I’ve been diving professionally for over 17 years and over that time I’ve gradually settled on some equipment that does what I need. I tend to buy reasonably priced gear that can handle some abuse, is comfortable, fits well and (where applicable) is easy to repair in the field. Everyone’s needs are different but if you’re interested in some recommendations then this is what I am currently using:
Fins – At the start of my diving career I tried a couple of different fins but quickly settled on Mares Avanti Quattro Power. I don’t usually see the world in black and white but in my view (and the view of many working dive professionals) these are the best fins ever made. They are comfortable, powerful, versatile and come in both open heel and full foot varieties. I prefer to use full foot whenever possible as I think they are more comfortable and responsive. There was a period when, for some inconceivable reason, Mares stopped making these fins. It was a dark time.
Mask – I don’t need much from a mask. I just need it to be comfortable and not to fog up. Currently I’m using the Tusa Splendive. It seems to satisfy both of those requirements. Like most photographers and cameramen I prefer a low volume mask with a black skirt to cut down on ambient light and make viewing my monitor easier. I always carry a spare.
Regulator – I have just made the switch to Apeks regulators. They have a reputation for being reliable and are a staple of the tech diving scene. My rebreather came with Apeks regs so it made sense for me to change my open circuit gear to them as well to consolidate on spares and servicing. I bought the XTX50 as my main reg and a DS4 as a stage reg. I’m very much hoping they live up to their reviews.
BCD – I moved away from a jacket style BCD to a backplate and wing setup about 10 years ago. Initially I found the extra time you need to get into it a little annoying but I could not go back now. They are versatile, have lots of rings for clipping accessories on and fit snuggly, like a good trekking backpack. I can adapt it with various different sized wings and pockets and it’s also compact and lightweight for travelling. If I’m chasing bait-balls I’ll detach the wing and just use the harness. I currently use a Dive Rite harness with a travel-pac wing.
Wetsuit – Filming natural history often means very long dives (2-4hrs) so I need maximum warmth and flexibility. For those reasons I wear 5mm & 7mm spear fishing suits. The brands I wear are HECS and Cressi. HECS have an interesting system called stealthscreen which claims to shield your electrical signals and make you less visible to sharks. These are single-lined on the inside and need to be lubed before slipping it on. They are tight-fitting and (I reckon) warmer than a one-piece dive wetsuit. I can also mix and match legs and tops to get different warmth levels.
Jacket – When working in open ocean I wear as little exposure protection as possible in the water to ensure I don’t have to wear much weight. To keep me warm on the surface in-between entries I wear a 22 degrees Eco-Ocean neoprene jacket. It keeps the wind off my head and torso and can handle getting smashed with saltwater. It’s also made with Sheico Eco Neoprene which is a more environmentally friendly option than normal neoprene. Previously I would wear an old waterproof jacket which would get damp quickly and basically be rubbish.
Weight Belt – In my opinion this vital bit of kit is often overlooked as most dive centres provide nylon weightbelts. I hate them. They slip around your waist, the weights slide around the belt, and for some reason they are usually day-glo pink. I use a rubber spearfishing weight belt which doesn’t move around and keeps the weights in the position you set them at. It’s inexpensive and improves my dive comfort significantly. My current rubber of choice is Omer.
Dive Computer – While training on my rebreather I used a Shearwater Petrel computer for the first time and fell for it hard. The screen is large and bright. The layout and menu system is intuitive and easy to use. It takes easily replaceable AA batteries and doesn’t need a special tool to open it. Most importantly it can handle any technical dive situation you throw at it. It’s not cheap but I don’t feel like I am going to need to replace it for many many years.
Closed Circuit Rebreather – I initially trained on a fully manual Pelagian DCCCR and then switched to my current rebreather, the rEvo CCR. I wrote a blog about that. The rEvo is a hybrid rebreather with a dual scrubber system and a shearwater NERD controller. I’m very happy with it and have logged several hundred hours on the unit. Rebreathers are not cheap, and they are not for everyone, but they are an invaluable tool for natural history film-makers.