The careful reader will have noted by now that I take my camera with me on nearly every dive. There are a limited number of exceptions each year, usually where the camera would seriously impede further cave exploration. From a practical perspective this means I can do almost everything I need to do on an average dive with one hand or with the camera propped between my forearms. It also means that anywhere between half and all of my available brainpower is devoted to f-stops and strobe positioning rather than deco, navigation and gas consumption. The key to success is knowing when to forget about art and concentrate on diving. This is a balance I’ve managed well so far.
The dedication to underwater image making is the reason I carried my camera on the MOD1 course. The idea wasn’t to get good photos but to work out how I was going to manage each failure while holding the camera. I learnt that dropping a heavily negative camera in order to manage a simulated failure meant that “going up fast” was added to the list of issues underway. I also worked out that where dropping the camera was undesirable (due to a lack of suitable bottom) I could briefly grip the housing between my knees while I sorted out the immediate problem.
For the MOD2/3 course I fully intended to take the camera on every dive. In addition to the camera management techniques I picked up on the MOD1 course I also wanted to see how the housing would perform at depth. The springs on my Aquatica housing are rated to 60m. I installed the deep spring kit before the trip which ups the rating to 130m. I also picked up some Stix jumbo floats for my strobe arms to bring the housing closer to being neutral in the water.
For the early skills dives I followed much the same pattern as before – drop the camera on the sand, resolve the failure, retrieve camera. The improved weighting definitely helped. For the deeper dives the Stix floats compressed somewhat while still providing a little bit of buoyancy. The floats didn’t interfere too much with the trim of the housing which means it turns to float dome port up – very helpful when I don’t have time to put the lens cover on.
I also spent some time working out where to clip the camera. With two 80cuf allys on the left and one on the right, using a chest d-ring meant dinging the housing with a valve every time we swapped stages underwater. The hip d-rings caused even more “boing” noises and I had a go at clipping the camera to the rear of the rEvo instead. This works quite well in sidemount when attaching to the middle of the back rather than the buttplate. Unfortunately the rEvo attachment point is not quite high enough and the camera ends up interfering with my swimming. In the end I moved back to chest d-rings and made sure I folded at least one strobe up before attaching. For a longer swim or scooter ride I would attach both handles of the housing to both hip and chest d-rings to improve streamlining.
Once past 60m I found out that my “set” button wasn’t going to work. The set button controls the start and stop of recording video on the 5DII. It has been transposed on the housing to be closer to the right thumb which is very ergonomic but unfortunately means a crosspiece is required inside the housing which gets stuck at depth. This used to happen with the regular spring kit on open circuit dives. It was annoying to discover that the deep spring kit didn’t resolve the issue. I also discovered that the deep spring kit prevented the four housing buttons on the top from reaching the corresponding camera controls. I swapped one of these back out for a regular spring. While that housing button spent the deep dives noticibly more pressed in than the others, it wasn’t impacting the camera button and I could still use it. I also discovered that my back-button focus lever needed to be pushed back into non-pressed mode if I wanted to review images at depth.
I was relatively comfortable with my ongoing camera management through the course skills and drills. I’m sure the camera housing picked up a few more scratches and dings during various emergencies. I think I’ve avoided further scratches on the dome. With the exception of the second last dive I was consciously monitoring what I was doing with the camera, which bodes well for having enough brain space to do photos and diving simultaneously. On that dive to 84m, when Marc hit my O2 add button at the bottom and both the rEvodream HUDs went bright red, I dropped the camera without thinking about it. It was good to determine that when things get complicated my priorities are automatically in the right place. It was also good to be on a course which pushed my comfort zone enough to find that out. For 2015 I hope to spend some more time on trimix on the rEvo, finding some interesting things to photograph without (fingers crossed) having to manage a single failure.