Widget Of The Week
Casio WQV-1 Wrist Camera, 2000
A wristwatch with a built-in digital camera
might not sound particularly interesting but back in 2000 when Casio bought
out the WQV-1, it was a significant first. It wasn't an entirely new idea
though. Sub-miniature film cameras have been shoehorned into watches since the
turn of the last century. The first ones were chunky pocket or ‘fob’ watches,
-- as opposed to wristwatches -- but they eventually managed that as well with
a several now extremely rare models, like the legendary Steineck spycam from
However, the size and appearance of some of
those antique and vintage watch-cameras made it pretty obvious what they were.
In contrast the WQV-1 is very discrete. You would need to be keen-eyed to spot
the lens, but the crude – by today’s standards – image sensor, limited memory
capacity and poor display, initially ruled it out as anything more than an innivative novelty product.
Starting with the basics, the WVQ-1’s combined
watch display and camera monitor is a 120 x 120 pixel (14.4k pixel) monochrome
LCD. Timekeeping functions include a 12/24 hour digital clock with date
display, stopwatch, countdown timer and 5 daily alarms. The camera uses a
0.25-inch monochrome CMOS image sensor boasting 28k pixels. It’s mounted on the
front edge of the watch body, behind a fixed focus (30cm - ∞) f/2.8 lens. It
has an auto shutter and a rudimentary ALC (automatic light control) exposure
system. There’s a 1-megabyte onboard memory, which can store up to 100 images.
Pictures can be given a name, phone number, title etc. -- up to 24 characters -- using a so-called
Data Bank option.
Pictures can be transferred to another Casio camera watch or
a PC (Windows 95, 98 &
NT only) using a built in infrared (IR) data port. It sounds archaic but IR ports
used to be common on laptops. Desktop PCs needed an optional IR transfer pack, which
included an IR module that plugged into the PC’s serial
port and a suite of software for transferring and managing images. Two versions
of the watch were produced; the one shown here has a resin case; the other
slightly dearer model had a stainless steel body
Taking a photo is an absolute doddle, touching
the large shutter button below the display puts it into camera mode and
pressing it again fires the shutter. Exposure and shutter speed settings are
automatic but there are a couple of manual options. For everyday shots the
default is Outdoor mode; indoors, you need to select 50 or 60Hz mode, which
eliminates flicker from fluorescent lights and can affect the shutter in low
light. There’s also a Merge mode that combines two images into one, and Art,
which engages a strange duotone effect. Power comes from a standard 2032 3-volt
button cell. This lasts around 6 months, thanks in part to an auto-off feature
that blanks the display if the watch is motionless for more than 60 minutes.
I paid just £15.00 for this one, the opening
auction price on ebay. It was a welcome surprise as they appear quite regularly
and typically sell for between £50 and £100. The lack of rival bidders was a
mystery, though. Maybe there was something entertaining on the telly that
evening, or the somewhat brief auction title wasn’t picked up by the normally
eagle-eyed collectors. It was in near mint condition and looked like it had
only been used once or twice. Everything was in the original box and some of
the items in the accessory pack were still sealed.
It worked too, and after fitting a new battery
and taking a few test shots – a bit hit and miss because the LCD monitor
screen isn’t backlit – it was time to attempt a watch to PC image transfer.
This proved to be an unexpectedly convoluted procedure, making me appreciate
how far PCs and peripheral connectivity has progressed. It was just like the old
days and the first hurdle was to find a PC with a 9-pin serial port for the IR
sensor. Luckily I have one, an ancient and very well used Sony laptop running Windows 98. Miraculously it still worked and after a fair amount of faffing around I managed to extract the images from the watch.
In retrospect it was worth the time and effort,
if only for the sense of achievement and satisfaction of getting a lot of old
tech to work together. As expected the transferred images didn’t improve much
on the big screen. To be kind a 120 x 120 pixel image is little more than a
thumbnail so the amount of fine detail is minimal, as you can see from this
example (expanded to 240 pixels). It's a close up of a garden ornament, shot in near ideal conditions. Okay,
so the pictures do not bear close comparison images shot on modern cameras in phones, watches and all kinds on gadgets nowadays. However, the fact remains
that this watch was then, and still is, an impressive technical feat.
What Happened To It?
A quick check on ebay recently turned up almost six
thousand wristwatches with built-in cameras, both still and video, with prices
starting at under £10.00. In other words they haven’t gone away, and judging by
the accompanying blurb some of the better ones should be capable of producing quite
decent quality images, and that’s without taking into account all of the other
apparently useful smartwatch and mobile phone-related features.
Casio hasn’t gone away either and they’ve been
a leading light in both mechanical and electronic timekeeping since 1946.
They've also come up with some really out-there designs over the years. Who can forget
the first watch with a touchscreen in,1991? The same year they introduced us to the
first wrist-worn fitness trackers and blood pressure monitoring watches. TV remote control
watches followed in 1993 and a year later a watch with
an infrared thermometer. How ever did we manage before the UV sunshine exposure
watch from 1994 and in 1999 they managed to squeeze a GPS function into a watch. A colour
version of the wrist camera (WQV-3) was introduced in 2001 and in 2004 they
beat Apple and Samsung by a good 10 years with a watch that had an on-board contactless payment
chip. It goes without saying that they’re still at it with some of the smartest
smart watches, fitness trackers, outdoor and GPS wrist-wear in captivity.
Over the years Casio's ingenuity hasn’t gone
unrecognised and there’s a very active fanbase and collector community, which
suggests the £15.00 I paid for was a very lucky break. However, Casio are
prolific manufacturers and the brand is hugely popular so there’s no shortage of vintage
models on the market. Accordingly bargains are not that unusual, especially when
sellers fail to adequately describe their wares, or omit important details, like
model numbers. Prices are very variable and whilst the WVQ-1 was a historic first it’s not that high on most
collector’s wish list. That may be down to the fact that the camera is not very good, or
PC connectivity is reliant on obsolete technology. But don’t despair,
it's worth seeking out and even though the camera might not be up to much it still tells the time and the
calendar dodged the Millennium bug bullet so will show the correct day and date
up until 2039.
First Seen: 2000
Original Price: £250
Value Today: £50 - 150 (0119)
Features Timekeeping: 12/24 hour clock, day, date, 5 x daily alarms, hour time
signal, countdown alarm, stopwatch, display time-out. Display: 20 x 20mm b/w
16-greyscale LCD, 120 x 120 pixels. Camera: 0.25-in b&w CMOS sensor, 28k
pixels, Lens: f/2.8 fixed, f= 1.1mm, 30cm - ∞, 1Mb internal memory, 100 image
capacity, Casio proprietary image format (convertible to BMP or JPG on PC
software (optional £50). ALC exposure control, auto digital shutter 1/11 to
1/16600 sec, data comms: IR to another WQV-1 or PC via optional serial port
adaptor, transfer speed 115,200 bps
Power req. 1 x 3v 2032 button cell
Dimensions (ex strap): 50
x 43 x 16mm
Made (assembled) in: Japan
Hen's Teeth (10 rarest) 7