An aquarium’s glass panel provides a window into an underwater world. Whether the tank mimics a coral reef, a tropical river overgrown with aquatic plants, or a cichilid-filled African lake, these peeks into an otherwise inaccessible environment, is by far the most enjoyable perk of the hobby. That being said, we get so accustomed to seeing our aquatic setups from the front or side panels of the tank, that when an opportunity (such as a water change) arises to look in from above, it feels like seeing entirely different aquascape. This view is normally obscured by the constant water agitation, but now there are tools that allow for top-down observation of the fish tank environment. One such device comes from the well-respected American manufacturer Bashsea and will be the subject of today’s review.
I love aquarium photography, and a tool like the Bashsea I-Sea Coral Viewer gives me an opportunity to photograph underwater fauna and flora from a new angle, with interesting and beautiful results.
A coral viewer, also called a top-down viewer or a surface lens, is a simple device, consisting of a transparent, flat piece of acrylic (or, rarely, glass), a hollow tube, and a holder, all welded/glued together. To use the viewer, simply place the outer side of the flat “lens” on the surface of the water and look through. It eliminates distortions due to surface agitation without turning off flow to the tank, and allows for an unobscured view of one’s aquarium. On top of that, it also doubles as a great secondary lens for distortion-free top down photography.
While similar in overall shape and functionality, top-down viewers quality varies greatly between manufacturers. An ideal device has a completely flat viewing lens made of high-quality transparent material with ample surface area to see through, sturdy construction, and extra functionality to make it stand out from the rest.
Bashsea is an American company that manufacturers a wide range of aquatic equipment, from reactors, protein skimmers, and custom acrylic sumps, to things like the I-Sea Coral Viewer. Founded by Steve Bashi, a long time aquarist and expert in designing and building custom filtration systems, the company quickly grew to become one of the better-known names in the aquarium industry. Bashsea makes all of their products in-house in Ferndale, Michigan, using mostly American-made materials and components.
I-SEA CORAL VIEWER
The unit I received for this review is Bashsea’s smaller, 6″ model, with a white acrylic tube. Customers can choose from four different colors (white, red, black, and blue) and two diameters (6” and 8”), and custom sizes and shapes are available upon request.
My first impression of the I-Sea Coral Viewer was “WOW, this thing is solid!” The top and bottom plates, which come covered by a protective foil, are extremely well made – a quarter inch thick, laser cut and polished acrylic welded seamlessly to an inner tube. Steve from Bashsea told me the company uses 100% American-cast acrylic and a proprietorial glue that they make themselves in the shop. Frankly, whatever they do, they do it right – the I-Sea Coral viewer screams quality from every angle.
The gear-shaped top and bottom plates are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also help with handling and allow the viewer to be stored on its side, protecting the transparent bottom piece from scratches. The acrylic is precisely cut and polished, with no sharp edges whatsoever. Overall, the quality of this product exceeds expectations and, with proper care, I-Sea Coral Viewer should last for many, many years.
A top-down viewer’s primary use is to allow one to observe the aquarium from a “bird’s-eye view” without shutting off the flow, be it in a dealer’s tank when shopping for corals or in one’s private slice of the ocean (or river, lake… well you know what I mean). However, the ultimate test for such a device is a photo session, and that’s exactly what I arranged. Pictured below are my setups (a freshwater planted aquarium and a reef cube tank).
And these are the results:
Bashaea I-Sea Coral Viewer is a classic example of a straightforward product manufactured to perfection. Although there are other similar products on the market that look and function similarly to the product reviewed, none I know of can match the build quality and precision of I-Sea Coral Viewer. If you are looking for a high-quality, US-built product that can take a beating and offers crystal clear view panel, look no further.
To learn more about I-Sea Coral Viewer and other Bashsea products, visit their website.