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The Perfect Watch for a Nature Photographer

When my old watch started needing a new battery every few months, it became clear it was time to replace it. After researching things I settled on one that not only tells time, it calculates sunrise and sunset time, has a built-in compass, barometer, thermometer and altimeter, and sets itself via signals from the atomic clock. Oh, and it never needs batteries since the face is also a solar panel.

For those of you familiar with the excellent author and photographer Thom Hogan, you may also already be familiar with the watch I've had prior to this. He wrote an article back in the mid nineties about the Casio Forester FT200W-1V watch that was able to perform the amazing feat of calculating sunrise and sunset times. It sold new for around $60 on the web which was in the price range watches in general so I bought one. The styling of the watch was typical cheap Casio plastic, but it worked great and meant that I could easily keep track of the when I needed to be on site for golden magic hour shooting. In addition to entering the date and time as on most watches, you also had to enter the time zone, longitude and latitude, but once you did the push of a button would tell you when the sun was going to set. Cool.

When my first Casio FT200W died in 2001, I tried to buy another but Casio had discontinued the model and at the time there was no replacement. Casio made countless watch models of course, but none that could tell me when the sun would rise and set. After enough searching on the web though I found a site that still had some in stock, and they were selling them for the bargain price of only $45. Very cool.

Nothing lasts forever of course and earlier this year my second Casio started acting up. It still kept time pretty well but it ate batteries. I replaced the battery more than once in just a few months. Time to research watches again. My hope was that Casio or someone else would have come out with an updated model and indeed they had. A number of companies make watches with built in compasses, barometers and such. Some even have built in GPS receivers. Suunto and Zulu do make at least one model each with sunrise/sunset, but Casio is still the most well known such company. And thankfully they've updated the styling and also crammed even more high tech features inside a standard sized watch package.

Casio Pathfinder PAW2000 - the perfect nature photographer's watchWhat I ended up buying is a Casio Pathfinder PAW2000. Online, it sells for nearly $250 but what you get for that price is incredible.

As mentioned, this thing never needs batteries. In addition to providing the usual backlighting when a button is pressed, of the face of the watch functions as a solar panel. Even standard home or office illumination is enough to keep it charged. To save power, the watch automatically turns the display off at night if the watch senses it hasn't been moved lately. It will never sleep during the day, and this feature can be disabled if you find it sleeping when you don't want it to. If it's still dark in the morning the display is blank when I first pick it up but just the motion of putting it on wakes it up. Casio claims that a full charge will last for five months with the power saving features enabled even if you keep it in the dark. And by never having to crack it open to put in a new battery, the case should maintain its full water resistance rating for years to come.

As with my old Casio watches, you do have to enter the longitude, latitude and time zone for it to calculate sunrise and sunset. Sunrise times don't vary much from just local travel but if I'm far enough from home to make a difference I can get the correct longitude and latitude from my GPS easily. My old watch would take several seconds to show the sunrise and sunset times when you pressed the button, but the new one definitely has a faster processor and can do it in about half the time.

Other cool features for photographers or geeks include a built in compass, barometer, thermometer and altimeter. When hiking, it's nice to be able to use the compass and altimeter to help keep track of where I'm at. And the barometer and thermometer can provide clues to incoming storm fronts. When worn on my wrist, the temperature is somewhat biased but does work well enough to be useful. Needless to say, it also has a calendar, multiple alarms, stop watches and a countdown timer.

As for keeping time, it sets itself daily using low frequency radio broadcasts sent out by the atomic clock network in the United States, Europe, Japan, China and perhaps elsewhere. This is the first atomic watch I've had and it's been great never having to set it. The time it shows is always accurate to the second when I check it against the official time.

In order to make all these features work, you'd expect this thing to be huge. Surprisingly, it weighs only 2.5 ounces with the strap and fits in a package no bigger than many far less capable watches. The case measures a mere 11.3 mm in thickness. The watch does have a number of buttons on it to allow you to use all the included features. Every now and then I find that I've somehow pressed the barometer button and that my watch is showing me the air pressure rather than the time but a simple button press and its back to being a regular watch. It took me a while to learn what each did but they're all labeled so there's really no problem except at night. The one button you do need to learn though is the one that powers the backlight. If you get one, plan to spend some time reading the manual to get the most out of your new watch.

I've had my Casio Pathfinder PAW2000 for the past few months now, and it has proven itself extremely reliable. One worry I initially had was that it wouldn't get enough sunlight here in the rainy northwest to keep itself charged but so far it's been perfectly fine. There's an indicator for the battery charge level as low, medium or high, and it's been pegged on high this whole time. There's something about how the band joins to the case that would sometimes grab the hairs on my wrist but either I've gotten used to it or else all the hair I did have on my wrist has been sufficiently pulled out to no longer be a problem. I'm pretty sure it's the former, but either way things are fine now.

This is by far the most expensive watch I've ever owned, but as a tool to do what I need it to, I'm more than pleased. Highly recommended, if you need it and can get past the sticker price.

Date posted: November 14, 2010


Copyright © 2010 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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