on May 10, 2012
I will compare the H3 Tactical Blue Shadow I to the Luminox F-117 Nighthawk 3402, which is quite similar on paper and their retail pricing.
Both watches are dive-capable: they both have the necessary water resistance (>= 200m), screw-down case back and crown, unidirectional rotating timing bezel, luminous markings on the hands, dial hour markers, and the "pip" on the bezel. They also both sport a diver's band extension. A plus is that the crown screws down for more than one turn, which I prefer. Some screw-down crowns can be difficult to convincingly engage without fear of cross-threading (e.g. low-end Invictas). These watches are both above this quality threshold. The bezel rotates well, with little play.
They both have a black dial, white hands, hour markers, and minute markers; solid black stainless steel cases and band links; double safety fold/lock stamped clasp; 43 mm case width (without crown, which adds a couple mm) and 12-13 mm thickness; both have 16 Tritium tubes, one each for hour, minute, and second hands, one for the bezel pip, and 12 for the hour markers. I consider this count of tubes a big step up from those that do not mark the bezel, or the second hand, or all the hours. And on both, the pip is mounted behind a circular sapphire window. They both have a flat sapphire crystal, a quartz movement (batteries appear to be typical), and a date display. Let me emphasize the utility of having all 16 tubes - many watches with otherwise great lume, or Tritium tubes, do not adequately mark the pip, or the 12 hour position, or the second hand for example. I find these all to be very useful for dark use.
I like both watches, and I plan to keep both. They both get 4 1/2 / 5 *. And now, the differences.
The Blue Shadow has 300m water resistance, vs 200m for the Nighthawk.
The Blue Shadow is so-called because it has a dark cobalt, bright blue bezel face. It looks dark face-on, but its color shines viewed at an angle. It has silver, superficial second markers, numbered 10 min intervals, hash marks on the 5 min intervals, and a triangle around the pip. I say "superficial" because they appear printed or painted on, with no depth. However, this is a very effective marking pattern, easy to read. It's a standard bezel width. The Nighthawk has a wider bezel, which reduces the size of the crystal/dial (28 mm vs 32 for the Blue Shadow). The Nighthawk bezel has no second markings, only hour marking 1-11, which are slightly carved into the steel, and centered in a shallow scallop in the bezel: this is visually distinctive and protects the markings from wear. The presence of hour marking, as opposed to minute markings is unusual in a dive watch. Perhaps aviators prefer this for multi-hour timing intervals. The pip has no markings, which reduces its visibility. Finally, the Nighthawk bezel is 60 click, while the Blue Shadow is 120 click. The "grip" i.e. the ability to grasp and turn the bezel, is a bit better on the Nighthawk.
The Blue Shadow is visually uncluttered: there are no digits to mark hours. The hours are marked with bold white wedges, with a visually distinctive triangle at 12. The minute marking are also nice and clearly seen. Too bad the hour markings are not Superluminova! That would add a solid punch for either of these watches. This is most likely a result of the reasonable pricing. The Nighthawk as I mentioned is smaller, it has digits for all hours, and smaller 24 hour indications, so it is more cluttered. Again, no luminous markings on the dial.
While in general the Tritium tubes are quite visible when the eye is dark adapted (and in fact cast enough light so that the dial will illuminate objects nearby when the surroundings are very dark), they are not easily seen when the viewer transitions from bright light to dark. It takes like half a minute for the eye to adapt enough to clearly read the time. This is why, for me, the ultimate is a combination of Tritium tubes and photolume. My Reactor Gamma has this, but unfortunately it does not mark all hours, or have a tube for the pip.
The Blue Shadow has Blue hour tubes, Green hand and pip tubes, and Orange 12. For my moderately red-green colorblind eyes, the 12 marker stands apart much better than the more typical Green vs Orange tubes, as are used on the Nighthawk. The Nighthawk wins on the visibility and glow intensity of its markers though. The tubes are mounted higher in the slots than for the Blue Shadow, and the Green is a bit brighter than the Blue; also, the tube on the bezel pip is a bit larger and visibly brighter than for the Blue Shadow. Based on this, I would think using Green tubes on the hours, and Blue to mark 12, would be a superior choice. Interestingly enough, the hour and minute hands appear to be identical on the two watches. The second hand on the Blue Shadow is Orange/Red, which reduces its visibility for my eyes. Other improvements I would see are a more visually apparent marking for the 12 hour: could be oriented differently, could be a pair of tubes; either would stand out much better.
The Blue Shadow is fixed width. I don't know the terminology to characterize the link patterns, but it has rectangles of equal length, equal width, half-length offset throughout, in a 3-2 overlap. The Nighthawk is a bit more visually appealing, like tortoise interlocked scales, tapering a few mm to the clasp. It may account for the difference in weight, 5.6 ounce vs 5.8 for the Blue Shadow. I have not beaten on these watches yet, but I did notice that the Nighthawk black coating was easily scratched when I adjusted the band for my 7 1/4 inch wrist. I have read about this in other reviews.
BOTTOM LINE is you can't go wrong with either, but I'd keep in mind the lume brightness, bezel markings, and durability in making a choice. Enjoy!