirt size of 115cc. All three sizes have double-sealing edges to minimize mask leak. The nose pocket is relatively narrow, but still provided plenty of room for our honkers, with ample space on either side for gloved fingers to grab hold for equalizing.
The mask has nice swivel buckles that attach to the skirt instead of the frame, so there is lots of up-and-down as well as side-to-side range of motion, plus, if needed, they will fold flat for packing. Strap adjustment is a cinch, even when wearing gloves; pull on the strap’s bitter end to tighten, depress easy-access buttons on top and bottom to loosen.
But, of course, what’s most important in a mask, beyond a leak-free fit, is field of view, and in this arena the Bio-Metal delivers better than most. The mask sits relatively close to the eyes, which reduces internal volume while expanding your vision. RDC scuba divers took some field of view measurements while under water (that’s the only place it matters, right?). We found that wearing the 115cc model we could get 160 degrees of horizontal field of view (not bad), and a total of 60 degrees of vertical field of view—25 degrees upward, 35 degrees looking down–which is about average for a two-window mask of this style.
The Bio-Metal’s stainless-steel frame has been pre-tapped to accept an accessory mount to hold either a small light or a flip-up magnification lens, but of course that stuff is extra. In addition to a choice of skirt widths, the Bio-Metal is available in both black and clear silicone, and it comes with a padded soft case to protect your investment.
Liquid Image Scuba Series HD – Wide Angle Camera Mask
If you’re the type of scuba diver who never has a camera handy when that “big fish” swims by, or who tends to dive with your hands full, the Liquid Image Scuba Series HD Wide Angle mask with its integrated camera may be your solution to virtual hands-free picture-taking.
Depth-rated to 130 feet, the built-in camera records high-def 720P video complete with audio, and also captures 5.0 megapixel still images. The new 136-degree wide-angle lens is a lot more forgiving than the 54-degree lens on the original Scuba Series HD mask. The wider-angle lens makes framing subjects a heck of a lot easier. Basically, whatever you’re looking at is in the frame.
Operation is pretty easy too. A large lever on the top right side controls all functions. Simply turn it on, select video or still mode, and start shooting. LED lights inside the mask indicate the current operating mode.
The camera has a micro SD/SDHC card slot and comes with a 2GB micro SD card, which offers about 2,300 still images or 60 minutes of video. Optional memory cards up to 32GB expand capacity to many thousands of still images or about 16 hours of video. The camera operates on four AAA batteries. However, lithium AAAs are recommended because they give you significantly longer run times. Downloading images and video is falling-down simple with the included USB cable that’s provided. A carrying case and editing software for PCs are also part of the package.
The mask comes in two sizes, mid-sized and extra-large, to fit a variety of face shapes. Our test mask was the mid-sized version, and came with a soft and supple mask skirt that provided a nice seal. The camera itself came equipped with a pair of optional 40-degree, 130-lumen, wide-angle side torches. The lights feature expandable bracket arms and swivel mounts, allowing for a wide range of adjustment, along with easy-to-reach push-button activation.
The mask comes assembled and ready to go, so we grabbed our test camera mask and hit the water itching to shoot something. Once on the bottom, we started hunting for targets. The lights made it that much easier by offering hands-free illumination of any potential photo victims. The charcoal-colored mask skirt kept our eyes shaded from the glare of the lights, a nice bonus you come to appreciate after a time at depth with lights burning.
As it turned out, we shot some stills and a few video clips, but conditions were green and we didn’t run across much worth shooting. But if we HAD encountered that once in a lifetime photo op we would have been ready! That’s the beauty of this mask. Your camera is always with you, just in case.
Mares I3 LiquidSkin Mask – Clearly not your traditional 3-window mask
Three-window dive masks are cool because they greatly expand your peripheral vision at depth. The downside is, at the joints where the front window meets the side windows, you tend to get a lot of distortion due to refraction. At least this is the case when you’re using the mask under water, which, of course, is the only place a mask’s performance matters.
If you haven’t used a three-window mask before, what happens at depth is when the object you’re looking at moves from the front lens to one of the side windows, it tends to disappear. It eventually reappears in the side windows, but it can sometimes take a while. This distorted view drives some scuba divers crazy; others put up with it because they like the additional side vision a tri-window mask provides.
Mares’ I3 Liquidskin mask suffers from this too—all three-window designs do—but what we noticed during our in-water tests is that the level of distortion you get with the I3 is lower than any other three-window mask we’ve ever used. This is due in part to the beveled joints the I3 uses in place of the thick corner posts you’ll find on some tri-view masks. But we’ve used other masks that eschew corner posts for beveled joints too, yet the virtually clear aquarium corners on the I3 still seem to make even more of a difference in minimizing distortion.
Measuring field of view in the water (a mask’s in-water field of view is always about 30 percent narrower than what it is in air), testers found the I3’s front window offered a horizontal range of 160 degrees (80 degrees to the right and left of center, a little above-average when compared to standard one-window masks). Now, incorporating the side windows, once our indicator slipped from view through the front window, it disappeared—for 30 degrees—then reappeared at 110 degrees and remained visible in our side vision all the way out to 140 degrees to the left and 140 degrees to the right, for a total horizontal field of view of 280 degrees.
This overall horizontal field of view is pretty impressive when compared to other masks we’ve used, and so is the minimal range of distortion. Test divers who have a tendency to be impatient with the “dead” spots found in three-window masks felt the I3’s distortion was so inconsequential they could learn to overlook it, especially if the payoff was gaining so much additional peripheral vision. The vertical view through the front window also proved above-average; 70 degrees overall, with 25 degrees of upward vision and 45 degrees looking downward, which makes seeing BC waist buckles and attachments all the easier.
Beyond its actual viewing characteristics, the I3 LiquidSkin uses a bi-silicone material in its mask skirt that places softer silicone where the skirt seals against your face, while a slightly stiffer silicone connects to the lens and frame. The buckles are soft-mounted to the skirt for added flexibility and fitment, plus they can be folded into the lens for a flatter profile when packing, similar to what you can do with a frameless mask. The narrow silicone strap widens in back into a large bi-silicone head pad that helps keep the strap from twisting and enhances comfort.
Fans of three-window masks really need to take the I3 LiquidSkin on a test dive to appreciate its minimal side-view distortion. And divers who don’t like three-window masks because of the inherent distortion might change their minds after trying this mask. The I3 also tends to be sized a tad smaller than a typical three-window mask which often feels bulkier on the face than a standard single-window mask. All good reasons for giving the I3 LiquikSkin a closer look. Available in clear or black silicone.
I’ve been a diving addict since my 14th birthday when my parents took me to the Bahamas and had my first scuba diving experience. I’ve been an active diver ever since but in the last few years my focus shifted on sharing my thoughts and experience on diving gear, writing product reviews and gave up on organizing dive tours.