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A year with the Seacam Fuji S2

by Paul Kay

UK Seacam agent

When I decided to move over to digital for underwater use, I was already running a D1X above water. So I had a choice of either housing the D1X or buying another camera (for underwater use only). My existing two housed cameras were both Nikons: an F100 and an F80, both in Subal housings and I had a variety of lenses which included the 12~24 DX from Nikon.

Without running through my decision making process too much, the critical factors which finally influenced my choice were the ability of the Fuji S2Pro to operate ttl flash with Nikonos V type flash units, and its use of AA cells. So in the end I went for the Fuji S2Pro and am still running it with 12~24 DX zoom and the 60 micro Nikkor. (Out of interest, these equates to an equivalent 19~38mm wide-angle zoom, behind a dome port, and 144mm macro lens behind a flat port).

Perhaps it is pertinent at this point to first comment on my impressions of the Fuji S2Pro and Nikon D1X comparatively - based on my own opinions, and based on the results that I have had. Although the D1X is a 5 Mega Pixel camera, I believe that it produces marginally 'better' image quality than the S2Pro - files are very even in terms of tonality and there appear to be less noticeable chromatic aberrations. Its build quality is of course in a different league to the Fuji as it equates squarely to Nikon's pro series 35mm cameras and,

as you might expect, it performs extremely well in all aspects such as autofocus accuracy and speed, exposure, ease of use and so on. The D1X is a very competent, robust and well-specified camera, suitable for professional use.

The S2 on the other hand is a far more lightly built unit but one which I believe is ideal for putting in a housing. It is based on Nikon's F80 and an F80 can easily be put into an S2Pro housing by having an adapter block built - dual format! Its real advantage over most other dSLRs is its ability to work with conventional ttl flash - which is excellent for macro work as it is very accurate and this combined with the histogram feature on the camera makes for a versatile close-up flash system. Underwater it is a very viable machine, almost certainly offering more features than most users will ever need for most underwater photography (as do many housed cameras).

My opinion, having used it underwater for over 9 months, is that it works very well in the vast majority of situations and delivers excellent images. It does though, have downsides when housed. Some are common to many other dSLRs, others are more specific to the S2Pro.

First is the fact that it is based on a relatively cheap Nikon film camera - the F80. Now I have used an F80 in a housing for over a year and found it to be a perfectly usable camera underwater, but sales of F80 housings almost certainly bear out the fact that it was not a popular camera to house - am I being cynical in thinking that this is because it was too cheap a camera to bother housing? I'd like to know sales figures for F80 housings compared to say F90 or F100 housings but expect that the F80

sold far less. Which makes it odd that dSLRs based on or similar to the F80 are very popular!

So why should this be a problem? Well basically because the autofocus is quite simply not as good as say an F100 or F5 or D1X. The F80 and F80 derived units also all seem to have a feature described as focus tracking in the manual. I have found that this can cause problems if the photographer and the subject are both moving (as is often the case underwater) and conditions are not quite as perfect as they might be. Then autofocus has a tendency not lock on properly and hunts. As light levels and contrast reduce then the problem becomes worse - this may not affect tropical divers as much as those of us who dive in cooler, murkier waters where it can be frustrating at times. I've found this with both F80 and S2Pro and assume that it happens with the D100 and Kodak based dSLRs too. It's a feature I would rather not have and which cannot be switched off.

Another problem that the S2Pro suffers from is that it can be power thirsty, although this depends on what compact flash card is in use as well as the

way in which the camera is used. The battery level indicator is about as useful as the fuel gauge in a Peugeot 205, which if you haven't driven one means that it bears little relationship to actuality! The good news is that the camera runs on AA sized batteries so spares can easily be carried - either rechargeable (now up to 2300mAh) or conventional.

Otherwise, I have very few gripes with the camera, other that is than its viewfinder! Fuji have simply masked off the F80 full frame 35mm viewfinder to produce a smaller image of the actual image area of the sensor, and have left the viewfinder display where it was, sitting somewhere well below the viewed image. This means that the viewfinder is smallish and that it can occasionally be awkward to see the data. There is a very effective solution which I was able to adopt. I use a Seacam S45 Sportsfinder - a simply superb viewing system which compensates for much of the Fuji's smaller view by producing a very clear, easily viewed image indeed - but at a significant cost! I could not go back to using a conventional viewfinder after the S45 - it is that good.

Which brings me on to the Housing. As the British and Irish importer and retailer of Seacam housings, I obviously opted to use a Seacam Silver housing for my S2Pro. Seacam have been producing housings for a long time now and concentrate on Pro and high end enthusiast cameras. They produce a range of dSLR housings for cameras including the Nikon D1 series, D100 (and soon D70) Fuji S2Pro, and Canon EOS1 Series (the latest of which will take the 1/1DS/1DmkII). All are similar in design and offer use of most controls.

Although I may be accused of bias, I have to say that in my own, honest opinion, I consider Seacam housings to be extremely well built. All glands are all double 'O' ring sealed and the main and port 'O' rings are large and would be very difficult to fit wrongly - I doubt that a port could be fitted it the 'O' ring was not seated accurately. The Silver finish is extremely hard and durable - after 9 months my own housing looks hardly used (and you should see some of my other housings - I do not treat them with kid gloves, they are to be used). Seacam are getting an enviable reputation

for producing a very high quality precision engineered product. Sadly this usually means that newly designed housings have a waiting list!

The S2Pro housing is very similar to Seacam's D100 housing - the front section is actually common to both. It appears to be a 'chunky' housing although actually weighs very little more than my old Subal F100 housing. The size is a design feature as, depending on lens/ port/finder, buoyancy varies from slightly positively buoyant to a little negatively buoyant. Buoyancy is a function of size so

Controls are well placed and the only one to require any care in operation is the rear command dial, which is a trifle small and needs care to ensure that it rotates (by the right hand thumb) properly.

The SCM focus selector switch is an optional feature from Seacam. Whilst I had this fitted, I am not sure why as I have rarely used it to date and as it is possible to knock it to MF (as on many other housings - this is due to the camera control's position) inadvertently. I did have a second flash socket fitted (so my housing has two Nikonos 5 type sockets as flash sockets are the most likely area to give trouble on ANY housing) and I also had the audio/visual leak detector fitted.

One feature that I have been pleasantly surprised with is the shutter release, which can be operated either by conventional forefinger or by thumb. After nine months use I now prefer the thumb - it gives very fine control indeed! A clear window on the back of the housing allows for easy viewing of the led screen

- which on the S2Pro is positioned better than some dSLRs for housing

- it is not blanked by the viewfinder. Reviewing is very straightforward underwater and use of the histogram allows for accurate checking of exposure as the led is a little bright sometimes, depending on ambient light conditions, for a purely visual check.

Handles are fitted to either side of the housing and are easy enough to grip - they also offer some protection against bumping! Ports are glass and are available with an optical coating - despite this they can be scratched (especially if thrown into a rib about to be run down by a merchantman whose radio watch keeping was less than good!) if badly treated!

I use a flat port for the 60mm lens and a WidePort plus Extender 35 tube for the 12~24 which produces excellent image quality if used at f/11 (which is my preferred wide-angle aperture).

Flash mounts are conventional flat plates mounted on top of the housing but are slightly deeper than most. Some arm systems such as Ultralight will require a thinner plate or dovetail adapter to be used. I use a Seacam arm which has a ball size similar to Ultralight/TLC/Inon etc (1" or 25mm). Seacam arms are similar to 'buoyancy' arms and are virtually neutral underwater.

Whilst Seacam produce flash units, they utilise Subtronic electronics and I have to date stuck with my old SB 105s and a wondrous Subtronic Mega Colour. This flashgun has the ability to be warmed or cooled in colour temperature. Combine this with RAW files and matching of the colour temperature of the image with that of the flash allows the background water colour to be changed - something which I am currently experimenting with. The S2Pro works very well in ttl mode (between 100 & 400 ISO settings) for macro photography with both the SB 105s and the Subtronic unit (I've also tried a YS120 with good results). For wide-angle I prefer to use manual flash settings and again find the Subtronic very helpful here as it is very adjustable.

All in all I am satisfied that I made to right choice in opting for the S2Pro in a Seacam housing. I only operate using RAW files and find these to provide quality sufficient for many purposes if opened in Adobe Photoshop CS and optimised appropriately. My only real complaint is that the S2Pro is only a 6 Mega Pixel camera and in the near future I have no option other than to switch to using a Canon EOS IDS (in a Seacam of course) to improve on this!

Paul Kay

[email protected]

Olympus p-mini DIGITAL & 3m housing

Japanese camera manufacturer Olympus have a long history of producing 'weatherproof' cameras and their latest digital compact ^-mini DIGITAL is no exception.

My review camera was gold but there are also five other colours available and I think this says a great deal about the camera. This is a camera for those who want to be seen with it.

Rather like the Apple iPod Mini which was underspecified and not much cheaper than the original iPod (yet is much more popular amongst youngsters), the ^-mini DIGITAL is very much about style. You only have to look at it to appreciate that.

However, this is no dumb blonde camera. Its 4 mp chip produces excellent results at the touch of a button. Sure there is the usual shutter lag but this comes with the territory. Other than that you have a fully automatic point and shoot camera that not only looks good, it performs well. Sure there are 14 'scene's which can be selected but I suspect that the majority of people attracted to this camera will like its up front simplicity with added flexibility if needed. Similarly with the zoom it's 2x which is less than most by comparison but more than adequate to this cameras purposes.

Now our idea of waterproof is not the same as Olympus's. To them it really means 'moistureproof' i.e. don't run it under a tap but you'll be fine in the sauna, though why you should be taking pictures in there is nobodies business. Whilst to us mild eccentrics this is nowhere near waterproof enough, to your non-mild eccentric it is a very useful specification because you don't have to worry about

the camera. It is designed to be rugged and still perform.

For those who want to take the camera underwater there is a very dinky 3m water resistant housing, the CWPC-01 which is only just bigger than the camera (obviously) and has all the controls to operate it to that depth. Being just 3 metres means that the majority of controls don't have to have O rings but can be operate through more elegant gaskets.

Just like the camera, the housing is very stylish and attractive and looks much nicer than those brutish 40m housings with their butch O rings, bulky

fillter threads and oversize controls. I suspect the majority of users will take it in the swimming pool despite the fact that it will perform well on shallow coral reefs.

The ^-mini DIGITAL and CWPC-01 are perfect for the image conscious who are concious of their image.

Peter Rowlands

[email protected]

UR Pro Shallow Water CY Filter by Alexander Mustard

A quick click on the UR Pro website will tell you that UR Pro's Colour Correction filters are not only well used but also well loved by underwater cameramen and filmmakers. The Stan Waterman's quote sums it up really "URPRO filters provided dependable color balance to an otherwise monochromatic blue world.. .1 depend on them". More recently photographers have discovered that UR Pro's filters can work similar wonders when combined with digital still cameras. I am a big fan of their CY filter, designed for clear, tropical water and when I heard that they were releasing a new product, the shallow water CY filter (SW-CY), I had to try it.

UR Pro's justification for the SW-CY is to provide a filter suited to work between the surface at 8m (25ft), the standard CY filter is designed for an overlapping but deeper range of 3-20m (10-60ft). The two filters look identical, but have quite distinct filtration characteristics.

Most still photographers find that the most pleasing filtered images come from shallow depths (<10m/ 30ft). In deeper water (>10m/30ft), although filters improve significantly on reality, the shots can still look a bit drab. Furthermore filters work by subtraction of light so at depth we are forced to use higher ISOs to compensate for the ever-decreasing illumination, which introduces noise. Videographers can get away with these compromises because movement enlivens their images, but drab colours in a still image just leave the viewer wishing for flash! So the new SW-CY promises to be well suited to the favoured filtration depth range of the still photographer.

I decided to test the SW-CY filter on two camera systems. First I did the fully automatic evaluation using an Olympus 5060 with an INON WAL using AUTO white balance and shooting JPGs. Then for those who like more control I tested it on a Nikon D70 with a 20mm lens shooting in RAW and custom white balancing using the dropper in Photoshop's Camera RAW Plug-in. On the same dive (I did a lot of popping back to the boat) I shot the D70 with a CC40 Red filter (on the 10.5mm lens) and a standard UR Pro CY filter on a 17-35mm lens. All these shots were taken in 3.5m (14ft) of water near Stingray City Sandbar.

The SW-CY worked very well on the Olympus 5060 and nearly all

Diver and stingrays. The UR Pro Shallow Water filter produced pleasing colours, including skin tones, in AUTO white balance. Olympus 5060 + Inon WAL + UR Pro SW-CYfilter. No flash. 1/80 @ F5.6 ISO 100.

of the images looked fantastic straight from the camera. The colours of sand, stingrays and skin tones were all very pleasing. Human skin tones are notoriously tricky to get right but I thought that they were recorded with impressive accuracy. In short with the SW-CY the 5060 produced great colour with auto everything, point and shoot simplicity.

The only problem I encountered was the camera's AUTO white balance would get a bit confused occasionally and a few pictures came out slightly yellow. I am not sure what was causing this, but a simple post processing application of AUTO COLOUR in Photoshop solved this minor glitch.

Unsurprisingly, the SW-CY also yielded excellent results with the D70 again producing accurate skin tones and natural environmental colours. I tested the filter against a standard CY and a 40CC Red filter and, after custom white balancing, all

Diver and stingray. The UR Pro Shallow Water filter also worked well with the DSLR when shot in RAW and white balanced with the dropper tool (on white T shirt) in the Adobe Camera RAW Plug-In for Photoshop. Nikon D70 in Subal Housing, 20mm lens with UR Pro SW-CYfilter. No flash. 1/100th @ F7.1 ISO 200.

Three images of stingrays. All three filters produced most satisfactory results after custom white balancing as before: a) UR Pro SW-CY filter on 20mm lens, b) UR Pro CY filter on 17-35mm lens, and c) Kodak Wratten 40CC Red gel on 10.5mm lens. All Nikon D70 in Subal Housing.

three produced excellent results. The SW-CY required the smallest white balance correction of the three relative to a "standard" daylight, but none required large white balance corrections. These corrections were small enough not to have a detectable effect on image quality (large white balance adjustments in RAW do degrade image quality).

One point of interest is that the camera's AUTO white balance produced more pleasing colours straight from the camera with both the UR Pro filters than the 40CC Red. It is possible that the Colour Correcting (warming) UR Pro filters make it easier for the camera to AUTO white balance than the Colour Compensating (adding red) 40CC Red Gel.

On the negative side, my only frustration with the UR Pro filters is that these glass sandwich filters can only be fitted to lenses that accept screw filters. This notably excludes my two main wide angle lenses: the 10.5mm and 16mm fisheyes.

In conclusion the SW-CY is excellent and works well (as is clear from the images). I would expect most photographers would not want to buy both the CY and SW-CY given the large overlap in their operational depth ranges. Which filter to choose depends on what, where and why you shoot. If you want a versatile filter to use while diving then the standard CY is still your best choice. However if your reason for getting in the water is photography, and you are prepared to constrain your diving within the depth range of the filter, then the SW-CY used in the brighter light of the shallows is an excellent choice.

Alexander Mustard [email protected]

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Wide Open Spaces by Peter Rowlands

Panorama photography is nothing new but now, with the digital age, it has never been easier. There are several inexpensive, and sometimes free, software programmes which can blend your individual images together and produce a stunning vista which would not normally be possible in a single shot.

My introduction to panoramas happened quite by chance on a January holiday in New Zealand. (A holiday, by the way, is a diving trip without the diving!) We were staying with friends on the outskirts of Auckland and they took us to Devonport, a peninsula which overlooks downtown Auckland. It was a beautiful fluffy cloud, sunny day and the view as we came over the hill was absolutely breathtaking.

Armed with a simple Olympus C40 entry level digital camera (4mp which produces jpg shots about lmb in size which will print excellent A4 prints) I stood in one place and took 5 consecutive shots from left to right making sure I had left plenty of overlap from one shot to the other. It

took no more than 30 seconds.

Subsequently on a motorhome trip the next week to South Island, NZ we stopped on Crown Ridge to take in a spectacular view of the valley below. No single shot could take it all in one so again I took another series of shots from left to right. Anyone who has been to South Island NZ (as our brave Lions rugby team will soon be doing) will know that there are countless such scenes which cannot be captured in a single shot.

Fast forward back home to the tail end of a British winter and I downloaded my digital photos onto my laptop (a true holiday, by the way, is a diving trip without the diving and without a laptop and internet access!). Once I had dealt with the e mail backlog and sorted out the Nikonos repair estimates I started to look through my images from NZ.

Opening the first frames from the Auckland vista in Photoshop I started to blend them all together and after a while I had built a credible single image panorama by correcting slight exposure and perspective variations.

Now I'm a great believer in "fate" or "kismet" and for some reason I was looking at the list of applications on my Apple laptop and one jumped out at me. "PanoramaMaker" ( seemed to shout to me that I should open it because it suggested that it could 'make panoramas'.

Seconds later (and obviously without reading the instructions) I had imported the same Auckland shots and was amazed, about a minute later, to see that the programme has not only produced an excellent panorama but it was also better than mine which has taken about half an hour to create! Within minutes I had several panoramas completed which only needed slight retouching to make them complete.

With these land panoramas in the bag I was keen to try the technique underwater but had no underwater

trips planned in the forseeable future. Once again 'kismet' surfaced after a chance meeting with Alex Mustard to photograph his shiny new Subal housing for the Nikon D2x digital SLR camera. He mentioned he was looking for a last minute trip to the Red Sea to test his new outfit and within a couple of hours we were booked on MV Snapdragon out of Sharm el Sheik for a week joining a 'normal' diving trip.

On the check out dive I passed my buoyancy test with flying colours and took down my Olympus C40 in its PT-012 housing with a UR Pro CY colour filter. Alex gratiously agreed to steal himself away from his new housing combo to pose for me for my first underwater panorama. The result was not very successful but it illustrated exactly what is needed to produce a good panorama.

The following guidelines may seem obvious but here goes: Stay in one place and rotate your body rather like a tripod. Make sure you keep as level as possible.

Overlap each shot by at least 25%.

The beauty of digital photography is the speed of results. After each dive I was able to open PanoramaMaker, import the shots in sequence and about a minute later I was looking at the finished image.

With my original Auckland

The first trial underwater was not very successful but it illustrated exactly what is needed to produce a good panorama. This is six shots cut and pasted together to show that I should have kept the camera more level and used manual exposure to keep it consistent from frame to frame. Olympus C40 PT-012 housing, standard lens at wide, UR Pro CY colour correcting filter.

Taking 4 or 5 vertical frames and blending them together with PanoramaMaker produces a shot which shows a large subject, such as this wreck the Carnatic in the Red Sea, in its juxtaposition with the reef. Olypmus C40, PT-012, Inon WL-165, UR Pro CY colour filter

(Above) The same wreck shot a few years later and joined together as a panorama. Olypmus C40, PT-012, Inon WL-165, UR Pro CY colour filter

(Left) A single frame shot of the Ghiannis D shot on film a few years ago with a 16mm full frame fisheye lens

panorama I was using the standard lens which is about 35mm. Underwater this would not be wide enough for large subjects so the ideal lens needs to be the 35mm equivalent of around 20mm.

The WL-165 Inon wide angle lens is very wide (165°) but it produces very little geometric distortion and PanoramaMaker coped well when joining these images together. With such a neat camera package I was producing final images which would produce prints about 210 x 600mm in size with a file size of around 5mb.

Theoretically you should not use a full frame fisheye lens for panoramas because of the geometric (barrel) distortion it produces. That, however, is the worst thing you can say to me so I decided to try the 10.5mm Nikkor on my Nikon D70 in a Subal housing behind a low profile dome which produces noticeable edge distortion at wide apertures. Add to this that the dive was to be on the Thistlegorm at 7.30am (i.e. when the sun was very low in the sky) and that the subject I wanted was at nearly 30 metres so things were stacked against me.

Actually I had another reason to try the 10.5mm because I had a theory that whilst the geometry may be distorted the central dimensions

(Above) Despite the barrel distortion of a full frame fisheye lens, PanoramaMaker did a good job stitching 5 vertical shots together.

(Below) A typical single shot of the engine on the starboard side of the Thistlegorm. Subal/Nikon D70, 10.5mm lens, CC30 red filter 1/30 @ F5.6

the frames to the right have managed to capture the silhouette/shape of the bows giving a strong feeling of size and scale.

Having dabbled with panoramas, they are a technique I will be doing a lot more of in forthcoming trips. They can be produced with comparatively inexpensive digital cameras and are not difficult to shoot.

Peter Rowlands

[email protected]

remain pretty much constant. By this I mean that a diver kept in the centre line of the frame will remain much the same proportionally when at the edge. With rectilinear wide angle lenses a divers body elongates towards the edge of the frame.

The railway engine off the starboard side of the ship lies about 15-20 metres from the wreck so I swam about 8-10 metres away from it so it looked quite small in the frame. Using a manual exposure (so the exposure didn't vary from frame to frame), I took 5 vertical frames from left to right.

Back on board, I discovered a panel in PanoramaMaker which lets you preset the lens being used. I chose 14mm (the widest) and it did an excellent job but struggled with the tone transitions between each frame. This gave a vertical band of darker water which was soon evened out with the help of Alex Mustard's subtle use of Photoshop.

Having finalised the panorama, Alex insisted on adding a diver from another shot for scale which is on the front cover but personally I prefer the non-diver version. The final result, to me, is most pleasing especially as

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A two and a half hour flight from London there is a dive site which must rank in the world's top ten. The visibility is in excess of 50 metres - guaranteed - and in theory one side of the dive is in America and the other is in Europe. Welcome to Silfra cracks, Thingvellir, Iceland.

Silfra is a dive into the earth's crust where it is very gradually splitting apart. The resulting cracks are filled with glacial water which melts and is filtered through the volcanic rocks. It is pure fresh water in an area with virtually no marine growth or life producing water clarity easily in excess of 50 metres. As if the visibiity were not enough, the topography is not far from unique underwater.

Any downsides? Well, yes. The water may be crystal clear but it's only around 2°C and you have to walk all your equipment at least 50 metres over varied terrain. This is dry suit country for sure and you are unlikely to be able to go more than 30 minutes underwater before your hands stop co-operating and your brain loses its power to concentrate. It is physically very hard work but diving here is like nowhere else and the discomfort is but a fleeting irritation compared to the sensory overload this dive will produce.

It all started with an e mail from Charles Hood, senior correspondent at Dive Magazine here in the UK. How did I fancy a press trip to Iceland for 5 days in April? Like most things with me I said "Yes" without giving it any thought. It was only when I checked on the internet and found that the seawater temperature was around 5°C at this time of year that I realised I hadn't done a dry suit dive for a couple of years and even then it was in Cornwall in July when the water was a balmy 17°C.

Iceland Express is a low cost airline which has increased tourist numbers in Iceland significantly.

(Top) A panorama of the inland lakes and cracks at Silfra where the continental plates drift apart by 2 cm per year

(Left) Little and Large at the diving platform at the beginning of the dive (Below) A panorama of three shots at the lagoon at Silfra Cracks. The water is crystal clear with in excess of 50 metres visibility. Nikon D70, Subal housing, Nikon 10.5mm fisheye. F5.6 on Auto. Preset white balance. Available light

The diving in Iceland is very similar to the UK except the waters are colder. Nikon D70, Subal housing, 28-70mm lens, 2 x Inon Z220 strobes. 1/125th @ F11

They fly from London Stansted, Frankfurt and Copenhagen to Reykjavik on a daily basis. Well I say Reykjavik but actually the airport is in Keflavik which about 30 miles away but this is really handy because the dive center is in Keflavik!

The Dive Center was founded and built up by Tomas Knutssson, a go getting Icelander who has been diving these waters since the 1970's. He runs a very efficient centre and caters for small groups with varied itineraries. We had just four days to sample the local dive sites which is obviously not enough but it gave us a taste of the diving which can best be described as similar to UK diving but with usually more marine life but much colder water. Most of the dives are from the shore but, weather permitting, inflatable and hard boat dives can be arranged.

On my first dive I managed to go for 30 minutes before my hands told me to get somewhere warmer or they were thinking about falling off. Fortunately I was not alone as both Charlie and Tomas's hands were giving them the same ultimatum.

As it has been a while since I either shore dived or had to wear a dry suit (I need an 18kg weightbelt!) my body was threatening to join my hands by the end of the first day (that's how it should be said properly, by the way. Not 'by then end of 'day one").

After a couple of pints of Guiness in the evening in the compulsory in every town abroad 'Oyrish' pub and an excellent seafood meal in one of the many excellent restaurants in Keflavik we both agreed that the diving had more marine life than the UK but at nearly 6° colder it was offering little encouragement to spend good money getting more marine life in colder water. "Ah well, we're here now" we said. Let's see if it gets any better tomorrow. Little did we know what was in store.

Wednesday dawned and Tomas was in a good mood. In recent years he had tenaciously formed a local PADI Project Aware activity which had expanded successfully in his "Blue Army" - a group of local volunteers who clean up beaches and remove tons of scrap tipped into the sea at various vantage points. His "Blue Army" had taken on another sponsor that day who provided much needed funds to contine and expand the campaign. Unknown to us, Tomas's good mood was also caused by the inner knowledge that he was about to blow our diving socks off with today's diving. Silfra cracks is just over an hour's drive from Keflavik. We loaded the Toyota Hiace with everything we needed for the day including a small flask which we presumed was Tomas's coffee. Little did we realise that this flask would help us last the maximum time in the water which was 2°C.

We had heard Silfra cracks was a great dive but we just weren't prepared for just how great a dive it

(Top) A sample of pure fresh water from Silfra Cracks was the perfect addition to our nightly celebration with a glass ofLaphroaig (Left) A diver is essential to give a sense of scale.

Nikon D70, Subal housing, Nikon 10.5mm fisheye. F5.6 on Auto. Preset white balance. Available light

is. Our anticipation wasn't dampened by having to lug all our gear about 50 metres to the access platform. We were intimidated by the thought of the water being just 2°C. That's just 2° from when it starts to solidify, remember.

All fears melted away as we looked down into the still water at the beginning of a 5 metre wide crack. It was prefectly, perfectly clear. I had never seen such clarity.

As we slipped into the water, despite a good dry suit and undersuit, hood and gloves it still took our breath away. The pain on our unexposed cheeks (face cheeks, that is) was headacheingly intense. Fortunately this soon faded as we started our dive swimming along the narrow, boulder strewn crack. Our eyes widened as we took in the enormity of the scene but I'm sure I heard Tomas chuckling into his demand valve. He knew we were being blown away with the starter course and he had a main course

(Above) On a calm sunny day the dazzling colours and rock formations reflect in the still surface water

(Left) Cliarlie Hood with one liand on America and the other on Europe. Both shots Nikon D70, Subal housing, Nikon 10.5mm flslieye. F5.6 on Auto. Preset white balance. Available light up his sleeve which would top that several fold.

After about 10-15 minutes we went over a series of small boulders and into a steep sided ravine but as we looked forward we could see a steeply sloping sand bank rising up to meet the land. As we were shallow I surfaced to see how far away the land was and was amazed to see it was well in excess of 50 metres. Absolutely unbelievable. This is Silfra Hall.

All the while Charlie and I were clicking away with our 10.5mm full frame fisheye lenses on our Nikon DSLR cameras. The tonal range from surface to ' seafloor' was usually too great for the digital cameras to cope with but as long as we kept the surface out of frame it was mostly OK.

We had planned to finish the first dive at this point rather than swim back into the very slight current. All of our hands were once again

Tornas Knutssson founded and runs The Dive Centre in Keflavik. This is a very well run PADIfacility just 5 minutes from the airport. In addition since 1995 he has worked tirelessly to clean up the Icelandic environment under the PADI Project Aware and has formed The Blue Army group to clean the coastline. It has removed over 42 tons of debris dumped in the sea from pier ends and other access points. He has received numerous awards and also runs a youth programme Kids Aware.

revolting (well, you know what I mean) so we surfaced into the pleasant 10°C land temperature and then took our scuba gear off and carried our tanks about 200 metres back to the Toyota to eat and, more importantly, pour the contents of Tomas's 'coffee' flask into our gloves. This was, obviously, just hot water and the effect was orgasmic. We had successfully negotiated with our hands to let us go for another dive.

After another 200 metre walk back with a fresh tank we were well knackered but warm in our dry suits. Suitably kitted up Charlie was the first to dive. He surfaced almost immediately and took the good Lord's name in vain quite loudly. "You've just got to see this" he said excitedly. We were kitting up next to 'Silfra Lagoon'. On the surface it is a circular area of water bounded by gently sloping land. Underwater as we ducked down we were treated to the most amazing scene I think I have ever seen. The colours were breathtaking, the clarity seemed infinite and the surface reflections were to die for.

Great care is needed to avoid kicking up the fine silt with your fins but fortunately there is a slight but constant outward current which cleans the site remarkably quickly.

Swimming back the way we had come gave us another angle of view to expose yet more shots on. The sheer scale was difficult to capture without a diver in shot so we took it in turns to take shots so we had two divers in frame. The day was cloudy but the diffused light help keep contrast levels down.

The swim back took about 30 minutes by which time our hands were up to their usual tricks so we were exhausted but extremely pleased to be climbing up the metal steps to the dive platform.

Now at this stage, you have a choice. The first is the most tempting - namely get this heavy gear off my back asap and I'll come back and collect it later when I've changed. The second choice is more painful but quicker in that you keep everything on and tramp back to the truck. It's up to you.

That evening Charlie and I looked at our shots on the laptops and we were pleased with them for a first attempt but gradually we both began to think that we had not maximised the potential of the site and a slightly different dive plan was needed.

The next day Tomas smiled again as we asked him to reschedule the rest of the trip to go back to Silfra as many times a possible.

Charlie had come up with a good idea to maximise our photographic potential at this site. He suggested that on the first dive he would take photographs and I would model and vice versa on the second dive. This would leave the photographer to concentrate on his shots with a dedicated model. The plan worked very well and all shots in this article were taken on this day.

We also rethought our dive plan to avoid the 200 metre and back tramp with our cylinders between dives. This time we snorkelled out to the best location and then continued our dive with plenty of air left to swim back to the platform.

The cracks at Silfra are without doubt a world class dive site. True, the water is very cold indeed and access is not ideal but this is but a minor negative rewarded by stunning scenery in water which must be some of the purest on earth.

Now I've left this last bit of information til now in the hope that readers will have drifted away and to save Tomas from an avalanche of e mail bookings. Keep it to yourself, but from London you could dive the Silfra Cracks in a weekend! Iceland Express have daily flights from Stansted (and Copenhagen and Frankfurt as well). Their flights start from £68 one way and the flight time is only 2.5 hours.

In addition there is comfortable accommodation at Hotel Keflavik and several good restaurants in the town so there is no need to hire a car unless you want to take in some scenery.

Finally, no visit to Iceland would be complete without a visit to The Blue Lagoon. This is a geothermal Spa where you can enjoy bathing in

Iceland's only PADI dive centre water at 35°C and it is known for its positive effects on the skin. It is the most visited attraction in Iceland and is well worth a visit.

And finally finally we went on a whale watching trip on our last morning. This was a two hour cruise looking for minke whales and dolphins. I think they were on holiday that day but we didn't care. We were still basking in the wake of the Silfra cracks.

Peter Rowlands

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