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Rangefinder test - part 1

Rangefinders are an important part of the equipment of the Long Range shooters. In some competitions even necessary. And not only for competition shooters but also for hunters who shoot at longer distances. So I compared several rangefinders from a user point of view.

Yes, I intentionally say from the user point of view. It is not a problem to compare the technical and manufacturer's data on paper but how do they work in a real environment? This is what I focused on this time.

I've been working on this comparison for months. It was not only a one day event but a long-term project for which I used several devices that we own within the team and I also consulted not only with their owners but also with other shooters who use them. These were small and pocket rangefinders and also rangefinders built into binoculars. Apart from rangefinders I compared them with a small monocular and a classic binocular of the same magnification to have a comparison. I also used spotting scope and riflescopes (even without rifles) for direct comparison. It was not just the function of the rangefinder itself but also how each rangefinder can fit into the observation system that we use for various purposes. So it was about a relatively complex result not just a comparison...

In the end, of course, I did a direct comparison too. It took me a few months of work (I did that direct comparison for 3 days) and during that time I took 343 photos just for this purpose. In the final direct comparison I used cardboard targets the size of a standard IPSC target and its reduced versions. Full size is 75 centimeters in height and 45 centimeters in width.

In the end I did so much material and experience that I have to divide it into two parts...

So what do I expect from a rangefinder?

Quite a lot... Of course to measure distances correctly and reliably. But not only some easy measurements but also in more difficult situations. For example in the dark. But above all to measure relatively small targets in the open area. For example without a bank behind them or a tree nearby and so on. If we do not have a similar reflective surface (bank, bushes, tree, wall) it is significantly more difficult to measure the distance. This is exactly the situation we are experiencing quite often in some “tactical” competitions. And these are the situations where we can experience the difference between a really good rangefinder and the average.

In addition to measuring distances I have other demands on the rangefinder. For example its optical quality. If I already have an optical device in my hand I also want optical quality. Not only to be able to find the target I want to measure. Surprisingly however we often use a rangefinder to simply "look and observe". Therefore I would also appreciate the optical quality. In this respect of course binoculars with built-in rangefinder which I had at my disposal have the edge over small rangefinders.

And some of the rangefinders can even offer ballistic calculations... Weapon and ammunition data is entered into the rangefinder and we can see the correction for the given distance on the display directly or via wireless connection in some other ballistic equipment. The technology has really advanced a lot...

Basically I can divide the rangefinders I have tested into several categories:

  • small pocket rangefinders

  • binoculars with built-in rangefinder

  • rangefinders with ballistic solution (that could be the pocket ones or the binoculars)

The first is a relatively old but still functional rangefinder Bushnell Yardage Pro. Some new rangefinders at cheaper prices (around 240 - 320 €) have similar functions and uses. It is a basic device that only measures the optical distance to the target.

In addition both the numbers and the reticle are dark. In darkness or on a dark background it is quite a problem to aim the target and also read the resulting distance... IPSC sized targets can reliably measure up to about 300 meters distance. At longer distances he can no longer measure the target but can measure the background (bush, trees, etc ...) and above 600 meters will measure virtually nothing. However it is quite sufficient for a typical Czech 300m shooting range and I have been using it for many years. Unfortunately the optical quality is insufficient... However to use it is easy and simple. And it survived literally everything...

Next I had a Chinese "no name" rangefinder worth about 120 €. Optically it is even worse than Bushnell I was using for over 10 years. The reticle and numbers are also dark. The IPSC can measure up to 250 meters and the background up to about 500 meters. It is really not able to read longer distances. Of course it is cheap but in the hand feels very "plasticky" and fragile. It also does not show the battery status (which is quite important). I confess that I really cannot recommend similar cheap Chinese rangefinders...

I also had the opportunity to try the Vortex Ranger 1300 several times. Today newer and more expensive versions are available but this one is around 400 €. In addition to the big jump compared to the previous ones in optical quality it is also much more practical due to the red numbers and reticle. And it can also do one very useful thing - in addition to optical distances can show ballistic distance. So the real horizontal distance which we need for ballistic calculations. The picture shows that it shows an angle of 5°... An excellent feature that saves us angle measurement and conversion. The target can measure up to about 500 meters and the background can measure up to about 700 meters. If you are looking for a decent and durable rangefinder at a good price for distances up to 500 meters - this will serve you well.

Leica Rangemaster 2700-B. Leica rangefinders have been and still are a standard of quality. The gold standard and benchmark against which competition is compared. These mono are small, lightweight and durable. They are optically excellent and measure accurately and reliably. ½ IPSC up to about 400 meters, full size around 750 meters and background at 1000 meters is no problem (I have not tested at longer distances).

However I have regularly encountered the fact that in competitions where it was difficult to measure distances the owners of Leica rangefinders regularly discreetly inquire from others whether the values ​​they have measured are correct. I never paid much attention until I had the opportunity to try it myself. The problem is a combination of two factors. On the one hand the buttons are quite raised and so they must be pressed relatively hard (in order to avoid unintentional activation for example in your pocket). But with a strong press there is a relatively high probability that you will move a little with it... And this is related to the second feature - when you press the button the reticle disappears and only the number (distance) appears. But in combination with the rigid button the user no longer has control over whether the device has moved at the moment of pressing... When I measured and tested in winter and wind I had gloves and frozen fingers. And that rubberized button went extra stiff. Well it was a struggle to keep the rangefinder still...

Anyway models from Leica are otherwise good and can be recommended. This type CRF 2700B costs around 860 €. This year Leica is also preparing rangefinders with a built-in ballistic computer and I think it is something to look forward to.

SIG KILO 2400 ABS. Sig Optics is a relatively young division of Sig Sauer. And they started in style... This model is their flagship among small rangefinders. Optically it is great it measures very well and very quickly. In addition to the classic functions like the previous two rangefinders - red numbers and reticle with intensity which can be controlled, optical and ballistic distance measurement (recalculation according to the angle) is also inside the integrated ballistic computer Applied Ballistic... And the weather station... And it connects via Bluetooth to the smartphone and the app in it... And the target measures over 800 meters, the background much farther.

And it will also show us corrections in addition to distance. It is programmed using a mobile app because complex ballistic data is entered. Corrections are shown not only in the rangefinder but also in the smartphone app on the display. Thanks to the fact that there is meteorological station integrated in the rangefinder everything is done by the device itself. We don't have to enter the meteorological data into the device. Only wind can be entered in the app or measured using a wind meter which is plugged into the mobile and included. The charm of modern technology is just here... But the manufacturer also appreciates it and the selling price is over 2000 €.

In addition to this model Sig has other models in the category of small rangefinders without integrated ballistic functions that are significantly cheaper. They are very user friendly and easy to work with. Above all they are fast and intuitive to use...

In the next part we will look at binoculars with rangefinder function and our practical experience and evaluation...

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