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A Solid Automatic Field Watch for Under $300? Seiko's Done It Again

The Seiko 5 Sports SRPG series fills the brand's ultra affordable field watch niche.

seiko 5 sports field watches
Zen Love

Want a rugged, robust, simple and ultra affordable tool watch with a military vibe? Those are qualities watchmaker Seiko is often known for, and they also might describe field watches in general. So when Seiko makes a field watch, is it perfect synergy? We got to look at the latest sub-collection within the Seiko 5 Sports line, which recalls the brand's past classics while offering a modern automatic field watch for $275. And we can attest that it contains all the bang-for-buck and quirkiness you expect of the Japanese brand.

Key Specs:

Case Diameter: 39.4mm
Case Depth:
13mm
Water Resistance:
100m
Movement:
Seiko 4R36 automatic
Price:
$275

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Notable

If you just want an eminently value-packed automatic field watch with solid Seiko quality, this is it. If you're a brand fan and wanted to see the the classic SNK field watch get modern Seiko's upgraded treatment, however, this isn't quite it. However, the bottom line is that the Seiko 5 Sports SRPG series is a hell of a fun watch for the price. It's a prime example of the type of bang for buck that Seiko can offer, with a solid automatic movement along with the sizing and aesthetic appeal of a classic field watch.

seiko 5 sports watch
Zen Love

Who It's For

This is one of those watches that should simultaneously appeal both to total laymen or newbies as well as to seasoned aficionados. The reasons that it can appeal to someone interested in a first mechanical watch are obvious: affordable price, approachable size/design/style, and a maker known and trusted for its quality and value. It's an easy choice for those drawn to Seiko, to field watches in general or simply to the general aesthetic.

Watch collectors and enthusiasts, on the other hand, might first be drawn in by curiosity: the dirt-cheap field watch in the Seiko 5 line (the SNK) is legendary, and this is the closest thing to it that the modern brand currently makes. This is no one-for-one remake, but just as with so many other Seiko products, experienced watch wearers will no doubt appreciate the value it offers.

Alternatives

You hear over and over again that Seiko offers quality well above its price point. It's true in general as well as for the SRPG, but there's a range of sub-$500 field watches out there, as their generally simple nature tends to keep them relatively affordable. The SRPG offers its own look and Seiko's proven robustness, but if you want the field watch style, and $275 is too expensive, you can get yourself the likes of a Timex or Bertucci.

For under $100 you can get a military-inspired Timex Mk1 ($75) quartz watch with a plastic case that offers a small 36mm profile and the look you want — and which might last you a few years. For under $200 you can get a version with a steel case in the same size but with a manually wound movement of undisclosed (probably Chinese) origin in the Timex Mk1 Mechanical ($185) (reviewed here).

seiko 5 sports watch front and back
Zen Love

For an additional $200 (which feels like a significant bump in price in this case), the basic but beloved and classic Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical ($495) beckons with its Swiss manually wound movement, sapphire crystal and historical ties. Of course, Seiko itself offers some alternatives with the good ol' automatic (though without hand-winding or hacking) Seiko 5 SNK still available on Amazon for around $100 and less. Then there's the rest of the current Seiko 5 Sports line that offers different styles but much of the same appeal and pricing.

Review

The Seiko 5 collection was born in 1963 and was long known for its extreme affordability, surprising value and vast variety. As the brand became a global sensation in recent years, began refining its image and moving upmarket, the Seiko 5 seemed to fade from production — though it still remained available online and close to the hearts of many collectors who got started with something like the venerable Seiko 5 SNK series of field watches.

Many old-school fans worried that Seiko was leaving its roots by focusing on higher price brackets, but in 2019 the Seiko 5 Sports collection relaunched to fit the modern brand's image. As the new entry point for mechanical Seiko watches, it began with a dive-style watch based on the SKX and expanded very quickly. Soon, multitudinous variations in every combination of colors imaginable were joined by sub-collections offering different sizes and features. But the field watch that many think of as synonymous with the words "Seiko 5" remained conspicuously absent.

That Seiko 5 field watch would be the SNK series, but when the brand finally released a new field watch in the Seiko 5 Sports collection this year....well, they based it on a different, lesser-known archive model called the SNZG. Many people will think of the SNK when they see the new field watches, but what they're in fact looking at is a smaller (by 2.6mm), updated version of the SNZG.

seiko 5 sports watch worn on wrist
Zen Love

In the end, this offers the general appeal of a field watch with all the quality and value modern Seiko can cram into a sub-$300 package. The brand has evolved from the days of the old Seiko 5 line and generally offers more refinement and better, more modern movements. The old Seiko 5 watches usually had automatic movements that were so basic they lacked a couple features that modern watch wearers are mostly accustomed to: they could only be wound by shaking them around — i.e., you couldn't wind them by hand. Further, the seconds hand didn't stop ("hack") when setting the time.

These aren't a huge deal, but the new watches with hand winding and hacking movements feel significantly more modern and convenient. They feature the — yes, in-house — 4R36 movement, which is the same engine that powers the venerable and well respected Turtle watches costing a couple hundred bucks more. That means it's reliable, reasonably accurate (typically more accurate than Seiko's own conservative claims) and has a power reserve of 41 hours. (You can get a look at it through the watch's display case back.)

While the old Seiko 5 SNK was small-wearing at 37mm and the SNZG was big at 42mm, the new SRPG sits right between them in terms of size (39.4mm). Like many Seiko watches, however, they wear more prominently than their diameter would suggest thanks to a 13mm thickness that's only further pronounced with the bulk added by a NATO strap. The overall effect veers toward the modern despite that field watches naturally have a throwback military look.

seiko 5 sports watch
Zen Love

This is largely thanks to the fat hands and bold Arabic numeral hour markers — you've got to look closely to see the 24-hour military time, without which one might not even call it a field watch. While the numerals themselves aren't lumed, the pips and hands provide plenty of low-light readability, as Seiko is always good for some strong lume — and a surprise can be found on some models in which the hands use a different color than the indices' pips, resulting in a colorful effect.

It's hard to complain about what Seiko is offering, and they've done a stellar job as usual — but if you're like me, there's one major drawback: I can't stop comparing to and wanting it to be more like the SNK: smaller, thinner, with that cool dial design and a crown at 4 o'clock. Maybe Seiko will deliver that one day. If you simply want a great value in a fun and modern automatic field watch, however, ignore my ramblings: You can hardly do better for the money than the SRPG.

Verdict

I still want to see the SNK come back in modern form, but in the meantime the SRPG is more or less everything you'd expect of a field watch in the modern Seiko 5 Sports line: It's ridiculously affordable, well built, offers a surprising level of detail and refinement, and it comes in a range of variations that's only bound to grow. Seiko is constantly upping its game, and the Seiko 5 Sports line proves it can do so even at the most basic level.

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