Fisher Labs has been developing and building metal detectors longer than any other manufacturer . . . in fact, 2016 marks 85 years that they have been producing metal detectors that have rightfully earned the reputation of providing users with performance and reliability at a price that won’t break the family budget. The most recent addition to the comprehensive Fisher Labs line of detectors include three separate models – the F11, F22 and F44 and the focus of this field test is on the later. Having used a number of Fisher detectors over the years including the revolutionary-at-the-time 1265-X / 1266-X while relic hunting throughout the South, the 1280-X and CZ-20/21 when searching for underwater treasure around the world and most recently the F-19 for general treasure hunting, I was looking forward to seeing how the latest addition to the line performed, especially with the new weatherproof design.
The first thing that stands out when removing the F44 box from the shipping package is the small overall size which is an indication of things to come. Assembling the detector reinforces that impression and the entire unit with coil and batteries tips the scales at just 2.3 pounds. The F44’s battery system deserves mention as it shows that performance does not require an oversized power supply since two AA alkaline batteries provide up to 30 hours of in-field time. This is just the first of several features that show the end user was the primary consideration in the detector’s design. The use of a quality set of headphones is highly recommended as it will extend the battery life and ensure you do not miss those deep signals. The F44 has a ¼” jack located on the lower left corner of the control housing.
After attaching the weatherproof control housing & coil to the S-rod and dropping in a pair of AA batteries, I powered up the F44 and maneuvered through the Menu options, the 5 search modes and the Pinpoint option to get familiar with the various selections as well as the type of response different targets produced . . but more on that later as it is quite unique. The menu system on many LCD-based First Texas units is slightly different than other detectors and I found the F44 to be no exception. The process of adjusting options and notch segments took a little getting used to but this is an example of where different is not bad, just different. With an outing or two under your belt, adjustments will become second nature.
The F44 is controlled through 7 touch pads located beneath the large LCD display screen on the control housing. The screen itself deserves mention as many detectors with display screens today tend to be on the small side which makes it hard to read especially as one’s vision is not what it was when we were teenagers. Fisher made the screen as large as they could on the new F-series of detectors and everyone that saw the unit said the screen was a real plus in the overall design of the detector. The controls include:
• [+] / [-]: Used to adjust any of the options accessed through the MENU touchpad
• MENU: Used to scroll through the options that include Volume, Sensitivity, Notch, Ground Balance and Backlight Intensity.
• Ground Grab (GG): Activates a circuit that quickly performs an accurate ground balance adjustment.
• Pinpoint (PP): When held, switches to a non-motion, all-metal mode to allow for accurate pinpointing and separation of targets.
• MODE: Cycles through the 5 predefined yet user-adjustable search modes which include Jewelry, Coins, Artifacts, Custom and a true All-Metal mode. If held while powering the F44 up, it will reset the unit to the factory preset condition which can be useful if you want to return to a known starting point after making multiple adjustments.
• POWER: Turns the F44 on/off.
The information provided on the screen has been well-laid out and is useful when searching. Along the top of the screen are 9 notches which indicate what is being accepted or rejected by the detector. If they are all visible, you are hunting with zero discrimination and all targets will be accepted. By using a NOTCH system, the engineers that designed the F44 allow you to determine what you want the detector to respond to when passing over a target that corresponds to that notch. This system is not unique to the F44 but it is one of the easiest notch systems to adjust. By default, the F44 will also produce one of 4 different tones depending on which notch a target registers in letting you listen to tones and then check the screen for more target information. Again, tone ID is not unique but as the TV pitchman says on the commercial . . . “But wait, there’s more!” The first three silent search modes (Jewelry, Coin & Artifact) have the tones assigned to each notch by the factory and are not adjustable; however, the Custom mode is a different story. In this mode, you can assign a specific tone to each of the 9 notches tailored to your preference. For example, if you are a beach hunter and want to focus on jewelry, you can assign the high tone to the gold notches and a different tone to the coins that register to the upper end of the scale. Having the ability to create custom tone profiles which are saved even when turning the detector off is a great feature and one not found on any other detector in this price range.
Along the left and right sides of the screen are lists that darken when a specific option is selected – the left side reflects the MENU options and the right side indicates which MODE has been selected. Below the modes is a battery strength icon that provides real-time battery monitoring which helps ensure you are not left with a dead battery just as you hit that “hot spot”. In the center of the screen is a large two-digit number which represents target ID when in a search mode, target depth when in Pinpoint or ground balance when using the Ground Grab feature (more on that later). To the left of the two-digit display is a bar graph split diagonally which provides a relative indication of ground mineralization on the bottom and the approximate depth of coin-sized targets in 2” increments on the top. The final piece of information displayed on the screen is the “Ground Error Icon” and consists of two arrows – one pointing up and the other down. It will flash in one direction or the other indicating that the current ground balance setting differs from what is needed to match the ground under the coil. While it serves a useful purpose by letting you know when the ground balance needs to be adjusted, a tolerance of say 5 points in either direction would have kept the arrows from constantly flickering in either the up or down direction. If you want to keep the F44 dialed-in to the actual ground conditions, listen to what the machine is telling you in terms of chatter which usually indicates the ground balance is off and then do a quick Ground Grab to alleviate the problem. If you try to keep the setting perfectly matched by watching the arrows, you will spend more time ground balancing rather than hunting in most locations where conditions can and often do change slightly within a short distance.
The VOLUME function is unique for detectors in the F44’s price range and was actually carried over from some of its higher-end companions on the Fisher line. The adjustment ranges from 1 to 20 and in settings of “1” through “9”, it functions as one would expect . . . . the higher the number, the louder the signal any accepted target will produce. When you get to “10”, non-ferrous targets produce an audio response of maximum volume while ferrous targets produce no sound. As you increase the setting from “11” to “20”, the non-ferrous signals remain at maximum but the ferrous targets will start to produce ever-increasing louder responses as the setting increases. While most coin hunters will probably never want to hear the iron signals, relic hunters will find this feature to be a valuable tool in the field when trying to find areas of habitation where iron is often the first indication that you are in the right location. Once you know there were people present, you can slow down and pick out the keepers that most hunters never even realized were present. The manual has a table that shows this visually which may make more sense if you have not used a detector with this type of dual-range volume control before.
The search coil deserves mention as well – initially introduced with an elliptical concentric coil, the F44 is now shipping with an 11” Double-D coil which gives improved performance and better coverage than its predecessor. One observation of note was that there is no rubber washer on the clevis piece where the coil connects to the shaft so one needs to ensure that area is cleaned on a regular basis to avoid wearing either the coil or the shaft down with dirt or sand and not being able to tighten the bolt enough to hold the coil in position.
Time is rarely on one’s side when conducting a field test with publishing deadlines looming and that was the case with this one but despite the period of rain that set in the day after the F44 arrived, I was able to get out and do some detecting thanks to the weatherproof construction (at least of the detector . . . not sure I can say that about myself after searching in the rain).
The first site I visited was a popular park not far from the house that I knew would give me some real-life targets to practice on. Selecting the COIN mode which eliminates targets that fall in the notches labeled FE (iron), 2 (tin foil) and 4 (some aluminum), I did a quick Ground Grab to set the ground balance. Now before you get worried about setting the ground balance on a detector, it couldn’t be easier. Simply find a spot that is free of metal, press & hold the GG touchpad and pump the coil up and down several times until the number on the screen and the audio stabilizes – release the touchpad and you are ready to start hunting!
Searching along the sidelines of a soccer field in the park provided to be quite productive in terms of keepers and not just recent drops either. By listening to the audio tones and then glancing at the Target ID value in the center of the screen (along with the illuminated bin at the top of the screen), I was able to call what each target was with a high degree of accuracy after recovering several as a reference check. As a testament to the F44’s design team, it was extremely helpful to receive a different tone for nickels (mid-tone), zinc pennies (low tone) and then all other coins (high tone) so that one could differentiate targets based on their audio response. As I approached the picnic tables, I started to detect a number of aluminum screw caps just under the surface so with a few taps of the touchpads, I rejected Notch “5” and they were quickly eliminated. I found that the Pinpoint function allowed me to zero in quite accurately on targets even with the larger coil size and the indicated depth was spot-on for coin-sized targets. A little over two hours at this site netted me a handful of coins – unfortunately they were all clad – along with several car / house keys including one of chipped variety which cost someone a pretty penny to replace. The targets had ranged from just under the surface down to 7” – 8” which told me the fields had been turned or filled since they were opened; however, the F44 had no problem detecting them and producing consistent audio and visual target ID’s.
I stopped off at a few private homes that I had permission to search since the rain would let me recover targets without killing the grass and I switched between the COINS and CUSTOM search modes. Creating custom discrimination patterns along with assigning different tones to different bins, I found that the F44 could take on a different personality based on one’s personal preferences. The yards of the first three houses turned up some clad as well as a few Wheat cents; however, the last house was the charm as I found three silver dimes and a 1962 Washington quarter in less than 30 minutes. All of them were recovered along the edge of the sidewalk and the Double-D coil had been able to detect them while not being fooled by the rebar in the cement.
The last site I visited was a field where a house had stood in the 1800’s. I’ve hunted this site before and knew there were still more keepers remaining. I opted for the All-Metal mode to see how the VCO audio worked and if I could use an All Metal mode in a site such as this one. Surprisingly it worked better than expected and having continuous target ID provided via the two-numbers on the screen, I found I could easily separate good targets from trash. A brass padlock, a worn silver plated spoon and a nice skeleton key were recovered and finding them near iron trash was a demonstration of the F44’s abilities in a relic hunting application.
Overall, the F44 functioned well at the sites I took it to and I made several nice finds in areas that had been hunted before. It was easy to adjust and even easier to use which are factors most users are looking for in a detector. It ran extremely quiet in areas where I knew the ground was highly mineralized or infested with trash which is a plus as the chatter on many detectors can create more frustration than enjoyment under these conditions. There were only two points that warrant mention here and they are that the fully extended length felt just a tad short for me and I found the ground balance tracking icon (the flashing up / down arrows) to be a slight distraction. A tall man rod that provides an additional inch or two for hunters like me that are 6’+ would be an option to consider.
First Texas has proven itself to be a company that incorporates features that end-users can really use in the field to find more and does it in a way that does not add unnecessary weight or a sky-high price tag on all of the detectors they produce and the F44 from Fisher is no exception. With its weatherproof design, easy-to-navigate menu system and overall weight, it can be used under a wide range of conditions for extended periods of time without tiring and the optional search coils expand its versatility even further. The F44 was an enjoyable detector to use and based on the finds I made in the time available for the in-field testing, it is a detector that can run with the “big boys” and not leave the user disappointed. The Fisher F44 lists for $399 and as stated previously, now comes with the upgraded 11” Double-D search coil. It also includes the standard 5-year Fisher warranty.
For more information about the new F44, the rest of the Fisher line or to find the name of your nearest Fisher dealer, contact the factory at 1465 Henry Brennan; El Paso, TX 79936, call them at (800) 685-55050 or visit their website at http://www.fisherlab.com. Be sure to mention you read about the new Fisher F44 in Lost Treasure Magazine.