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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gadget Bag: Path Finders

All-in-one watches that do more than tell time for photographers

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Suunto X9i
Suunto X9i

As we go farther into the wilderness for our photography, some tools have become an integral part of our sense of direction and help us to survive and calculate any sort of conditions or odds that may rear their ugly heads. As technology consolidates these tools, such as GPS units, altimeters, thermometers and compasses, into one highly functional device, the easier it’s becoming to get off the beaten path to find a one-of-a-kind shot. And as expedition and outdoor technology converge, we’re seeing a surge in small, lightweight, high-tech watches that can make our photography more productive in the field.

If you're the adventurous type of outdoor photographer who likes to wander into uncharted territory, a GPS unit will be indispensable in keeping you aware of your surroundings and headed in the right direction. Some of the first GPS watches produced for the market a few years ago were bulky navigational devices that bore no resemblance to a wristwatch, but as the form factor has been shaved and redesigned to resemble a more traditional-looking timepiece, the technology is getting better, too.

An ideal tool for outdoor photographers, these all-in-one watches provide data in any sort of inclement weather or elements. They enable us to better predict and track our movements and help us get shots that may be impossible
to get any other way.

One of the most refined and feature-rich wrist-top computer/watch systems with GPS navigation is the Suunto X9i. It’s more like a tiny computer you wear like a watch, with PC software that records and stores data. With the X9i, you can plan and visualize routes you want to take with your computer because the watch links up via a USB cable to power itself; it works with software like National Geographic’s TOPO! and Google Earth, which lets you draw your own trails and create your own hikes with waypoints (a set of coordinates, latitude and longitude, that describe an exact geographic location). You can set up waypoints that give directions, the distance you’ve traveled and how far you have until your destination. Other features include an altimeter that tracks elevation, a barometer that tells the temperature, a watch with dual time and a calendar. Estimated Street Price: $499.

Garmin Forerunner 305
Garmin Forerunner 305
Another GPS-enabled wrist-top computer/watch is the Garmin Forerunner 305. Geared toward the fitness market, it has a heart-rate monitor, a calorie tracker and allows you to record information on a trip or run to analyze your data afterward. The Forerunner 305 can help outdoor photographers, however, because it utilizes a SiRFstar III GPS receiver that lets you mark waypoints, find locations and set a starting point you can later navigate back to. Its simple map shows your current direction and path, and the GPS unit is high sensitivity, so even if you’re in a dense forest, it will pick up a signal from a satellite to help direct you. Estimated Street Price: $285.

Timex Triathlon Bodylink Trail Runner
Timex Triathlon Bodylink Trail Runn
The Timex IRONMAN Triathlon Bodylink Trail Runner is a high-tech watch system that provides GPS functionality. It constantly shows your latitude and longitude, ascent and descent information when you hit any elevation, and has the ability to set up 10 waypoints that will help you navigate to your preferred destination. Some of the Trail Runner’s other features include water resistance, dual-time zones and a heart-rate monitor, plus its speed and distance technology measures your progress in real-time and also calculates your pace. Estimated Street Price: $350.

All of these GPS-enabled wristwatches track your routes and store them as data that can later be analyzed on a computer via a USB connection. You can mark where you’ve taken a great shot and navigate back there to shoot again.


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