For some time, Atomic masks have been a favorite of underwater photographers due to their use of high quality lens glass, and non-reflective coatings. As reported in the Wetpixel BOOT show review, they released their Venom mask with its Schott Ultraclear Superwite lens earlier this year. It is rare to feature diving equipment in reviews on Wetpixel, however for underwater image makers, a good mask is almost as essential as a camera and lens! Atomic UK supplied Wetpixel with a demo lens, and I have been diving it for the last few weeks.
Masks are an essentially personal piece of gear, as the key element with any mask is for it to have a good fit on the user’s face. This is why so many experienced photographers will stick to the same brand and type of mask, as they know that it works (for them). It is well nigh impossible to actually recommend a mask for a third party, as it simply may not seal and will hence let water in. Assuming a good fit as a starting point, other features to look for in a good mask for imaging are a relatively low volume as this typically helps to bring the eye and the viewfinder closer together and a dark skirt so as to prevent excess light seeping in around the edges. Single or dual lens masks seem to be a moot point, with people disagreeing about their merits. As it happens, I prefer a single lens construction, as I find that dual lens masks’ central frames tend to get into my vision. Saying that, single lens masks are typically harder to get to fit, as they cannot curve to suit facial contours.
Atomic also claim that the mask gives a very wide range of viewing angles both vertically and horizontally. Whilst this is indeed an advantage in general use, I think it is less of a feature specifically for imaging, as we are often squinting through a viewfinder, and peripheral vision is not a critical attribute.
The theory behind Atomic’s UltraClear lens technology is that all glass previously used in mask construction contains iron particles, which give the glass a greenish tint. This can be seen when the mask is held against a white background. UltraClear is an optical quality glass that allows a claimed 96% of available light transmission, and does not give a green tint. This should benefit photographers as it will prevent the light reaching your eyes for the subject or through the viewfinder from being discolored.
The Venom features a version of the UltraClear glass made by the Schott Glass Company in Germany. This claims to be a higher purity grade glass than that of previous masks, including those made by Atomic.
In the near future, Atomic will offer a version of the Venom with its ARC anti-reflective coating. This allows more light to enter the mask by stopping it reflecting back off the glass. It is applied inside and out and, in my experience, prevents the ghosting on the inside of the lens that occurs when shooting brightly lit scenes.
The Venom’s lens is phenomenally clear and in use it effectively disappears from view. I guess that with a mask lens, the best description is that you are unaware that you are wearing it. As mentioned above, the peripheral vision was good, but most critically, the view forward was clear and completely undistorted. The mask is low enough volume to allow it to be used easily with an enhanced viewfinder, and just so for use with a standard one and in fact, I would prefer a slightly lower volume if I was solely using a standard viewfinder. Saying that, the lens clarity may be a significant enough advantage that users may be prepared to shift the viewfinder more to get an affective angle of view.
The strap attaches via adjusting buckles which have flexible mounting points on the mask skirt itself. The strap itself is quite thin and hence very stretchy. I would normally replace it with a neoprene version anyway, but the supplied one tended to stretch and hence move a fair bit, particularly over a hood. The skirt itself is also very soft and flexible, in fact the user must be careful not to tighten the mask strap too much as this will distort the fit of the mask. I also found that the edges of the skirt felt quite sharp. Diving in cold water makes facial skin, where it is exposed to the water, very sensitive, and I found that I was quite aware of the edges of it where it contacted my skin. I find that in general, long dives in sea water create a similar issue.
In conclusion, the quality of the Venom’s lens is simply stunning, and is unlike anything else that I have ever used. The mask’s design is fine for imaging use (assuming a good fit), although in my opinion, it is a little high volume for use with a standard viewfinder.
The Venom is available now in Black/Red, Black/Blue and Black/Grey at £124 in the UK, $199 in the US. In the near future, the company will also offer a version with the ARC coating, as well as a version with a crystal silicon skirt. They also plan to release a mid sized version for those with smaller faces soon.
FTC Disclosure. The mask was loaned to the reviewer for the purpose of the review by Justin Hanning of Atomic UK.