A scuba diving mask is more than just a window through which to view the underwater world.
Without a dive mask your eyes can't focus in the water. The space that a mask gives you lets your eyes focus the light normally and taa daa, you can see.
You would think that choosing a mask would be simple to do, but like any piece of scuba gear it takes some thought and research to pick the right scuba mask for you.
Single Pane Mask - The descendant of the oval frogman mask we all remember from old movies, modern single pane scuba masks have almost nothing in common with their vintage counterparts.
For one thing they don't make you look like some big google eyed Cyclops. Hey, fashion is important.
Modern masks have silicon skirts to help fit better, as well a low profile design to bring the pane closer to the face and provide a wider range of vision.
Because the pane is all one piece this type of mask can't be outfitted as a prescription scuba mask.
Double Pane Mask - This is probably the most common type of mask around.
This scuba diving mask has a very low profile providing a wider range of vision than the single pane mask. The low profile also makes it easier to equalize at depth, as well as reduce mask "squeeze".
If you wear glasses a double pane mask can be outfitted as a prescription dive mask.
Some divers do complain about the mask sitting between the eyes, but most see past that after a bit don't even notice that it's there.
Full Face Mask - These masks are used mostly buy commercial divers, although there are models made for recreational use.
A benefit of this style mask is that it can be outfitted with underwater communication so you can actually talk with your dive buddy or a surface team.
Some divers feel that because these masks are so comfortable to breath you may actually end up going though more air than usual.
Skirt Color - You can choose a clear or opaque silicon skirt.
An opaque skirt is good for a diver who does underwater photography or video. The opaque skirt helps to focus on the subject and avoid distractions.
A clear skirt lets light enter from the sides and helps with peripheral vision.
Multiple Panes - Some scuba masks have panes on the side and bottom to give a wider range of vision. The light can sometime act "funny" with these masks and can be distracting. Definitely a matter of preference and something you should try before you buy.
Purge Valve - A built in purge valve can make it easier to clear your dive mask if it floods out.
A downside is that it could fail at depth leaving you in the position of cutting your dive short.
Scuba or Snorkeling - make sure your nice shiny new mask is actually made for scuba diving. If you use a mask that is only made for snorkeling you could end up in serious trouble when you exceed the depth limits of the mask.
Consider the type of diving you do and the conditions under which you dive, then make a checklist of the features you are looking for in a mask.
If at all possible dive the different styles to see which you prefer. See if your local dive shope has different styles you can try or rent.
Choosing the right scuba diving mask can be like going from a 15 inch black and white TV to a 53 inch HDTV complete with home theater.
Well maybe not that drastic, but better, definitely better.