HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A MASK In the same way as you choose a pair of shoes. You get something with which you feel comfortable. There are hundreds of masks, but many are made to the same design in the Far East, and only the brand names are different.
This month we have managed to collect a number of masks that are, in the main, unique to their marques, and without prejudicing your personal choice, we try to distinguish the main differences between them.
Black silicone skirts give a higher-contrast view than clear silicone in low-contrast lighting conditions, but clear silicone feels less claustrophobic, and it may even help the wearer to see whats coming up alongside.
The mask should be held securely in place by water pressure alone.
The strap is merely there to locate it.
However, you should be able to adjust the strap easily for comfort, and swivelling buckles can make the strap more comfortable, especially for those with longer hair.
Clearing a flooded mask should be easy for any diver, but one that has a smaller internal volume will always be easier than one with more space in it.
Its difficult to quantify this internal volume because, after all, a part of the face, including the nose, occupies a lot of it.
We filled each mask with fine sand, shaping it to fill the sides of the skirt, then weighed the sand in grams to obtain a comparison figure (not in grams) for each mask. Ranging from 210 (Mares Star Liquid Skin) to 515 (TUSA Visio Tri-X), this allows us to compare volumes directly, mask to mask.
You dont want a mask that perpetually leaks, so we tried all these examples with adults as well as my young daughters, one of whom is eight. All but two worked successfully with the smallest face.
On the other hand, I sport a fairly untidy moustache and never have any problems in this regard.

OVER-TIGHTENING THE STRAP can cause leaks, problems arising because the mask frame gets distorted. Otherwise, its usually faces rather than masks that leak, often as a result of subconscious exhalations through the nose.
The refraction of the light as it passes from a dense medium (the water) to a less dense medium (the pocket of air in the mask) has the effect of magnifying the view and also making it narrower.
Some people claim that a larger faceplate gives a wider field of view. This is usually nonsense. Its like looking out of any window. The closer your eyes are to the glass, the more you see, whatever the size of the window.
Its the same with side-windows. As the front glass must be further from the eyes to accommodate the windows, they may actually narrow the view. This isnt always the case under water, as you will see.
Compact masks can be as good in this respect as those that look like goldfish bowls.
Its slightly different for masks with deep lenses that are tilted downwards slightly by the shape of the skirt. These often offer a better view of chest-mounted items.
We took all our test masks into the controlled conditions offered by a pool to compare their angles of vision. It should be said that after 10 minutes using any mask you tend to get used to what youve got, so not all divers will be over- concerned about these aspects.
Prescription lenses can usually be fitted to any twin-glass mask (ask at your local dive store). Minus-dioptre lenses for the short-sighted are usually offered off-the-peg, whereas plus-dioptre lenses for the long-sighted are often bonded to the existing plane-parallel glass.
Such lenses may be available as replacements for the regular glass, though they can make the mask heavy if fitted in strengths of more than two dioptres.
The masks are listed in ascending price order.

Lomo Stratos
volume 380, one colour, translucent skirt £22

The cheapest mask here is one that is available with lots of different brand names, and is intended for those who believe that a bigger faceplate means a better field of vision. Its enormous, and youll need good lungs to clear it if it floods completely. The swivelling strap buckles lock when a load is applied. This is a product from the great mask mine of the Far East, and we thought it had a boxed-in feel to it when we wore it under water. Field of view was not excellent either. Downward vision was restricted to just above the weightbelt.

IST Dynasty
volume 475, one colour, translucent skirt £25

One of the most popular masks to be equipped with an automatic purge valve, it needs it, because it has a massive single faceplate and a huge internal volume. All that clear silicone adds to the goldfish-bowl effect. Strap buckles are rigidly fixed. Joan Collins would choose it, because she could be sure that other divers would be able to see her face clearly. When we wore it under water, the purge valve was as obvious as the Silver Lady to a Rolls-Royce driver - it always pointed wherever we looked. The faceplate sat too far from our eyes.

Lomo Alumino
volume 285, one colour, translucent skirt £33

At first we couldnt tell if this mask had a metal or a plastic frame, but we let the name give us a clue. Its a single-faceplate mask with a shape evocative of some popular twin-lens designs. Strap buckles are released for strap adjustment by pinching the two buttons and are attached directly to the flexible skirt, giving a degree of rotation. Its unashamedly inspired by a successful twin-lens mask, but with a single face-plate. It worked very well, too, giving a good angle of view, and an effective view of the chest area.
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Seemann Devil
volume 415, four colours, translucent or opaque skirt £35

This single face-plate mask was not too highly finished but had the advantage of a novel slap-strap with symmetrical adjustment of the strap at the back, provided by a single-handed pinch-release. It had pivoting buckles that made it very comfortable, though we noticed that its black rubbery skirt loved to attract any dirt that was around. It was not suitable for use with a narrow face. Once under water, we could appreciate a nice wide
view as the glass was close to the eyes, with no part of the mask frame or skirt intruding.
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Cressi Matrix
Volume 290, seven colours, translucent or opaque skirt £36

A direct development of the BigEye, the first mask to have a teardrop twin-lens shape, tilted to aid downward vision, this model is both very comfortable and very effective.
It has proved popular with divers worldwide. Fixed buckles have a push-clip release that looks a little flimsy for those who need to adjust the strap often. Internal volume is less than it appears. Under water the mask became very unobtrusive, with good all-round vision and with the best view of the chest area of any of the products reviewed here.

Cressi Ochio Plus
volume 215, six colours, translucent or opaque skirt £36

If its style youre after, this little mask is for you, even if it does appear to give you a slightly surprised expression. It is well made and pulls apart easily if needs be. Though extremely low-volume, it has a generous nose-pocket, and the strap buckles swivel in three dimensions, thanks to a flexible mounting on the frame. In the water it gave a good view of the chest area and was very unobtrusive, apart from the Cressi brand marked on the glass, which made you feel as if you were looking past a pair of eyebrows.

Scubapro Scout
volume 250, five colours, translucent or opaque skirt £39

People with narrow faces will appreciate this narrow low-volume mask with twin glasses. Strap buckles are adjusted by way of pinch-releases, but these are attached to the black silicone skirt rather than the frame. It looks well made and feels nice to wear, even if you do look a bit like Zorro. In the water, we found that the field of view was rather more restricted than we expected, and the black skirt on the test example obtrusive at the sides. But downward vision was reasonable, and the overall impression good.

Tigullio Wide
volume 320, two colours, translucent skirt £39

Some may laugh at masks with purge valves, but they do work. Simple swivelling strap buckles and a generous skirt overlap make this example quite comfortable. The Wide also has large side-windows, and it is often debatable whether these merely add to the internal volume or give an extra-wide field of view.
We were surprised because, under water, we found that these side-windows lived up to their promise, with extra width to the view. Having said that, the downward view of the chest was quite poor.

Beaver Stealth
volume 275, one colour, opaque skirt £40

With coated pink lenses that restore natural colour to your underwater view, at least in relatively shallow water, and a Cool Hand Luke outer mirror reflection for those who look at you, this low-volume mask has a generous nose-piece in its black silicone skirt, together with simple swivelling buckles, and an old-fashioned tough plastic frame.
The Stealth Black did seem to give a reduced field-of-view compared to some of the other masks we tried in this comparison, though its good looks should see it through.

Seac Sub Libera
volume 285, five colours, translucent or opaque skirt £42

This mask has a single faceplate with a rigid plastics frame that includes the strap buckles at the sides. A very firm press was needed on the single button to release the strap for adjustment. We felt that this was a more feminine and prettier version of the Italica. Alas, once under water we found that the frame edges and especially the part that rises over the bridge of the nose was very obviously in our field of view, and
the downward view was restricted when it came to seeing even our weightbelts.

Scubapro Spectra
volume 295, five colours, translucent or opaque skirt £45

Well-made, with a good downward view of the chest area, this is the sort of mask that makes a satisfying purchase even if it has no unique appeal at first glance. The strap buckles are attached to the silicone skirt, and the strap is adjusted by pinching two parts together. The skirt itself is quite firm, with a generous overlap where it makes contact with the skin. Once we got it under water, however, we did
find that the clear plastic frame of the mask intruded somewhat into the field of view.

Beaver Atomic Black,
volume 335, two colours, translucent or opaque skirt £46

An inexpensively made frameless mask with a single faceplate, its deep skirt, welded directly to the glass, compacts away nicely in a pocket if you use it as a tekkies back-up mask. The pivoting buckles are simply made. This is a popular choice among British divers, even if its volume is considerably greater than we would have expected. It didnt fit a very small face. We found that the deep-design opaque silicone skirt gave a slightly tunnel-vision effect once we got it under water - a bit like looking through binoculars.

TUSA Visio Tri-X
volume 515, eight colours, translucent or opaque skirt £47

This is a fairly boxy single-plate mask with odd-looking bubble side-windows that give a little extra (if distorted) peripheral view. Its strap buckles are well made and easy to rethread, and it has a generous silicone skirt and a fairly large internal volume, although the nose pocket may be a bit small for some wearers. Once submerged, the side bubbles certainly alerted us to what might be coming up alongside, and vision was good all-round, at the expense of what we both described as a goldfish-bowl effect.

Seac Sub Italica
volume 335, seven colours 7, translucent or opaque skirt £49

Big, deep twin lenses in a vertical oval format ought to promise a good view of anything mounted on the users chest. This unusual-looking mask has a rigid plastic frame, with the mask buckles incorporated at the sides. A bit of strong muscle application is needed to operate the single button that releases the strap when you want to adjust it. The clear silicone skirt is more than generous. Under water, we did find that the downward view of the chest area with this mask was not as great as expected.

Tigullio ProView
volume 420, two colours, translucent or opaque skirt £49

From Italy, this frameless mask has an enormous twin-panel faceplate bonded directly to its black silicone skirt, promising an added downward view. It has three-dimensional swivelling buckles to its strap, thanks to the way it is fixed directly to the front of the skirt. It doesnt look expensive, weighs little and has a large internal volume. In the water, we discovered that the bridge of the nose-piece intruded on our view, and the downward view was restricted to the crotch, where others let us see our chests.

TUSA Geminus
Volume 320, six colours, translucent or opaque skirt £49

Wider than some other low-volume masks, this Japanese-branded one has its swivelling strap buckles attached directly to the skirt. They are easily adjusted by pinching the release, and the strap is easy to rethread if required. The black silicone skirt has a generous area where it makes contact with the skin for a good seal. Once we got this mask under water and encountered the refractive effect of air and water, we discovered that the field of view was narrow all round, with a poor view towards the chest area.

IST Pro Ear
Volume 275, one colour, translucent skirt £50

You may need to field some unkind jibes from fellow-divers, but if you suffer ear problems, this low-volume mask will be a godsend. It encloses the ears in the same airspace as the eyes, thereby keeping them from getting flooded with pathogen-laden water. Flexible tubes with valves mean that flooded ear-pieces shouldnt flood the mask. In the water, we noticed that the heavy frame was very obvious, and intruded into our line of sight. It should be said that downward vision was also quite restricted.

Mares Star Liquid Skin
volume 210, three colours, translucent or opaque skirt £54

This new mask from Mares may leave you looking like a junior super-hero from the Incredibles family, but it combines super-low volume with a super-comfortable, extra-flexible, mixed-silicone opalescent skirt with simple strap buckles attached directly to it. Those with narrower faces will especially like it, and it resisted fogging well. It gave a fair to good field of vision with an effective downward view, but everything was included within a disconcerting coloured circle caused by the tinted frame and skirt.

Mares X-Vision Liquid Skin
volume 240, eight colours, translucent or opaque skirt £54

Claimed to be the worlds most popular mask, this model is now available with a multi-silicone-mix Liquid Skin skirt for extra comfort. It promises plenty of downward vision for seeing anything that might be chest-mounted, despite its low volume. Flexible strap buckles add to its comfort and opaque silicone areas boost viewing contrast. In the water it gave excellent all-round vision and a good view of the chest, though we thought the brightly coloured side-pieces of the skirt on the test example were a bit distracting.

Oceanic Pioneer
volume 295, four colours, translucent or opaque skirt £59

Look like a diving pioneer with this retro-design twin-lens mask, with its heavy-duty metal frame with revealed rivets and black rubber skirt. The strap is easily adjusted with massive buckle releases, and the whole thing evokes the over-engineered style of diving equipment familiar to those who might have dived back in the 1950s. When we came to use it under water, we were surprised to find that it was unobtrusive and gave a wide field of view, including that of the chest area. All off which meant that this mask was one of our favourites.

Atomic ARC Subframe
volume 330, two colours, translucent or opaque skirt £100

The ARC is coated with multi-layers of metal oxide for a clearer, sharper view. We also noticed that this beautifully constructed twin-lens mask resisted any tendency to fog up. It has well-engineered buckles and a strong metal subframe that stops it distorting on the face. US-made, its expensive, and youll need to look after it to protect its coating from abrasion. We found that it had more internal volume than expected. In the water it was very unobtrusive to use, with good all-round vision.
A hard mask to fault.