Features October 15, 2000 Issue

Handheld Anemometers

A comparison of the new Minox against Kestrel and Speedtech Instruments finds the Skymate a Best Buy.

We’ve taken note on several occasions of the excellent handheld anemometers that reflect the mania for miniaturization. Most of these instruments, made possible by electronic chips and liquid crystal displays, have other functions, too.

If interested solely in wind readings, this
Kestrel 1000 is a fair value, available for
$79.99 from West Marine. It’s waterproof. It
was originally reviewed in the June, 1997
issue of Practical Sailor.

There’s a new one out. It has a familiar name: Minox. (Remember the little German-made push-pull spy camera introduced a long time ago? It was one of the first successful miniaturization efforts in photography.)

This new Minox gadget, a two-button (function and reset) instrument in a little waterproof case made of aluminum, reads the wind in knots, kilometers, mph, meters per second and Beaufort— both the current and peak average. The temperature displays in Celsius or Fahrenheit, calculates a wind chill temperature and displays both. The time intervals used for average values are programmable. The tiny impeller, mounted in a ball housing, swivels closed to protect it during storage.

The Minox has a CR2032 lithium battery good for up to four years or 100,000 one-minute measurements. It comes in a nice leather case.

The Minox sells for $109, from Leica Camera, Inc. (The Minox isn’t really made by Minox. Also sold under the names Silva and Brunton, it’s made by Flytec AG, a Swiss company. There’s a $199 version in a blue case called a Bruton Sherpa that does time, wind, temperature, altitude and barometric pressure, with a 16-hour trend graph.)

Other Brands
In earlier issues, notice was taken of the Kestrel 1000 (reviewed in the June, 1997 issue) and the Skywatch Elite (in the July 1, 1999 issue).

The Kestrel 1000, purely an anemometer (no temperature functions), has the same two-button operating system, the same battery and a good slide-on case held captive by the lanyard. It does current, average and maximum wind reading. The time intervals for averaging are programmable. The Kestrel still sells for $89 from Nielson-Kellerman, for $79.99 from West Marine.

Nielson-Kellerman has two more advanced versions. The Kestrel 2000 ($119; $108.99 from West Marine) does wind and temperature tricks, like the Minox. The other, a Kestrel 3000, is unique in that it does wind, temperature and also humidity, it calculates and displays dew points and wind-chill factors. The humidity sensor must be protected from seawater. It sells for $159.

Speedtech Instruments has two handheld anemometers—the Skywatch Elite and the Skymate. The Skywatch Elite is perhaps not packaged as nicely as the Minox or the Kestrels. Its case has a sort of suede leather cover, but is nice for holding. Rather than a small prop in a tunnel, it has a big exposed impeller that is omnidirectional, meaning that it’s less fussy about alignment with the wind. It has the wind/weather functions, with programmable maximum readings, operated by two buttons and powered by the same battery (protected against carelessness by a 36-hour auto-off). A backstay mount costs $15. Its cap contains a tiny compass. The Skywatch Elite sells for $135.

Speedtech’s other anemometer is the Skymate, which appears to be a Japanese knock-off of the Kestrel 2000. With an easily replaceable impeller, the Skymate does everything, too. It has a 20-minute auto-off. It comes in a handy swivel case that serves also as a handle. It sells for $78.

Which One Is Best?
How do they compare?

Some testing was done, but it’s doubtful that the results are very important.

Because one maker said of another that the impeller is too small (with the claim that it takes too much breeze to get the little impeller moving), one of the tests was reading light winds.

Using a laboratory fan, the Kestrel started reading at .6 mph, the Minox at 3.0 mph, the Skymate at .4 mph and the Skywatch Elite at .4 mph. Because each one registered about the same over various wind speeds, it is assumed that all are reasonably accurate.

Testing for the accuracy of the temperature reading, all four were put in a box with a calibrated thermometer and given ample time to stabilize. The box was opened, the instruments set to read temperatures and a few minutes later, the thermometer said 71°F, the Kestrel read 70.2°F, the Minox 72°F, the Skymate 70.6°F, and the Skywatch Elite 71°F.

Done again, with the box cooked in direct sunlight long enough to produce a high temperature (as if one of these instruments was stored in a cockpit locker), the thermometer read 81°F, the Kestrel 82°F, the Minox 79°F, the Skymate 81.4°F, and the Skywatch 81°F.

One final test: It was noted along the way that several of these instruments seemed very sluggish to respond to temperature changes. So the instruments were removed from the “hot box” and timed for how long it took for each to drop to ambient temperature. Despite having its sensor inside its case, the quickest was the Minox, with the Kestrel right behind, trailed by the Skymate and Skywatch.

To further help in sorting out the features, which might be important to a buyer, here are some pluses-and-minuses of each instrument:

1. All except the Minox read the wind in tenths.
2. The Kestrel and Skymate read the temperature in tenths.
3. The Kestrel instruments are the only ones made in the United States. Minox and Skywatch Elite are Swiss. The Skymate is Japanese.
4. The Minox and the Kestrels are waterproof.
5. All except the Minox have auto-off.
6. The only ones with threaded tripod mounting holes are the two Speedtech models.

The Bottom Line
These are marvelous instruments that reduce errors by averaging readings over selectable time periods…but also supply peaks.

The Minox would be attractive to anyone who wants the smallest anemometer. It’s waterproof and a good buy. The reluctance of the impeller to move in light air might be a drawback.

At $78, the Best Buy is the Skymate, which compares favorably with the $108.99 Kestrel 2000, which it so closely resembles.

The Skywatch Elite has by far the best display. The numbers, bold and black, are the biggest and the easiest to read. Although it’s not waterproof and it’s the most expensive of the lot, it’s the anemometer PS often uses for testing that involves wind readings. Unlike all of the impeller-in-a-tunnel types, it doesn’t require precise alignment with the wind.

What about that little Minox camera? The first version made an early appearance in a 1967 James Bond movie, Casino Royale. The movie starred David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, Charles Boyer, William Holden and other “name” actors. Despite all the talent, it was not the equal of any of the classics with Sean Connery. The camera, now greatly improved, is called the Minox ECX. It weighs 1.975 ounces and sells for $249 an ounce.

 

Contacts- Leica Camera, Inc., 156 Ludlow Ave., Northvale, NJ 07647-2305; 201/767-7500. Nielson-Kellerman, 104 West 15th, Chester, PA 19013; 800/784-4221. West Marine sells it. Speedtech Instruments, 10413 Deerfoot Dr., Great Falls, VA 22088; 800/760-0004.

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