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buoyance arms review


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#1 cor

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 01:22 PM

StiX buoyancy arms


Ever since I got my first digital SLR housing i've been looking for a way to make the housing somewhat neutral underwater. My Subal/D100 housing wasn't too bad, but when I switched to a Subal/D2x housing I would regularly find myself with sore muscles after a day of diving. Especially with macro lenses combined with teleconverters the housing became so negative it would actually be painful after a while.

On one of my liveaboard trips in 2004 I met a guy named John Zeiss that had brought some prototype self made buoyancy arms. They looked interesting, but my D100 housing at that time didn't give me much trouble so I wasn't too interested. I also knew he was leaving these arms with the managers of the Bilikiki, which we visit twice a year, so I figured I could try them sometime in the future.

Forward 2 years. I had bought a D2x and my first trip long trip made me realize the housing was too negative for me. It was just too uncomfortable after a few weeks of uninterrupted photography diving. I had dabbled in my own home made buoyancy devices, but none of my experiments really worked out well. They were either too bulky, or too ugly. I remembered John's arms, and with another Bilikiki trip coming up I figured id give those arms a try.

Julie and I spent a month on the Bilikiki in november 2006 and we both used these buoyancy arms for the whole period. After only a few days I knew I was sold. The housing was completely neutral, but not only that, i could easily change the system to match my exact needs. We did notice some problems, so when we got home we contacted John and told him about them. Turned out he had already addressed those issues, had fixed them, and was already ready for production of the arms. We immediately ordered 2 full sets and have been happy with them since.

Posted Image

Julie with Subal/D2x/YS90DX and StiX arms. (large)



The Arms


The arm system, named StiX by the designer, consists of several possible arm lengths, which you combine with a number of floats. The floats are attached to the arms by unscrewing one of the ball ends, which allows the floats to slide onto the arms. Different arm lengths allow a different number of floats, and you can choose from 2 different float sizes.

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this image shows the bare arms with the ball ends
possible sizes are 4, 6, 9, 12, 15 inches (6 , 9, 12 shown here) (large)



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here you can see several configurations of floats on the arms (large)



Light weight


The arms are very light weight, ideal for traveling. The arms weigh about 20% to 30% less than our ultralight arms, with the 12" arms weighing only 78 grams. The weight of the floats is virtually negligible, at a mere 1.5 grams for every 43 grams of lift added to your rig. At first you may think this light weight translates into weak material. This does not seem to be the case. The arms are made of 40,000 psi tensile aluminum (with competitors usually at 30,000 psi), and have been extensively tested by the designer. In our 200+ dives with these arms there is no visible damage or warping. Here is what the designer John Zeiss says about a test he did comparing his arms with another brand (name withheld) to find their force limits..

""In a simple test where I applied 200 pounds to the center of 12" arms suspended between two blocks, both arms bent. There was a noticeable difference in the ease at which they bent and the degree of spring back; the StiX being the stiffer of the two. The [****] arms showed visible signs of fatigue.""

Ball ends


The ball ends are made of an extremely tough material called Polyetherimide, a high performance thermoplastic. They feel very hardened, and even though it is a type of plastic, they seem well made for the job. Don't forget, some manufacturers make their whole housing with plastic! An early prototype version we tried was made of a totally different material (Polyphenylene oxide) and was unfortunately prone to cracking. With these new ball ends that problem seems permanently solved.


Posted Image

Closeup of the polyetheremide ball ends (large)



The ball ends are attached to the arms with a simple screw that keep the cross shaped arms connected to the arm ends. It takes only a few seconds to undo the screw, replace the floats, and put the screw back on, thereby altering the buoyancy characteristics of the arms. We have noticed though that if not properly maintained the screws tend to get sticky and are hard to loosen. That is in fact how the prototype ball ends cracked, we put too much force on the screw. But like anything that has to do with diving, if you just grease the screws and rinse them regularly there's absolutely no problem. I do suggest using the little tool that comes with the arms to undo the screws. When we used our own tool, with less sharp edges, the screws got slightly damaged. This does not happen with the tool that comes with it.

Posted Image Posted Image

The ball ends slide onto the grooves in the arms and are then held in position with a small screw
(large1) (large2)



Posted Image

Use the tool that comes with it (large)



Floats


The floats are the key to the whole arm system. Because they slide directly onto the arms, the bulk of the arms is not significantly increased compared to other buoyancy arms, and in many cases is much smaller than most other types of housing buoyancy devices. They are made with closed cell polyethylene foam and provide an excellent balance between floatation and durability. In over 200 dives made with these foam pieces we have not damaged a single one. What impressed me the most is that they seem to maintain their form very well at depth, I only noticed a minor difference in buoyancy at depths over 100 feet. The floats come in two sizes, 40 gr lift and 90 gram lift, which allows you to fine tune your rig to a high degree. I was pleasantly surprised that I could easily make my Subal/D2x housing neutral in the water, even though I was using a 60mm macro lens with teleconverter and short macro arms.

Posted Image

the floats come in two sizes and slide onto the arms (large)



Clamps


We currently own a set of ULCS (Ultralight) arms, which are also very good quality arms. I especially like the ULCS clamps, so I decided to keep using my ULCS clamps with these new arms to save some money. You can also order clamps from John to match his arm system, and I believe his clamps are slightly lighter. Since I did not order them, I cant comment on them except to say that when I used them on the Bilikiki they seemed perfectly fine.

Posted Image

The ULCS clamps can be used with these arms, saving some money if you already own them.
You can also order clamps to go with these arms (large)



Any negatives? (not really)


The one negative I can think of concerning these arms has to do with the price. As a standalone arm system for those that do not already own strobe arms, the price is actually extremely good at $35 for each arm no matter what the length. That's quite a bit cheaper than for instance ULCS. But if you already own arms, replacing them with this system is relatively expensive. For my whole system I spent about $300, and now I have a bunch of ULCS arms I dont use. That is a lot of money to make your rig more buoyant. Perhaps I can sell the ULCS arms, but thats not a certainty. But for me the choice between spending $300 or having my arms hurt after almost every macro dive was easy. When im out there in the middle of nowhere doing the amount of diving I do, physical discomforts are not to be taken lightly.

Conclusion


Needless to say, im very happy with these arms made by John Zeiss. It has made my diving 100% pleasurable again. No more sore arms after a dive, no more giving up on a very difficult macro subject due to fatigue. My rig is now ever so slightly negative (I prefer it that way), but I can just as easily make it fully neutral or even positive. There does not seem to be any serious additional drag due to the floats because this system adds very little bulk to your rig compared to normal arms.The rig is even easier to carry above water! I couldnt have asked for more.


Some Facts:

Available sizes: 4,6,9,12,15 inches (6,9,12 shown here)
Arm material: 40,000 psi tensile aluminum
Ball end material: polyetherimide thermoplastic
Float material: closed cell polyethylene foam
Float sizes: 40 gram and 90 gram buoyancy
Price: $35 for the arms, $3 for 40gr float, $4 for 90gr float, $35 for clamp (extra ball ends $15)
Information: http://www.4gdphoto.com/ (site seems not fully finished at the time of writing)



Cor Bosman/Julie Edwards








parting shots



Posted Image

Julie let go of her Subal/D2x with 60mm+TC. It descended very slowly because we
decided to make it slightly negative. It took 15-20 seconds to descend the distance
between these photo
(large1)(large2)




Cor fell asleep?? (large)


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#2 3@5

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 01:49 PM

cor, thanks for taking the time to do the review and provide with your thoughts , it is very useful ;)
/paul
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#3 Rocha

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 03:11 PM

Very nice review Cor, thanks for posting!

Luiz

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#4 LChan

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 03:43 PM

Good review.

This looks really cool.

I have seen another product that had fat aluminum bodies (fatter than the buoyancy arms by ultralight), that looked pretty good, except since it was made of aluminum, it had extra weight (which equals less buoyancy for the size of the body) as well as difficult to pack in the suitcase because of its size and weight.

I'm glad that people out there are trying to solve problems that have plagued UW photographers for some time.
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#5 Kory Nakatsu

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 04:15 PM

Cor,

Great review and something that has been hot on my mind lately in preparation for a trip to the Red Sea this June. Based on your opinions, I am going to order a set. Thanks again.

Kory
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#6 Nunomix

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 12:16 AM

Hi Cor,

Thanks for your review. I have been thinking about this since you gave me the contacts. I took a look at the prices for shipping to the Netherlands and the cheapest was USD 93!!!. I hope he can find cheaper ways to send the products because that looks way too expensive. :)
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#7 cor

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 04:19 AM

Hi Cor,

Thanks for your review. I have been thinking about this since you gave me the contacts. I took a look at the prices for shipping to the Netherlands and the cheapest was USD 93!!!. I hope he can find cheaper ways to send the products because that looks way too expensive. :)

He's probably using Fedex or UPS or something, they tend to be really expensive when shipping to Europe. You can try asking him to use USPS, but they may not offer things like insurance, and can take 1-2 weeks to arrive. Not only that, be prepared to pay custom fees! Maybe we can get a european store to carry these.

Cor
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#8 dbh

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 06:42 AM

which strobes are you using Cor?

Thanks.

Dave
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#9 pmooney

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 07:14 AM

Well - Let us see how long they take to get downunder, used the express method so it should be before next friday.

230 parts
210 shipping - not the sort of balance you like.

lets hope.

#10 pakman

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 07:37 AM

Thanks Cor for the writeup... Julie had mentioned these earlier and I'd been anxiously waiting for a review... Nice clean system there... sure beats PET bottles tied to ulcs arms...:)

Out of curiousity, are those 6"x6" or 9"x9" arms on your D2x Subal setup? And you have the 3oz floats on the lower arms and the 1.5oz on the upper arms, correct?

Last question, how stiff/ pliable is the foam? I'm wondering if the hole in the middle were enlarged, could you slide a standad ULCS arm thru it?

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#11 echeng

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 08:39 AM

Cor -- make sure you paint the arms black before you come to the Bahamas for sharks this July. :)
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#12 ce4jesus

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 08:54 AM

"Perhaps I can sell the ULCS arms, but thats not a certainty."

As someone who just purchased arms and scoured Ebay for a few months, the ULCS stuff sells for about 2/3 of new. Not bad.
Gary
Olympus E-520, TLC arms, Inon Z-240s, 50mm, 14-42mm woody's diopter

#13 cor

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 10:05 AM

which strobes are you using Cor?

Im still using YS90DXs, Julie is using YS110s. Ive hung a 2 pound weight on the end with my strobes on a weightbelt to see what that would do, but these arms are really quite strong. I tried bending one with my hands but i was only hurting myself :)

230 parts
210 shipping - not the sort of balance you like.

ouch! thats absurd.

Out of curiousity, are those 6"x6" or 9"x9" arms on your D2x Subal setup? And you have the 3oz floats on the lower arms and the 1.5oz on the upper arms, correct?

Last question, how stiff/ pliable is the foam? I'm wondering if the hole in the middle were enlarged, could you slide a standad ULCS arm thru it?


Im using 4 x 6" arms on my macro housing, thats what you see in the images and for wide angle I simpy add 2 x 12" to it. Kind of a weird setup, but I like it. Julie uses 4 x 6" for macro and 4 x 9" for wide angle. On my 4 6" arms I do indeed have two 3oz floats and two 1.5oz floats. It's a bit negative like that. If I add a heavy focus light i'll probably swap two of the 1.5oz floats with two 3oz floats.

You can probably ply the foam with the right tools. By pressing hard on them with your fingers you can make a slight dent. I wouldnt be surprised if you could get them to go over regular ULCS arms. Ofcourse you'd loose a lot of lift capacity.

Cor -- make sure you paint the arms black before you come to the Bahamas for sharks this July. :lol:

You know, thats the very first thing I told Julie when we went diving the other day. She sorta laughed at me! But I tell ya, those floats look exactly like fish bits to a hungry tiger! :) Im gonna make sure they're not white when we go, but i'll have to see what the best way is. I kinda like to keep them white. Maybe some tape or something, or whatever..i'll figure it out. I dont want my housing to become a tiger play toy..

Cor

Edited by cor, 27 January 2007 - 10:13 AM.

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#14 malodiver

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 04:49 PM

Cor,
John is also working on a foam port collar for heavier maro setups, to augment the arms. As you know, I am getting " camera elbow" from that Seacam D2X tank with L&M focus light, I push around. Then there would be an option for shorter macro arms, or more play in the ballance set up. I will be trying out this combination option, in a few weeks, on the Voyager. An advantage of having the source in ones back yard.
I hope to use a lot less Motrin on this trip.
Jack, St. Paul, Mn.

#15 cor

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 05:28 PM

Cor,
John is also working on a foam port collar for heavier maro setups, to augment the arms. As you know, I am getting " camera elbow" from that Seacam D2X tank with L&M focus light, I push around. Then there would be an option for shorter macro arms, or more play in the ballance set up. I will be trying out this combination option, in a few weeks, on the Voyager. An advantage of having the source in ones back yard.
I hope to use a lot less Motrin on this trip.
Jack, St. Paul, Mn.

That'll be nice in those cases where the arms still dont cut it :) I personally like a bit longer macro arms to be able to do side and top lighting, so ive found it quite easy to make it neutral. Please do report back on the port collar as im sure plenty of people are interested in these kinds of modifications. A lot of people here have very negative rigs.

Say hi to nancy! We'll be going on the Voyager with Eric in may.

Cor
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#16 Jock

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 11:04 PM

Cor,

an easy way to "paint" the floats is to use black (or whatevercolour you want) shrinking hose / heat shrink tube (is that the english word for it? The small diameters are ued for insulating solded electrical cable connections).

I did this with my setup: Subtronic arms with wrapped-around cork plates. Very easy.

Oh, and I would be interested in a "collar". I remember James Wiseman wrote a report here on Wetpixel, will have to look for it and try to build a collar for my set-up.

Guys, can't understand what you are complaining about - I use a Nikonos RS. THAT gives you negative camera buoancy ...

Regards,

Joerg

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#17 cor

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 03:55 AM

I asked John about the imho ridiculous shipping prices, and he told me there is a problem with the shipping module in his software. So for those that saw really high shipping prices, make sure you email John and ask about it.

Cor
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#18 yahsemtough

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 05:52 AM

Go with the white for Tigers, makes for better images. Well for the others anyway. :)

Great review and if only I knew about a week ago. Figures too that I don't fly through Minneapolis this time.

Might look at these when I return.

Cheers

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#19 bmyates

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 08:32 AM

Great review - I just ordered a set! I would have thought the closed cell foam would "crush" at pressure and lose its buoyancy, but if you say they'll last a few hundred dives with minimal loss of buoyancy, that's plenty. The floats are inexpensive enough that we could replace them every few hundred dives and still not be out a lot of money!

I've been using UCLS buoyancy arms, but they're really just neutral (don't claim to actually add any positive buoyancy), and I really need something more positive, especially with long macro lenses. I also made and use some buoyancy collars around the port (based on James Wiseman's design), but those alone aren't an ideal solution because they cause the front of the camera to want to always tip upward. I'm thinking if I had a combination of these buyancy arms AND a small collar on the port, it just might make this Seacam monster of mine more comfortable for long-term use...

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#20 bella

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 08:51 AM

Great review - I just ordered a set! I would have thought the closed cell foam would "crush" at pressure and lose its buoyancy, but if you say they'll last a few hundred dives with minimal loss of buoyancy, that's plenty. The floats are inexpensive enough that we could replace them every few hundred dives and still not be out a lot of money!

I have not compared the buoyancy at the beginning and at the end of my series of dives with them. Mainly because for the first 100+ dives I was using the ones owned by the managers of the Bilikiki, and who knows how often or not they used them. I have tried compressing them myself with my fingers and they are very resistant to being compressed that way. You can make a slight dent if you push hard with your thumbs but thats about it. I do know that after my set of dives on the Bilikiki I never had the feeling they lost any buoyancy.

Closed cell foam can be extremely rigid. In one of my DYI experiments i used a closed cell foam that literally felt hard as a rock. You could kill someone with that stuff :) I needed an electrical saw to cut it. The material these StiX arms use is not as rigid, but according to the designer it's a balance between weight and crush resistance. I dont think it'll be a problem doing a few hundred dives, if not over 1000, as long as you stay within recreational limits. I'll ask John what this foam is rated for (the one I used was rated to several miles of depth and was used on deepsea rovers).

I do hope all you people ordering these things like them as much as I do. I have no ties whatsoever with John, im just personally very happy with them and am glad someone actually made some of these that work.

Cor (edit: oops..i was using julie's mac and didnt notice I was logged in as her)

Edited by bella, 29 January 2007 - 08:55 AM.

-julie edwards