Underwater photography

Underwater photography

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Nikonos Story

The Nikonos is, without a shadow of a doubt, the world's most popular underwater camera. They are used throughout the world by amateur and professional alike.

The reason for the Nikonos success story is based on the evolution of a product that is 30 years old this year, and it is a testament to that basic design, and quality of manufacture, that some of these early versions are still in use, having survived years of punishment in the harshest environment for equipment in the world!

The First Nikonos?
The first incarnation was not a Nikonos at all. It was an underwater camera manufactured in France from a design by a Belgian engineer called Jean de Wouters, and was named the Calypsophot. It was sold in a box under the La Spirotechnique label; a small company dedicated to underwater equipment and formed by a gentleman called Yves Jacques Cousteau.
With Cousteau's Calypsophot all the basic features of the later Nikonos were employed: compact size, lightweight, cast body, and rangefinder viewing.

This was pre integrated circuit era of course and so no electronic metering was built in, instead, the Sekonic Marine meter was the ideal companion for light measurement. Although there was always provision for using a flashgun in those days such units were not commercially available and so the underwater photographer was limited to the primitive flashbulb.
Of course there was no competition in the underwater photographic equipment market at that time. The early pioneers of underwater photography were previously forced to build their own camera housings or not bother at all. The British Society of Underwater Photographers had not even been formed yet and who knows what impact that the introduction of the Nikonos had on that event.

It's amazing to consider how such a specialised camera would survive when the market, and therefore the demand, was so limited. But survive it did - and into a production run of thousands.

The original design had proved itself to be a sound one, but there was one flaw - the lens. Cousteau approached a Japanese company called Nippon Kogaku (who were originally renowned for manufacturing precision scientific instruments) to commission them to design a lens.
This Japanese company had also been producing a series of landmark rangefinder cameras under the Nikon name since 1950, which were based on the Lieca design. The European camera manufacturing industry was now in decline. It was, however, the golden period for the Japanese camera manufacturers (who had been encouraged to rebuild by the allies under occupation) and had firmly established themselves as a favourite with photojournalists who were introduced during the Korean War.

So, instead of producing a lens for Cousteau's camera, Nikon took the bold step of buying the patents.

The Nikonos I to Nikonos III
It was the commitment of Nikon that ensured the camera's survival when they revamped the Calypsophot as the Nikonos I in 1963. This move also established Nikon as the dominant force in underwater photography for the next three decades.

The Nikonos I was followed in 1968 by the Nikonos II and gained a few improvements to the internal mechanism whilst, externally, being almost identical. The film advance had been erratic so this was improved, an 'R' rewind setting was introduced, and a hinged pressure plate was added.

The first 'classic' Nikonos was arguably the Nikonos III and was introduced in 1975. It still retains a high second-hand value because, as it has no expensive electronics inside, it can sometimes be restored to working order after a flood.

It was a major re-design, retaining the same basic outward appearance as the earlier models but was larger, had gained film advance sprockets, and various controls changed location such as the film counter, which moved more conveniently to the top of the camera.
The Nikonos III also had other refinements, the most notable being the new style flash socket that was far more reliable and could make use of the electronic flashguns now on the market.
A lost Nikonos III was once allegedly found underwater, identified from it's serial number and returned to it's grateful owner. It transpired that it had spent three years on the seabed and yet was still in perfect working condition. It was opened and the film was allegedly successfully processed.

The Nikonos IV-a
The first Nikonos to feature a built in light meter was the VI-A ( A for automatic) and came on the scene in 1980. This was a departure from the original design, in some ways better, in some ways not. Previously the actual camera mechanism slotted into the body from the top but the VI-A had a hinged back rather like a conventional camera. Unfortunately it closed onto the O ring and was therefore prone to flooding unless kept immaculately clean (a problem put right on the Nik V).

Another unnecessary change was the film advance lever being redesigned. Previously, this lever also fired the shutter when pressed from the front and then popped out so that you could not avoid re-cocking the shutter. The VI-A had a separate shutter release (which was necessary to activate the meter) but again opted for an advance lever like a conventional camera. This forced you to remove the camera from your eye in order to advance the film and consequently you were at a disadvantage with action shots. The VI-A had no indication of shutter speed, merely an LED in the viewfinder to indicate correct aperture.

Nikon simultaneously introduced the SB-101 electronic flashgun in 1980 as companion to the IV-A. This meant that underwater photographers had, for the first time, a completely automatic exposure system.

Nikonos cameras were now being used extensively by everyone from the North Sea Oil industry to watersports enthusiasts. Canoeists still favour the VI-A because it is simple to use on automatic and cheaper second-hand than the Nik V. The Nikonos III is still favoured by travellers in humid conditions such as jungles as it is not only waterproof but not reliant on electronics either.

The Nikonos V
The Nikonos V was the next 'classic' underwater camera that Nikon made, and it was introduced in 1984. It retained the outward appearance of the VI-A but came in orange or moss green instead of only boring black! Internally the flash socket gained another two pins to allow TTL flash metering with the SB-102 and SB-103 flashguns which were brought out within months of each other in 1985 (and are still current).

The V returned to the idea of allowing shutter speeds to be manually set in addition to the 'A' setting. Apart from not being able to see through the lens the exact picture area going on to the film, the Nikonos V was the supreme underwater amphibious camera.
The Nikonos RS

For a long time it was speculated that Nikon would never produce a reflex viewing underwater camera. Yet they did just that with the Nikonos RS. Much has already been said about this camera in this and other magazines so it would be not appropriate to go over the same ground in too great a detail.

The RS is packed full of features (autofocus, zoom lenses, motordrive, DX coding, umpteen metering modes etc) and it is high tech, high spec - but some purists feel that it has unfortunately lost touch with the Nikonos ethic.

Basically the RS is too big and too expensive. One diver I once met used his Nik II not for photography but to keep his keys dry during the dive. Few eccentrics like him would do that with the RS, which belongs to the world of designer stubble and fashion accessories, not club dives.

Diving with the RS has been likened to diving with an engine block. It is so negatively buoyant that (if you have a wings type BC) you can find it very difficult to remain upright on the surface. The combination will force you to do a lot of finning to stop you going face down.
The RS was obsolete the day it was launched. Already, the F90/N90 was proving to be virtually infallible with its advanced features.

Nikonos Lenses
In common with Nikon land equipment the lens mount has remained constant on the Nikonos throughout its history. You can, therefore, fit any lens on any body (excluding the RS of course, which had a new range of auto focus lenses).

The various Nikonos bodies were generally bought with a 35mm standard lens (and still are). The earlier versions were generally satin finish, had smaller knobs, and may only have a distance scale shown in feet. The more recent versions are black and also have a metric scale, but are optically superior, having benefited from advances in lens coating technology.

In its own right the 35mm lens is not very useful, as it is difficult to use due to a limited depth of field. At a distance of .9 apparent metres (1.2 actual metres) feet it covers a picture area of .8 by 1.2 metres making it possible to photograph the head and shoulders of a diver. However, with only a .4 of a metre depth of field on F8, your estimate of distance has to be spot on!
The 35mm is however worth having because with extension tubes you can photograph macro (small) subjects or, with a slip on (supplementary) lens close up and wide-angle subjects. The 35mm can be used underwater or in air and has always been the cheapest lens.
The 28mm Nikonos lens is slightly more useful (but a lot more expensive) than the 35mm and has a wider angle of view. It is quite popular however, as you can start a dive with a supplementary lens attached for close up shots, but whip it off if larger subjects appear.

There is also an 80mm Nikkor lens, which has a very narrow angle of view, not really suited to underwater use at all!
Underwater photographic subjects have always suited the extreme focal length lenses, either in the macro range or wide angle, with very little in between. The 15mm Nikonos has an angle of view of 90 degrees and will focus down to .3 metre making it suitable for subjects from reef fish to wrecks!

Beware - you may think you have a bargain if you buy an old 15mm lens form the Nikonos III era. It will fit on the Nikonos V but the metering will be thrown out!Other manufacturers produce lenses for the Nikonos, for instance the Sea & Sea 15mm (retailing at a third of the price of the Nikon version). Whilst optically inferior, the Sea & Sea range has only marginally less performance, certainly not a third less!
Supplementary lenses are also made by other manufacturers, such as the ever-popular Subawider, and at a third of the cost again of the Sea & Sea 15mm. They also have a marginal performance loss compared to the Sea & Sea (except when pointed at the sun they do suffer from extreme flare).

Brothers Island dive and photographying guide at Red Sea

Imagine one of the top ten dive sites in the Red Sea. Suppose that it hadn’t been dived for three years and you had been handed the opportunity to dive it! What if this dive site were ‘in the blue’ 150 miles from land. You might expect large Pelagics, exceptional visibility, and virgin corals. You wouldn’t be disappointed if you’re talking about the legendary Brothers Islands in the centre of the Red Sea.
We had exactly that opportunity; to be in the first party to dive these remote islands since diving officially resumed there in 1998. True to expectations we discovered pristine corals, spectacular marine life, and exceptional visibility.

We arrived at the Brothers in flat calm to find the two outcrops scorching in the sun, the only visual relief in a vast horizon. You could sense the anticipation as the entire boat suddenly got self-motivated to kit up. You just knew that we were in for an exceptional dive.
Sure enough, even before we got in the water we were treated to a wildlife spectacle. As we were being shuttled from the liveaboard to the drop-off by our Egyptian boathandler (known affectionately as Captain Zodiac) a pod of 10 spinner dolphins bow-waved us.
The large Brothers Island is only 400M long and its only distinguishing feature is the Victorian lighthouse that the British built in the 1880’s. A small jetty protrudes from the island and your arrival is such an event that the inhabitants (Egyptian soldiers on rotational duty) race to greet you. You’d have to upset someone to get given that job!

We were dropped, on that first dive, on the Aida a cargo ship that went down in 1957 during a mooring procedure that went wrong whilst transporting troops to Alexandria. The crew scrambled ashore leaving the Aida to slide down the side of the large Island finally resting its stern in 60 metres with its bow in 20 metres. Although having sunk ten years later than the wrecks of Truk the soft coral growth encrusting the Aida could rival any of the Japanese, Pacific wrecks. Whilst not on the same scale it is, nevertheless, a must-dive site for any ‘wreckie’ worth his (or her) salt. One enduring memory of this wreck was that of a 4 metre Thresher shark lazily cruising the 10-metre contour above us as we ascended. Now, you don’t see that often!

Another, older wreck not far from the Aida was our second dive. Apparently, in her cargo were train wheels that scattered as she sank and which were now home to a profuse variety of creatures. There was plenty of marine life action here with larger fish involved in ‘domestics’, vying for territory and, uncharacteristically, ignoring the divers completely.

The small Brothers Island is only twenty odd metres across with absolutely nothing on it except for a few piles of rocks that some bored visitor piled up. Underwater it is a different story; the small Brother is renowned for Hammerheads! These unusual sharks cruise their territory at 30M and deeper on the southern side.

The internationally recognised sign to make when you see a hammerhead is to hit yourself on the head with your fist (hammer-head, get it?) and this site will definitely make you knock you senseless! However, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your buddy give this sign when they see sharks in their limit of visibility but not yours. It is guaranteed that, by the time you swim to them, they have moved on.

The Brothers have always been sparsely dived due to their inaccessibility 100 miles offshore in the middle of the (southern Egyptian) Red Sea opposite Al Quseir. In the ;old days; a few of the larger (and braver) day boats offered trips out there during the summer months. Amenities were sparse with all aboard sleeping on deck and sharing one toilet (if you were lucky!). If the weather blew up you had to shelter in the lee of the Big Brother (is he Jake or Elwood?) and wait it out, sometimes for weeks, forget your flights!

Now the Egyptian Dive industry has matured and a new generation of liveaboard boats are available to take you to the Brothers in comfort, if not downright luxury. The premier vessel visiting the Brothers on a regular basis is a boat you may not have heard of before, the Shalakamy Explorer 1. She and her sister ship, Shalakamy Explorer 2, are big boats (36M long x 10M beam) and therefore ocean going, stable platforms well able to take the worst that the weather can throw at you. This is reassuring as a dive holiday can soon turn into an expedition if the weather blows up when you are so far out at sea. It did whilst we were out there!
Anything you’ve ever experienced inshore on the Red Sea does not prepare you when you get a prolonged Northerly blow in such an exposed position. You know that you’re in a storm when waves are crashing over the third deck! At such times movement is not recommended - best wedge yourself in somewhere safe and hope that anything not tied down does not crash on you!

A large boat certainly gives confidence in bad weather but might it not also be the case that you will find yourself in dangerous seas more often because you have a bigger boat? Don’t be put off, the sea can calm down as quickly as it blows up and diving is back on the agenda with very little loss of visibility.

If your appetite for Red Sea diving has been jaded by too many visits striking out for such an obscure site will rekindle your enthusiasm.

The Explorer is well able to cope with big seas. She cost 7 million Egyptian pounds to build and is (over) powered by two 750HP Caterpillar engines, beautifully fitted out in soft wood panelling, and this boat even sports a Disco complete with mirrored ceiling! The cabins are like Hilton hotel rooms complete with your own TV (which sometimes receives two Egyptian TV channels) and a mini-bar. There is a shower room with toilet en-suite, which is a complete luxury if you are used to competing for shower time at the end of the diving day.

You might have reservations about a dive boat that takes 24 but the reality is that other (day) boats cause overcrowded dive sites. Whilst working inshore, the Explorer can leave port after the day boats and (at 25 knots) you can arrive at the dive site and be in the water well before them! With the capability to reach the sites that other boats cannot you often find yourself the only group on a site.

It seems that the trend is towards larger, more luxurious boats generally in the Egyptian Red Sea. No one would argue with quality yet I remember when Sharm El Shiek was a hut on the beach with a compressor in it. We used to safari camp where there are now hotels. You could shore dive on the most prolific coral in the World without seeing another soul. Ten years later and this area is decimated underwater, literally kicked to bits by the numerous dive parties and choked by the debris of over development on land.

There are still unspoiled sites but you have to go offshore (and south) to find those pristine reefs. However, if the boats are getting bigger to reach these sites is it a good thing? I dread to think of the environmental impact on even these offshore sites that a sudden increase of capacity (by doubling of boat size) would have!

A trip to the Brothers need not be a prolonged affair. You can dive all sides of each island in two days. If travelling from Hurghada you would expect to dive several other sites, including Safaga, on the outward and return journeys. There are some interesting sites to be explored in that area.

One such site is the wreck of the Salem Express. You may remember that this was the ferry that sank only four years ago with massive loss of life whilst carrying pilgrims back from Mecca. Most divers came down firmly on respecting the sanctity of this wreck but perhaps it is time to review this idea. The wreck has seemed to make peace with the sea; soft coral growth is quite advanced and fish life prolific.

Who can say what is a respectable time period to wait before diving such a tragic wreck? In the case of the Salem Express it was certainly premature, it was on the local boats’ dive itineraries practically as soon as the bodies were cleared and this is clearly distasteful. However, time heals, and, although there are still some personal belongings scattered around the seabed such memorabilia need only be respected as a poignant reminder of those who lost their life the tragic night that the Salem Express hit the reef.

I certainly had a very relaxed dive on her and so overcame my initial apprehension. She is lying on her side she can be thoroughly explored by traversing the centre line at 20M. This strategy takes in the photographic hot spots and gives you enough bottom time to explore from the bridge to the prop and back in one dive.

I hadn’t been to the Red Sea for three years and so a successful trip rekindled my enthusiasm for the diving. The Red Sea still has much to offer and perhaps it was only due to the layoff that I noticed the increased sense of over development and commercialism there

Truk Lagoon underwater photography and travel guide

Even if you are a wreck-tophobe (rather than a wreck-tophile) this place can give you 'wreck-itis'! We are talking about the largest concentration of military shipping anywhere in the World.

Truk has everything that the other Pacific atolls have - the clear water, corals, and sharks on the outer reef but Truk is unique because you dive exclusively inside the lagoon.

The History
Truk is a group of nine islands inside a forty mile radius barrier reef. In March 1944 sixty Japanese ships were sunk, most, fortunately for scuba divers, in relatively shallow water.

The History leading up to these events is well documented in the annals of WWII. The Japanese took control of the Micronesian Islands after craftily siding with the allies (once the Allies would be the victors) only months before the end of WWI.

The Japanese got the islands as spoils of war from the defeated Germans but rather than encourage autonomy they drew a veil of secrecy as they militarised them. The Japanese indentured Japanese, Korean and Okinawan workers to build airbases and infrastructure to support 15,000 military personnel stationed here.

In 1938 they brought in the War machines. They put anti aircraft guns on the mountains. Secrecy was maintained by a virtual isolation. They burnt the islanders ocean going boats so that word would not get out of the build up.

Conjecture has it that Emilia Erhart was shot down whist flying over the island with the hidden agenda of reconnaissance. Apparently several reports place her in prison here where it is alleged she died before the end of the war.

It was, however, a good time for the islanders who benefited from the infrastructure that the Japanese installed. Each island had its own power supply and the roads were lined with flowers. The garrison was large and was served by Geisha houses with nearly 5,000 indentured girls who were kept very busy with the constant military traffic. At one time there could be 500 ships anchored in the lagoon.

Thus, Truk became the Japanese Gibraltar. Once America declared war after the sneak Japanese attack at Pearl harbour (on Dec 8th 1940) Truk assumed enormous strategic importance and was even considered as the first target location to drop the atomic bomb.

Announcements of the capture of other islands came quickly; Guam, Borneo, Sumatra. At times there were 1500 vessels at anchor in the Lagoon and the base was a continual thorn in the side of the allies who were forced to run supply convoys further south.

Gradually the tide of war changed with enormous sea battles like Midway. The allies recaptured islands across the Pacific but soon discovered that the losses were unacceptable. The fighting went hand to hand at times with the Japanese who were deeply entrenched and fought almost to the last man. Nearby Saipan and Pohnpei was recaptured in this way with heavy loss of life. The Americans were charged with operations in the Pacific. The allies strategy sifted to airborne bombing launched from Carriers and the biggest fleet ever assembled including the Battleship Iowa.

The operation to neutralise Truk was codename operation Hailstorm. On Feb 4th 1944 as the allied fleet got closer, a reconnaissance flight suggested an early attack on Truk. The allies hoped that they would trap the better part of the Japanese fleet making the lagoon a shooting gallery but within three hours ships started pulling out.

The element of surprise was regained and Operation Hailstorm began with a disinformation message sent by the Allies in a code that they knew the Japanese had broken. It indicated that the expected offensive would bypass Truk and head straight for Guam. Rather unwisely the remaining Japanese went on a weekend long party to be rudely awakened on the morning of by the first airborne strike which was aimed at knocking out the six airstrips that the Japanese had built. Of 300 fighter planes available the Japanese managed to get 75 planes onto the runway but 35 were destroyed before leaving the ground and the rest were totally outgunned in the air and re shot down.

This left the shipping at the mercy of subsequent waves. It was not the decisive victory hoped for. Many ships had escaped seven days earlier after the reconnaissance flight had first been seen. Nevertheless, within two days sixty ships had been sunk. After the initial two day attack the starvation began.

A second wave practising carpet bombing destroyed the vegetation. The Japanese took to caves and reports of islanders being tortured for the little food left. Some were cannibalised.

Veteran diver Kimiuo Aisek and patriarch of Truk diving who has been running Blue Lagoon divers for 25 years here was 17 when the actual raids took place. 'I was very scared. Soon after the bodies washed u on the shore'.

The surrender of Truk took place after the official and unconditional surrender accepted by on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The Americans landed in February of 1945 To find the Japanese had taken to caves.

The Diving
The sunken fleet has had fifty years of coral growth. Little salvage has taken place and artefacts. The deeper the wreck the more intact.

The choice of dive operations is between live-aboard or shore based. The day boats spend a lot of time getting out to sites and therefore limited to a couple of dives a day.

There is an Aggressor here which moves about and gives multiple dives on the same wreck. This is a good thing for working a wreck photographically.

The other major boat operation is the Thorfinn, which is not exactly a typical liveaboard in many ways. Firstly, it never moves! It is permanently moored in the middle of the 'action' and offers a different wreck each dive via satellite boats (no more than a ten minute journey).

The Thorfinn is an ancient 190' ex Norwegian whaler with a bloody history in the Antarctic. It is Canadian run by the most opinionated and obnoxious skipper you could meet, Cap'n Lance! But ignore him, diving needs characters!

The Thorfinn a floating hotel. Unfortunately, if it were a real hotel it would be called the roach hotel and condemned! Meals are more school dinners than the claimed gourmet fare advertised. In fact this boat has the dubious distinction of being named the worst live aboard boat ever!

The Thorfinn claims to be photographer friendly and even offers E-6. However, only avail yourself of the facility if you like scratched film!

The only saving grace is that the Thorfinn offers five dives a day. They have a lot of divers through here and have formulated a technique alledgedly recognised by several agencies as safe. Basically no stop diving with safety stops. They encourage a 60M/200' dive, followed by a 40M/130', then a couple of 30M/100' dives, with a shallow dive to finish! If you like it deep then this is for you. This is not a photographers profile and you spend a lot of time hanging off lines! The aggressor certainly takes a more conservative schedule. Oh, and the nearest chamber is in Guam!

The water quality is variable in the lagoon and this is important for two reasons. The first is that there is a lot of bacteria (so be sure to wash your ears to avoid infections). The second reason is the silt which can frustrate your photography. Some areas therfore have inherently better vis than others!

In common with the rest of the Micronesian islands there are well formed barrier reefs large pelagics and sheer walls on the seaward side of the atoll. Few operators dive there though.

Truk was the ideal deep water anchorage. There are nine island and three distinct diving areas. The repair fleet, ships either involved in repair or were being repaired which tend to have the worst vis, the 4th fleet which are deeper and more intact with excellent vis that allows you to see the entire ship, and Uman area which has better vis.

The names of the ships tend to blur together, but each has a distinct character once you get to know it. The majority sit upright with several on their port or starboard side and only a couple upside down. Several have airplanes still in their hangers.

Artefacts are everywhere. The local policy is to not salvage the wrecks but you can see items have been moved about by divers. For example toilets on the outer superstructure! It is eerie to see things just the way they were back then. It is also exceptional to find the items usually long since removed on any other wreck site in the world (like a ships telegraph) intact!

There is no truth in the rumours that the Japanese are about to ban diving on the wrecks because they are War graves. This was a sensationalised story created by a certain (non diver) journalist. There was a great deal of interest after the first footage shot by Al Giddings was shown on TV. It showed there is therefore no urgent need to rush out there whilst you still can. However, if you're a 'wreckie' I would strongly recommend an early visit.

Truk is a wreck divers heaven. The hands off policy means that the rest of us will be able to appreciate it for some time to come.

Philippines complete underwater guide

I have been diving in the Fiesta Islands for 8 years now and, as there are over 7,000 islands to cover, I have not even began to scratch the surface.
Whenever I go to the Philippines, I either stay at one of these hotels in Manila below or am picked up directly at the Airport and taken 2 hours South to Maya Maya Reef Resort near Nasugbu (which is simply Paradise).
Maya Maya (www.mayamaya.com) is nestled in a tree covered cove with a wonderful view across the bay. It has large nipa style A/C rooms on a Park - like setting with plenty of room between units for privacy and quiet. The Hot Water is rare for the area but is so delightful after a dive. Mrs Stone really has the "Green Thumb" necessary to keep everything so beautiful. They even hand sweep the grass every day !
There is a pool, an excellent Dive Shop, Marina, restaurant and Bar. But what makes it so special is that the owner David Stone and his family make you feel so welcome. You are treated as a member of the Maya Maya Family whenever you return and the pace is very relaxed.
The staff goes out of their way to provide help in getting whatever needs doing, like laundry and trips to town to get any supplies not stocked in the Resort Store. Part of this approach it the rejection of the idea of tipping, which drives you crazy elsewhere.
The Resort is in an area of expensive houses used as weekend get-aways by Manilas "Rich and Famous, but the feeling around the bar when is one of relaxed friendless when they stop in for a drink and a visit.
The pool is especially popular among the children and Melanie Stone (David's ever efficient daughter) somehow maintains the Family friendly nature of the resort but without causing the laughter and play to disturb the relaxation of those guests who enjoy the peace and quiet. There are no TVs or loud radios blasting in the rooms, which recently underwent a complete make over and new furniture.
Phones, Fax and e mail and credit card payments are available at the office so you are never really too far out of touch. Melanie is also the one to see about package deals including Diving, Airport pickup, Parties etc. Prices run about $50 night or about half that of other resorts in the area and they have less facilities.
The airport pickup in Manila about $60 but that saves about twice that in Manila Hotel and Taxi bills. Besides, you wake up in Paradise instead among the hectic Manila traffic, smog and noise.
Mel is a great source of information on the best places to go and see. This last trip, she arranged for me to go to Palawan on the Super Ferry including driving to the docks, which was kind of a Filipino version of Bumper Cars. Other spots she arranged were trips to Puerto Galera, trips to secluded Beaches and a Romantic picnic for a Honeymooning Couple on a secluded Island. You are often told of the good spots by the other guests but Mel is the one to see about the details since she often gets a much better rate from the Hotels and other Resorts.
The Dive Shop has been improved greatly with the arrival of Tony and Lynn Marnewick who have purchased new gear and a fast dive boat that has opened up new areas to exploration. Tony has found many new sites, especially some interesting caves and coves. He can be reached at dive@mayamaya.com for specific details on package prices but usually a dive using their equipment runs around $35-40. He runs a full service PADI shop, including Resort Dive Training for those just wanting to do their first few dives to Open Water and Advanced for people who really want to get into the Underwater World.
He also has an excellent Video Camera system and is well versed in identifying the local Marine Life. I just got my Advanced Card and Video courses from him and he is an excellent instructor whose patience must have been sorely tried by some of my actions. I have been going to the Philippines as a courier for about 8 years now and always included at least a week at Maya Maya.
As to some of the other spots I recommend..... In Manila: Makati....Like Frank Powers, I like the Robel Mansion Hotel (J.P.Rizal St and Makati Ave, Tel 889-8388 but there is also The Robelle House run by the same owners at 4402 Valdez (behind the International School) which is a converted mansion and is secluded and quiet. It is often full since it is popular among long term expats. Good food is available in either the restaurant or my favorite spot Cafe Mogumbo on P Burgos via Makati Ave which is with easy walking distance. Paco....Park Hotel 1032-34 Belen St Tel 521-23-71 to 75. It is off the noisy streets, Large Air Conditioned rooms, refrig, has a pool and restaurant and runs around $40US.
I often meet David Stone of Maya Maya there so we can spend the evening in Manila before heading off to his resort. Ermita...Rothman Inn, 1633-35 M Adriatico St, Tel 521-92-51 to 60. My favorite because it has deep Bathtubs which really feel great after the long flights from LAX. Cost is between $35-45US depending on the room type. There is Massage available in the privacy of the rooms and that really gets those kinks out of the back after sitting in those cramped torture devices the airlines call seats.
It is one street back from the popular but noisy Sundowner Hotel on Mabini St which is the start point for the Si-Kat BusFerry to Puerto Galera on the neighboring island of Mindoro. It is also with a block of the Manila Midtown and the Robinsons Mall which has many interesting shops and Western style restaurants including 2 McDonalds, Shakeys and Outback among others. But there are also many spots with walking distance for other tastes. Be sure to check out the Philippine Handicraft shop and the Arts and Craft stalls on the Mabini St side on the block where the Rothman is.
If you can't get into the Rothman for the night, the Park Plaza on the same block is a good but more expensive choice. On Mindoro Island, Puerto Galera... I highly recommend either staying at Small or Big La Laguna Beaches which are within a 25 min banca trip from the Si-Kat dock.
I usually stay at Small La Laguna since it is a bit closer to Sabangs nightlife and restaurants and my favorite dive shop, Action Divers www.actiondivers.com . Ross Thompson, the owner is very helpful and his web site contains a lot of information on the ferry schedules etc. His shop is next to the excellent Full Moon resort and restaurant.
There is also the El Galleon, run by the owner of Asia Divers and the Portofino, a condo project that sometimes has units for rent for about $35 for Studio,$50 for 1 bedroom. Both of these have a pool but they are within 5 steps for the beach so that might be considered overkill.
Wherever you stay, the Sunsets are striking. I never prebook unless I have talked to Melanie Stone at Maya Maya since she gets much better rates. Or I go to see Ross at Action Divers and we find the best deal. Be aware that Christmas and Easter are usually completely booked altho Ross now can take reservations on some Luxury units that he owns in Sabang. Coron, Palawan....

The flight out on SeaAir aboard a 19 passenger puddlejumper, where you are limited to 50Kg of luggage without extra charge. That eliminated taking too much scuba gear, which is why many divers take the Super Ferry both ways.
You land at the typical dirt airstrip and take a banca through the famous King Cattle Ranch (Asia's largest) to Coron. You are dropped off directly at the Kalamyan Inn which has rooms with either private or a shared bath.
I stayed in a clean A/C room, one of 4 on the second floor which has a private patio. The cost was $20, $23.50 twin share which includes the normally $4 Breakfast. Noise is a bit much until about 8 PM when most of the Trike Taxis stop running. Food is available in the Bar below and is good and not too costly. Be sure to try Josies favorite, Spicey Pork Chops.
Josie then arranged for me to go to Dive Right PADI Diving Center (diveright@moxcom.com and http://www2.mozcom.com/~diving) within a couple of blocks through the village Market. The staff, run by Dennis (Mgr), is skilled, helpful, and a cross section of the world, American, Aussie, German, Japanese.
They offer full PADI services, and take you to some of the most interesting wrecks in the Philippines, a Japanese convoy sunk in 1944. You usually make 2 dives, with lunch in between, leaving at about 10AM and returning about sunset. We also made a dive into a lake which has a layer of 105F water under about 60F freshwater. Very interesting experience, but having to carry all the gear over sharp Limestone rocks where a fall would cause injury if not being fatal is something I would not want to repeat. I had one of the boat crew carry my gear and I barely made it with just me to worry about. But I am 50 and pretty banged up and the younger divers had little problem.
The trip back was at night and the Flying Fish were all over and were caught in the spotlight as they skimmed from place to place. Again, a package deal will cost less but I think each dive was between $25-30 with their equipment including lunch. You can have Dive Right set everything up. Just remember that communications with Coron are cellular and unpredictible, but the e mail usually gets through. Josie at the Kalamayn Inn in Coron is very helpful.
If you want to go via the Super Ferry (www.wgasuperferry.com), their tickets can be purchased in any travel outlet or at Pier 4 in Manila. A 4 person berth with bathroom is $25 each way and a suite at $60 but has room for a couple so it is a good buy when traveling together. It leaves on Friday night, takes 13 hours and returns on Sunday night for a 1 pm arrival in Manila. The other divers who were in my 4 person berth were from Manila and doing a quick weekend worth of diving and took the Ferry due to the weight of the scuba gear. Most people spend a week but whether you fly or sail, spend a weekend or a week, it is truly an adventure among very friendly people.

Contributed by Warren Cornelius

United States underwater photography guide

Best Season
Fall and winter


Water Temp
varies from 58ฐ -60ฐ East Coast to 83ฐ -65ฐ Mexico

Mexico: Sea of Cortez
Seamounts, rocky islands, wrecks, canyons
seal, manta, sponges, whales, hammerheads

California coast
Rocky shores, kelp, can blow up. warmer further south, shore access.
Shark, expeditions (offshore), Garibaldi fish

Santa catalina island: channel islands
boat only, kelp, can blow up, currents,
purple coral

Florida keys
250 miles of reef 3-6 miles offshore so boat dives only, wrecks, reefs
typical Caribbean, statue of Christ Of The Deep, well served for photo shops

East coast: new England
cold water diving, shore and offshore, some good wrecks
anemones, starfish, Nudibranchs, wolf fish

East coast: mid Atlantic states - N.Y., Delaware
Wrecks at 80-100', distinct thermocline

East coast: bay states - Maryland, Virginia
World war and civil war wrecks

South eastern states: Carolina, Florida
World Class wrecks and reefs. gets warmer as you go further south

wrecks, shallow reefs
almost Caribbean, soft corals, pelagics but small

British Columbia
Drysuit diving
Giant octopus, Killer whales, huge sea stars, wolf fish

Mediterranean underwater photography guide

The Mediterranean Sea is not an obvious photographic location. Although the region can claim to be the seat of civilisation and the countries bordering the Med are culturally diverse; there is little variation in diving from one location to another. Typically the Vis is good (100') but the marine life is generally small and not very abundant. Macro photography is not good and wide angle is scenic. There are some good wrecks, particularly the Zenobia, a car ferry sunk at Larnaca, Cyprus. Seasonal changes are slight.

Best Season


Water Temp

Vera K, Achilleas (Paphos) Zenobia (Larnaca)

Med meets Atlantic, wrecks

France (south)
wrecks inc sub with morays

shore and boat, scenic, caves tunnels

shore and boat. no live aboard
wrecks (south) main reserve (south) colourful red sponges at 100'

Pacific Ocean underwater photo guide

The Pacific: Too huge an area to generalise about. Thousands of atolls, each with its own character. You would need a lifetime to do it justice

Best Season
Jan-April typhoon season is Jul-Dec (Palau) anytime Truk Apr-Nov avoid Dec-Mar rainy season (Fiji)


Water Temp
70-82 depending on location

Fujikawa Maru, Fumitsuki, Shinkoku Maru, Yamigiri Maru, Sankisan Maru etc. (Truk)

340 islands, vertical walls. Marine lakes with wall to wall jellyfish.

Truk lagoon
Huge lagoon, boat. no currents but loads of decompression.
WWII wrecks. The BIG one. 275 planes and 210,000 tons of Japanese naval and merchant cargo ships.

Known as the gateway to Micronesia. Fringing reefs from shore
900 species of fish, Napoleon wrasse, manta, few soft corals but spectacular hard corals, Japanese zero

Not most peoples idea of a dive destination.
giant crabs the size of a diver!

300 islands,75,000 sq. miles, 300+ varieties of soft corals
Colourful soft corals, big pelagics

boat, shore, shallow, deep, volcanic terrain, caves, tunnels, drop-offs. Not the best dive site in the Pacific but the islands are enjoyable to visit!
600 fish species, Nudibranchs, spinner dolphins, humpback whales (Nov-May)

coral reef varied. 7100 volcanic mountainous islands stretching 1000 miles.
WWII wrecks