Jan 31, 2014
Guest Author

How To Decide Whether To Learn To Scuba-dive

Scuba diving is a very popular hobby, with millions of people enjoying the sport all around the world.  If you have a yen to learn to scuba-dive, this article gives some pointers that may help you choose how to go about it.

What is Scuba-diving?

Scuba diving involves swimming underwater, carrying your own oxygen supply so that you can stay under for much longer periods than if you were just holding your breath.  Obviously, as with any potentially dangerous sport, there are carefully developed safety procedures that are an essential part of both learning to dive and enjoying the activity on an ongoing basis.

What equipment do I need?

This depends to some extent on where you are diving, what experience you have, the temperature of the water and the depth you are diving to. If you are diving in colder waters, for instance, then you will need to wear protective clothing in the form of a wetsuit, possibly over a rash vest to prevent chafing, which allows a small layer of water in between the wetsuit and your skin.  This then warms up to body temperature and will keep the chill off for a while.

Decide to scuba-dive with Jessica Duggan

If you are diving for longer periods, as you become more experienced, or are venturing into really cold water, a thermal drysuit which, as the name implies, keeps you completely dry, is a better option.  If you learn by going on a course in Thailand, or the Red Sea, for instance, then the water is usually warm enough for the wetsuit to be unnecessary.  Other equipment is usually included on loan for the duration of the course, but if you become hooked on this exciting pastime, it is best to seek advice from an expert supplier such as http://www.wetsuitoutlet.co.uk/ who can provide everything you need.

Other essential equipment includes a buoyancy compensator device (BCD) to control whether you ascend or descend in the water, an oxygen tank and regulator, to control your oxygen supply, a face mask, possibly as part of a helmet, fins, torch and a watch capable of being underwater to a depth of around 40 metres.

Where do I start?

Living in the UK, there is a great deal of useful information from the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC).  This includes lists of local diving clubs, qualifications, having a go at a “try dive” in a local swimming club, under the guidance of an instructor from your local club as well as an extensive section on the all-important diving safety. The BSAC organise diving course for all levels, from complete beginners to advanced techniques such as dive leader or advanced diver and award qualification cards on successful completion of the course.

The internationally recognised diving association is the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), and in the UK you also have the Sub Aqua Association (SAA) similair to BSAC where it is club based training and scuba diving. Similair information and training is given from each. You need to check with the dive location you are going to see if they recognize PADI, BSAC or SAA as some are more inclined to one organisation.

UK or overseas?

It’s probably a good idea to start with a “try dive” close to home, to make sure that you can cope with being underwater (not everyone can).  After that, you may be tempted by taking a holiday overseas, to warmer climes, such as the Maldives, the Caribbean, Thailand or the Red Sea, all of which offer courses for the basic PADI qualification, usually lasting around 5 days.  The attraction of this is that it is idyllic swimming and diving in warm, clear water, without having to worry too much about becoming cold, or having to use a torch to see anything.  The downside, of course, is the cost. Living on board a luxury “floating hotel”, with full board and all equipment and instruction provided, is likely to be between £2000 and £2500 in the Maldives, for instance, not including the flight there.  Thailand is far cheaper, with the same holiday PADI course being around £300 to £400, plus flights.

Perhaps the best of both worlds would be to spread the cost of the basic qualification over a few weeks in the UK, then indulge yourself by going overseas for the next stage!

Featured images:
License: Image author owned


Jessica Duggan has been involved with the travel industry for several years, including working for 2 seasons on a “liveaboard” in the Mediterranean, which catered for both scuba diving and snorkeling holidays.  She is well aware of the need for stringent safety procedures in diving, having seen a couple of potentially serious situations.  She enjoys most water sports, including sailing and canoeing, but confesses to not having the balance for surfing.

Aug 16, 2013

Underwater Photography and looking for the right camera

Part 1.

As a diver the feeling you get sharing the experience of being underwater is something special but it is hard to fully portray what it is like to non-divers unless you have photographs, or video to show them. I have been lucky enough to reach the big 40 this year and I was bought an awesome present by my family; which if you haven’t guessed yet is an underwater housing and camera with macro and wide angle wet lenses so I could share my underwater photography with them and anyone else I could bore.

The camera I now have is the Olympus PEN mini E-PM1, called a micro four thirds system, and the Olympus PT-EP06L housing with the Epoque DCL-20 Wide angle and Epoque DML-2 Macro lenses and as I learn how to use it and get good and bad shots will write about that in my dive logs.

Olympus E-PM1 and PT-EP06L underwater photography kit.

I would like to go through the process that led me to choose this camera and housing within the budget I was given for my present and it was hard in the end as it came down to 3 cameras, the E-PM1 and the Canon Powershot S range (S95 and S100 ), and they all excelled for what they are; making the final decision even more difficult.

Friends and advice

I have to say I was lucky here with having a friend that works in the film industry, doing the special effects that make us excited as we watch them. He has worked on a quite a few films and T.V. shows over the years but will leave it at that. With what he does he has to take many factors into account and has spent time away from his work learning about cameras so he has been able to match the computer generated components better to the filmed components. He had a limitation with his knowledge though, underwater photography and videography, he hadn’t spent as much time learning about this as he had not been involved with any of those scenes.

Even though I had a 35mm film camera when I was younger, and took many photos, I wasn’t fully aware of the differences with digital cameras and how much they had improved. I knew that sensor size and pixel count was important but not to which degree, or what other factors could make one or both of those irrelevant. The main considerations he taught me were the size of the sensor and its compatibility with the lens/lenses as well as the the ability to control white balance. We had many beers as I pried this information out of him but it was worth every mouthful of the golden nectar.

I also then have to say social networking can come in handy, which is where I met a couple of other people who are extremely knowledgeable as they are kinda semi-pro photographers who have been published in magazines and won an award or 2 in the underwater photography world.

It was while chatting to them that I found a website called imaging-resource with a fair system for testing the abilities for each camera, and as there are plenty of review sites on the internet with many good and bad points I felt this one covered enough for my level of understanding. The E-PM1 and S100 are thoroughly covered along with many other makes.

The importance of sensor size

I am sure someone is going to pick me up on techno babble but the way I see it after it was explained to me is that as the technology improves the number of smaller pixel sensors will increase and less software driven enhancements will need to be made to a point, so a full frame sensor (which is 35mm) may have had 8 million pixels resolution a few years ago, now is about 20-24 million and in the future will probably see it up in the 40 million range, but just like the restrictions on processor size due to the size of an electron, there will come a time when this reaches a limit as well due to the size of a photon. Both CCD and CMOS have filters in front of the sensor that allow the Blue/Green/Red wavelengths to get to the sensor which then uses some software enhancements to mosaic the image, but ideally this is where you want the enhancements to stop as a sensor doesn’t see in colour.

So taking each wavelength into account, you have the wave height from peak to trough, or amplitude, and if the sensor is too crammed for pixels then you wouldn’t get the full amplitude of each colour; this is where the limit of pixels to sensor size comes in I spoke of above. In underwater photography this is even more important to allow the most amount of light to be recorded as the image and insuring each colours wavelength is adsorbed by the sensor is critical. This also goes the other way, too much space for the pixels and you would get a washed echo effect making the colours less sharp.

Having this limitation with a sensor is where the software driven enhancements then come into play, from what I was told more recently than I started writing this article, is that any camera that goes below ISO 160 (sensitivity of light) is enhanced anyway, so choosing a camera with an ISO of 160-200 would insure you would not have any interference from over processed software enhancements.

Ability to customise white balance

This is fairly self explanatory, has the camera you are choosing got an option to manually select the white balance, or more accurately hold a white slate (or old ice cream container) at the distance you normally shoot underwater so the camera can adjust the pictures and you get the correct colours across that depth. This is where knowing the depths the wavelengths are no longer visible is handy.

Underwater camera choice

I told you earlier about the 2/3 options that were left for me after doing as much research as I could on what kind of cameras was available and it was either the Canon S95 (would have been secondhand), S100 and E-PM1. It was actually a hard decision seeing that each camera had advantages in their own right, and that the Canon cameras are slightly better for underwater photography due to the sensor being a little more sensitive. I think what did it for me was one of the evenings on the nectar with one of my friends in which he said ‘the limitations of only having one lens (the Canons) might get on your nerves when you shoot things on land’ and we went online and searched for mounts to use different lenses for the E-PM1 and the Canons and it was seeing the flexibility of the E-PM1 in this area that clinched it. Currently I have 8 lenses and only use the stock 14-42mm when I go diving, I am extremely impressed that a professional level lens 20 years ago can be bought for less than £40 today.

Underwater photography

I do not have an underwater photography gallery like many do on their sites, instead I am placing pics from my dives in my diving log, that way they can be seen in context with where I was diving. So feel free to check out my dive logs so far, I do have photos from a few places that are not mentioned in any dive books, or by any other clubs or schools but like everyone, it is nice to have a couple of dive spots to yourself and one day I will get round to sharing them. It will also be clear as to the lessons I am learning along the way and the quality of pictures improving as well as the composition.

Vobster Quay 10th Birthday Party

Vobster Quay 10th Birthday Card

Congratulations to Vobster Quay for a successful 10 years this year and what a way for them to celebrate, other than the Vobster Quay 10th birthday party over the weekend of the 7th and 8th September. For only £10 all camping and diving is paid for, air fills, food and drink are not but they will have a fully licensed bar onsite and a BBQ. There will be a live band in the evening with fireworks; tickets are going to be sold out quickly as limited space for camping.

Don’t miss out, contact them now to book your place for the Vobster Quay 10th birthday party.