Grand Cayman / Cobalt Coast – February 2-9, 2019


Join Gary Milne-Rojek and head to the beautiful Grand Cayman for a week of amazing Caribbean diving!
Enjoy Grand Cayman’s fabulous diving – away from the crowds – when you stay at Cobalt Coast Resort. Enjoy a set price with our packages, which include accommodations, meals, and diving. Experience our unique valet diving service on roomy boats built just for diving, which only Reef Divers can deliver. And weather permitting, shore diving is available off our ocean dock.

Discover the abundant reefs of the Caribbean Sea with our much-acclaimed valet diving service. Reef Divers takes the work out of diving, so you can just relax and enjoy your vacation.

Our custom fleet of dive boats will take you to explore the island’s elite diving sites. With our superior diving service, all you have to do is get on the boat. Reef Divers takes care of the heavy lifting, including changing your tanks after every dive. At the end of your 2-tank boat dive, we’ll handle everything, including the cleaning and care of your diving gear. Once you’ve experienced valet diving, a regular diving experience will never be the same.

For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can dine al fresco at our poolside and oceanside restaurant. It’s the perfect place for enjoying the sea breezes, watching sunsets, or just enjoying the stars fill the night sky. For more casual lunches, dinners, or late-night snacks, order from the menu at our bar.

They also serve fresh, full, made-to-order breakfasts, or served buffet style, to help you get on your way to the 2-tank morning boat dives; American-style lunch (hand-formed hamburgers, wraps, or salads), and a continental three-course dinner with a daily special, to offer more menu options.

Reef Divers Valet Diving

Experience the wonders of the sea with Reef Divers, our one-of-a-kind valet diving service, where divers can relax and let the dive team do all the work, providing a relaxing, wonderful experience. Guests travel comfortably on our fleet of spacious 42’ and 46’ custom Newton boats.


Trip Includes:
  • 7 nights accommodations in 1 Bedroom (10 rooms) or Mermaid Suite (1 suite)
  • Round Trip Airfare from MSP
  • Airport/Hotel Transfers
  • Taxes/Fees
  • Welcome Rum Punch
  • 3 Meals Daily
  • 6 Two-Tank Morning Boat Dives
  • 5 One-Tank Afternoon Boat Dives
  • Unlimited Shorediving from the dock
  • Nitrox (if nitrox certified)
  • Complimentary use of dive computer
  • Managers Cocktail Reception
  • Wifi

Grand Cayman – Colbalt Coast (2 room options):
(1) Mermaid Suite is available (total of two people):

Double Diver Mermaid Suite – $2595
Double Non Diver Mermaid Suite – $2345
(11) one-Bedroom Rooms available (total of 22 in double occ):
Double Diver – $2445
Double NonDiver – $2195
Single Diver – $2695

NOTE: $300 Non Refundable deposit holds your spot for this trip. Final trip payment is due by November 1, 2018. We strongly recommend travelers insurance, ask for details. Land/dive/air prices are payable by cash, check, or credit card and are quoted to reflect a 3% cash discount. If you wish to use a credit card, this 3% discount will not apply to the above quoted price. Airfare rates are based on early sign up, future rates are approximate, call for current price. Due to rising fuel costs, airlines have been imposing additional charges without notice, prices subject to change.

INON S-TTL Explained

The birth of digital fully compatible S-TTL (Courtesy of INON, INC)

INON Strobe Quick Start Guide by: Steve Philbrook

INON Z-240/D-2000/S-2000 strobe supports S-TTL auto exposure simply by setting their main dial to S-TTL position.

Whilst digital cameras quickly took over film cameras for land photography, spread among underwater photographers took longer. Main reason was incompatibility of underwater strobes with digital TTL Auto making hard to benefit fully automatic strobe shooting.
INON is among the first to support digital TTL auto system with S-TTL Auto mode equipped D-2000 strobe and Z-240 strobe.
The proper name of the S-TTL is Optical Synch TTL. The S-TTL enables the strobe to perform in TTL auto exposure as same as genuine TTL strobe from camera manufacture, based on camera’s built-in flash light to use as a signal to transmit it to the strobe. The S-TTL uses the built-in flash not as a light source but as like a controller to trigger the S-TTL strobe.
The built-in flash of a digital camera makes weak flash (pre-flash) before main-flash to calculate exposure. This pre-flash is transmitted through fiber optics to an S-TTL strobe to control the strobe to make pre-flash at a subject. The reflecting light from the subject goes through the camera’s master lens to an image sensor then a processor determines main flash light amount for correct exposure. Finally the built-in flash makes main-flash which is transmitted to the S-TTL strobe to cause main-flash of the S-TTL strobe.

Digital camera’s built-in flash lights are transmitted via an optical fiber to the
S-TTL strobe to make pre-flash and main-flash instead of the built-in flash.

High School Adventure Trip Reviews

High School Adventure Trip Reviews

turtle“I met my best friends and the people who mean the most to me!”
Jake McElmurry, Champlin Park High School

“My scuba instructor (Mark Oestreich) and marine biology teacher (Bob Ameli) not only taught me how to scuba dive, but how to love and care for the ocean.”
Becca Hyman, Chaska High School



“Going on the high school trips were far more than just going on vacation. It opened up my eyes to protecting the life in the water. It gave me a purpose and a passion for the ocean.”
Elle Hagstrom, Andover High School

“My decision to go on the high school trip changed my life. I walked into the airport with a group of strangers and having no diving experience and came back with a new passion and a group of lifelong friends. Five years later and I’m still diving! These trips are organized, educational, and eye-opening. Whether above or below the sea, you will be surrounded by beauty as well as trustworthy instructors.”
Lindsey Peterson, Andover High School

Sony a6500 & Ikelite 200DLM Housing Review

Ikelite DLM200 housingSony a6500 and Ikelite 200DLM Housing

Is it possible?  Professional 4K video and award-winning 24mp still imaging – all in a small travel-friendly underwater package?  Yes…yes it is.  Meet the Sony a6500 mirrorless camera and the Ikelite DLM200 housing system.

I have been excited to shoot the new Sony a6500 and test its underwater capabilities since its release, so I jumped at the chance to take the camera and Ikelite’s 200DLM to Socorro to put the system through the paces.  This review will cover the strengths and weaknesses of the camera and housing as well as the system’s versatility and compatibility in reference to shooting underwater.

The Camera
First, let’s review the specs.  As Sony’s top of the line APS-C mirrorless camera, the A6500 measures up.  It is an upgraded model to the popular a6300 by offering greatly improved auto-focus performance, 5-axis image stabilization, and an LCD touchscreen. It retains the a6300’s 24.2MP CMOS sensor (APS-C-size), Hybrid AF system, EVF, 4K 100mbps bit rate video capture capability and weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body.

The a6500 is easy to navigate and manipulate the desired settings.  Shutter and aperture controls are independent of each other while the function (FN) button allows for quick access to white balance, ISO, exposure compensation, flash compensation, etc.

silky shark

Tokina 10-17mm lens @ 17mm, ISO 320, F/8, 1/160 sec Ikelite DS-161 (TTL)

The a6500 has a max shutter-sync speed of 1/160 sec.  This is relativley slow compared to the competition, which generally allows up to 1/250 sec.  Being a mirrorless camera, it is odd and a bit disappointing to lag behind the mirror model cameras on the market (Canon 70D, 80D, Nikon D7200, etc.).  Fortunately, with strobes connected to the camera via an electric sync cord, I was able to sync up to 1/250 second.

Image quality is fantastic and just as impressive as any APS-C size sensor camera currently available.  It’s dynamic range performance yielded smooth blue water transitions even at higher ISO settings.  Autofocus was equally impressive being quick and accurate even in low light situations. The a6500’s autofocus only really struggled at night with no focus light (to be expected!)


The a6500 can be used and set-up in a variety of ways.  Sony’s 16-50mm kit lens is quite versatile and inexpensive. Ikelite’s DLM 6 inch Dome Port with Zoom allows for full on land angle of coverage and zoom within the compact 6″ dome.  For many, this may be all they need for the majority of their underwater imaging.  However, If you’d like to unlock more of the camera’s potential with other lenses, this can be done as well!

Chevron manta 2

Sony 16-50mm lens @ 16mm, ISO 320, F14, 1/125 sec with two Ikelite DS-161 strobes on 1/2 power

Thanks to Metabones and Fotodiox adapters, the a6500 can shoot Canon mount lenses.  This can be a huge money saver for Canon shooters looking to upgrade without having fork out big $ for new lenses!  I was able to use my favorite Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, Canon 60mm macro lens, and I even used the Canon18-55mm kit lens to see how it performed. I used the Metabones adapter and am happy to report that autofocus worked flawlessly on all three lenses.





White Balance

If there is an area where the a6500 falls short, it’s white balance.  The white balance on the Sony a6500 maxes out at 9900K (Sorry Sony, but that’s just embarrassing!).  Although this isn’t a deal breaker, it is essential for those underwater photographers who desire to jump between ambient light & artificial light on the same dive – unless you venture no deeper than 20′.   Shooting with ambient light will require you to commit to a filter, which is placed on the back of the lens before it is attached to the camera body.  This filter can not be used with artificial strobe or video lights, hence significantly limiting the versatility of the camera on a single dive.

However, once you have committed to ambient shooting, you may custom white balance through the filter in order to get the desired results.  Magic Filters work great for this.  You can also use the Magic Filter “Auto Magic” and leave the camera’s white balance set to auto, but more accurate results can be achieved by setting your own custom white balance.  The good news is that custom white balance is easily set on the a6500.  Plus, the system can store up to three different custom white balance settings, which I found very useful while shooting video.  With the filter, storing custom white balance settings at 20′, 35′, and 50′ allowed for proper and quick white balance selections at any depth.


The a6500 captures pro quality 4K 30p video at a 100mbps data rate (same codec used in the Sony a7RII and Sony a7S II cameras). When shooting 4K 30p video, the camera records in 6K resolution using a smaller portion of the sensor and then down samples it to 4K resolution. This results in about a 20% smaller crop (common in many cameras) but yields a very sharp video with minimum moire and no pixel binning (pixel binning is designed to reduce noise and improve the signal-to-noise ratio and frame rate but at the expense of resolution).   To utilize the full width of the sensor, the a6500 can be shot at 4K 24p. The video quality while shooting 4K is impressive; however, when shooting in 1080p, the results were not nearly as good!  I highly recommend shooting in 4K and outputting to 1080p. The video quality is far better!  Again, thanks to the Metabones adapter, I was able to shoot wide angle video with the Tokina 10-17mm lens.  Even with the 4K cropping factor, I was still able to shoot an underwater angle of coverage of approximately 144 degrees (as opposed to the 180 degree angle of coverage uncropped).  The full 180 degree angle of coverage is still possible when shooting 4K 30p with the Canon 8-15mm lens.

The Housing

shutter trigger extension

Ikelite Shutter Trigger Extension

Ikelite has a long history of making high quality housings at a great price point and their new DLM series is no exception. The 200DLM marks a number of upgrades to previous Ikelite housings for mirrorless cameras.

The housing front is no longer clear. It sports a brand new ABS-PC blend (greyish-white matte finish), which provides strength and corrosion free performance. The back cover remains clear so all camera controls are visible.  Allowing for easier viewing, these controls are also marked next to the buttons on the back of the housing.

The housing’s ergonomic design fits all hand sizes well.  Kudos to Ikelite for a sleek design that allows very easy access to all the functions desired when shooting underwater (white balance, aperture, shutter, ISO, etc).   The 200DLM also has two 1/4-20 mounting cleats at the bottom to allow for your favorite camera tray to be used with it.

Overall, the housing is comfortable, small in size, and easy to manipulate underwater.  I opted for the Shutter Trigger Extension, which made for easy firing.  This is a great add-on when using Ikelite’s Compact Housing Tray as it comfortably allows shutter button access without any need to search or reach for the shutter button.

Vacuum System

vacuum kit

Ikelite Vacuum System

Possibly one the best new Ikelite housing updates is their new Vacuum System. In my opinion, this is a must have as it eliminates any anxiety about a housing’s seal integrity! It is add-on option to any Ikelite housing with a 1/2 accessory port. It can also be installed in place of the 1/4-20 top mount featured on all DSLR housings produced since 2009.

The vacuum system is easy to install and use. After the system is assembled for a dive, simply insert the pump into the vacuum valve and pump out the air within the housing until the pressure gauge on the pump reads between 5-10. Let the housing sit a few minutes, and if the pressure has not dropped on the gauge, disconnect the pump and you’re ready to dive. This not only pulls the seals together eliminating any shallow water flood, but it also eliminates the chance of your port being dislodged during an entry.

Strobe Compatibility

Ikelite has always included their standard electrical sync port on their housings to allow TTL lighting with the use of their Ikelite DS series strobes.  However, they recognize that there are many lighting options on the market these days and the 200DLM now ships with two optical ports, which accommodate fiber optic TTL compatibility with INON and Sea and Sea strobes too.  This is a welcomed addition and easily makes the 200DLM the most versatile mirrorless housing for strobe compatibility that we’ve tested!

As mentioned earlier, when using the fiber optic ports slaving off the a6500’s flash, TTL is compatible with INON and Sea & Sea strobes.  There are some advantages and disadvantages when slaving strobes with the a6500.  The TTL is quite accurate and you can take advantage of the many manual EV settings on the INON and Sea & Sea strobes.  The down side to this is recycle time can become a factor in fast shooting scenarios and the max flash sync is only 1/160.  1/160 is plenty fast enough for the majority of your shots however, getting tight sunball shot with fill flash is a little more difficult.  I did find that when connecting the strobes electrically, I was able to acheive a more desireable max flash sync of 1/250.  Ikelite DS series strobes are the only choice if you want TTL compatibility with the electrical connection.  If you’re using INON Z-240 or Sea & Sea YS-D1/D2 strobes, they can be connected electrically as well to acheive a 1/250 sync however, the strobes must be shot in manual mode.

Chevron manta

Tokina 10-17mm @ 13mm, ISO 640, F6.3, 1/125 sec, ambient light

Lenses & Port System

Sony does not have the lens selection that Olympus/Panasonic has but with the Metabones or Fotodiox adapters Canon APS-C mount lenses can be used. Thankfully, Ikelite has the ports to support any of the lenses you’d want to use underwater with the a6500. While in Socorro, I mainly shot wide angle with the Tokina 10-17. I used the Modular 8 inch Dome with this set-up when I wanted to shoot at the Tokina’s widest zoom (10mm). Unfortunately Ikelite does not have a zoom sleeve for this lens yet so I had to pre-set my focal length and shoot it as a prime lens. Not a big deal…but a zoom sleeve would make this lens much more versatile, especially when shooting it behind the smaller 6″ dome for close focus wide angle shots. Ikelite has stated that a zoom sleeve is in the works. Yeah! I was also able to use the DLM 6-inch Dome Port with Zoom (for the Sony 16-50mm lens) if I set the Tokina 10-17mm to 13mm (Ikelite has a 6″ port specifically for the Tokina 10-17mm that allows the lens to be used at it’s widest setting without vignetting). I like the small dome option because the overall footprint is smaller and much more travel friendly!  I also used this port with the Sony 16-50mm and the Canon 18-55mm lens.  Zoom sleeves are available for both these lenses, allowing use through the full zoom range.

One port I would like to see Ikelite add to their lineup is a 67mm threaded flat port with zoom control for the 16-50mm lens. This would make the system even more versatile! With the 16-50mm lens behind a flat port, one would be able to shoot from wide to portrait through the zoom range as well as allow for the attachment of wet mount conversion lenses.  This setup would offer options for shooting wide angle to macro all on one dive, which would make the system even more flexible and small for remote travel!

Birostris manta

Sony 16-50mm lens @ 16mm, ISO 320, F/11, 1/125 sec, two INON Z-240’s at 1/2 power

Silver tip shark

Canon 18-55mm lens @ 39mm, ISO 400, F11, 1/125 sec, INON Z-240 @ S-TTL










The Sony a6500 impresses on many levels!  Professional 4K video with top quality 24mp still images in a small package.  The ability to use Canon APS-C mount lenses, and the easy underwater operation thanks to the FN button, make this camera an easy choice for an underwater photographer. Unfortunately, for the avid videographer, the a6500 may not be considered a home run due to its limiting white balance performance.

Ikelite’s 200DLM housing system for the a6500 is not only built well and ergonomically friendly but it hits a price point that is extremely attractive – and if you are one that cares about service and product support – their customer service is hard to beat as well!  The housing is small, robust, and versatile.  The DLM200 is able to use Ikelite DS strobes for fast TTL shooting via electrical sync as well as the ability to use INON and Sea & Sea digital TTL strobes!  With the addition of their new Vacuum Kit System, and ports to support not only Sony’s 16-50mm, 16-70mm lenses but also Canon APS-C mount lenses such as the Tokina 10-17mm, Canon 8-15mm, and Canon 60mm – this system a meets the mark!

Olympus TG-4 Review

There has been a lot of buzz about the Olympus TG-4 as a great choice for underwater photography.  I decided to put it to the test while in Cozumel recently to see if it lives up to the hype!

There is a sea of excellent cameras on the market right now, however, for us to consider a point-n-shoot digital camera to be a great choice for underwater photography, it needs to meet certain criteria beyond being able to take good images.  Here’s our nonnegotiable list of requirements in which the TG-4 meets perfectly:Olympus TG-4 red

  1. It sounds basic, but there needs to be a housing made for it!  Not all cameras can be housed.
  2. The camera needs to be compatible with wet mount conversion lenses.
  3. The camera needs to be able to shoot RAW files.
  4. The camera needs to be able to execute a custom white balance.
  5. The camera must be able to shoot 1080p or 4K HD video.
  6. The camera needs to posses other shooting modes besides AUTO.  For example:  Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual.  These modes will allow the shooter to take some control over the camera.

An added benefit to the Olympus TG-4 is its durability and versatility.  Even without an underwater housing, it is a waterproof camera!  Unhoused, it can be taken snorkeling or diving to depths up to 50′.   When the TG-4 is housed, it can be taken to all recreational scuba diving depths and beyond.  In addition, the TG-4  is shock proof, crush proof, dust proof, and freeze proof – making it a rugged camera for any vacation or weather!


The TG-4 is very user friendly and quite intuitive.  After spending about 15 minutes with the camera, I was able to quickly identify all the features and functions I deem important for underwater photography.  Easy access to these features is extremely beneficial underwater!  The battery life is very impressive allowing 380 shots on a charge.   I do not take anywhere near that many images on a single dive, so I could easily get two plus dives out of a charge while leaving the camera on the entire dive.  The camera’s autofocus is ideally fast and performs exceptionally well in low light with a F/2.0 master lens.

Shooting Stills

The TG-4 is a 16 megapixel camera.  Besides jpegs, the TG-4 also shoots RAW files which is advantageous for post editing.  Take note that the camera only uses a 1/2.3″ sensor, so it will not compare with DSLR cameras.  However,  no small sensor point-n-shoot camera will compete with a DSLRs larger sensor.  With that said, the image quality is impressive!  Sharp with plenty of detail!

Octopus / Olympus TG-4

OLYMPUS TG-4 w/ INON S-2000 strobe

Another big asset to the TG-4 is it’s “Microscope” mode.  This mode allows you to photograph and video subjects that are absurdly close to the lens!  Minimum focus is an amazing 1cm!  When shooting in this mode, the flash is disabled so strobes will not be compatible; however, a well placed video light works just fine for both stills and videos.

flamingo tongue

OLYMPUS TG-4 in Microscope mode w/ FIX Neo Mini 1000 lumen video light

Although the TG-4 does not have a Manual mode, it does offer AUTO, Program, Aperture Priority, and two Custom modes.  Program and Aperture Priority are very useful underwater – especially with adjustable exposure compensation.  Using Aperture Priority and adjusting the exposure compensation made shooting sunball shots a breeze!  Albeit, for fast action shooting it would be nice to have full manual or Shutter Priority mode so you could select a faster shutter speed in order to stop motion.   As a work around, this can somewhat be accomplished by selecting Underwater Landscape mode.  In this mode the camera’s shutter speed often defaults to 1/60 as opposed to 1/30 but being able to select a shutter speed of 1/125 would be ideal.

The TG-4’s custom white balance is very accurate, easy to set, and vital for taking quality ambient light video.  The camera’s custom white balance is conveniently “one touch”, which makes white balancing simple when changing depths during a multi-level dive.  The camera also allows you to store two custom white balance settings.  This is beneficial as well.  It allowed me to store one white balance setting at 25′ and another at 45′.  This is convenient for switching between the two settings when changing depth.  The TG-4 also has an Underwater white balance mode.  This setting worked well for depths within 20′.

Wet Mount Lens Options

The TG-4’s inherent lens is fairly wide – 25mm at its widest zoom.  It’s great for shooting fish portraits as well as shooting subjects as large as sharks and turtles.   However, if you desire to shoot scenics, shipwrecks, whale sharks, etc., a wide angle conversion lens is necessary.  TG-4 compatible wide angle wet mount conversion lenses are available from FIX, INON, Olympus, and Nauticam.  Olympus has the FCON-T01 fisheye conversion ($139.95) lens that attaches directly to the TG-4 for snorkelers.  For Scuba divers, I found the FIX UWL-28M52 ($399) to be the best option for the money.  This lens let’s you execute 165 degree wide angle images and is sharp corner to corner. Another great lens is INON’s UFL-M150 ZM80 Micro Fisheye Lens ($220 + $48 for M52-M67 adapter).  This lens allows you to shoot creative and unique perspectives from circular fisheye images to wide angle macro images.  It’s a blast to use!

OLYMPUS TG-4 w/FIX UWL-28M52 wide angle lens

OLYMPUS TG-4 w/INON UFL-M150 ZM80 Micro Fisheye Lens

INON image

OLYMPUS TG-4 w/INON UFL-M150 ZM80 Micro Fisheye Lens


Video mode is delightfully easy to use.  It’s format is 1080/30p HD video and basically point-n-shoot; however, the TG-4 will keep the exposure compensation value and the custom white balance that was set in Program or Aperture Priority mode.  This is an advantage as it helps to avoid blowing out highlights and allows deep colors to come through without requiring an underwater filter.

The video below has three sections of clips to show the perspective captured with the TG-4’s standard lens with custom white balance, a wide angle lens with custom white balance, and standard lens with a small video light.  The video clips coloring is un-edited and straight from the TG-4.


As previously mentioned, the TG-4 is waterproof to 50′.  This is great for snorkelers; however, divers will want to house this camera.  Ikelite, Nauticam, and Olympus all make great housings for the TG-4.  I was able to shoot the TG-4 in both the Ikelite & Olympus housing while on the trip.  Both performed well, were easy to use, and allowed use of the wet mount lenses.  Although I did not test the Nauticam housing on my trip, all three housings have optical ports on them so all are compatible with INON and Sea & Sea digital TTL strobes.  I found myself favoring the Ikelite housing a little more than the Olympus.  It’s more robust, has a 67mm threaded port, 200′ depth rating, and it is easier to service when the time comes.  Both housings retail at $299.  If a more rugged housing and greater depth rating is desired, the Nauticam is the best choice.  However, keep in mind, the Nauticam is aluminum, as opposed to polycarbonate, and comes with a much higher price tag of $800.


TG-4 housings

Olympus, Ikelite, and Nauticam housings for Olympus TG-4


The TG-4 camera allows the essentials that an underwater camera needs:  the ability to use wet mount conversion lenses and S-TTL or DS-TTL strobes from INON and Sea & Sea.  These accessories provide the photographer with all the tools needed to get magazine-quality images and eye popping video.


After spending a week with the TG-4, I was very impressed with how well the camera performed!  The camera was easy to use, intuitive, and versatile.  Image quality is sharp, auto focus is fast, custom white balance is accurate, Microscope mode is amazing, and the battery life is impressive!  If your in the market for a great all-around camera that won’t break the bank, the Olympus TG-4 – at only $379 – is a great choice!


  • Olympus TG-4 camera ($379) with housing ($679)
  • Fast auto focus
  • Industry leading macro in “Microscope” mode
  • Long battery life
  • Compatible with a variety of wet mount conversion lenses
  • Shoots RAW files
  • Compatible with optical strobes for INON STTL and Sea & Sea DS-TTL


  • No Manual or Shutter Priority modes
  • No control over shutter speed

Recommended Accessories

  • Strobes
    • Sea & Sea YS-03 strobe (good)
    • INON S-2000 strobe (better)
    • INON Z-240 or Sea & Sea YS-D2 (best)
  • Wet Mount Lenses
    • FIX UWL-28M52 wide angle lens
    • INON UFL-M150 ZM80 Micro Fisheye Lens
  • Video Lights
    • Sealife Mini 600 (good)
    • INON LF100-W (better)
    • FIX NEO 3000 DX II (best)



Packing Scuba Gear For Travel

It’s finally vacation time and you’re ready to pack your gear and go.  One of the questions we routinely get is what’s the best way to pack my scuba gear?  Here are some packing tips on how to protect your gear as well as making sure you have everything necessary for a successful dive trip.

Service your gear

Service isn’t generally a fun thing to spend money on however, remember that your regulator is a life support system!  Be smart and make sure your gear is in proper working order before you pack up and go.

Make a List

Write a list out of everything you think you’ll need for the trip.  Then narrow the items down where possible.

Lay your gear out

Lay all you gear out where you can see everything.  That way you know you have it.  When you pack it, cross it off the list.

Use luggage designed for scuba gear

Don’t use old heavy luggage that isn’t designed for scuba gear!  Those bags tend to be heavy and scuba gear doesn’t fit properly.

There are a number of high quality scuba travel bags available from various manufacturers.  They are light in weight and designed to fit and protect your expensive scuba gear.

Pack light

Be smart about what you plan on taking and where you are going.  It might be time to ditch that heavy Zeagle Ranger BCD for a lightweight travel BCD such as the Aqualung Zuma or the Cressi Travelight BCD.  Both items can take a good 4-6 pounds off your total luggage weight.

Another items is fins.  It may be more appropriate to leave your large open heel fins and neoprene booties behind for a nice pair od full foot fins.  They are smaller, lighter, and there is no need for the booties.  This will also decrease your luggage weight!


You should always have some sort of “save a dive kit”.  Mask straps, fin straps, etc. always seem to break at the most inopportune time!  Don’t miss out on a dive because of one of these $5 items.

Bring a spare mask if you use a RX mask.  RX masks are not generally available for replacement at most dive destinations.  Especially if you have a custom prescription.

Here is the process how we pack our scuba gear.

  1. BCD – Lay BCD on the bottom with the bladder facing the back of bag
  2. Fins – Place your fins in their side fin pockets.  This will also help protect the rest of your gear.
  3. Snorkel – Pack your snorkel in a side pocket with your fins
  4. Booties – If you are bringing booties put them on the bottom of the bag below the BCD.
  5. Regulator – Pack your reg in a regulator bag and place it inside the BCD (you can also carry it on).
  6. Mask – Your mask is important!  Especially if you have an RX mask.  Pack it in a protective mask box then place it in the BCD above your regulator.
  7. Lights – pack your lights with the batteries installed.  It is a good idea to also pack them in a regulator bag or some type of padded bag.
  8. Surface Marker – It is always a good idea to have one of these.  Especially if you will be drift diving!  Place this towards the top.
  9. Save a dive kit – Yes.  Pack a small “save a dive kit”.  This should include a mask strap, fin strap, mouthpiece, zip ties, small scuba tool, and ear drops.
  10. Wetsuit – Put your wetsuit over the top of everything else.  This will add more padding for your gear.
  11. Weigh it – When you’re all done weigh your bag.  It should not exceed 50lbs.

There are many ways to pack gear.  We at Aquaventure Dive & Photo Center find this to be the most reliable method on protecting your gear and getting everything to your destination safely!

Happy Diving!


Frequently Asked Questions About Scuba Diving

logoQ: Do I need to take both Part 1 & Part 2 to be certified?
A: Yes.

Q: What is the difference between Part 1 & Part 2?
A: Part 1 is the home study, classroom, and pool ONLY portion of the certification process.  Part 2 is the open water training dive portion (4 total dives over two days) of the certification process.  Both Part 1 & Part 2 need to be successfully completed to earn your PADI Open Water or Jr. Open Water certification.

Q: It’s winter and I’m (we’re) going on vacation to a warm weather destination – how can I get certified?
Come do Part 1 with us (home study, classroom and pool)! Then take the training materials that we have signed to a PADI dive shop anywhere in the world to do your referral Open Water Training Dives. This is known as the Referral Process and it works GREAT. You don’t want to spend your vacation in a classroom – do you? Of course not. Come and receive your Part 1 portion of the course with us and then dive in a beautiful tropical environment for your Open Water Training Dives. How cool would that be? Then once certified, dive to your heart’s content (within your level of training and safe diving practices, of course). If you had to procure a physician’s signature to dive, please make a copy of the document to bring with you to the PADI shop where you will be doing your referred dives (see Medical Statement below).

Q: What is the classroom and pool fee (Part1)?
The classroom and pool portion is $259. This includes all study materials (PADI Open Water Diver Manual, DVD, log book, and student file), classroom review, pool skills practical application, use of scuba equipment. Alternatively, the home study portion of the course can be done via PADI online eLearning program which costs $309 ($174 paid to PADI and $135 paid to Aquaventure).

Q: How long does it take to complete my home study?
Generally 8-14 hours is all that’s required for home study but that time can vary.  There are only five chapters that need to be read prior to class.

Q: How many people are in each class?
Our PADI Open Water classes generally have 8 students with a maximum of 10.  Each Part 1 class with 4 or more students will have an additional PADI Divemaster assist with the pool portion of the class.

Q: What equipment is provided?
We provide top of the line Aqualung equipment for your pool (Confined Water) and Open Water training. This includes tanks, weights, BCD, regulator, alternate air source, and air integrated dive computer.

Q: What equipment do I need to bring?
While we will provide all of the equipment listed above, you need to bring your own mask, snorkel, and fins. A custom fit of your mask, snorkel, and fins is incredibly important for your comfort and safety,You should consider these items in the same way you consider your toothbrush when traveling – you want to bring your own – trust us on this! We have a full range of scuba rated equipment with a very knowledgeable staff. We urge you to come into our store before the class to get properly fitted with your equipment. Please make sure that you have scuba-rated fins. Fins that you may own for snorkeling may not be powerful enough to “drive” a full set of scuba gear.

The days of your class you will need to bring a swimsuit and a towel. If you are not eating at the adjacent Subway for lunch, bring your own plus a water bottle. There will not be enough time on class days to go any farther than the Subway restaurant next door for lunch.

Q: How old do you need to be to become a certified Open Water Diver?
To be a fully certified PADI Open Water Diver you must be at least 15 years old and there is no maximum age; however, children as young as 10 years old can become PADI Junior Open Water Divers. 10 and 11 year olds must  successfully complete the same requirements as an adult student so you may want to consider private lessons for your child(ren).  Once certified, 10 and 11 year olds must dive with a parent, a guardian, or a PADI Professional. Those  12, 13 and 14 years old must dive with a certified adult diver. Once a Junior Open Water Diver reaches the age of 15, they may administratively apply for standard PADI Open Water Diver certification (this can be done here at the shop or directly with PADI).

Q: Do I have to be a good swimmer?
Not necessarily…you need only to be comfortable in the water and capable of swimming continuously for two hundred yards, and treading water/floating for 10 min.

Q: What is required of me before the first class?
If you purchased the textbook and DVD version of the course: Read the Open Water Manual and complete all of the quizzes along the way and the Knowledge Reviews at the end of each of the five modules PRIOR to your class. Your instructor will review the Knowledge reviews with you in class.

If you purchased the online eLearning program: Complete all online coursework including all interim Assessments and the Final Assessment. Print out the verification of completion of your online coursework and bring it to class and turn it in to your instructor.

Locate the “PADI Student Record File” in your blue packet and complete all of the required Student Profile and Emergency Contact information. Read all of the documentation and complete all of the paperwork as instructed by the shop and/or your instructor (Note: if you have any “yesses” on your Medical Statement, you must complete a separate RSTC Medical Statement and bring it to your doctor – see next question below).

Please also bring two “head and shoulder”, passport-sized photos of yourself the day of your class.

Q: What if I have a “yes” on my Medical Form?
Safety is our number one concern. If you can answer “yes” to ANY of the medical questions, a separate PADI RSTC Medical Statement must be taken/sent to your physician for signature for permission to dive prior to you getting into the pool. Please call the shop if you have any questions. Note: if you do have any “yesses” on your Medical Statement and your physician clears you to dive, please make copies of the document as you may need to bring this for your referral dives or future dives with other shops.

Q: Where are the classes held? 
There’s no need to run around town! Your entire Part 1 scuba class will be held at Aquaventure Dive & Photo Center. This includes both classroom and pool portions of the class. Our on-site pool is a balmy 86 degrees. We are located in Maple Grove just northwest of Osseo on the north side of County Rd 81 in the same strip mall as a Subway restaurant.  Our address is: 10024 County Rd 81, Maple Grove, MN 55369 (763) 424-8717.

Can I complete the knowledge development portion of the class online?
Yes, the PADI eLearning Open Water Diver Course replaces the textbook and provides the knowledge development portion.  The classroom review and pool portion can be completed at Aquaventure.

Q: How warm is your pool?
A: Our pool is kept at a comfortably warm 86 degrees.

Q: Are private lessons available?
Yes. Whether you prefer one on one instruction, Semi-private instruction, or a private class for your family, private lessons can be scheduled to meet your needs. Call us for more details (763) 424-8717. Private/Semi-Private lessons are strongly recommended for 10 and 11 year olds or those feeling they need a bit more time and attention. Semi-Private lessons are also terrific for couples and families! We work to your schedule and needs.

Q: How do I sign up for the class?
You can simply call us and sign up over the phone with a credit card (pre-payment required) or stop in at our store. If you sign up over the phone you will need to stop in and pick up your student kit prior to class.

Q: How does unlimited pool practice time work?
We offer free pool practice time (including gear) to all of our students once they have successfully completed the Part 1 portion of the Open Water class. We view this as a class extension only to these students. Once the student has successfully completed their Open Water certification (Part 2), the free pool time offer expires.  Free pool time is designated for Tuesdays from 11:00am – 6:30pm. We know of no other shop that offers this extraordinary value-added opportunity. Coming in to practice one, two, or even 3 times prior to your Open Water Training Dives tends to make a world of difference – practice makes perfect!

Cancellation policy:
Course fees are due upon class enrollment to guarantee your space in the class. Classes are non-refundable within 14 days of the class start date and non-transferrable within 7 days of class start time. One transfer is allowed for a fee of $90. All course fees are forfeited if you do not attend.

Packing Tips for Underwater Photo Gear

Traveling with underwater photo gear can be difficult, especially with today’s increasingly strict baggage limits!  The days of using big Pelican style (hard) cases for large camera rigs are pretty much gone unless you intend to check your system and possibly pay for excess weight.  I prefer to carry my camera system with me when I travel.  That way I know its safe and I don’t have worry about my luggage getting lost in transit. Here’s my packing technique.  Hopefully you will find it helpful!


When packing my DSLR system,  I like to assemble it first and then put everything else on the table that I will want for my trip, such as extra ports, lenses, gears, etc.  After I know everything I need is in front of me, I then pack each item as I disassemble the system.

Camera gear packing tips

Camera system – Assemble your system and lay everything else needed out ready to be packed. Don’t forget your O-rings!!

There are a number of ideal bags on the market made by various manufactures.  One of my favorite pieces that works well is the Departure Carry-On by Aqualung ($199).   It’s very light (7.2lbs) and fits DSLR housings very well (up to three)!  You will need to have  foam inserts, bubble wrap, or an insert from a camera bag that can be placed inside this bag to help protect your gear.   Another bag is the Armor Camera Bag. This insert is light weight, fairly rigid, versatile, and extremely affordable (only $59)!  It can be used on its own or placed in most backpacks or roller bags for more protection.

Armour camera bag

Armor Camera Bag insert and Carry-on Roller

Between these two bags, I can fit my entire system.  If weight becomes a problem (some airlines now weigh carry-ons), I check my large dome port, arms, and extension rings.  Here is a list of items I pack in the two bags above:

Departure Bag

  • Nauticam NA-70D housing
  • 60mm macro port
  • 100mm macro port
  • Mini dome
  • 20mm extension ring
  • 30mm extension ring
  • 50mm extension ring
  • INON Z-240 strobes (x2)
  • Fiber optic cables (x2)
  • 45 degree viewfinder
  • Dome diffusers (x2)

Armor Camera Bag (inserted inside Akona Travel Bag)

  • Canon 70D camera body (x2)
  • Tokina 10-17mm lens
  • Canon 60mm lens
  • Canon 100mm lens
  • Sigma 17-70mm lens
  • Kenko 1.4x teleceonverter
  • All gears stay on lenses
  • Keldan video light
  • Battery chargers (camera, AA, and video light)
  • Laptop & charger

I place my large dome port and strobe arms in padded regulator bags and then pack in my checked luggage – further padded by my clothes.

regulator bag

Put your large dome port in a regulator bag for more protection

packed camera gear

My entire system packed and ready to go! Bags used – Armor Camera Bag inserted in Akona’s Traveler Bag and Aqualung’s Departure Carry-on

Don’t let the weight and bag restrictions stress you out!  With the right carry-ons and a little creativity, packing even the largest DSLR systems is definitely manageable.  You’ve got this!


Shooting Sunballs

sunball image with diverShooting sunballs underwater is a great way to add depth to your compositions. They can be stunning if shot correctly but can also be tricky! Here are some tips on how to get great sunball shots.

Lens Selection

The most dramatic sunball shots are generally taken using a wide angle or fisheye lens. Get as close as you can to your subject. This allows your strobe to light the subject efficiently while retaining good scene composition.

Camera Settings

When shooting Sunballs, there are some go to settings for at least a starting point.

Manual Modereef scene with sunball

For sunballs, Manual mode is the best. It allow you to take full control of your camera which is needed for sunballs.

Shutter Speed

Set your shutter speed to the fastest speed available that your camera can synch with your strobe. This is usually between 1/180 and 1/320 of a second, which will vary by camera model. This will keep the water as deep blue as possible and help keep the sunball itself in a nice, tight circle. It will also freeze light rays if visible.

ISO 100

Use ISO 100 (or the lowest available ISO). Your lowest ISO setting will give you the most optimum dynamic range within your camera (minimize banding around the sunball).


Aperture is the parameter you will use to control the foreground exposure of your image. For sunballs shots, the aperture is usually set between F/16 – F/22.


Set your top strobe to full power / manual. DO NOT use TTL. The sun will shut your strobe down prior to proper exposure in TTL mode. Your bottom or second strobe (depending on if your shot is portrait or landscape) can be set to TTL or ½ power.  This will help keep from overexposing the bottom of your image.

sunball with diverComposition Tip

Sunballs are easier to control in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is not at it’s highest point. It’s also easier to find beams of light during these early and later times.

When shooting sunballs in mid-afternoon, Try hiding part of the sunball behind coral, a diver, boat, or larger animal to help avoid blowing out the sun.  You can also cut part of the sunball off the top of your image in the composition.  It also helps shooting the image vertically.  This allows the composition to take advantage of the blue water gradient from the top to bottom within the image.

For silhouette shots turn off your strobe(s).eagle ray with sunball

Shooting Macro

ghost pipefishMacro photography has been the most popular style of photography for quite some time! It’s fairly easy to get great results compared to shooting wide angle for a number of reasons.  The subjects are endless and they are easier to light and compose.  Water conditions are not a main factor in the success of your images either.  Here are some tips to get the best results out of your macro images.

Lens Selection

When selecting a macro lens, it’s pretty straight forward.  A 60mm macro lens is a popular choice for APS-C crop sensor cameras. They allow for extremely close focusing and are a pretty fast f/2.8 lens.  The Canon 100mm and the Nikon 105mm are popular as well due to their longer focal length which allows for a greater working distance between you and your subject. These longer lenses are really beneficial for shooting exceptionally small critters. Wet mount accessory lenses or diopters (INON UCL-165M67, Nauticam SMC) can also be attached to the outside of most macro ports (via thread) and allow you to get even closer to your subject.


Camera Settingsclown frogfish

Since you are not shooting an entire scene, set your camera for center-weighted metering and center point (spot) focus.  This will allow you the freedom to move the focus point around to a precise spot.

Manual Mode

For macro, Manual mode is the best. It allows you to take full control of your camera.


Since you will be shooting a macro subject, you will be very close to your subject.  Your “depth of field” (DOF) will be quite small compared to wide angle. Therefore you will need to use small apertures to get a decent DOF in your images.

Macro photography on a 50mm – 60mm lens typically calls for an aperture of f/16 or smaller to maintain good DOF.  When shooting a 100mm lens or longer, you will likely target an f/22 or smaller aperture setting.  With that said, sometimes a small DOF is desired, if so, a wider aperture should be used.

mandarin fishShutter Speed

Set your shutter speed to the fastest shutter/flash sync.   Settings between 1/180 – 1/320 are generally the fastest shutter sync speeds on DSLR’s.  This will stop motion of a moving subject and camera shake.  A faster shutter speed will also darken the background helping separate your subject from the background.

ISO 100

I generally start at ISO 100. Depending on my exposure (histogram), this may be increased up to ISO 320.


Set your strobes to TTL!  Strobes with a TTL option work great for macro photography. Shooting in TTL helps eliminate blown out highlights within the image.

For more creative lighting options, experiment with your strobe(s) at different power settings in Manual mode. INON Z-240’s and Sea & Sea YS-D1, and YS-D2 strobes are great for both TTL and Manual settings while shooting macro!


Tightly framed subjects generally make for best macro compositions. Subjects that fill the frame help eliminate distracting elements that can take away from an image. Focus on the eyes! No tail shots!