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The Ultimate Guide to Spearfishing Durban Bay

There have been huge advances in diving masks over the last 10 years, and it was not so long ago that the only low volume mask of choice for the spearfisherman was the Cressi Super Occhio. But now there are companies that have specifically targeted the freediving spearfishing market and you are spoilt for choice. This has meant that companies like Cressi, Mares, Omer, Technisub, Rob Allen and Sporasub are now going head to head to perfect the ultimate spearfishing mask.

This is great for us as consumers, as we benefit from all these technological advancements as well as price. Sure some masks are still expensive, but if you consider that 10 years ago, the average price of a mask was roughly R400 and today it is only marginally more, masks are now more affordable as well as better in quality.

The companies on the cutting edge of mask development are all claiming that they have improved the area of vision and cut down the internal volume. They have also made advances in design that greatly improve comfort with better materials and ergonomic designs that fit a wider variety of face shapes. This just means that there are now more masks covering a wider variety of applications.

With so many masks available and so many different variations it often gets confusing when it comes to choosing a mask. The thing about choosing a mask is that it is not as cut and dry as picking out the lowest volume mask on the market made by the one of the best brands. There is a very real probability that it just won’t fit you. One mask that is amazing for one person, could be totally wrong for another. It might not seal or it could just be uncomfortable on the temple or cheeks. This does not mean that it’s a bad mask, it just means it’s not the right one for you.

So how do you select the right mask and what are the things to look out for?

Volume and area of vision are always huge deciding factors, and each company has their own way of explaining the area of vision and the internal volume. Comparing each company’s individual stats can be misleading. It’s also impossible to tell just by looking which masks have a lower volume… well that’s unless you are comparing something like a micromask and a full face mask.

That said, comfort and seal are the final deciders, and this will vary from person to person, making it a factor that is very hard to analyse. But we can test and analyse volume, area of vision and the overall construction of the mask. Better yet, we can submit them all to exactly the same criteria and test conditions, so that we are not relying on each company’s individual stats and findings. 

The problem was deciding which masks were we going to test, as there are just so many to choose from. In the end, we selected masks that are current top sellers and a couple of new models that have just entered the market and look to be strong contenders… and of course a mask review without some of the long time favourites such as the Cressi Super Occhio and Omer Alien just would not be complete. So with the Super Occhio and Alien serving as a good plum line we brought in the following masks for the review:

 

Cressi: Eyes Evolution

Cressi: Occhio Plus

Cressi: Super Occhio

Mares: Essence

Mares: Star

Mares: Tana

Mares: X Vu

Omer: Alien

Omer: Zero3

Rob Allen: Couta

Rob Allen: Snapper

Sporasub: Mystic

Technisub: Micromask

 

First off was testing the area of vision. Some companies have a few extreme claims in this area and we wanted to find out how each mask faired against each other in our separate lab tests. We decided the only way to accurately compare each mask was if we could mark down what we could see out of each mask.

To do this we designed and printed a 1.28m high x 2.56m wide board broken up into 200 numbered and lettered blocks. We then printed forms for each mask with the same grid on to mark off what we could see. This would enable us to get a fair comparison of the field of view of each mask. The whole test needed to be as controlled as possible, making sure each test was done in the same position, the exact same distance from the grid.

The chair was placed close up to the grid to the point that without a mask and without moving the head from side to side, just past the edges of the entire grid were visible. After a few test runs with masks to make sure that the distance was sufficient for all types of masks, the position was marked and the test began.

After a few hours of eye boggling ‘eye yoga’ our first test subject ploughed his way through all the masks. Already there were some amazing finds and some serious surprises: we realised that some manufacturers only use the area of vision of a relaxed eye in their stats, i.e. not when you are moving your eye from side to side or up and down, and only dead ahead.

This means that if you look dead ahead, what do you see? This made us ask the question of what was important. Was it what you could see without moving your eyes or the total vision of the maximum area if you moved your eyes.

Conscious of this, we thought about it in terms of actual spearfishing and it became very apparent how much you move your eyes and how important peripheral vision is. Sure, for a large percentage of time you are not scanning every corner with your eyes, but once you are hunting, your eyes are all over the place.

This also raised some more questions on what areas of vision are important. For example, while on the surface waiting for gamefish one of the hardest areas to see are below and behind. Seeing from side to side is relatively easy as it is easy to move your head and body in a way that allows you to cover that wide area. But the area below and behind requires a head dip especially if you are wearing a mask that limits the vision at the bottom. So masks with good vision in the bottom half have a clear advantage.

This resulted in questioning an age old understanding that for reef fish you don’t need as much area vision as gamefish. While lying on the reef maybe you don’t need that bottom quadrant of vision, but you definitely need good lateral visibility in the top corners. A mask that has limited vision will only mean greater head movements and perhaps missing that fish lurking on the edge of your peripheral vision. I reckon that a wide area of vision is just as important to reef fishing as it is to gamefish hunting. Although vision in the bottom quadrant might not be as critical, it will be an added bonus.

Analysing the first batch of results we realised that we needed a second batch of tests under the same conditions by a second person as each person sees things slightly differently. So we set off to complete another full set of tests using the exact same criteria and conditions. The results were astounding, the second test subject consistently saw slightly more in certain areas than the first batch of tests. This difference is probably due to the orientation of the eye in relation to the lens of the mask. This also gave us an indication of any inconsistencies and mistakes that might have been made. And after a few double checks we were satisfied that all the tests were consistent and had enough accuracy to publish in the review.

Next were the volume tests. This was also going to be an arduous task that we decided to accomplish with the old ‘measure the amount of water in the mask’ trick. This entailed donning a swim cap, submerging the mask and face in water, and allowing the water to come into the mask. A second person checked that there were no bubbles in the mask. After excess water had dripped away, the water in the mask was poured into a measuring jug.

In order to eliminate inconsistencies and mistakes we measured each mask over 5 batches of 3 tests. This meant that we would measure the volume 15 times to get an average. Then do that a total of 5 times and remove any inconsistent results to get an average volume.

Again the results were very interesting, some of the masks performed as expected but there were some serious surprises. The biggest surprise had to be how low the volume of the Cressi Occhio Plus turned out to be. Looking at the mask you would never say that it was so low. In fact it came in at the third lowest of all the masks.

Doing all these tests however did pose the question: how important is a low volume mask? Is it a make or break factor for spearfishermen?

Some will absolutely swear that it is everything, but it amazes me at how many great divers are using fairly high volume masks at some great depths. I noticed  that Jaco Blignaut, one of South Africa’s best divers (who probably dives deeper than 95% of SA spearfishermen) uses a Mares Essence – the mask we found to have the highest volume in this test.

There are techniques of filling and then re-breathing the air back in as you surface which make the use of a large volume manageable at greater depths. But then what are ‘great depths’? Most guys don’t do much diving past 20m, and do you really need to have an ultra low volume mask before 20m?

I guess it comes back to personal preference and whether breathing into your mask is an issue at depth.

 

CRESSI

Manufacturer: Cressi

Model: Eyes Evolution

Approximate Retail Price: R700

Blocks Visible: 73

Percentage of grid area: 36.5%

Visibility Rating: 4

Mask Volume: 95ml

Volume Rating: 5

 

Cressi have taken the middle road on this mask, creating an all round mask that will appeal to most divers out there. Like the Occhio Plus, Cressi hides its volume somewhere. At a first glance you would take it for a high volume mask but it is not bad at all. With 95ml of volume, its only half a shot glass bigger than the lowest volume masks out there.

It also has very good all round vision making it great for a number of applications, whether you are on the reef or hunting gamefish. What was interesting was a marked difference between the 2 test subjects field of vision results. This could have been due the extremely soft skirt. If the straps are slightly tightened the mask lenses move close to the eyes and increase the area of vision quite a lot.

The soft silicone skirt has a super soft inner seal making for a comfortable mask that seals well. The skirt is fairly large but this just means that it is very forgiving and will probably fit a wide range of face shapes. The buckle is also attached to the frame via a flexible joint that folds away, which helps the mask fit well while at the same time making it less likely to break.

If you battle to find a low volume mask to fit your face, this would be a good mask to try.

 

TECHNISUB

Manufacturer: Technisub

Model: Micromask

Approximate Retail Price: R700

Blocks Visible: 72.5

Percentage of grid area: 36.25%

Visibility Rating: 7

Mask Volume: 81.1ml

Volume Rating: 4

 

The Technisub Micromask by Aqua Lung has become a very popular mask with deep diving spearfishermen. True to its name it is very small and light, the design is beautifully simple and feels like a frameless mask although it does have a hard frame moulded together with the soft skirt.

We were surprised at the volume as we thought that it would be the lowest volume of the masks we tested, and when you put it on it still does seem the lowest of the lot. At 81.1ml, it is still extremely low volume and is half the volume of some of the masks we tested.

The area of vision on this mask is actually very good and there was only half a block’s difference between it and the Sporasub Mystic… making this a very good choice when looking for a low volume mask.

The nose piece on this particular mask is very accessible and makes equalising easy. The skirt is fairly firm which enables the mask’s small skirt to make a good seal, but might leave a line around your face after a few hours. As in all low volume masks you will have to try this one out to see if it fits your face well.

The strap buckle is attached to the frame and is also hinged, this aids in a good fit but does not fold away completely and could get broken. So you wont be able to stuff this mask into your footpocket. 

If this mask fits you well it will be worth every cent.

 

SPORASUB

Manufacturer: Sporasub

Model: Mystic

Approximate Retail Price: R600

Blocks Visible: 73

Percentage of grid area: 36.5%

Visibility Rating: 4

Mask Volume: 71.11ml

Volume Rating: 1

 

The Mystic is a fantastically designed mask and is probably one of the more comfortable low volume masks available. The soft satin finished skirt gives a good seal and is

definitely one of the masks to look at if you are after a low volume mask. This mask came out with the lowest volume and the fourth best field of vision making it the best

of the low volume masks. But as has been said, it is all about the fit and if this mask fits you it will definitely be one to consider.

Generally the design, construction and materials are superb, but the strap buckles come off the side of the frame and are rigid. This can be an area of concern as these type of buckles can break, especially if you like to put your mask in your footpockets when not in use. That said, they have been made quite chunky and it will take a fair bit of force to break them. The only other potential negative is the large space between the two lenses. This does not seem to bother me, but I know a couple guys that find it very noticeable and don’t like it. Overall this is a great mask and one of the top masks in this review.

 

MARES

Manufacturer: Mares

Model: Tana

Approximate Retail Price: R300

Blocks Visible: 68

Percentage of grid area: 34%

Visibility Rating: 9

Mask Volume: 110.83ml

Volume Rating: 10

 

This is Mares’s answer to the mid range spearfishing masks like the Omer Alien. It actually blows me away that you don’t see more of these masks in shops especially when you consider the suppliers’ recommended retail price of R300.

As always, the Mares quality and comfort are noticeable and this is not some cheap Chinese rip off. This mask will directly compete with the Rob Allen Snapper and Omer Alien as a good all round mask. The strap buckle is attached to the skirt and quality of the construction and materials is good. It is hard to find fault with this mask, even it might not have the finesse of some of the masks available. So if this one fits you better than any other mask it will be a no brainer and a safe choice.

 

MARES

Manufacturer: Mares

Model: X-Vu

Approximate Retail Price: R450

Blocks Visible: 82.5

Percentage of grid area: 41.25%

Visibility Rating: 1

Mask Volume: 161.66ml

Volume Rating: 11

 

The Mares X-Vu is a remarkable mask with a fantastic field of vision. Lending some great traits from its predecessor the X-Vision, the X-Vu is also exceptionally comfortable and even though its not a low volume mask, it by no means feels like a large volume mask. We tested the standard version and the Liquid Skin version and the Liquid Skin had a consistently lower volume and field of vision as the skirt is so soft the mask melts against your face, compressing and bringing the lenses closer to your eyes.

Normally a mask compressing means that its going to land up pressing on a sensitive spot on your forehead or cheeks, but Mares have somehow made this not an issue and this will mean that it will be comfortable for most people. This also means that the relative volume while diving will probably be lower than the test results.

Overall this a great mask, so much so I had to test it in the sea. I took the standard version and dived the Durban basin wrecks that go down to 29m and absolutely enjoyed the mask. I had to release some air into the mask while equalising but it never felt like the mask was squeezing on my face. The extra vision is also a big plus with this mask. I particularly enjoyed the ability to see down and backward at my flasher while swimming on the surface without having to dip my head.

The quality and construction of the mask is good with the strap buckle attaching to the skirt making the mask sleek and the buckle less likely to break. The Liquid Skin version is a couple hundred Rands more but it offers that little more comfort and even better seal, but I think the standard version is more than adequate. Don’t be frightened off by the larger volume of this mask – it is really not an issue.

 

MARES

Manufacturer: Mares

Model: Star

Approximate Retail Price: R400

Blocks Visible: 60

Percentage of grid area: 34%

Visibility Rating: 12

Mask Volume: 104.4ml

Volume Rating: 7

 

The Mares Star is the most compact of the Mares range. We tested both the standard version and the Liquid Skin version. The Liquid Skin range of masks incorporates ultra soft silicon to areas of the mask skirt increasing the mask’s comfort and seal. 

We used the results from the standard version mask as they were more consistent, probably because the Liquid Skin’s soft skirt meant that volumes and area of vision varied between test subjects too much. What was consistent though was the Liquid Skin had consistently lower volumes and slightly better vision as the lenses are drawn closer to the eyes with the softer skirt.

Out of all the small masks this has to be the most comfortable of the lot, especially the Liquid Skin. The straps also pull on the skirt, putting less pressure on the frame towards your face so this mask will probably be the most forgiving especially if you have issues with masks hitting your forehead. I also noticed that it fits smaller faces very well and could be an option if you are battling with other masks.

The standard version is also very well priced for such a well constructed mask. The frame is really sturdy and the silicon skirt has a nice satin finish like the Sporasub Mystic, giving it a great feel. The straps are also attached to the skirt and fold away, so they won’t break off like some of the other low volume masks. This is probably one of the few masks you could just chuck into your dive bag, just not under your weight belt of course. Some guys have been concerned with the lower visibility of this mask, but if reef hunting is your game, the ‘star’ shape gives the mask good vision in the top and corners, which is what you need down on the reef.

 

OMER

Manufacturer: Omer

Model: Zero3

Approximate Retail Price: R600

Blocks Visible: 71.5

Percentage of grid area: 35.75%

Visibility Rating: 8

Mask Volume: 71.66ml

Volume Rating: 2

 

There has been a lot of chatter over this mask. Omer teamed up with Momo a design house in Italy that are reknowned in the high performance motor industry. This has meant that not only does it come with the Omer quality and reputation, it is rather revolutionary in its design. 

On the volume side it is very low, only just behind the Sporasub Mystic, but it is marginal at 0.55ml difference. The mask however was supposed to have a phenomenal field of vision, 30% more than the Omer Alien. Our test revealed that it was only 10% better vision than the Omer Alien. Maybe they crunch their stats differently to us?

That said, the vision at the top of the mask is very open and will be great for reef hunting. There is very little noticeable space between the eyes over the bridge of the nose which is always a good thing. This is partially because of the nose bridge forming around the nose rather than being flat across the bridge like in traditional masks.

This does bring the lenses extremely close to your face, and will mean that this mask will affect different people differently. For some this will fit great, but others will find it hits the cheeks and eyebrow areas making it not all that comfortable. This closeness will also mean that the vision will be vastly different from one person to another as was apparent in our tests where the second subjects vision was noticeably wider but not as deep.

The construction of this ultra light weight mask is good with some seriously funky finishes that look super cool. The straps attach to the frame like most of the low volume masks and although they are cleverly hinged, it’s not your ‘throw around’ mask you can dump at the bottom of your dive bag with your weight belt. Bottom line is you will need to try this one on. If this fits you well and you get a good seal then it is going to be hard not to want to dive in this mask.

 

ROB ALLEN

Manufacturer: Rob Allen

Model: Snapper

Approximate Retail Price: R350

Blocks Visible: 72

Percentage of grid area: 36%

Visibility Rating: 7

Mask Volume: 106.66ml

Volume Rating: 8

 

Fairly new on the market, the Rob Allen Snapper has quickly become very popular. It fits right into the mid range masks along with masks like the Omer Alien. The medium volume is still fairly low and means that this will satisfy most spearfishermen’s needs. The mask has a good construction with a very soft silicon skirt making the mask comfortable, and will fit most faces. The strap also attaches to the skirt ensuring a good fit and not squeezing the frame onto your forehead. This will also mean that the buckles will fold away if the mask is stuffed in a bag or footpocket.

The field of vision on this mask is pretty good but we did get fairly different results between the two test subjects so you might need to try this one on for yourself. This is probably because of the soft skirt making it easy to compress, bringing the lenses closer to the eyes. I had an opportunity to spend a week diving in Mozambique recently with this mask and enjoyed using it. The medium volume was a pleasure even at 30m and I never felt like I had tunnel vision once. The area of vision was more than sufficient and the mask was comfortable all day long.

With the visible area close to some of the top performing masks and the fairly good volume, this mask is a good all rounder. If you add the fact that in SA they are inexpensive, this is a great option when looking at masks for all round spearfishing.

 

ROB ALLEN

Manufacturer: Rob Allen

Model: Couta

Approximate Retail Price: R350

Blocks Visible: 72

Percentage of grid area: 38.25%

Visibility Rating: 3

Mask Volume: 207.5ml

Volume Rating: 12

 

This mask was the personal choice of Rob Allen at the Dive Factory when they were developing their range of masks. Rob, who focuses purely on gamefish went for vision over volume, where Jeremy Williams who prefers reef hunting chose the lower volume Snapper.

The Rob Allen Couta mask is a full face mask, i.e. it has a single lens with no bridge between the eyes. This is a big deciding factor for many divers as the middle bridge is a distraction to the eyes and can either strain or mess with the eyes’ ability to focus when looking straight ahead. This mask gives a great unobstructed view which is an obvious advantage when spearfishing.  Another advantage of single lens masks is that there is very little chance of the mask hitting any sensitive pressure points on your face. The Couta is also frameless which means the rim on the mask is part of the skirt and low profile. This means that the strap buckle also attaches to the skirt and folds away.

Unfortunately with full frame masks, volume is sacrificed for the unobstructed area of vision. But like Rob says, most big game fish are not shot at 30m, and when you are on the surface you need to have as much area of vision as possible.

So if you are either hunting gamefish exclusively or shore diving where extreme depths are not an issue then this could be the mask for you.

 

CRESSI

Manufacturer: Cressi

Model: Occhio Plus

Approximate Retail Price: R650

Blocks Visible: 67

Percentage of grid area: 33.5%

Visibility Rating: 10

Mask Volume: 74.16ml

Volume Rating: 3

 

This mask was one of the big surprises in the review, it came out ahead of a number of low volume masks that we though were going to be much lower. So much so, that we re-tested to make sure we had the numbers right. I guess it just does not look like your typical low volume mask, its big tear drop lenses are more like what you see in higher volume masks.

With its low volume and big lenses it was a bit disappointing that it did not fair better in the field of vision tests. It does however have a very deep area of vision which will be great for when you are on the surface looking for gamefish swimming below you. The big difference between this mask and other low volume masks is that it will probably fit you comfortably as the large skirt is a lot more forgiving than its smaller competitors. So this is one to try out if you are wanting a low volume mask and can’t find one that fits.

As always, Cressi have produced a quality product with some nice features. The strap attaches to the frame with a flexible joint. This is great as it means the buckles can fold away against the mask and are that less likely to get broken. This robustness and low volume make it an ideal spearfishing mask.

 

OMER

Manufacturer: Omer

Model: Alien

Approximate Retail Price: R600

Blocks Visible: 65

Percentage of grid area: 32.5%

Visibility Rating: 11

Mask Volume: 108.33ml

Volume Rating: 9

 

For years, when guys were looking for a mask, almost with out exception they would pick the Omer Alien as ‘the one’ when it came to comfort. This has made this mask one of the top selling classic spearfishing masks of all time. When the mask first came out it was revolutionary, low volume combined with good area of vision. But the big factor that was this mask’s success was its comfort. It was one of the first spearfishing masks with the strap attached to the skirt meaning no broken buckles and a great fit.

Comparing the mask now to all of the newer masks, the Alien still performs fairly well. The volume of the mask is right in the middle of the mid volume masks and the area of vision is still more than adequate. But it is the fit and seal of this mask that will make you pick this proven winner.

 

MARES

Manufacturer: Mares

Model: Essence

Approximate Retail Price: R650

Blocks Visible: 80

Percentage of grid area: 40%

Visibility Rating: 2

Mask Volume: 210ml

Volume Rating: 13

 

The Mares Essence is the only other single lens and frameless mask in this review. The Essence only comes in the Liquid Skin version and is another great mask by Mares. We thought this would have the best area of vision of all the masks but it was pipped by its cousin the X-Vu. However, the unobstructed full frame does have some serious advantages over the twin lens masks.

As was pointed out with the Rob Allen Couta, the other single lens mask, the unobstructed view and fact that there is very little chance that any sensitive pressure points will be hit, make this mask very attractive. Again the only concern is the volume, but as has been mentioned, there are ways to manage this and depending on the diving you are doing this could be the ultimate mask for you.

The Liquid Skin makes for a very comfortable and sleek mask, with the buckle attaching to a very robust flexible tab on the hard edge of the frame and skirt. The unique thing with all the Liquid Skin masks by Mares is that they combine two different types of silicone: a firmer portion for support structure and a softer portion for contact with your face. The soft highly elastic portion helps with the fit and seal while the firm part ensures the mask does not collapse on your face. This can be a problem on masks that only have soft skirts where the frame or lenses land up putting pressure on the face when compressed, and you land up needing to put more air into the mask to pressurise it. This however is not so much the case with the Liquid Skin masks as you can squeeze them real tight on your face without the mask collapsing.

If having that extra peripheral vision is important to you then this mask is one you will need to look at.

 

CRESSI

Manufacturer: Cressi

Model: Super Occhio

Approximate Retail Price: R450

Blocks Visible: 53

Percentage of grid area: 26.5%

Visibility Rating: 13

Mask Volume: 100.5ml

Volume Rating: 6

 

This classic mask has been around for a long time. In many ways this is the original freediving mask. It set the standard when no one else was making low volume masks, and has been the favourite of many divers over the years. Some guys still find the Super Occhio to be the only mask that fits them well. It was for this reason that we included this timeless classic in the review, it has stood the test of time. For years other masks have come and gone, but none have been as popular as the Super Occhio.

It’s hard to compare this mask to the modern low volume masks as there must be almost 30 years between them, yet the Super Occhio comes in at a respectable 100.5ml and it fits just about everyone. The only real down side is that it was designed at a time when area of visibility was probably not as critical as it is in today’s competitive market. Because of this, the mask has a very narrow field of vision.

But there is a reason Cressi continues to make them after all these years, and at least 2 other major manufacturers have their (almost identical) versions of the Super Occhio. It’s because this mask just plain works.

 

TIPS WHEN CHOOSING A MASK

  1. Pick the one that is most comfortable.
  2. Check the seal and suction especially below and around the nose. Screw your face up and see how that effects the seal.
  3. Take note of how easy it is to reach your nose when equalising, and remember you will have dive gloves on as well. (Guys often miss this one.)
  4. After the first 3 points, then look at field of vision and after that the volume.
  5. If you are rough on your gear or dive a lot, then flexible buckle joints and sturdy construction are key.
  6. Lastly don’t consider price when picking out masks (try not to look). You will be amazed at how many times guys pick the least expensive ones. Just because one is more expensive it does not mean it will be better for you. Points 1 to 3 are the most important.

 

Editor’s Note:

Every effort was taken to make sure that all the tests and results were as accurate as possible as we wanted to honour each of the manufacturers equally. This review however should be used only as a guide to point you in the right direction. Each person might find that they will have slightly different results with the masks vs the results that we have published, and this is to be expected.

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