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January 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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DEMA: The Latest, But Not The Greatest

mostly upgrades and revisions, with GoPro as the buzzword

from the January, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's the halfway mark at the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association's annual trade show in Las Vegas, the week before Thanksgiving. It's 4 p.m., and the trade show floor is chock-full of booths, but some of them are unstaffed, and at many others, staffers look pretty bored. There are still some show attendees walking the aisles with interest, but most people have cleared out for drinks, dinner and the casinos. As I walk down a quiet aisle, I pass two guys standing by a deserted booth promoting neon camouflage wetsuits. One yawns. The other says, "Yeah, this industry is getting old and obsolete, and this show is, too."

Tom Ingram, DEMA's executive director, told the diving website Deeper Blue that 400 more people had signed up to attend compared to last year's show in Orlando. But more people didn't seem to add more hustle or bustle. And while every player in the dive industry had set up a booth there, there didn't seem to be a lot of new dive gear that was knocking anyone's socks off.

The Hot Product

Except for GoPro. You can tell who the big fish are by the size of their booths. GoPro had the biggest one, four times larger than the standard one, and the sign hanging over it could be seen from every corner of the show floor. Its booth was lined with around 30 50-inch Samsung HD TVs playing different GoPro videos. While GoPro wasn't initially aimed at the diving market, it is luring more divers to switch over from still to video cameras (read our dive gear expert John Bantin's comparison of the GoPro 3 to a traditional underwater camera in our October 2013 issue) . And with the recent rollout of its new Hero 4 lines, its booth was regularly packed. The Hero 4 line shoots 30 frames per second, compared to 15 frames per second by the Hero 3+, making 4k video easier to use by the masses. The Hero 4 Black, which has doubled the processor speeds and boasts a high frame rate resolution of 1080 pixels, is priced at $500. The Hero 4 Silver doesn't have 4K video, and its frame rate is only 720p, but it does have the new touch-screen LCD and the 12MP still image resolution; it's priced at $400. GoPro also released dive filters in red and magenta for blue and not-so-blue water, priced at $70 each.

It was also interesting to see how many companies now make Go-Pro-specific dive accessories. The Japanese manufacturer Inon has a cage system that lets you improve beyond GoPro's standard housing by fitting in an optional monitor and easily attaching wet lenses. For close-up footage with your GoPro, Inon's UCL-G165 lens lets you get within two inches of your subject (aprox $230). Backscatter introduced the Macromate Mini, designed to help with close-up use of the GoPro ($89). It features the same optics as the DSLR version, but fits into Backscatter's Flip 3.1 filter bracket (which also fits the new Hero 4 series) and reduces the minimum focus distance to the subject down to about three inches. For wide-angle photography, Backscatter offers a variety of filters that fit the Flip 3.1 system, including Shallow, Deep, Dive, Green Water, and Nightsea Fluorescence filters ($20 each).

GoPro Hero4 BlackOther GoPro accessories included a lot of trays and poles on display. Beneath the Surface's Boomerang Tray moves mounting points for the lights back behind the camera, helping to eliminate the risk of fingers making their way into your wide-angle shots ($199). For entry-level GoPro users wanting a simpler solution, Beneath the Surface's Surf Stick helps grip the camera and better stabilize footage ($30). Then there's GoPole, which offers GoPro poles with sealed telescoping compartments, meaning the pole is positively buoyant even with the camera attached ($25 to $50), and a WiFi remote clamp lets you control the camera at the base of the pole. And you can now mount your GoPro right on your mask -- Octomask's has a built-in GoPro mount on top ($79).

Other Camera Gear

Oh yeah, there were other types of cameras there, too. A new one is the Sony A7, which also shoots 4K video but is pricey (it starts at $1,700).

DSLR housing maker Aquatica introduced new products for action cameras, including a flexible boomerang tray, a tripod with a three-ball system to make it more adaptable underwater, and for beginners, a uni-grip handle that can fit a single continuous light. Also, all future Aquatica DSLR housings will come standard with vacuum circuitry, so all you'll need is a valve and pump to get it vacuum sealed.

To get new underwater camera users, Recsea has a new line of inexpensive compact housings made from polycarbonate for popular cameras like some CanonPowerShots and Sonys, and the price is $550 compared to $1000-plus for its other housings.

Maybe due to the GoPro effect, Nauticam is doing more video housings, although they're expensive (one of its RED series' wide-angle housings is priced at $58,000), but it's also selling more housings for compact cameras and mirrorless models, including the Panasonic LX100, Canon GX7, and Sony RX100 III. It's also doing housing for the Olympus Tough TG-3, which is interesting because that's a waterproof camera, but Nauticam says it's a good choice for dive shops that want to lend out cameras without having to worry about flooding. At last year's DEMA show, Nauticam rolled out its Super Macro Converter, a strong, sharp lens specifically for supermacro photos ($450). This year, it debuted its multiplier, which adds another 3.5x to the already 2.3x magnification of that lens. Additionally, it's rolling out a Compact Macro Converter, and a wide-angle wet lens for compact models.

Fluorescent underwater photography is getting more action. Ikelite introduced yellow lens filters and exciter filters for its DS strobes and Vega lights. A new company called Fire Dive Gear showed filters to fit on both continuous video lights and strobes, and custom blue LEDs in dive flashlights and video lights.

For photo retouch software, VividPix debuted a one-click improvement version that focuses on brightness, color balance, contrast and sharpening. It's offering a free, full-function trial for 30 days to anyone who wants to try it out before buying ( ).

There's a Smart Way to Stop Diver Dropout

On the travel fronts, the biggest booths had the usual suspects -- Bonaire, Indonesia, the Caymans -- but there were some new and notable destinations being marketed. In the Caribbean, Buddy Dive in Bonaire announced it's going to open a branch in Dominica this August, affiliated with Fort Young Hotel. Caradonna Travel says the new Caribbean island it will be promoting to U.S. divers this year is Guadeloupe; its government is stepping up efforts to promote its diving (its Cousteau Marine Sanctuary is worth visiting) to non-French divers. In the Bay Islands, a new liveaboard named the M/V Caribbean Pearl II will offer Saturday-to-Saturday cruises around Utila and Roatan. She serves 18 divers in nine cabins ( ).

Other new liveaboards starting service soon include the Nortada, an eight-person private charter liveaboard, which got official permission from the Galapagos park to start sailing there ( ), and the French Polynesia Master, a 20-person liveaboard that will start sailing Rangiroa and Fakarava in 2016 ( ).

Far from the typical dive destinations is the Azores, but it was promoting itself heavily to divers, especially a four-hour direct flight from Boston on SATA Air. I was told that the warm Gulf Stream increases sightings of tuna, barracudas, jacks and manta rays in the summer, and that sperm whales and dolphins are seen year-round.

Not Much New in Dive Gear

In terms of standard dive equipment, there didn't seem to be anything really new or outstanding. There were certainly plenty of redesigns for BCs, dive computers, etc., but nothing really innovative to make divers change from their tried-and-true gear. One notable is that Apeks showcases its limited-edition regulator, the Black Sapphire XTX200 (approximately $950). Only 5,000 of them are available, and its innovation is a Diver Changeable Exhaust system (DCE), which gives one the ability to change from a small exhaust tee to a large exhaust tee for minimal bubble interference when it comes time to take photos. Scubapro's latest regulator innovation is a patent-pending Extended Thermal Insulated System (XTIS), for cold-water diving. The MK25 EVO first stage ($725) has XTIS that fully insulates the inner components for extra protection, and Scubapro claims that it raises the cold-water protection rating by another 30 percent.

On a humbler note, there's a new and improved mouthpiece by SeaCure, which introduced the X-Type moldable mouthpiece ($30). The new design with its tear-resistant bite position reduces the risk of gagging with an increased grip and a reduction in bulk.

If you want to put your phone or tablet in the water, Watershot has a few accessories for you. It has a new dome port for your gadget's split shots, featuring a 165-degree field of view ($189). A less-expensive option is in the form of a Splash Housing, which provides access to touch screen functions underwater and is sealed conveniently with a turning "clam latch" ($109).

While at DEMA, I met with up Undercurrent contributor Ken Kurtis, who runs the Reef Seekers dive shop in Los Angeles, CA. He too was underwhelmed by the lack of newness in dive products, but there was one gadget that caught his eye. "It has absolutely (as far as I can tell) zero practical application, but the Torrid Pulse looked like a lot of fun. It's basically an underwater air gun that shoots perfect air rings about 35 feet. (This is the video they were showing: ) The inventor was there, and he referred to it as underwater paintball. The device is about eight inches round, lightweight, and has a trigger/handle that you use to fire the air rings. It hooks up to your regulator via an included low-pressure hose, so you'll use up some (but not much) tank air to play with it. One concern is what the effect on fish would be, but they claim that the fish don't care and it's not a strong enough force to hurt them. In the video, you can see fish changing course as the bubble comes near them ($130)."

Octomask with Built-in GoPro MountKurtis also commented that technical diving was well-represented at DEMA. "You need to be welltrained and very experienced to get into it, so it's always dismayed me to see the bar lowered over the years where tech is marketed as something you can get started with right after you're done with your openwater class. But there are now dozens of tech choices both from the mainstream manufacturers and from tech-specific companies. It's hard at times to see how they can all possibly stay in business, but there's certainly a market for it."

In his interview with Deeper Blue, DEMA's Ingram said that the dive industry itself is seeing modest growth of around three percent, "but it's growth, so I'll take it," he said. "I'm not sure the economy has really gotten any better, but the perception of the economy has gotten better, so people are starting to look at making purchases, and we're seeing folks who are interested in diving more."

Will GoPro gear and new cameras be the tools to lure them in? Based on the trade show floor at DEMA this time around, it's certainly not going to be dive apps, neon camoflage suits or minor improvements to dive gear.

-- Vanessa Richardson

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