Kit reviews from underwater photographers are usually of the latest photo related equipment, or a new piece of gadgetry aimed at underwater photographers.
So it’s great to be able to report on a new piece of diving equipment from time to time.
This is in no way not photography related, as having the right dive kit can help you enormously when taking pictures, and I have previously done posts on useful dive shorts granting you extra pocket space (click here), and have also done a post on a Whites drysuit a while back that I consider very useful for underwater photography.
So for this review I’m looking at a new BCD that I trialled out in the Philippines recently.
The XDeep Ghost. pictured below and I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to the XDeep UK distributor Blue Orb for allowing me use of the pictures I’ve used for the blog from the XDeep European website
Give me Wings
It’s a wing style BCD, and I’ve extolled the virtues of diving with wings, to photo workshoppers for many years now, particularly travel ones, with my own fave being the Aqualung Zuma, favoured for it’s light weight and easy to pack form factor, and is my go to choice of Buoyancy Compensation Device for the last few years.
The Zuma though could never be described as heavy duty, and although mine has lasted well, and I do put kit through it’s paces it has at last succumbed to my less than kind treatment of it.
Wings though are often thought of and marketed to the technical diving community, often with twin bladders and more metal work attached than is feasible to keep your baggage allowances down, and with enough lift to raise two overweight divers from the depths.
All things unnecessary for underwater photographers travelling to warmer climes and rarely diving very deep.
Of course there are always exceptions, but I’m looking at this wing in particular as being suited to your traveller that is conscious more about baggage weight than lift capacities.
The Aqualung Zuma which I love and cannot recommend highly enough, worried me a bit about it’s long term durability, as it’s made from very lightweight material and has no back or tank mounting plates
Mine has lasted me well beyond my expectations, and has over four hundred dives on it now, but at the end of last year it started to go, so Blue Orb kindly lent me an XDeep Ghost to have a look at and try.
As to be honest there hasn’t really been anything else to realistically compare against the Zuma for size and weight in the last couple of years.
The Ghost is aimed fairly and squarely at the travel diver, being only 2.3kg in its regular incarnation, they do a deluxe version which has quick release buckles and a few other comfort touches, which is only a couple of a hundred grams heavier.
I had the regular version.
Trimming the fat
They only do two sizes, which isn’t a criticism, as because of the design, and adjustment system they do one for divers less than 175cm tall, and one for divers taller than this.
For photography, I find the most important aspect with any BCD is to be able to achieve a great trim position, and wing BCD’s in general do this for me, but this one in particular, much like my Zuma and being smaller ‘winged’ than a technically inspired wing, kept me at just the right trim position for photography, allowing my fins to be slightly up from the horizontal, and well away from the reef.
It is also ridiculously low profile, and when absent of air, wrapped neatly around the tank underwater, reducing drag, and enhancing movement in the water. I almost like to feel that the BCD isn’t there, and that I don’t have to consciously drive it, which the Ghost made me feel.
I opted for their neat integrated weight system, which is the best implementation of the kind I’ve seen, these are costed as add ons with the assumption that you’ll use a weight belt otherwise.
They are easy to remove quickly and one handed being secured with a quick release buckle, but also more secure from accidentally falling out as you are reassured with a weighty click on securing. Each pocket has a sturdy loop to pass up to the boat handler that isn’t in any danger of slipping through their fingers.
Tiny criticism, if you only have a couple of kilos in each side as I did then the pocket itself would occasionally slip out of it’s slot, although you’re never in any danger of losing the pocket itself as its still held tight by the clip, it’s just a mild hindrance dangling free, and takes a moment to put back in place. If you carry more lead than this, then this is very unlikely to happen.
Like the pockets everything on this BC felt very solid and secure, belied by its lack of weight.
A stiff back
As it doesn’t have quick release buckles for the shoulder straps (optional on the deluxe) and no way to easily loosen the straps themselves,then taking it off in the water requires you to extend your arm down and then up close to your body and out of one side, which is fine if you are flexible enough to do this.
The webbing itself is very stiff and heavy duty but I’m sure it will soften over time.
Although I managed to easily take it off and am not known for my yoga like elasticity LOL
The body material is made of a Cordura variant which they are calling 1100 dTex, and just like the Zuma is of single skin construction. It feels a lot heavier duty than the very thin material used on the Zuma, but as I’ve said that has lasted me more than 400 dives, and the bladder is still intact, it’s just my harness that has gone. So I’m assuming the Ghost should last even longer.
The big difference in the two though is that the Ghost has a very sturdy lightweight aluminium backplate where the Zuma has only padding.
And the tank attachment is also an aluminium spar which allows you to affix two tank bands.
Because of me being a numpty and not reading the instructions, which are available online, I only packed one tank band. And you always should read the instructions for any dive kit by the way, slapped wrists Duxy.
One band proved to be perfectly sufficient when placed in the top slot nearest your head, and with a 12L aluminium tank held it securely.
XDeep say will take up to a 15Litre tank of no more than 240mm, but you really would need two tank bands for this I’m sure.
You are supposed to use two, but I guess it’s a testament to the Ghosts more belt and braces approach to construction that one was fine.
The Zuma only has the one, and is fine, even with no rigid metalwork holding things together.
Keeping things to the bare minimum
As a very minimalist BCD XDeep have opted to save weight and trim fat in other areas by keeping clips and buckles to a minimum, so they opt for sturdy metal D ring attachment points on the straps rather than plastic ones, giving a bit of a nod to it’s technical heritage.
Putting it on was easy, and the whole caboodle is secured with a traditional metal buckled waist belt, which also serves as a fixing point for the crotch strap. A little note here to remind you fellas trying this BCD to loosen off the crotch strap initially until you’ve got the sizing right by jiggling around the buckles, unless of course you like singing a few octaves higher!
A Strong Bladder
Another great point worth mentioning, but something that caused this diver a momentary lapse of thinking, is that they have placed the inflator hose, slap bang in the middle of the top of the bladder. This seemed weird at first, and it hardly looks long enough placed adjacent to your left shoulder, but it proved to be a better position than normal placement of the BCD closer to waist level. And just goes to show that just because we have got used to something over the years, doesn’t mean that there may well be a better way of doing things.
With the dump on the hose now being up near the shoulder there was no exaggerated stretch upwards like with a regular hose to evacuate all the air.
They also do different length hoses so if this position is a step too far, then you can use your more normal length of inflator hose.
There is also a rear dump valve on the right hand size, which I occasionally used.
A great pair of wings
In summation, I would totally recommend this BCD it’s great to dive in, it’s very comfortable, doesn’t move about aided by the tank bands, snug fit and crotch strap, and if your were in the market for a travel wing then take a look at this alongside the Aqualung Zuma which retails at around £279
The XDeep Ghost is quite a bit more expensive at a MRRP of £469 with the QR weight pockets at another £75 but when you check them out side by side it’s very clear where the extra money is being spent.
I would say that the Ghost is for the person who wants overall more sturdiness and longevity than the Zuma has to offer, and who travels and dives a lot, it’s a little bit heavier but not by much.
It’s also a great option as a second BCD for a techie diver who refuses to compromise on build quality for when they take their warmer water holidays.
It’s also clear that XDeep also value simplicity and functionality, wrapped up in great style that really looks like you take your diving seriously indeed, even if you are only carrying it out in warm clear water.
So even though it is nearly twice the price it feels like you could get more than twice the life out of it actually making it great value for money too.
I would say that if you’re on a tight budget ,and don’t dive much then the Aqualung Zuma should be sufficient, but if you want an extra level of robustness, great styling (oh, nearly forgot XDeep will personalise your BCD for you too as a service) and you don’t mind paying a premium for that then the XDeep Ghost may just be the perfect long haul wing BCD.