The Photography of h.butz

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 11:49 am 
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I was an avid SCUBA diver in 80's, having collected nearly every certification available: Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Rescue and Recovery, Equipment Specialist, cross-certified between SSI and PADI. One Winter's Day I parked in the Northport train station parking lot and cut through a dirt alley to Larkfield Road with my steel 95 tank in one hand and ScubaPro regulators in the other. It was time for my Winter annual overhaul and Suffolk Dive Center in East Northport was one of the few ScubaPro dealers on Long Island. As I reached for the door knob, an image of a dark, cold empty shop with lots of empty peg board is forever burned in my memory. This can't be happening. All the friends I made, the dive boat trips, the fun and education had just evaporated.

Fortunately there was another dive shop out East a ways who was a ScubaPro dealer. Yet, my diving hobby took a fatal blow when I twisted my spine in a car accident. The accident was not fatal because I landed on something hard - my head. I couldn't lift as much as a coffee cup. The 32 pounds of lead on my belt may as well have been bolted to the closet floor. Dust began to collect on my gear bag and my fins fell beneath a layer of silt of dust. The clear white silicone rubber of my mask and snorkel turned golden yellow with age. I threw out my buoyancy compensator and Farmer John wetsuit.

Nearly two decades later, someone uttered the words I have waited all my life to hear, "We need a diver to take underwater photographs." A diver, you say? I am a certified diver as well as a photographer. Let's see what I can do. I ran down to my local dive shop who hadn't seen me in years and asked for a full rental setup. Moving to the deep end of the pool, I stuffed my pockets with lead weight, took a few drags on the second stage regulator, leaned backward, and let gravity drag me to the bottom. A violent storm of bubbles and waves rushed past me with a thunderclap of angry water collapsing in over my head. I took another breath as the regulator began to react to the water pressure. The bubbles cleared and the pool bottom came into view. It was going to be a good day.

This is kinda fun. Maybe I should do this on vacation one year. But, the rental BC was 1 or 2 sizes too small for me, making me realize I would need to buy a BC for travel. Like the legendary Rip Van Winkle, I awoke to a sport I had given up on twenty years prior. U.S. Divers went back to using their original name, Aqualung, inspired by or perhaps inspiring Jethro Tull's album of the same name. ScubaPro is now selling under the name Uwatec. Dacor Diving was swallowed up by Mares. And, Zeagle - where did they come from?

Very few BC's would both fit my girth and yet be compact enough for travel. Zeagle Express Tech was perfect, which I found as an "open box" special. The waist straps were fed at 90 degrees through a D-ring to the arm straps, making customization a simple task. Even with the generous amount of material which is designed to be trim to fit, I would need to swap out the straps for something larger. The only issue with the design was the weight of the tank dragging the rig down past my ass without the straps closed. I fixed this with a simple pair of weight stops to limit the size of the arms.

I found a commercial dive outfit in New Jersey who didn't make fashionable Henderson wetsuits, but rather functional, customized, and customizable dive suits at a fraction of the price with a 2-week turn-around. All my equipment was listed as "vintage" on sites like Ebay. Who ya calling "vintage" son'y? I've got this "vintage" Decor diving knife which features a monstrous amount of heavy steel for a blunt tip pry tool. I made the mistake of having it "professionally" sharpened and was horrified to have it returned with a big, pointy, sharp-ass point as they "repaired" my blunt tip at no cost to me! It's the biggest, heaviest dive knife no longer on the market and quite impressive looking.

Dive masks - gawd, why can't manufacturers produce a mask with a decent purge valve system? Pressured by fashion-conscious yuppies, gone are the days of the "pig snout" dive masks. They were functional, not pretty. A large one-way water purge valve was placed on the front glass while the nose pinch was under the nose. Fashion dictates the lenses be pushed closer to the eyes, reducing the volume of the mask and increasing peripheral vision. The result is a nose pocket which protrudes. I think it looks absolutely ugly and stupid. Worse, the only place for a purge valve is under or up your nose, making pinching the pocket difficult to impossible. Only one single design is on the market from two manufacturers, not sure if they're a copy-cat or second source, which has a protruding hard nose at an angle to conceal a purge valve which is in front of the nose. The pinch is perfect and the mask looks fashionable. Great, solid design and the only one on the market.

Nitrox... everything. Advanced air mixtures wasn't even a "thing" when I was being certified. There were helium mixtures for commercial divers. Now, there's Nitrox and EAN for recreational divers. The tag line is that Nitrox gives you more bottom time, period. eh, kinda. It doesn't give you more bottom time for most shore dives. It doesn't give you more bottom time a deep depths because it limits how deep you can dive. What it does do is cost a lot more money, requires, additional training and risk, to double the number of dives you can do in a single day iff you're diving in the 50-80 foot range. But, who would want to do 4 dives in a single day as a recreational diver? Why not do 2 dives and spend the rest of your day relaxing and drinking beer? Sorry, not buying.

I still have to trade in my Luxfer aluminum tank for something from this century. It's made from a weak alloy which has caused a few tanks to explode, manufactured back in 1977. Some dive shops would probably allow me to fill it provided I had it hydro-tested with a VIP "plus" sticker, but as I get older my tanks get smaller. I'm looking for something I can throw on my back without throwing my back out.

By the way, if you're wondering if you can breath 20yo air which has been kept in a tank in the closet? yes. yes you can. I've still got over 1000psi in it so I am testing my regulators and BC with it before I purchase a new tank. There is so much snow and ice on the ground that I have not been able to negotiate the parking lot carrying a heavy tank. No matter. I don't have the money this month anyway.

I was going to mount my ScubaPro Air II onto my Zeagle BC but Zeagle suggested I use one of their alternate air sources. They make regulators too? Apparently nice ones, and nicely priced. An alternate air source mounted on a BC allows a diver to breath off their inflator hose rather than their primary regulator, provided you have a higher diameter hose. Having a backup is always good. Aside from running your tank dry or first stage regulator failure, an alternate air source is good if the primary regulator is ripped away, if my buddy needs it, or if the thing just breaks.

The Zeagle alternate source screwed onto a garden hose attachment so I didn't need to mess with cable ties. Nice design, especially for service. It allows me to attach a garden hose to the BC to flush it out at the end of the dive. Again, nice design. But, there's more. My old ScubaPro BC has a rear dump valve which I cannot live without. There is a cord which comes over the left shoulder to a plastic knob which bounces around making it difficult to locate. I had modified it by replacing the knob with a lamp shade decorative brass nut, making it always hang straight down and easier to grab. Zeagle, by contrast, has a steel cable stress relief running up the inside of the hose. Good... but, they went the extra mile to tie the other end of the cable to a dump valve. Now, you've got a single unit which has a regulator and purge valve, BC inflator valve, dump valve, manual inflation mouthpiece, and if you yank on it it will operate a rear dump valve as well. Wow.

I'm also ditching all the dumb things I was talked into buying by my dive instructor. Like, a Farmer John wetsuit will allow you dive more months out of the year and keep you warmer. Yes, but, it also adds about 5lbs to your weight belt, is a bitch to wiggle in and out of, and overheats you when you're on the beach preparing for your dive. High performance regulators? Yes, they're wonderful at depth but if you do a lot of shore diving there's more of a chance they'll free-flow or suck in water. What you really want is an adjustable regulator with a dive/surface switch. Dive computers? They're toys. Do not trust them. There's nothing worse than an unplanned dive when you're at 80 feet and your computer shuts off. They rarely give warning. It's just, -blink- and who turned off the lights? It's not coming back. Never trust a computer with your life. They will kill you.

With that said, I found this amaaaazing dive computer xDeep Black Bottom Timer. It's about as high-tech as you can get. They sell the no-decompression software separately to keep the basic unit affordable. Bright, beautiful color graphics display with amazing compass function and vertical speed indicator. The company cannot keep up with demand. It makes everything else on the market look like overpriced garbage. One issue - figure about 20 hours on a single charge. At least it's a rechargeable battery. It's still on backorder.

So, what am I doing with this? I've already done boat diving, wreck diving, deep diving, and lobster hunting. What I want to do is something new and different - underwater nude photography. If you are a model and have a swimming pool, I really want to hear from you.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 11:51 am 
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Joined: Thu Mar 02, 2017 11:35 am
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The biggest improvement to dive gear to come along since my day was the transition from hard lead block weights to lead shot. The traditional way to populate a weight belt is to buy blocks of lead stamped with numbers ranging from 1/2, 1, 5, 8, 9, 10 and few odd-ball sizes in-between. You snake a thin yet very stiff nylon webbing through the slots in the lead to form one of the most torturous piece of sports equipment ever designed. It's dead weight, pinches fingers, and the hard edges dig into your flesh. Adding and removing weight is a laborious and time-consuming process. Fine adjustments were just not done. I over-weighted myself by 3-5lbs and pushed more air into my BC jacket, prompting any experienced diver to ask, "Are you nuts?" Beat the hell out of messing with block weights.

Not having enough weight will force you to swim down in a head-first position, always kicking against your buoyancy. Having too much weight can be compensated in shallow depths, unsafely, but at least it works. As you dive to 33 feet, air in a BC jacket is reduced to half, displacing half as much sea water. The weight of all that water is now added to your weight. If you had no air in your BC, the change is small. If you had a lot of air at the surface, you find yourself accelerating faster and faster to the bottom of the ocean to which your only solution would be to frantically search for your inflation button and add even more air. Sure, that works - but, a surprise is waiting for you on the way back up.

The moral of this story? Take the time to trim your buoyancy. Enter "soft weights" - uber bean bags. What a wonderful invention. No pinched fingers or dinged toes. You can actually kick a bag of soft weights in bare feet and live to tell about it. Bags containing lead shot (some call them lead pearls) can be added and removed from nylon pockets fastened to a belt with a buckle. Or, even better (maybe?) just tack the pockets directly onto the BC jacket to take the weight off your hips and add them to your shoulders.

A few things tho - first of all, a BC which already supports a 30-40lb SCUBA tank now has to support another 20-30lbs of lead weight. Add those two numbers up and your dive boat needs to lower you into the water using a winch. Some manufacturers use propriety plastic clips so they can charge double for the system, but the clips break easily, weights are dropped into the sea, while the diver is propelled upwards. Or, hook and loop fasteners are used which have much less friction wet than dry, causing the pockets to open and spill their contents. Zeagle, again - great design uses zipper closures and bolts directly to the backplate while providing an emergency dump mechanism rip cord.

Yet, I still can't see adding 100% of the weight to the BC, no matter how "neat" that would be. Weights are still difficult to add and remove and nobody wants a 70lb BC jacket. After months of research, I've decided to split the weight - maybe 16lbs of lead on the BC with the rest on an easily removed, easily re-stored, old school weight belt. Soft weights, of course. The zippered kind.

So, why is it so difficult to find? All these fancy weight belt systems are still using hook and loop fasteners, which I refuse to own. The pouches are not attached to a single piece of webbing, but rather it's sewn together in pieces making it difficult to replace a worn belt or, in my case, add a few inches :) I have to buy "tank trim weights" and add them to a piece of solid webbing, not because I want to, but because I have to.

Then there's buckle. Back in my day, we had a choice - steel or plastic buckles. They both did the job. Steel bent and rusted while plastics kept their shape and strength. Today, plastic buckles are just hated due to poor construction quality. The free divers are going back to tongue and hole belts, or heavy stainless wire buckles. Those tongue buckles do have a pirate quality to them. But, experienced divers are not feeling the love for nylon webbing belts.

With depth comes squeeze. If you didn't fit into your wetsuit before, you do now. As you enjoy the slimming effects of several additional atmospheres of pressure, your nylon weight belt swims, circles, and falls down around your ass. It was standard procedure for me to descend to 35 feet, pause, and re-tighten my weight belt. I'm reading now people are going really old school - solid rubber belts. Rubber stretches. At depth, rubber conforms to your body to keep your belt snug. I'm keeping the soft weights, tho.

So, yea - nice to have an option to throw some, but not all my weight onto the BC. That's 16lbs off my hips and 4-8lbs on my hips. If I ditch my weight belt, I become as little as 4lbs lighter which brings me gently to the surface, rather than ditching as much as 20 or 30lbs which propels me upwards at unrestrained rates and putting me into a more dangerous situation than whatever I was in before.

Now just have to wait for the dive equipment manufacturers to learn the errors of their ways!


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