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Vectronix Terrapin Review

Vectronix Terrapin PLRF Rangefinder-000This review on the Vectronix Terrapin rangefinder is based on a 3 month long field test. It reflects the thoughts of 3 different precision rifle shooters as they used the product to observe and range hundreds of times. The full field test consisted of 8 different rangefinders, so we have a very wide view of what to expect in a good rangefinder. This post is compiled from our notes of what we specifically liked or didn’t like about the Vectronix Terrapin compared to the rest of the models out there.

Pros:

  • Extremely accurate and reliable
  • Ranges small targets out to 1 mile in bright, midday light, and hillsides to almost 5,000 yards in ideal conditions
  • Can range multiple objects with a single push of the button
  • Very bright and crisp glass
  • Etched, “always on” reticle makes ranging much easier than more common lit/temporary reticle
  • Ergonomics seem ideal
  • Lightweight
  • Built-in tripod adapter
  • Great battery life

Cons:

  • 5x magnification seems underpowered for the ranging capabilities
  • Repetition rate is slow, with a max of 12 ranges per minute. This makes you wait before you can do a follow-up reading.
  • Doesn’t provide equivalent horizontal range (i.e. the distance gravity will act over)
  • No ballistics functions
  • Only a 1 year warranty … weak

Bottomline:

A veteran USMC sniper told me he had a “man crush” on this rangefinder … and for good reason. Although the Terrapin isn’t the most expensive rangefinder you could buy, there is a strong case that it’s the best. Vectronix has been king of the rangefinder world for some time, and it doesn’t take long using one to figure out why. It practically always gives a range, even on relatively small targets at extreme distances … and the range it displays is surgically accurate. The Terrapins have very bright, crisp glass, that is outstanding in low light, but the 5x magnification seems like a mismatch for the extreme ranging capabilities of this unit.

Photo Gallery

Accuracy of the Vectronix Terrapin

At this year’s NRA Whittington Center’s Donor Appreciation Weekend, we met Earl Clark at the High Power Silhouette Range. We had several rangefinders out, and Earl asked what we were up to. After a little conversation, it turns out that Earl was one of the original surveyors for the NRA’s High Power Silhouette Range. He told us about how he and a group of experts used “transit equipment” (cutting edge surveying equipment at the time) to determine the range to the white buffalo, which is 1,123 yards. In fact, Earl showed us the exact spot they surveyed that distance from … a small X in the concrete near the center of the firing line that is still there.

Earl Clark & The White Buffalo at The NRA Whittington Center

What a find. Now we could see how accurate these rangefinders really were … the buffalo was not only a large target, and 1000+ yards is a good distance … we now knew the exact distance from an exact spot. I spent the next few minutes testing the rangefinders I had with me to see how close to the known 1,123 yards they would actually get. Here are the results from ranging the white buffalo several times with each rangefinder.

Model Avg Yardage Measured Range of Yardages Measured*
Vectronix Terrapin 1,123 1,123
Zeiss Victory RF 1,122 1,121 – 1,123
Leica Geovid HD-B 1,122 1,120 – 1,123
Leica Geovid HD 1,121 1,120 – 1,125
Actual Surveyed Distance 1,123 1,123

*The range of yardages measures represents the “extreme spread” of the distances displayed for each model. For example, the Leica Geovid HD showed distance measurements from 1,120 yards to 1,125 yards and everything in between. The amazing thing is the Vectronix Terrapin would only display one distance no matter how many times we tried … the correct one, exactly 1,123 yards.

Ranging Performance

The Vectronix Terrapin ranging performance is ridiculously good. Although my tests were primarily focused on relatively small targets from 600 to 2,000 yards … they could certainly stretch out beyond that on larger targets. In fact, in ideal, low-light conditions I was able to consistently get readings to almost 5,000 yards across a wide canyon at our range.

Vectronix Terrapin Ranging 4947 Yards

Here are the results of ranging a 2 MOA reflective target in ideal, low-light conditions from a tripod at ranges from 600 to 2,000 yards. The exact size and shape of the targets, as well as the surroundings varied, but details of each target along with more details of the test are given in the ranging performance test results post. Each target was ranged 10 times under the same conditions.

Vectronix Terrapin Reviews

This is ridiculous performance. Out of the 80 readings that are represented in the chart above, the Vectronix Terrapin never once displayed an incorrect reading. Any distance it displayed was at least within 1% of the actual distance, and the average standard deviation among all of those ranges was 0.8 yards which was also the best of any rangefinder tested … by far (the next best was over 3 yards). It only gave a “no read” twice in those 80 attempts, which is only 2.5% and well within the margin of error for that sample size. That just means it happened so infrequently that it could’ve been from an error in my testing as much as an error in the rangefinder itself.

Keep in mind that the Terrapin may have been able to range targets beyond 2,000 yards in ideal, low-light conditions (i.e. sunset) … but that was simply the max distance I had targets set at my range.

Just look how the ranging accuracy of the Vectronix Terrapins stacked up among some other rangefinders tested at the same time. The diagram below shows how accurate each model was at ranging targets from 600 yards to the maximum range each one was able to give a reading for. They were about as perfect as you could possibly expect.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Ranging Accuracy Within Max Range

In bright light conditions, radiation from the sun can cause interference and limit the range and resolution of readings a rangefinder is able to gather. This obviously has a negative effect on performance. The chart below shows how the Vectronix Terrapin performed at sunset, which is ideal, low lighting conditions, and how it performed ranging those same targets in bright, midday lighting conditions. Once again, this testing was done from a tripod, with visibility of 10+ miles on 2 MOA, reflective targets.

Vectronix Terrapin Review

In bright conditions, the Vectronix Terrapin could only range the 2 MOA targets to 1 mile (1760 yards). It didn’t give me a single reading on the targets at 1,950 yards or 2,000 yards in bright, mid-day conditions. However, it did give me readings on the 1 mile target 90% of the time and they were very accurate readings (as you might have guessed by now).

Although my field test was primarily focused on ranging binoculars, none of them could keep up with the ranging performance of the Vectronix Terrapin. The Vectronix Vector 23 was outstanding, but I can’t say they performed any better than the Terrapins inside of 1 mile (1,760 yards). Honestly, if I knew my life was on the line to make a single shot and I had a spread of every rangefinder possible in front of me to pick from, I’d definitely reach for the Vectronix Terrapins. After taking 10,000 measurements with all kinds of different rangefinders, I have more confidence in the Terrapins than any other pair.

The Terrapin’s beam divergence (2.4 × 0.4 mrad) seems ideal for relatively small targets at 2,000 yards or less. I know a lot of guys think the tighter the beam the better, but the main objective is to get adequate energy on the target … without missing the target. The diagram below shows an example where having really tight beam divergence could hurt performance.

Example-Where-Tight-Beam-Divergence-Could-Hurt

So you could have a beam divergence that is too large or too small. It is all about striking the right balance between the two extremes, and it comes down to the size of your typical target and the typical range. While the Vector 23 has a tiny beam divergence, that is primarily because it was designed to range well beyond 10 miles. The beam divergence of the Vectronix Terrapin seems to strike the right balance for relatively small (2 MOA targets, or typical game-sized animals) at realistic ranges you might actually shoot out (around 2000 yards or less).

I also tested the Vectronix Terrapins offhand, meaning it wasn’t supported by a tripod. I had larger sample sizes here because of the natural loss of pinpoint accuracy when you range offhand. I also ranged slightly larger targets (2’ x 3’ white boards) at both 600 and 800 yards. Each was ranged 20 times, and was done by 2 different people to try to level out any bias in technique. The results are shown in the diagram below.

Vectronix Terrapin Review Offhand Ranging Performance

Although that may not seem impressive, one huge benefit is that the Vectronix Terrapins didn’t give a single “no read.” Every other brand at least gave a few, but the Vectronix models displays a range every time. You can see the scatter of the Vector 23 model was more dispersed and that is due to the tighter beam divergence. Essentially, it was easier to accidentally miss the target if you had slight wobble, like I was referring to earlier. The Terrapins had amazing accuracy on the 800 yard target, which was a little different scenario than the 600. The 600 yard target had some brush immediately in front of it, that wasn’t obscuring the target … but did likely reflect some beam energy that caused the Terrapins to occasionally display that distance. The 800 yard target was out in the middle of the open, but had brush directly behind it that reflected some energy. The Terrapins weren’t as easily tricked in that scenario, and only had a few readings on the background brush at 800 yards.

Rangefinder Total No Reads At 600 & 800 yards

600 Yard Target 800 Yard Target

Ballistic Functions

The Terrapins don’t offer any ballistics functions. Also, unlike the Vectors they don’t have a built-in compass, which was true for most rangefinders.

Equivalent Horizontal Distance

The Terrapins don’t provide functionality to display the equivalent horizontal distance. As a long-range shooter, this is an important feature because that is really the only distance measurement I care about. This measurement goes by many names, Bushnell calls it “Angle Range Compensated distance,” and Leupold calls it “True Ballistic Range.” Regardless of the name, this measurement essentially displays the distance that gravity will act over, not just the line of sight distance. It is really only important on extreme angle shots, but I prefer to always stay in that mode because that is the distance you should type into your ballistic calculator or lookup on your dope card. It’s not a disaster that the Terrapins don’t provide this feature, but it would be cooler if it did.

Advanced Ranging Features

Vectronix has an innovative feature on all of their rangefinders called “Multiple Object Measurement” (also known as “3 DIS”) that you could enable to make it show the top 3 readings from a single measurement. When this is enabled, it will automatically highlight the distance it thought you were intending to range, but also shows you the second and third strongest readings received as well. For example, if you were ranging a tree at 250 yards, and 100 yards behind it was a jeep, and 1000 yards behind that was a building … it would display 250, 350, and 1350 (and probably highlight the 350 yard reading).

Vectronix Multiple Object Measurement Feature 3 DIS

When talking to a rep from Vectronix about my post on how rangefinders work, he told me “like you said, the logic of what to display to the user is what’s truly important and that’s why all of our laser rangefinders have Multiple Object Measurement (also known as 3 Dist) to ensure the real range information is available to the user.” Most manufacturers just pick a distance and display that, and don’t provide a way for the user to explore the underlying data beyond that single reading. That is a bad approach, because the computer can’t possibly know as much as you do about the ranging scenario. I’m not saying display all the distances detected, but it would be ideal if manufacturers allowed you to drill down into more details about the underlying data the rangefinder was able to gather, instead of hoping all you need is the one number it picked to show you.

Most of the rangefinder binoculars I’ve used have an electronic reticle that appears when you pressed the button. However, the Vectronix models have an engraved, “always on” reticle that makes aiming and ranging a little easier. The reticle is also mil-based, which is handy if spotting for another shooter.

Vectronix Terrapin Reticle

Optical Performance

In the related field test, I did test the optical quality of the Terrapins but it is definitely handicapped when compared to binoculars with 10x magnification. The Terrapin is a monocular, and only has 5x magnification. That is actually one of my biggest complaints about this unit. It feels like the 5x magnification is a mismatch for the ranging capabilities of this unit. You can range really far, but you just can’t see really far (at least not with as much precision as I’d like).

After using the Terrapins for a few weeks, one of the testers thought they might ditch their binoculars and just start carrying the Terrapins for observation and ranging. It seemed like a plausible idea. The problem is the magnification on those units just isn’t enough to be able to locate targets or game in some situations. On our range, we have an unknown distance target field where we move the targets around a lot. My friends was using the Terrapins to locate and range targets, and thought he’d found them all. However, when he raised up his binoculars to double-check he immediately saw a target that he had completely overlooked with the Terrapins. It was obvious with the 10x binoculars, but he hadn’t noticed it with the 5x monocular.

Don’t get me wrong, the Vectronix glass in this unit is certainly world-class … it just doesn’t have enough magnification to use them as your primary optic in the field situations I find myself in regularly.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical QualityFor my field tests, I tried to come up with an objective, data-driven approach for testing optical clarity and what I ended up doing was placing eye exam charts from 600 to 1,400 yards and then recording what size of letters two different people could accurately read. These were virtually identical to the eye charts doctors use to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition a patient can make out at a particular distance. I combined all that data into a single score for each model so they can be ranked in terms of how much detail my two testers could make out. I provide a lot more detail about how the test was conducted, and compare other optical specs in The Optical Performance Results post.

Keep in mind there was no handicap awarded for having a lower magnification or being a monocular instead of a binocular. We just took each unit and wrote down what we could accurately see (which seems fair and appropriate … you don’t get a handicap in the field).

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical Quality

You can see we weren’t able to see near the amount of detail with the 5x monocular that we could with more standard 10x binoculars. This isn’t surprising, but it helps illustrate the point that I was trying to make on not being able to see the same amount of detail with 5x magnification … regardless of how good the glass is.

One major benefit of low magnification is a super-wide field of view. You can see in the chart below that the Terrapins had the widest field of view by a large margin. The Leupold RX-1000i was also a monocular with just 6x magnification and look how much better the Terrapins performed over that model. Vectronix definitely maximized the field of view on these models, and that is likely what drove the decision for the lower magnification.

Rangefinder Binoculars Field of View At 1000 Yards

The relative brightness of the Terrapins was also much higher than most other models tested. That is because the Terrapins have an exit pupil of 4.8mm, which is larger than most binoculars or monoculars. The exit pupil is the size of the circle of light coming out of the eyepiece of the optics. The bigger that circle of light is … the brighter the image (at least to a certain point). Binoculars.com says “This index reminds us that as the size of the exit pupil increases, its area and ability to transmit light grow geometrically.” If the relative brightness value is below 15, the optics will likely struggle in anything but bright light. If relative brightness is over 25 it will likely be exceptional in low light conditions. The Terrapins had a relative brightness of 23, so they would like perform better than most optics in low light conditions.

Vectronix Terrapins Relative Brightness

Ergonomics

The ergonomics of the Terrapins were great overall. They have a built-in tripod adapter, which is very handy. They also feature a very large ranging button with a positive click when you push it, which makes them easier to operate. The standard rectangle box shape makes they easy to hold and feel natural.

The eyepiece cup works well, but since it wasn’t a standard roll-up/down eye piece like most binoculars it made it virtually impossible to mount any type of digiscoping equipment to the eye piece. That’s okay though, because I might be the only guy who ever tried to do that!

They come with a very basic, thin lanyard, which some people might like. Others might prefer a more substantial neoprene neck strap, but the Terrapins only weigh 18.6 ounces … so they are very lightweight.

One of the biggest benefits was the compactness of the Terrapins. They measured 5.4” × 4.1” × 2.1”, which isn’t the smallest “pocket rangefinder” … but is much smaller than most binoculars. But since they are the Vectronix Terrapin PLRF, which stands for Pocket Laser Range Finders … you’d expect them to be small. In fact, Vectronix says they are “the smallest and lightest MIL-SPEC rangefinders available.

They do feel extremely solid and rugged. They are truly MIL-SPEC, and carried by many militaries around the world.

Vectronix Terrapin PLRF Rangefinder-003

Specs

Most manufactures make it very tough to compare their product to others out there. So, I spent days searching websites, user manuals, and calling/emailing manufacturers (several times each) to gather a complete set of detailed specifications and put them in a format that allows easy side-by-side comparison. There are almost 40 different specs, including actual measured weights, dimensions, and the max ranges found in my field tests for each model (which can be very different from what the manufacturer claims). Some manufacturers list this specs in metric units and others are in U.S. standard units … I’ve converted everything to the same units to make comparison easy. I also read through each of the manuals to see exactly what each one does or doesn’t have in terms of advanced features like equivalent horizontal range, and ballistics functions. Some of the specs I even measured or calculated myself, because they weren’t available anywhere or were specs manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating.

General Specs

Manufacturer Part # 909207
Street Price¹ $1,995
Measured Weight in Use² 18.6 oz
Measured Dimensions³ 5.4 × 4.1 × 2.1 inches
Housing Anodized Aluminum
Waterproof Yes
Tripod Adaptable Yes, Built-In
Included Strap Small Lanyard
Limited Warranty 1 yr, Non-transferrable

Ranging Specs

Beam Divergence 2.4 × 0.4 mrad
Tested Max Range⁴ 4,947 yd
Claimed: 2,624 yd
Tested Min Range 6 yd
Claimed: 22 yd
Claimed Accuracy ± 3 yd
Tested Repetition Rate 12 Ranges/min
Receiver Optic (Rx) Aperture Size 24 mm
Laser Type 905 nm
Pulse Duration MFR refused to specify
Battery Type 2 CR123 Lithium
Battery Life 7,000 measurements
Equivalent Horizontal Range Function No
Display Multiple Object Distances Function Yes
Advanced Ranging Modes Multiple Objects
Ballistics Functions None

Optical Specs

Magnification 5
Objective Lens Diameter 24 mm
Exit pupil 4.8 mm
Eye Relief 20 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards 426 ft
Objective Angle of View
Prism Type MFR refused to specify
Glass MFR refused to specify
Coatings MFR refused to specify
Relative Brightness (RE) 23.0
Twilight Factor 11.0

Warranty

I expected a military-grade warranty with the Terrapins, but they only come with a 1 year limited warranty. And the warranty is non-transferrable, which means only the original owner is covered by the warranty. That is weak, considering Leica offers a 5 year warranty and Zeiss even tops that with a lifetime, transferrable warranty. But, since these are military-grade, they might last far longer than those other brands … they definitely out perform them in the field.

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Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Review

Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Review

Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile ARC 10x42 Rangefinder Binoculars

This review on the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile rangefinder binoculars is based on a 3 month long field test. It reflects the thoughts of 3 different precision rifle shooters as they used the product to observe and range hundreds of times. The full field test consisted of 8 different rangefinders, so we have a very wide view of what to expect in a good pair of rangefinder binoculars. This post is compiled from our notes of what we specifically liked or didn’t like about the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars compared to the rest of the models out there.

Pros:

  • Best value of any ranging binocular tested … hands down
  • Can actually range targets out to 1 mile (1,760 yards) in ideal conditions
  • Outstanding performance ranging offhand
  • Advanced ranging modes help ensure you range the intended target
  • Compact and lightweight for a ranging binocular
  • Comes with Butler Creek flip-up lens caps for the objective lenses
  • Provides some general ballistics functions, but limited to 800 yards

Cons:

  • Ranging button is very hard to push, and can pull you off target (like a heavy trigger). The button also has no tactile feedback, so it’s hard to tell if you actually pushed it or not. This is definitely the #1 complaint, and may seem nitpicky, but it can get frustrating quick.
  • Optical quality isn’t in same class as Leica or Zeiss (but neither is the price)
  • Display is overly bright and crowded
  • Focus knob is hard to reach and too tight
  • Easy to accidentally adjust diopter setting and roll eye cups up
  • Takes a very long time to display readings for 1200+ yards
  • You have to push the ranging button once to wake it up and again to range (a hassle since it goes to sleep quickly)
  • Doesn’t allow custom ballistic profiles (can only chose closest from 8 preset ballistic profiles, which isn’t good enough for precision shooting)

Bottomline:

If you need a ranging binocular on a budget, this is definitely the biggest bang for your buck. While it isn’t best of class in any area (except possibly ranging offhand), it is an outstanding rangefinder. The advanced brush and bullseye modes are truly innovative, and can really help these handle some of the toughest ranging scenarios. The optical performance isn’t great, and the ergonomics are poor. But the fact that you can find these for under $1,000 makes them in a winner in my book.

Photo Gallery

Ranging Performance

The ranging performance of the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars is outstanding. While it isn’t best of class, it was clearly better than some rangefinders that cost twice as much. Bushnell has certainly made significant improvements in the ranging capabilities over the Bushnell Fusion 1600.

Through this field test, I’ve grown a little cynical regarding the max range that manufacturers advertise for their rangefinders. Most of the time you can look at what they say, and cut it by 25% and that is the actual max range you can reasonably expect out in the field. The Bushnell Fusion 1 Miles were refreshing, in that they delivered on their 1 mile promise.

Here are the results of ranging a 2 MOA reflective target in ideal, low-light conditions from a tripod at various ranges from 600 to 2,000 yards. The exact size and shape of the targets, as well as the surroundings varied, but details of each target along with more details of the test are given in the ranging performance test results post. Each target was ranged 10 times under the same conditions.

Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Rangefinder Review

You can see in ideal conditions, the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars were able to range targets out to 1760 yards with 70% accuracy. That is impressive. But, your eye is probably drawn to the 1200 yard target, and honestly when it happened in the field I didn’t really know what caused it. Most rangefinders struggled with the 1000 yard target, because it was a very difficult ranging scenario with nearby brush and inclines in front of and behind the target. But the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile handled the 1000 yard target really well (thanks to the advanced ranging modes). At 1200 yards the rangefinder continually displayed readings short of the target, which related to some brush 30-40 yards forward of the target (can be seen below and to the left of the target in the photo below.

1200 Yard Target

In a recent conversation with Bushnell engineers, I may have uncovered why the unit struggled so much with this target scenario. Most rangefinders produce a beam that is a horizontal rectangle, but the engineers at Bushnell designed the Fusion binoculars to have a vertical beam. You can see the difference in the diagram below.

Bushnell Beam Divergence

A Bushnell engineer said they made this design choice to optimize performance for common hunting scenarios. He explained that often times an animal might walk into an opening between trees or shrubs and a vertical beam would have a better chance of hitting the intended target without getting erroneous readings off nearby brush. I created the diagram below to illustrate what he meant.

Bushnell-Fusion-1-Mile-Beam-Divergence

This is likely why the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars had a much tougher time with the 1200 yard target than other models. It essentially was more prone to pick up readings off the brush below the target than models with horizontal beam divergence.

Is vertical beam divergence bad? Not necessarily. I can’t argue that it was a poor design choice, it is just different than most. There are some scenarios where a vertical beam will be a good thing, and some it will be a drawback. Bushnell engineers felt like there were more scenarios where it was a positive thing.

I actually really appreciate Bushnell engineer’s approach. They seem to constantly question things, and that causes them to be a leading innovator in rangefinders. One of the absolute best things the Bushnell rangefinders have going for them is the advanced modes they allow the user to select from. I explain this in-depth in the How Rangefinders Work post, but I’ll give a quick recap here.

The Bushnell Fusion binoculars provide 3 selective targeting modes the user can select from:

  • Normal: Takes all the distance readings into consideration and tries to make an intelligent decision about what your intended target was. This is the only mode available on most rangefinders.
  • BullsEye: Allows easy acquisition of small targets and game without inadvertently getting distances to background targets that have stronger signal strength. When more than one object has been acquired, distance of the closer object will be displayed.
  • Brush: Allows objects such as brush and tree branches to be ignored so the distance only to background objects are displayed. When more than one object has been acquired, distance of the further object will be displayed.

These “advanced modes” are an innovative feature, and something other optics manufacturers should take notice of. Essentially this allows the user to “hint” at what approach will give them the best chance of getting the reading on their intended target. Ultimately, the user knows more about the particular situation they are trying to range, for example if there is brush partially obscuring the target or they are trying to range a very small target. These modes simply provide a way for them to convey that info to the rangefinder so it can better interpret the results.

In bright light conditions, radiation from the sun can cause interference and limit the range and resolution of readings a rangefinder is able to gather. This obviously has a negative effect on performance. The chart below shows how the Bushnell 1 Mile performed at sunset, and how it performed ranging those same targets 3 hours before sunset. Once again, this testing was done from a tripod, with visibility of 10+ miles on 2 MOA, reflective targets.

Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Rangefinder Reviews

In bright lighting conditions, the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile rangefinder could occasionally get distance readings up to 1400 yards. But it was very, very reliable out to 800 yards. Remember this was all from a tripod on 2 MOA reflective targets.

I also tested the Bushnell 1 Mile offhand, meaning it wasn’t supported by a tripod. The Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile was best of class offhand, even compared to those costing 2 to 20 times as much. I believe this was due to its larger beam divergence (which helped ensure you got energy on the target even from a wobbly position) combined with the selective targeting modes that allowed me to hint at what reading I wanted it to weight more heavily. The consistency and accuracy it was able to provide offhand was very, very impressive.

Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Review

For more details on the ranging test results, including specifics of targets and other info, check out the ranging performance test results.

Equivalent Horizontal Distance

One downside is that these binoculars can only display the equivalent horizontal distance when it’s in bow mode, which is limited to 100 yards. As a long-range shooter, this is an important feature because that is really the only distance measurement I care about. Bushnell calls this “Angle Range Compensated distance,” which is where their ARC acronym comes from. It essentially is the distance that gravity will act over, not just the line of sight distance, and it isn’t something just applicable to bow hunters. So if you’re ranging beyond 100 yards, essentially the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars can’t provide the equivalent horizontal distance.

Bushnell ARC Distance

Ballistic Functions

The Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars do provide some basic ballistics features. It provides 8 preset ballistic profiles, and allows you to choose the one that best fits your cartridge. For long-range shooters this approach doesn’t provide the accuracy you’ll need. You really need the ability to load custom ballistic profiles for long-range accuracy. But in hunting scenarios with shots under 500 yards it would probably be adequate if you select a profile that closely matches your ballistics. Bushnell limits the ballistic functions to 800 yards or less.

Optical Performance

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical QualityFor my field tests, I tried to come up with an objective, data-driven approach for testing optical clarity and what I ended up doing was placing eye exam charts from 600 to 1,400 yards and then recording what size of letters two different people could accurately read. These were virtually identical to the eye charts doctors use to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition a patient can make out at a particular distance. I combined all that data into a single score for each model so they can be ranked in terms of how much detail my two testers could make out. I provide a lot more detail about how the test was conducted, and compare other optical specs in The Optical Performance Results post.

Here are the overall optical results for the entire set of binoculars I tested, including the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile:

Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Reviews

Of all the ranging binoculars we tested, the Bushnell 1 Mile binoculars had the poorest optical clarity. Were they a disaster? No. They just aren’t in the same class as models made by Leica or Zeiss. I would compare the optical quality to that of a $200-500 pair of binoculars (like those made by Nikon, Leupold, or even Bushnell). You are essentially getting optics of that quality, plus a great rangefinder, and paying a little bit of a premium for it all to fit in one compact package.

I’ve had a lot of readers make comments about the results we found for the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile compared to the Bushnell Fusion 1600 binoculars. The facts are, the pair of Bushnell 1600’s we had clearly performed better optically than the pair of Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars we tested. Both pair were brand new, straight out of the box. That makes it appear like Bushnell might have dramatically improved the ranging capabilities with the new model, but took a step back in terms of optical clarity. To meet targeted price point, you sometimes have to make compromises like that.

However, a few people have commented that these results don’t match their own experience with these two models. I’m not sure if they had a completely empirical, unbiased approach like we tried to have in these field tests, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the quality varies model to model. It would be difficult for Bushnell to have the same level of quality controls in place that Zeiss, Leica, or Vectronix does. So it is not out of the question that we might have had a pair with below average optical quality. However, that still says something. While you may end up with a pair that has better optical performance, you also have a chance of getting optical quality at this level (or possibly even lower) with Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars.

Really, I’m just trying to present the hard data that we collected from the field, without personal bias and with as little interpretation as possible. We feel like the tests we conducted were as accurate and unbiased as we could think up. While the tests weren’t perfect … at the end of the day, this data accurately represents what we experienced in the field.

Specs

Most manufactures make it very tough to compare their product to others out there. So, I spent days searching websites, user manuals, and calling/emailing manufacturers (several times each) to gather a complete set of detailed specifications and put them in a format that allows easy side-by-side comparison. There are almost 40 different specs, including actual measured weights, dimensions, and the max ranges found in my field tests for each model (which can be very different from what the manufacturer claims). Some manufacturers list this specs in metric units and others are in U.S. standard units … I’ve converted everything to the same units to make comparison easy. I also read through each of the manuals to see exactly what each one does or doesn’t have in terms of advanced features like equivalent horizontal range, and ballistics functions. Some of the specs I even measured or calculated myself, because they weren’t available anywhere or were specs manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating.

General Specs

Manufacturer Part # 202310
Street Price¹ $1,199 (occassionally under $1k)
Measured Weight in Use² 35.6 oz
Measured Dimensions³ 6.8 × 6.0 × 2.4 inches
Housing T6105 Aluminum
Waterproof Yes
Tripod Adaptable Optional Adapter
Included Strap Padded Waffle-Style (not contoured)
Limited Warranty 2 yr, Non-transferrable

Ranging Specs

Beam Divergence 1.5 × 3.0 mrad (vertical beam)
Tested Max Range⁴ 1,760 yd
Claimed: 1,760 yd
Tested Min Range 9 yd
Claimed: 10
Claimed Accuracy ± 1 yd
Tested Repetition Rate 35 ranges/min
Receiver Optic (Rx) Aperture Size MFR refused to specify
Laser Type 900-910 nm
Pulse Duration 40 ns
Battery Type 1 CR123 Lithium
Battery Life 2,000 measurements
Equivalent Horizontal Range Function No (Only in Bow Mode < 100 yd)
Display Multiple Object Distances Function No
Advanced Ranging Modes Scan, Closet Object, Further Object
Ballistics Functions Limited to 800 yd
8 preset ballistics curves, provides holdover info in inches, mil, or MOA out to 800 yards max

Optical Specs

Magnification 10
Objective Lens Diameter 42 mm
Exit pupil 4.2 mm
Eye Relief 18 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards 305 ft
Objective Angle of View 5.8°
Prism Type Roof BaK-4
Glass MFR refused to specify
Coatings Fully Multicoated, Anti-Reflective coating, Raingaurd HD, PC-3 Phase Corrective coating
Relative Brightness (RE) 17.6
Twilight Factor 20.5
Measured Focus Rotations 1.6
Focus System Central

Warranty

Bushnell offers a 2 year limited warranty on the Bushnell 1 Mile binoculars. This warranty is non-transferrable, which means it only covers it if you’re the original owner that purchased it from an authorized Bushnell dealer. So if you buy a used pair, no warranty. This isn’t the best warranty for optics like this, but it isn’t the worse either. Of course we’d like it to be longer, but at this price point it probably makes sense.

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in New Products, Optics, Rangefinders

 

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Vectronix Vector 23 Review

Vectronix-Vector-23-Review

Vectronix Vector 23 Rangefinder BinocularsThis review on the Vectronix Vector 23 rangefinder binoculars is based on a 3 month long field test. It reflects the thoughts of 3 different precision rifle shooters as they used the product to observe and range targets from 25 yards to 18+ miles away hundreds of times. The full field test consisted of 8 different rangefinders, so we have a very wide view of what to expect in a good pair of rangefinder binoculars. This post is compiled from our notes of what we specifically liked or didn’t like about the Vectronix Vector 23 compared to the rest of the models out there.

Pros:

  • Ridiculous ranging capabilities well beyond anything else available … period. Can range over 30,000 yards, and can even range through glass (no others I’ve seen can)
  • Many innovative design ideas in the small elements like the lens covers and strap connectors
  • Etched, “always on” reticle makes ranging much easier than a lit/temporary reticle

Cons:

Bottomline:

Vectronix is the industry leader for rangefinders, and this is their top-shelf product. It is almost absurd the ranging performance you can get from this model. If you need to range beyond 2,000 yards, you are probably in the military and already using a Vectronix Vector … but if not, you should consider one! It will give you an accurate range on whatever you point it at, every time you press the button. Every time.

Photo Gallery

Ranging Performance

When it comes to ranging, there is nothing better than the Vectronix Vector 23. I was able to use the Vectronix Vector 23 rangefinder to get ranges of 31,612 yards on a very distant hillside, which is 18 miles away. I don’t know how practical that is, because I actually had to drive 100 miles to be able to see something that far away that I could range. But make no mistake … it was very cool. To make it even more unbelievable, those 18 mile readings were taken in bright, midday lighting conditions as well. In my experience, you can expect most rangefinders to perform 10-25% better in low light conditions than in bright light conditions.

Vectronix Vector Max Range 31612 Yards

Vectronix Vector 23 Rangefinder Review

Vectronix has an innovative feature on all of their rangefinders called “Multiple Object Measurement” (also known as “3 DIS”) that you could enable to make it show the top 3 readings from a single measurement. When this is enabled, it will automatically highlight the distance it thought you were intending to range, but also shows you the second and third strongest readings received as well. For example, if you were ranging a tree at 250 yards, and 100 yards behind it was a jeep, and 1000 yards behind that was a building … it would display 250, 350, and 1350 (and probably highlight the 350 yard reading).

Vectronix Multiple Object Measurement Feature 3 DIS

When talking to a rep from Vectronix about my post on how rangefinders work, he told me “like you said, the logic of what to display to the user is what’s truly important and that’s why all of our laser rangefinders have Multiple Object Measurement (also known as 3 Dist) to ensure the real range information is available to the user.” Most manufacturers just pick a distance and display that, and don’t provide a way for the user to explore the underlying data beyond that single reading. That is a bad approach, because the computer can’t possibly know as much as you do about the ranging scenario. I’m not saying display all the distances detected, but it would be ideal if manufacturers allowed you to drill down into more details about the underlying data the rangefinder was able to gather, instead of hoping all you need is the one number it picked to show you.

The biggest thing about the Vector 23 that surprised me was they would always, always give you a reading. It didn’t matter the scenario, bright light, brush, ranging through a windshield … it was always able to get a reading back. In fact, I couldn’t come up with a single tough ranging scenario where the Vector 23 would give me a reading for anything other than my intended target. The “3 DIS” feature is cool, but I never had to enable that feature in any of my testing with the Vector 23, because the range it displayed was always the one I was trying to get. The Vector always figured it out somehow. Honestly, after using all these other models, ranging with the Vector almost felt like magic.

The Vectors actually use a laser that is quite different than other rangefinders. The laser type it uses is 1550 nanometers (nm), where virtually all of the other rangefinders use something close to 905 nm. One reason they do that is because that spectrum of light is invisible to night-vision equipment, where the 905 nm can be seen with night-vision equipment. In fact, many people have been able to measure the actual beam divergence of a rangefinder using night-vision equipment, because you can see and measure it. You wouldn’t be able to do that with the Vector. The unique ranging capabilities of Vector could be at least partly due to the different type of laser and the extremely tight beam divergence (Vectronix defines it as less than 0.3 mrad in size).

Most of the rangefinder binoculars I’ve used have an electronic reticle that appears when you pressed the button. However, the Vectronix models have an engraved, “always on” reticle that makes aiming and ranging a little easier. The reticle is also mil-based, which is handy if spotting for another shooter.

Vectronix Vector 23 Reticle

Really Advanced Features

The Vectronix Vector rangefinders have a built-in digital compass, which none of the other rangefinders I’ve used had. The compass allows the unit to display the azimuth, which is the horizontal angle measured clockwise from due north. They also have a built-in inclinometer, which measures the vertical angle of incline (i.e. slope uphill or downhill to the object). So when you use the Vector to range an object, it not only knows the distance … it also knows the horizontal and vertical angles to that object. When you know all 3 of those values, you can do some really advanced things other rangefinders can’t.

Vectronix Vector Azimuth & Angle of Incline Measurements

I actually just thought “Vector” was just a cool name Vectronix came up with (like the “Bushnell Fusion Rangefinder” has nothing to do with fusion). But, in mathematics terms, a vector is used to represent quantities that have both magnitude (or length) and direction. So all rangefinders can measure the magnitude/length part, but because this rangefinder also knows the direction (both horizontal and vertical components) … it can piece those together into a vector. Sorry … I nerded out for a minute there.

The Vector can not only give you the distance to two distant mountain peaks … but it can tell you the distance between those peaks. You simply range one object, then range the other one and it can display the distance between them. In the example below, it is displaying a distance of 1,200 yards between the lighthouse and the boat.

Vectronix Vector Distance Between 2 Objects

Many rangefinder have a built-in inclinometer so that they can display the “equivalent horizontal distance” to the target. That is the distance that gravity is going to act on, so its the number you’d plug into a ballistic calculator to get the most accurate elevation adjustment (instead of line of sight distance). This is especially important for bowhunters, but can be important for high-angle, long-range shots as well, although those are rare. The Vector can display that horizontal distance, but it can also display the vertical distance component as well. The example on the left below shows the unit displaying the horizontal component (1,200 yards) to the object, as well as the vertical component (180 yards). Both of those measurements are relative to the rangefinder’s position. You can also display the horizontal and vertical components between two points, which is what is shown in the second example. You essentially just range the first point, then the second point, and it can display both the horizontal and vertical components.

Vectronix Vector Horizontal & Vertical Distance Components

Ballistic Functions

The Vector doesn’t provide any ballistic features built-in.

Optical Performance

For my field tests, I tried to come up with an objective, data-driven approach for testing optical clarity and what I ended up doing was placing eye exam charts from 600 to 1,400 yards and then recording what size of letters two different people could accurately read. These were virtually identical to the eye charts doctors use to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition a patient can make out at a particular distance. I combined all that data into a single score for each model so they can be ranked in terms of how much detail my two testers could make out. I provide a lot more detail about how the test was conducted, and compare other optical specs in The Optical Performance Results post.

Here are the overall optical results:

Vectronix Vector 23 Review Optical Quality

Vectronix glass is amazing, and you can tell that from the first time you look through either the Vector 23 or the Terrapin models. However, the Vector 23 binoculars only have 7x zoom, but Vectronix offers a $2,600 accessory attachment that mounts to the binoculars to magnify them to a 10x zoom. They call this a Binocular Enhancer (Part# BE-10xT), and since the objective lens is also what gathers the “ranging echo” (i.e. the energy reflected by the laser pulse) this accessory can also increase range performance up to 35%. I guess this is good if 18 miles isn’t far enough for you! There are photos of that attached in the photo gallery above, and video that shows how they mount below. Although they appeared to have good clarity even with the external glass attached, the testers simply couldn’t make out the same level of detail with them as we could with some of the other models.

The 7x zoom may be ideal for some applications, but I prefer either 8x or 10x zoom. With the long-range capabilities of the ranging equipment on this model, it seems strange that they don’t have more zoom in the optics. I assume the military guys prefer 7x zoom, and that is likely what drives that design decision.

There are a couple benefits related to the 7x zoom. One is that they had an extremely wide field of view (360 feet at 1000 yards). Another is that they’re probably brighter than 10x binoculars with the same 42mm objective lens. There is a spec called Relative Brightness, which estimates how well optics will perform in low-light conditions. You can see the Vectronix Vector 23 has a much higher Relative Brightness index than other popular rangefinder binoculars.

Vectronix Vector 23 Review Relative Brightness

Ergonomics & Design

The Vectronix Vector 23 had a lot of small, innovative features about it. For example, the flip-up lens covers are really nice. They pop on and off really easily, and when they are open they rotate all the way so they are flush with the body of the unit. That helps them not get caught on something and broken off as easily. You can also put them on and take them off easily. I thought this was a very ideal feature that every pair of binoculars should have. The Vectors lens covers also have an anti-reflective honeycomb-style metal built into them to reduce glare (but they also reduce ranging capabilities by 15%).

Vectronix-Vector-Review-Lens-Caps

They also have a very cool neck strap connector, so you can remove the strap very quickly … yet it is still secure enough to have confidence in it holding up your $24,000 pair of optics. This is another small feature, but something that they obviously put thought into and they got it right. I wish I could get one of those straps for my other sets of binoculars. This video will show you how they work … very simple, but original idea.

But, what overshadowed all those things was the bulk and weight of the Vector. While most rangefinder binocular are in the range of 30-40 ounces … the Vector 23 weighed in at a hefty 64.0 ounces (including the strap and lens covers). Then when we attached the additional BE10 optical accessory to make it a 10x zoom instead of just a 7x, it weighed a whopping 101.4 ounces!

Optics Planet says “Most people find that anything more than 35 ounces is too much to comfortably carry around the neck and a weight of less than 30 ounces is much better.” At twice that, you aren’t going to want to wear the Vectors around your neck too long.

The unit is also bulky. I’m sure this is due to the amazing electronics that must somehow fit inside the body, but it can be cumbersome compared to other more compact models. It was 2” taller, 1” wider and ½” thicker than other models we tried. When you attach the optics accessory, it is not even in the same ballpark.

Most binoculars have a central focus wheel, but on the Vector you actually focus the eye pieces independently. That may be something serious rangers like, but I prefer the centralized focus.

One nice feature was the finger grooves on the side of the unit. That did make it feel nice in your hand.

Vectronix Vector Rangefinder Binoculars

Specs

Most manufactures make it very tough to compare their product to others out there. So, I spent days searching websites, user manuals, and calling/emailing manufacturers (several times each) to gather a complete set of detailed specifications and put them in a format that allows easy side-by-side comparison. There are almost 40 different specs, including actual measured weights, dimensions, and the max ranges found in my field tests for each model (which can be very different from what the manufacturer claims). Some manufacturers list this specs in metric units and others are in U.S. standard units … I’ve converted everything to the same units to make comparison easy. I also read through each of the manuals to see exactly what each one does or doesn’t have in terms of advanced features like equivalent horizontal range, and ballistics functions. Some of the specs I even measured or calculated myself, because they weren’t available anywhere or were specs manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating.

General Specs

Manufacturer Part # 906098
Street Price¹ $23,800
Measured Weight in Use² 64.0 oz
Measured Dimensions³ 8.9 × 7.0 × 3.2 inches
Housing Unknown metal with rubber armored exterior
Waterproof Yes
Tripod Adaptable Yes, Built-In
Included Strap Neoprene (not contoured)
w/ quick attachments
Limited Warranty 1 yr, Non-transferrable

Ranging Specs

Beam Divergence < 0.3 mrad
Tested Max Range⁴ 31,612 yd
Claimed: 27,340 yd
Tested Min Range 9 yd
Claimed: 27 yd
Claimed Accuracy ± 5 yd
Tested Repetition Rate 12 Ranges/min
Receiver Optic (Rx) Aperture Size 42 mm
Laser Type 1550 nm
Pulse Duration MFR refused to specify
Battery Type 2 CR5 Lithium
Battery Life 5,000 measurements
Equivalent Horizontal Range Function Yes
Display Multiple Object Distances Function Yes
Advanced Ranging Modes Multiple Objects, Equivalent Horizontal Range, Distance Between 2 Objects, & more
Ballistics Functions None

Optical Specs

Magnification 7
Objective Lens Diameter 42 mm
Exit pupil 6 mm
Eye Relief 18 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards 360 ft
Objective Angle of View 6.75°
Prism Type MFR refused to specify
Glass MFR refused to specify
Coatings MFR refused to specify
Relative Brightness (RE) 36.0
Twilight Factor 17.1
Measured Focus Rotations 0.7
Focus System Individual Eye Piece Focus

Warranty

I expected a military-grade warranty with the Vectors, but they only come with a 1 year limited warranty. And the warranty is non-transferrable, which means only the original owner is covered by the warranty. That is weak, considering Leica offers a 5 year warranty and Zeiss even tops that with a lifetime, transferrable warranty. But, since these are military-grade, they might last far longer than those other brands … they definitely out perform them in the field.

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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Optics, Rangefinders

 

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Zeiss Victory RF Rangefinder Review

Zeiss Victory RF Ratings

Zeiss Victory RF Rangefinder BinocularsThis review on the Zeiss Victory RF 10×45 rangefinder binoculars is based on a 3 month long field test. It reflects the thoughts of 3 different precision rifle shooters as they used the product to observe and range targets from 25 yards out to 1 mile hundreds of times. The full field test consisted of 8 different rangefinders, so we have a very wide view of what to expect in a good pair of rangefinder binoculars. This post is compiled from our notes of what we specifically liked or didn’t like about the Zeiss Victory RF compared to the rest of the models out there.

Pros:

  • Extremely accurate
  • Fluoride glass provides good optical quality
  • Large field of view
  • Ranging button is large, easier to push, and placement is ideal. A nice, light button can keep you from moving off target while pushing it, similar to a nice trigger on a rifle.
  • 45mm objective performs better in low light than the more common 42mm (at least theoretically)

Cons:

  • Lots of “no reads” offhand
  • Heavy with a large, blocky design
  • Poor ballistic functions limited to 500 yards

Bottomline:

Anytime the Zeiss Victory RF displays a range, you can pretty much take it the bank. It is extremely accurate. However, if you need to range beyond 1,200 yards … you should pick a different rangefinder. The Zeiss Victory RF also had a significant amount of “no reads” offhand at 600 and 800 yard targets. Overall, the Zeiss Victory RF is good, but it’s optical and ranging performance were both edged out by the new Leica Geovid HD-B. Since the HD-B is only $200 more ($2,995 instead of $2,799), I’d buy the HD-B.

Photo Gallery

Many people believe the Zeiss Victory RF to be one of the most accurate, and reliable rangefinders out there. I have to say that for the most part, I found all those claims to be true. They are extremely accurate rangefinders, and boast one of the tightest beam divergences of any consumer-grade rangefinder binocular. But, beam divergence isn’t the only thing that matters for a rangefinder binocular. So let’s dive into how they performed in the field.

Optical Performance Review

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical QualityFor my field tests, I tried to come up with an objective, data-driven approach for testing optical clarity and what I ended up doing was placing eye exam charts from 600 to 1,400 yards and then recording what size of letters two different people could accurately read. These were virtually identical to the eye charts doctors use to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition a patient can make out at a particular distance. I combined all that data into a single score for each model so they can be ranked in terms of how much detail my two testers could make out. I provide a lot more detail about how the test was conducted, and compare other optical specs in The Optical Performance Results post.

Here are the overall optical results, and you can see the Zeiss Victory RF was one of the top performers. Zeiss uses fluoride glass on these models, and you can definitely tell they have great clarity compared to some of the other models on the market.

Zeiss Victory RF Review Optical Quality

The Zeiss Victory RF did have a slightly larger objective lens than most of the models tested, at 45mm. That theoretically gives it a slight edge over the other models in low light conditions, it can gather in more light. The surface area of a 45mm diameter circle is 1,590 mm², while a 42mm circle is 1,385 mm². That is a 15% increase in size over the 42mm. The math would say it gathers more light, which is why it’s Twilight Factor and Relative Brightness specs are higher than the other models. My eyes couldn’t tell any meaningful difference between it and another pair, although I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert in this field and I couldn’t measure brightness in any scientific way. In optics, the physical dimensions are only one piece to the puzzle. It would assume the lens, coatings, and all other factors that go into optics are the same … and in the real world, they aren’t.

The Zeiss Victory RF also had one of the larger fields of view for any 10x rangefinder binocular, which is noticeably larger than many of the models.

Ranging Performance Review

One of the first things, is that Zeiss only claims this unit is capable of 1,300 yards and I was able to get consistent readings on small, 2 MOA targets all the way out to 1,600 yards in ideal conditions from a tripod. It is rare these days for a company under-promise and over-deliver, but Zeiss seems to have done it with the Victory RF.

Here are the results of ranging a 2 MOA reflective target in ideal, low-light conditions from a tripod at various ranges from 600 to 2,000 yards. The exact size and shape of the targets, as well as the surroundings varied, but details of each target along with more details of the test are given in the ranging performance test results post. Each target was ranged 10 times under the same conditions.

Zeiss Victory Rangefinder Readings Under Ideal Conditions

The Zeiss pair was extremely accurate, with zero “no reads” out to its max range of 1,600 yards in ideal, low-light conditions. That means it ranged 1,600 yards 10 for 10, then when I tried to range 1760 the Zeiss Victory RF never gave me a single reading out of 20 attempts. It almost felt like they may have put some kind of hardcoded limit that didn’t allow it to display a distance over 1600. The downside of the Zeiss was that it did give me bad readings 7% of the time from 600-1600 yards.

The readings given by the Zeiss Victory RF had the 2nd lowest standard deviation of all the models tested (only bested by the Vectronix Terrapins). For example, on the 800 yard target the Zeiss model gave the following 10 readings: 801, 800, 799, 799, 799, 799, 800, 800, 800, and 800. Although it didn’t perform that precisely on all of the targets, it didn’t take long for us to see that the Zeiss was one of the top ranging performers. Its tight beam divergence (1.6 × 0.5 mrad) allowed it to handle some of the toughest ranging scenarios I could throw at it.

One unexpected result was at very short ranges. Of the 8 units tested, the Zeiss pair was the only one that was ever off by more than 1 yard at ranges of 25, 50, and 100 yards. The Zeiss Victory RF 10×45 gave a reading of 22 yards for a 25 yard target, and 97 yards for a 100 yard target. This could be concerning for bowhunters, but is really of no consequence to precision rifle shooters. This was surprising based on the surgical precision the Zeiss pair had at mid and long distance targets.

In bright light conditions, radiation from the sun can cause interference and limit the range and resolution of readings a rangefinder is able to gather. This obviously has a negative effect on performance. The chart below shows how the Zeiss Victory RF performed at sunset, and how it performed ranging those same targets 3 hours before sunset. Once again, this testing was done from a tripod, with visibility of 10+ miles on 2 MOA, reflective targets.

Zeiss Victory RF Max Range

In bright lighting conditions, the Zeiss Victory RF displayed an accurate range 75% of the time on targets in the 1000-1200 yard range. Only the Vectronix rangefinders were able to achieve that kind of accuracy in that range under bright lighting conditions. This type of distance seems more inline with Zeiss’s claimed max range of 1,300 yards … although they never promised that kind of distance on small, 2 MOA targets.

I also tested the rangefinders offhand, but did that on larger targets. Here are the results for ranging 3 foot by 2 foot bright, white rectangles from 600 and 800 yards. The 600 yard target had brush 30 yards in front of the target, which appeared just below the bottom edge from the ranging position. The full target face was visible and unobscured, but just barely. So many rangefinders had a hard time ranging the intended target, and would occasionally show the distance for the brush instead. The 800 yard target was exactly the opposite, with nothing in front of the targets. But there was brush in the background that a lot of rangefinders would get readings off. It was difficult for some rangefinders to get adequate energy off the targets compared to the brush in the background, causing incorrect distance readings. So although these were relatively large targets, the surroundings played into the offhand results and some rangefinders handled it much better than others.

Zeiss Victory RF Review Offhand Ranging Performance

The biggest surprise in my field tests with the Zeiss Victory RF was the high percentage of “no reads” I got when ranging offhand. It was significantly worse than I expected, as you can see in the chart below.

Rangefinder Total No Reads At 600 & 800 yards

I’m not sure if I got a bad unit, or what … but this isn’t the kind of performance I was expected after seeing how well they operated from a tripod. This was likely due to the tight beam divergence. Tight beam divergence can help when ranging off a tripod, but it can hurt you when ranging offhand … and that may be the case here. When you have very tight beam divergence, the motion caused by the unsupported position may make it difficult to hit the target precisely with a tightly focused beam. On the other hand, if you had a beam with more divergence you could more easily hit the target even with some wobble and then rely on the rangefinder’s “smarts” to determine what you were intending to range within that larger window. The minute vibration that is introduced when the rangefinders aren’t supported can also make it more difficult for the rangefinder to receive/gather the “echo” of the rangefinder beam.

Example-Where-Tight-Beam-Divergence-Could-Hurt

Having said all that, having tight beam divergence is a good thing when you are ranging an object surrounded by brush or with objects in front of or behind it. You have a better ability to precisely place the laser energy exactly on the object you want to range, without it spilling over onto unintended targets. You just need to have a steady rest to make that happen once the beam divergence gets really small. The Vectronix Vector 23 is a $24,000 rangefinder with a ridiculously small beam divergence of 0.3 mrad. It is a military-grade rangefinder that can accurately range up to 18 miles … but it also struggled offhand for the same problems mentioned here. You can see how it performed in the offhand chart above. The readings were very spread out compared to some of the other models.

Equivalent Horizontal Distance Function

The Zeiss Victory RF does NOT support the functionality to display the horizontal distance. It can only display the line of sight distance. This can be an important feature for a long-range shooter (and bowhunter), because it’s that second distance that you should plug into the ballistic calculator. Equivalent horizontal distance is the horizontal component of the distance, which is the distance gravity is going to act over. Honestly, it takes a steep angle to make a huge difference in the ballistic calculation. In fact, Todd Hodnett from Accuracy First has made the comment that there are really just a few locations in the United States that provide the terrain for a true long-range, steep-angle shot. That is why they have facilities in the Texas panhandle where they train on how to shoot in windy conditions, AND facilities in Utah where they train on how to shoot in high-angle conditions (like those found in some parts of Afgahnastan).

Ballistic Functions

The Zeiss Victory RF features Zeiss’s Ballistic Information System (BIS), but honestly, it is the weakest of any rangefinder I’ve seen that has ballistic capabilities. According to their manual, “The equipment has 6 saved trajectory paths, which cover nearly all calibers. You must select the most appropriate trajectory path for you depending on the caliber, bullet type and bullet weight used.” I don’t think selecting from 6 preset ballistic curves can really provide accurate long range dope for every cartridge out there. Zeiss probably recognizes that themselves, which is why the manual also says “For safety reason, the holding points are given only for ranges of up to 500 metres. For greater ranges, the display shows ‘HIGH’.” Even the Bushnell models will display ballistic calculations out to 800 yards, and they also provide 8 preset ballistic curves to select from. While that’s not ideal either, it’s better than 6. There is simply way more diversity in ballistics from 223 Rem to 338 Lapua Magnum than can be represented by 6 preset trajectories, at least if you want to make first-round hits.

Ergonomics & Design Review

I’ve used a lot of rangefinders, and the ranging button on this model was one thing that set it apart from the rest. Before you think I’ve lost my mind or put too much emphasis on this … think about a light, crisp trigger on a rifle compared to a factory rifle with a 7 lb. trigger pull. Which do you think you could shoot more accurately? When using a heavy trigger, you can actually pull yourself off target. This may not be a big deal if you are hunting and take a shot at 100 yards, but if you are shooting small targets at long-range … a good trigger may be the difference between a hit and a miss. This same thing is true for the ranging button on rangefinders. You want to center the laser energy on the intended target for the best chance of an accurate range, and the big, light button on the Zeiss helps you do that.

The placement of the button allows you to easily get to it even when wearing a baseball cap, which isn’t true for most models. And the button has a positive “click” when you press it, which is good tactile feedback that you actually pressed the button.

I’ve talked to other people who have reviewed multiple rangefinders, and this is one of the first things they mention as well. It is probably one of those features that you have to use several models that do it wrong before you can really appreciate it, but I do. Well done, Zeiss. It is a pleasure to use.

One downside is the Zeiss Victory RF was one of the heaviest units tested at 41.4 ounces with strap and lens covers attached. Optics Planet says “Most people find that anything more than 35 ounces is too much to comfortably carry around the neck and a weight of less than 30 ounces is much better.” At 41 ounces, you probably aren’t going to want to wear these around your neck too long.

Also, the Zeiss manual says “The brightness of the display is automatically adjusted to the brightness of the surroundings and therefore requires no manual adjustment.” Yeah, it is automatically adjusted to be very dim. I constantly found myself straining to read the display. Some models I tested were too bright, but I guess that is better than not being able to read it.

Specs

Most manufactures make it very tough to compare their product to others out there. Although Zeiss does a better job at this than most others, they are still pretty secretive about some of their specs. So, I spent days searching websites, user manuals, and calling/emailing to gather a complete set of detailed specifications. There are almost 40 different specs, including actual measured weights, dimensions, and the max ranges found in my field tests for each model (which can be very different from what the manufacturer claims). Some manufacturers list this specs in metric units and others are in U.S. standard units … I’ve converted everything to the same units to make comparison easy. I also read through each of the manuals to see exactly what each one does or doesn’t have in terms of advanced features like equivalent horizontal range, and ballistics functions. Some of the specs I even measured or calculated myself, because they weren’t available anywhere or were specs manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating.

General Specs

Manufacturer Part # 524518
Street Price¹ $2,799
Measured Weight in Use² 41.4 oz.
Measured Dimensions³ 6.8 × 6.0 × 2.8 inches
Housing Magnesium with rubber armored exterior
Waterproof Yes
Tripod Adaptable Optional Adapter
Included Strap Contoured Neoprene
Limited Warranty Lifetime, Transferrable

Ranging Specs

Beam Divergence 1.6 × 0.5 mrad
Tested Max Range⁴ 1,600 yd
Claimed: 1,300 yd
Tested Min Range 10 yd
Claimed: 10
Claimed Accuracy ± 1 to 656 yd,
0.5% beyond
Tested Repetition Rate 56 ranges/min
Receiver Optic (Rx) Aperture Size MFR refused to specify
Laser Type 904 nm
Pulse Duration MFR refused to specify
Battery Type 1 CR2 Lithium
Battery Life 10,000 measurements
Equivalent Horizontal Range Function No
Display Multiple Object Distances Function No
Advanced Ranging Modes Scan
Ballistics Functions Limited to 500 yd
6 preset ballistics curves, provides holdover info in inches out to 500 yards max

Optical Specs

Magnification 10
Objective Lens Diameter 45 mm
Exit pupil 4.5 mm
Eye Relief 15.5 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards 330 ft
Objective Angle of View MFR refused to specify
Prism Type Abbe-König Roof
Glass Fluoride Glass
Coatings Carl Zeiss T* multi-layer coating, LotuTec protective lens coating
Relative Brightness (RE) 20.3
Twilight Factor 21.2
Measured Focus Rotations 1.0
Focus System Central

¹This reflects the price each model was available for online through a major, reputable distributor as of Nov 2013.
²Includes batteries, lens covers, and included carrying strap
³Measured with lens covers attached
⁴All ranges were on reflective targets approximately 2 MOA in size in 200 yard increments in ideal atmospheric conditions (i.e. low light, great visibility).

To see how these specs compare to similar rangefinder binoculars, check out my post with side-by-side comparison.

Warranty

The Zeiss warranty was by far the best in the industry … period. Although they still only offer a limited warranty, it is a lifetime warranty and is transferrable. They are the only optics manufacturer I’m aware of that stands behind their product by providing a warranty like that. The transferrable part means that if you buy a used pair, you are still covered. That is pretty amazing, and refreshing to see in an increasingly cover-your-butt and do-the-least-possible warranty world.

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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in Optics, Rangefinders

 

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Leica Geovid HD-B Review

Leica-Geovid-HD-B-Ratings

Leica Geovid HD-B 10x42 Rangefinder Binoculars

This review on the Leica Geovid HD-B 10×42 rangefinder binoculars is based on a 3 month long field test. It reflects the thoughts of 3 different precision rifle shooters as they used the product to observe and range targets from 25 to 2,000 yards hundreds of times. The full field test consisted of 8 different rangefinders, so we have a very wide view of what to expect in a good pair of rangefinder binoculars. This post is compiled from our notes of what we specifically liked or didn’t like about the Leica Geovid HD-B compared to the rest of the models out there.

Pros:

  • Best of class optical quality with HD fluoride glass and cutting-edge Perger-Porro prism system
  • True one mile ranging performance on 2 MOA targets, and it can range beyond 2,000 on larger targets in ideal conditions.
  • Extremely wide field of view for 10x binocular
  • Ergonomics are absolutely 1st class
  • Allows you to customize ballistics curve for your load via micro-SD card (with some limitations)
  • Can display atmospheric conditions (temp, pressure, incline) for input into an external ballistics app

Cons:

  • Expensive – Premium glass always comes at a premium price.
  • Secondary/menu button is right next to the main ranging button and the same size, causing confusion on which one to press.
  • Objective lens covers slip off the end easily.

Bottomline:

If you are looking for accurate ranging out to one mile combined with premium optical quality … look no further. These are what I personally bought after the extensive field tests with virtually every rangefinder binocular on the market.

Photo Gallery

A Word On The Price

Before I dive into the review, I did want to mention something about the price of Leica Geovid HD-B. Leica actually let me borrow a test unit for my field test comparison, but because of the insane demand for these binoculars the rep for Leica U.S. didn’t have any on-hand he could ship me. He actually had to call the headquarters of Leica International in Germany and talk them into drop-shipping me a pair directly. However, the guys in Germany included the invoice for Leica U.S. in the package accidentally, which itemized the direct cost of the unit (i.e. what Leica U.S. owes the Germany plant to cover the manufacturing costs of the product). While I’ve agreed to never share what that hard cost of the HD-B actually is, I will say I was shocked at how expensive these are to build. I expected Leica to have much higher margins than they actually do. The fact is, there is just a lot of advanced technology and high-end parts that go into these units. And unlike a lot of brands, Leica doesn’t outsource the manufacturing of the units to China or India where they have lower-cost (and lower-skill) workers. They are built in Germany, by experts, in small batches, and each unit is subjected to a rigorous quality assurance process. There is a great article that gives specifics on Leica’s pursuit of perfection with lenses if you want to dive in deeper. Ultimately, I just wanted to say that although the $3,000 price tag might have some sticker shock and definitely prices out some part of the market … it isn’t unjustified. I believe Leica is making a reasonable profit on the product, and nothing more. In fact, I consider them a value. And just as a disclaimer, they aren’t a sponsor of this website and didn’t pay me to say this (in fact, I hope they aren’t mad at me for publishing it).

Optical Performance Review

The Leica Geovid HD-B is a complete redesign, with Leica changing from the roof prism design used in the original Geovid HD to their new “Perger-Porro” prism in the HD-B. It is commonly believed that roof prism binoculars are superior to porro prism binoculars, but that is simply not the case. There is a great article by American Hunter that explains demystifies the roof vs. porro prism argument. Here is the summary of their article:

“If a company put all its resources into a Porro prism binocular, it would be at least as good as a roof prism, if not better. But it would be bulkier. With components and labor efforts being equal, Porro prisms are superior. But like most things in life, the reality is all things aren’t equal. Companies do not put all their resources into Porros, because the public wants compact roof prism binos.”

Well, “Companies do not put all their resources into Porros” was true … until the Leica HD-B. Now Leica is obviously pouring lots of money and research in to porro prisms, just like John Barsness was suggesting would produce the best optical performance possible. And the empirical testing I did for optical performance showed that they did. They also found a way to make it work in a form factor that is similar in size as the other models on the market. It must be magic … or really great engineering.

Leica-Geovid-HD-B-vs-Leica-Geovid-HD

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical QualityFor the field tests, I tried to come up with an objective, data-driven approach for testing optical clarity and what I ended up doing was placing eye exam charts from 600 to 1,400 yards and then recording what size of letters two different people could accurately read. These were virtually identical to the eye charts doctors use to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition a patient can make out at a particular distance. I combined all that data into a single score for each model so they can be ranked in terms of how much detail my two testers could make out. I provide a lot more detail about how the test was conducted, and compare other optical specs in The Optical Performance Results post.

Here are the overall optical results, and you can clearly see that the Leica Geovid HD-B was the clear winner in terms of optical performance.

Leica Geovid HD-B Review Optical Quality

The Leica HD-B also offered the widest field of view available in any 10x rangefinder binocular, at 342 feet at 1,000 yards. Note: Some of Leica’s marketing material has a higher number, but that is actually an error. When calculating it, the engineer didn’t properly convert from metric to imperial units. I’ve confirmed with Leica that the real field of view is 342 ft.

Ranging Performance Review

The ranging performance is also a dramatic upgrade from the original Leica Geovid HD. In fact, in my tests they were able to accurately range twice the distance of the original Leica Geovid HD. All of my testing was on 2 MOA targets, which are relatively small, and the Leica Geovid HD-B was able to get accurate readings out to 1950 yards in the ideal conditions on those small targets. When ranging larger objects like the side of a hill, I was able to get readings beyond 2,200 yards a few times.

Here are the results of ranging a 2 MOA reflective target in ideal, low-light conditions from a tripod at various ranges from 600 to 2,000 yards. The exact size and shape of the targets, as well as the surroundings varied, but details of each target along with more details of the test are given in the ranging performance test results post. Each target was ranged 10 times under the same conditions.

Leica Geovid HD-B Review Rangefinder Readings Under Ideal Conditions

You can see that it was very rare for the Leica HD-B to give a reading that was incorrect, and very rare for it to give a “no read” in low-light conditions (i.e. sunset). The test unit displayed an accurate reading 9 times out of 10 on the small, 1 mile target.

In bright light conditions, radiation from the sun can cause interference and limit the range and resolution of readings a rangefinder is able to gather. This obviously has a negative effect on performance. The chart below shows how the Leica HD-B performed at sunset, and how it performed ranging those same targets 3 hours before sunset. Once again, this testing was done from a tripod, with visibility of 10+ miles on 2 MOA, reflective targets.

Leica Geovid HD-B Review Supported Ranging Performance

In bright lighting conditions, the Leica Geovid HD-B could still occasionally give accurate readings out to one mile, but it might take a few attempts. Althought it could occasionally reach further, it was more reliable at ranging targets 1,200 yards or less in bright, daylight conditions. And keep in mind that this was all done from a tripod. If you tried to run these same tests offhand, you wouldn’t get anyway near the distances shown here.

I also tested the rangefinders offhand, but did that on larger targets. Here are the results for ranging 3 foot by 2 foot bright, white rectangles from 600 and 800 yards. The 600 yard target had brush 30 yards in front of the target, which appeared just below the bottom edge from the ranging position. The full target face was visible and unobscured, but just barely. So many rangefinders had a hard time ranging the intended target, and would occasionally show the distance for the brush instead. The 800 yard target was exactly the opposite, with nothing in front of the targets. But there was brush in the background that a lot of rangefinders would get readings off. It was difficult for some rangefinders to get adequate energy off the targets compared to the brush in the background, causing incorrect distance readings. So although these were relatively large targets, the surroundings played into the offhand results and some rangefinders handled it much better than others.

Leica Geovid HD-B Review Offhand Ranging Performance

Once again, the Leica Geovid HD-B gave a very low number of “no reads” offhand, which was a major problem with other rangefinders. It would occasionally display a reading for an object in front of or behind the intended target, but overall the standard deviation of the readings from the HD-B’s was one of the best.

Equivalent Horizontal Distance

The Leica Geovid HD-B does allow you to set whether you want it to display the line of sight distance, or the equivalent horizontal distance. This can be an important feature for a long-range shooter (and bowhunter), because it’s that second distance that you should plug into the ballistic calculator. Equivalent horizontal distance is the horizontal component of the distance, which is the distance gravity is going to act over. Honestly, it takes a steep angle to make a huge difference in the ballistic calculation. In fact, Todd Hodnett from Accuracy First has made the comment that there are really just a few locations in the United States that provide the terrain for a true long-range, steep-angle shot. That is why they have facilities in the Texas panhandle where they train on how to shoot in windy conditions, AND facilities in Utah where they train on how to shoot in high-angle conditions (like those found in some parts of Afgahnastan).

Ballistic Functions

The Leica Geovid HD-B provides the most robust ballistic functions available on any rangefinder I’m aware of. Most rangefinders simply allow you to select from 6 to 8 preset ballistic curves, and you just choose the one that best resembles the curve of your load. This is not a great approach, and is completely unacceptable for precision rifle shooters. It just isn’t precise enough to get on target at long-range. In fact, Zeiss limits their ballistic functions so that it will only work out to 500 yards. Past that, it won’t give you anything … because they know the results it gives you wouldn’t be accurate enough to make that shot. Bushnell and Leupold limit their ballistic functions to 800 yards.

The Leica Geovid HD-B also have integrated sensors for temperature, atmospheric pressure, and angle of incline that they use as inputs to the ballistics engine. That means it will automatically adjust your dope on the fly, with respect to those environmental parameters. So if you shoot at sea level, or at high altitude … it will automatically sense that and display the adjustment you need to make for a first round hit (theoretically at least). It also means if you are in a full day long-range competition, and the temp starts at 50 degrees in the morning and gets to 90 in the afternoon it should take that into account as well. However, if you are using a temperature sensitive powder it won’t be able to do that as perfectly as you’d probably need it to in order to get first round hits on small, long-distance targets.

The HD-B’s took a major leap forward by giving you a way to customize the ballistic curve it uses for your load. They do that by providing a web-based ballistic calculator where you can either select the factory load you are using or enter a “custom load” as shown in the diagram below.

Leica Geovid HD-B Review Customize Ballistics Calculator

While this is a big advancement, it still has some huge limitations for precision rifle shooters:

  1. It only supports G1 BC (i.e. ballistic coefficient). While the G1 BC works well for shorter, flat-based bullets, a G7 BC works better for longer, boat-tailed bullets. If you are calculating the ballistics curve for a modern, long-range bullet, then using the standard G1 projectile to do that simply can’t give you an accurate curve beyond about 800 yards. I ran the ballistics in JBM for the load I shoot using a G1 BC and a G7 BC will give you a difference over 1 minute at 1,200 yards. That means the trajectory adjustment it suggests would be off by 14″. That’s enough to miss a shot. Then at 1 mile, it’s exaggerated even more with a difference of 2.5 MOA, which means your impact would be off by 46 inches! I have to believe one of those manufacturers will do it at some point. My bet is on Bushnell or Leica.
  2. The rangefinder only displays adjustments in whole numbers, without decimal places like what is shown in the screenshot.
  3. It only supports displaying the adjustment in either inches or MOA … not MIL.
  4. It doesn’t allow you to set the sight height for the ballistic calculations. That is hard-coded to a constant value of 1.9685 inches. This probably isn’t a big deal, but it’s kind of lame. Why?

Ergonomics & Design Review

The open bridge design feels great in your hand, and is a lot more streamlined than the more blocky designs on most rangefinder binoculars. The curved design provides a natural grip, and encourages good support technique, which can reduce fatigue when using them to glass for hours at a time. The optical quality also reduces eye fatigue, so if you are a guide or someone who will be using binoculars continuously for extended periods of time … these are the ones you should get.

Leica Geovid HD-B Ergonomics

It seems like they could have come up with a better button layout if they did about 1 minute of user testing. There are two buttons that are side-by-side, and the same exact size … which do you push to range? I’ve never handed the pair to someone and they got it right the first time. Why put the menu/mode button that is rarely used, right beside the ranging button … which you are constantly using? I’m not saying you don’t get used to it, but I just don’t understand how they could overlook that in the design process. In my opinion, Zeiss got the button right. It is large, light, and has a positive click. It is also a little difficult to reach the ranging button if you are wearing a baseball cap on the HD-B’s.

One thing I do like about them is the diopter adjustments are pretty stiff, which means you won’t accidentally move them. The eye cups have 5 click-stop settings, which are nice. I actually wear glasses, and the eye relief is really long. I actually screw out the eye cups one click even with my glasses on. These are the only binoculars I’ve ever done that on.

And lastly, we noticed the objective lens covers are constantly falling off. This happens because there is no lip on the edge of the tube body to keep them in place, as you can see in the photo above. They even fall off occasionally when removing them from the included case. I’m shocked we didn’t lose the covers during testing. I did end up purchasing a pair of these personally, and I’m sure I will lose them at some point … which means I’ll get to buy replacements from Leica. So although this is a small thing, its not nothing.

Specs

Most manufactures make it very tough to compare their product to others out there, but honestly Leica isn’t one of those. They do a better job of publishing complete specs than any other manufacturer out there. I did end up calling them for a few that weren’t listed, and read through user manuals to compile a complete set of detailed specifications. There are almost 40 different specs, including actual measured weights, dimensions, and the max ranges found in my field tests for each model (which can be very different from what the manufacturer claims). Some manufacturers list this specs in metric units and others are in U.S. standard units … I’ve converted everything to the same units to make comparison easy. I also read through each of the manuals to see exactly what each one does or doesn’t have in terms of advanced features like equivalent horizontal range, and ballistics functions. Some of the specs I even measured or calculated myself, because they weren’t available anywhere or were specs manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating.

General Specs

Manufacturer Part # 40049
Street Price¹ $2,995
Measured Weight in Use² 39.4 oz
Measured Dimensions³ 7.1 × 5.7 × 3.0 inches
Housing Magnesium with rubber armored exterior
Waterproof Yes
Tripod Adaptable Yes
Optional Adapter
Included Strap Contoured Neoprene
Limited Warranty 5 yr, Non-Transferrable

Ranging Specs

Beam Divergence 2.7 × 1.5 mrad
Tested Max Range⁴ 1,950 yd
Claimed: 2,000
Tested Min Range 10 yd
Claimed: 10 yd
Claimed Accuracy ± 1 to 550 yd,
± 2 to 1100 yd,
0.5% beyond
Tested Repetition Rate 24 ranges/min
Receiver Optic (Rx) Aperture Size (mm) MFR refused to specify
Laser Type 904 nm
Pulse Duration 50 nanoseconds
Battery Type 1 CR2 Lithium
Battery Life 2,000 measurements
Equivalent Horizontal Range Function Yes
Display Multiple Object Distances Function No
Advanced Ranging Modes Scan,
Equivalent Horizontal Range
Ballistics Functions Yes
Allows custom ballistics curves & takes temp, angle of incline, and atmospheric pressure into consideration, provides variety of output

Optical Specs

Magnification 10
Objective Lens Diameter 42 mm
Exit pupil 4.2 mm
Eye Relief 20 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards 342 ft
Objective Angle of View 6.5°
Prism Type Perger-Porro
Glass HD Fluoride Glass
Coatings HDC multi-layer coating, Anti-Reflective coating, hydrophobic Aqua-Dura coating, P40 Phase Corrective coating
Relative Brightness (RE) 17.6
Twilight Factor 20.5
Measured Focus Rotations 1.7
Focus System Central

¹This reflects the price each model was available for online through a major, reputable distributor as of Nov 2013.
²Includes batteries, lens covers, and included carrying strap
³Measured with lens covers attached
⁴All ranges were on reflective targets approximately 2 MOA in size in 200 yard increments in ideal atmospheric conditions (i.e. low light, great visibility).

Warranty

Leica’s five year limited warranty is one of the longest offered by optics manufacturers. Zeiss offers a lifetime limited warranty, that is also transferrable. Leica’s warranty is not transferable, which means it only covers it if you’re the original owner that purchased it from an authorized Leica dealer. So essentially if you buy a used pair (even if it is just a few weeks old), you have no warranty coverage.

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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Optics, Rangefinders

 

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Rangefinder Binoculars Reviews & Field Tests: Overall Results Summary

Welcome to the largest and most comprehensive field test & review of laser rangefinder binoculars ever conducted. I tested virtually every pair available in a variety of real-world scenarios, to see which had the best performance in the field in terms of both optical clarity and ranging capabilities.

This post is the executive summary of the results. I’ve already written other posts in this series of articles, which include exhaustive details about the ranging tests and results, as well as the optical tests and results. But, I’ll try to hit the highlights here.

These results are based on over 10,000 data points collected from the field over 3 months of testing.

Ranging-Binocular-Field-Test-and-Reviews

6 of the models tested were binoculars, and the other 2 were monoculars. I included a Leupold monocular for reference because a lot of shooters have a similar 1,000 yard rangefinder, and it should let them see how it stacks up to the rest of this group. I also included the Vectronix Terrapin model as my control for ranging performance, because it is known to be an extremely accurate rangefinder (spoiler alert: it is).

The Swarovski EL Range is the only pair of rangefinding binoculars I’m aware of that wasn’t included … but it wasn’t for lack of effort. I talked to Swarovski multiple times trying to convince them to be part of this. I spent hours explaining the comprehensive line-up I’d compiled, and even detailed the field tests I was planning to run through with each pair. I answered every question they asked, and they still declined to be part of it. It’s a shame.

Ranging Performance

Rangefinder Binocular ReviewI used each model to range 500+ times in a variety of targets and scenarios from 25 to over 30,000 yards. My tests showed all of these models had similar performance at close and mid-range targets, but at 600 yards their performance started to diverge … so that is where most of my testing was focused.

The chart below summarizes the ranging performance I found on the test targets in ideal conditions, which was from a tripod, at sunset, with 10+ mile visibility. The exact target shape and surroundings varied, but the targets were all approximately 2 MOA wide, highly reflective, and perpendicular to the rangefinder. I provided a lot of details on the actual target dimensions, view from the ranging position, and target surroundings in the detailed ranging performance results post.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Ranging Performance Under Ideal Light Conditions

In bright light conditions, radiation from the sun can cause interference and limit the range and resolution of readings a rangefinder is able to gather. This obviously has a negative effect on performance. The chart below shows how each model performed 3 hours before sunset. Once again, this testing was done from a tripod, with visibility of 10+ miles on 2 MOA, reflective targets.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Ranging Performance Under Bright Light Conditions

The two previous charts show how far the models could get an accurate range, but that doesn’t give you the whole story. For example, if a rangefinder gave you correct readings half the time, and incorrect readings the other half … how would you know what to believe? An incorrect reading is completely different than a “no read.” I’d prefer rangefinders not give me a reading at all, rather than give me an incorrect distance. So the chart below shows how accurate each rangefinder was from 600 yards up to it’s max range. It shows what percent of the time it gave a reading that was within 1% of the actual, known distance to the target, as well as how many times it gave a reading that was incorrect by more than 1% and how many times it gave a “no read.” The red blocks are what you really want to avoid.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Ranging Accuracy Within Max Range

And finally, I tested offhand ranging performance and the main problem with offhand ranging performance was the slight vibration/wobble induced from an unsupported position caused many of the rangefinders to give an even higher number of “no reads,” even with proper technique and in what felt like the most stable position possible. So the chart below illustrates how many “no reads” each model gave when ranging 3’ x 2’ bright, white targets offhand at 600 and 800 yards. The sample size for the chart below was 40 ranges with each model.

Rangefinder Total No Reads At 600 & 800 yards

This is really just a high-level summary of the ranging results, and you can check out the full details on the Ranging Performance Results post.

Vectronix Vector 23 & Vectronix Terrapin

Vectronix is the leader in the rangefinder industry, and that was confirmed once again in these tests. While many manufacturers are overly optimistic in the max ranges they advertise, Vectronix is different … they are an under-promise, over-deliver type company. Both the Vectronix Vector 23 and the Vectronix Terrapin outperformed the manufacturer’s advertised max range by a wide margin. The max range of my test targets was 2,000 yards, which many consider the practical limit of shoulder-fired, small arms rifles (yes, I know your cousin’s friend shot a deer further than that one time). The Vector 23 didn’t even break a sweat by 2,000 yards. I actually had to drive 100 miles to find something far enough for me to be able to max out the Vector 23 … 31,612 yards (that’s 18 miles). I was able to get consistent readings for that distance on a hillside 18 miles away (and that was in bright, midday lighting conditions). In low-light conditions, the Terrapin rangefinder was able to range the opposite side of the canyon shown in the photo, giving consistent readings of 4,950 yards. Both easily ranged my 2000 yard 2 MOA target in ideal conditions, although the Terrapins could only range to the 1 mile target in bright conditions.

Keep in mind that the Vectronix Terrapin is a monocle … not a binocular, like most of the other models. But the bottom line is, if you are buying a rangefinder purely for ranging targets 600 to 2000 yards, and have no plan to use it for observation or finding targets … you should buy a Vectronix Terrapin … period. It is surgically precise. When you just have to know the range beyond the shadow of a doubt, I’d put my money on the Vectronix Terrapin every time.

Leica Geovid HD-B

The new Leica Geovid HD-B had outstanding ranging performance as well. In ideal conditions, it was able to get accurate readings on a 2 MOA target that was 1 mile away over 90% of the time, and it could range to 1,950 yards over 50% of the time. Even under bright conditions, it could still occasionally get a reading on the 1 mile target. One thing about the Leica Geovid HD-B is it rarely gave you an incorrect reading. At those long distances, the Leica rangefinder might give you a “no read” … but it wouldn’t display an inaccurate distance, which wasn’t true for most of the models. The Leica Geovid HD-B was a top of class performer offhand as well, and handled some of the toughest ranging scenarios with ease (like those with brush or tricky inclines in front of or around the target). Almost all of my tests were on target-sized objects, which are relatively small … although I was able to get a distance reading at just over 2,400 yards on a distant plateau in ideal conditions.

Zeiss Victory RF

The Zeiss Victory RF could range up to 1,200 yards with 90% accuracy, and even reached out to 1,600 with 50% accuracy in ideal, low-light conditions … which is well beyond Zeiss’s claimed max range of 1,300 yards. They had one of the smallest beam divergence of any model tested (only behind the ridiculously small beam divergence of the Vector), which allowed them to handle the tough ranging scenarios. The distances the Zeiss rangefinder gave were very accurate.

The one big drawback with the Zeiss Victory RF was a relatively high number of “no reads” when ranging offhand. From an offhand position, it struggled to provide a reading on the 600 and 800 yard target. This was surprising after experiencing how reliable it was off a tripod, but the facts none the less. This could be related to the tight beam divergence (see the How Rangefinders Work post for an explanation of when tight beam divergence can hurt performance). Only the Leupold RX-1000i monocle had worse offhand performance (and it is almost 1/10th the price of the Zeiss binoculars).

Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile

The Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars were amazingly great rangefinders. In ideal conditions, they could range all the way out to the claimed max range of 1 mile with over 50% accuracy … and that is on 2 MOA targets. That is impressive for any rangefinder, but astonishing for the price point of the Bushnell 1 Mile binoculars. It is an extreme value for the ranging capabilities.

When ranging offhand, the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars gave the most accurate readings of any of the units tested. This has a lot to do with the advanced ranging modes Bushnell has integrated into the unit, which allow the user to give the rangefinder hints about how to interpret the readings to increase the odds that this distance it displays is for your intended target. This is an innovative feature that I hope other manufacturers start to implement, because when ranging offhand or even in tough ranging scenarios … it’s a game-changer. To learn more about these advanced modes and how they can help, read the How Rangefinders Work post.

Leica Geovid HD

The Leica Geovid HD rangefinder binoculars had dismal results compared to the rest of the class. I actually thought I must have had a bad pair, but after testing two units, the results looked almost identical. Although the optical clarity in the Leica Geovid HD is outstanding, they just couldn’t range 2 MOA targets much beyond 800 yards.

Bushnell Fusion 1600

The Bushnell Fusion 1600 binoculars had the worse ranging performance off the tripod, and it didn’t do much better offhand … although the advanced modes did still help some. I’ve talked to some people who question my results for the Bushnell Fusion 1600, and they thought I might’ve had a bad unit. But, the unit I tested was brand new and had never been used in the field before these tests. So if it was in fact a bad unit, it simply indicates poor quality control on Bushnell’s part. They were certainly tested at the same time and under the exact same conditions as all of the other models.

Leupold RX-1000i TBR

The Leupold RX-1000i rangefinder was very accurate to 600 yards in any lighting condition. In ideal lighting conditions, it gave readings out to 800 yards just over 50% of the time. I never got a single reading at Leupold’s claimed max range of 1,000 yards. Remember that was on 2 MOA, reflective targets, and off a tripod. Offhand, the Leupold rangefinder struggled to get readings on 3’x2’ targets at 600 yards, and we were only able to get one reading at 800 yards out of 20 attempts. Like most other rangefinders of this class, you can just find the max range the manufacturer claims and chop off 25% for the max range you could expect on real-world targets.

Optical Performance

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical QualityI came up with an objective, empirical approach to testing optical performance, which was placing eye exam charts from 600 to 1,400 yards and then recording what size of letters two different people could accurately read. These were virtually identical to the eye charts doctors use to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition a patient can make out at a particular distance. I combined all that data into a single score for each model so they can be ranked in terms of how much detail my two testers could make out. I provide a lot more detail about how the test was conducted, and compare other optical specs in The Optical Performance Results post.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical Quality

Both the Leica Geovid HD-B and the Leica Geovid HD performed stunningly, with the HD-B and it’s completely new, Perger-Porro prism design earning the top spot in terms of optical clarity. When you consider the ranging and optical performance of the Leica Geovid HD-B, you have a clear winner. Leica has definitely hit a home-run with this new product.

The Zeiss Victory RF came in third with a very respectable score. I consider it to be in the same class of optical clarity as the Leica models, but it just wasn’t quite as sharp.

The surprise in the optical tests was how well the Bushnell Fusion 1600 binoculars performed. Maybe we had a “ringer” set of these binoculars, but regardless … they were spectacular performer in these field tests, and were only edged out by Leica & Zeiss (both well over 3 times the price).

Vectronix Vector 23 Rangefinder Binoculars-011Vectronix glass is amazing, and you can tell that from the first time you look through either the Vector 23 or the Terrapin models. However, the Vector 23 binoculars only have 7x zoom, but Vectronix was kind enough to send us a $2,600 accessory attachment that mounts to the binoculars to magnify them to a 10x zoom. Although they appeared to have good clarity even with the external glass attached, the testers simply couldn’t make out the same level of detail with them as we could with some of the other models.

The Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile simply wasn’t in the same class of optical clarity as the other binoculars we tested. But when trying to meet a price point, you sometimes have to make trade-offs and that is likely what Bushnell had to do to be able to provide a rangefinder binocular for under $2,000. They obviously improved the ranging capabilities tremendously, so that might have required that they cut some costs optically and they’re just hoping the market agrees with them on the balance they’ve struck. They still have great optical clarity when compared to other binoculars in the $200-$500 price range … they just don’t compare optically to names like Leica & Zeiss.

Keep in mind that the Terrapin & Leupold rangefinder models are both monocles with only 5x and 6x zoom respectively. They were still held to the same standard as the binocular models with 10x zoom for these scores. I have a good reason for that, which I explain in the full optical test results post.

Best Rangefinder For The Money

The models I tested cover the full gambit of price points … from $400 to $24,000.

Rangefinder-Binoculars-Street-Price-Best-For-The-Money

There are really two aspects to assessing the value of a unit: ranging capability and optical clarity. Both are important, but the weight someone puts on one or the other can vary … so I’ll split it up and look at them independently here. We’ll start with ranging, because you probably wouldn’t be reading this article if that weren’t at least a little important to you. The chart below illustrates how much each yard of ranging capability costs you. It is essentially takes the street price of each model (as of Nov 2013), and then divides that by the maximum range each model was able to get an accurate reading for at least 50% of the time in ideal, low-light conditions on 2 MOA targets from a tripod. I limited this to a max of 2,000 yards of ranging credit, since many see that to be the maximum practical range for shoulder-fired rifles.

Best Rangefinder For The Money Price Per Yard

If you are only ranging objects under 800 yards, the best value is still a little $400 pocket rangefinder like the Leupold RX-1000i TBR. If you need to go beyond that, then the best value hands-down is the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile rangefinder binoculars. It would be hard to imagine anyone providing more bang for your buck than what you get with the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile.

Best Rangefinder For The Money Price Per Optical Point

Optical clarity usually comes with a premium price, and these are no different. But, the Bushnell Fusion 1600 binoculars were a clear stand-out in terms of the optical quality they provide for the price you pay. They weren’t that far behind names like Leica and Zeiss, and even scored slightly better than the Vectronix Vector 23. If you could combine the optical quality from the Bushnell Fusion 1600 with the ranging performance of the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile … you would have something special.

Overall Ratings

The chart below summarizes the field test results for the major aspects you should consider when purchasing a ranging binocular. It doesn’t include the two monocular models. The overall performance is a weighted score:

  • 40% based on optical performance (you can’t range it, if you can’t find it … and most people spend way more time looking than ranging)
  • 20% based on ranging distance (out to a max of 2000 yards)
  • 20% based on ranging accuracy (an incorrect range is worse than not having a rangefinder)
  • 20% based on size, weight, & ergonomics (if it weighed 80 lbs. and was hard to use, would it still be the best?)

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Overall Ratings

Based strictly on the empirical results, the best ranging binocular is the new Leica Geovid HD-B 10×42 … hands-down. They were #1 in the optical quality tests, and were the runner-ups behind Vectronix in rangefinding performance off a tripod and offhand.

If you are just looking for a super-accurate rangefinder … go with the Vectronix Terrapin. It doesn’t get better than the Terrapin, at any price. If you need to range beyond 2,000 yards, you are probably in the military and already using a Vectronix Vector … and if not, you should consider one! I try not to make dogmatic statements, but this one you can take to the bank: When it comes to rangefinding, Vectronix has this thing figured out … period.

In terms of pure bang for the buck, nothing comes close to the new Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile ARC 10×42. The optical quality isn’t great compared to these other models, but the ranging performance more than makes up for it. They are a steal of a deal at $1,200 … and even outperformed some models that cost twice that.

Other Posts in this Series

This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this rangefinder field test. Here are links to the others:

  1. How Do Rangefinders Work? From Basics To Advanced Features
  2. The Models & Specs
  3. Optical Performance Test Results
  4. Ranging Performance Test Results
  5. Overall Results Summary

While performing the field tests I used each model to range 500 times on average … so I used them a lot. I also asked two of my close friends to use them, and I took notes on what we did or didn’t like about each of them. I transformed those notes and the test results for each model into comprehensive reviews for each model. I also took a bunch of high-res pictures of each model and have a photo gallery of each posted along with the review. Check them out:

Enjoy this type of data-driven information? That’s what this website is all about. Sign-up to receive new posts via email, by entering your address under the “Follow via Email” heading in the top-right corner (at the bottom of the page on the mobile version).
 
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Posted by on December 3, 2013 in Data, Optics, Rangefinders, Rifle Matches & Competitions

 

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Rangefinder Binoculars Reviews & Field Tests: Ranging Performance Results

Ranging Binocular Field Test and Reviews

Not long ago, I helped build a 2,000 yard range for long-range, precision rifles. That range seems like the ideal facilities for a field test. It doesn’t get more real-world than this.

Ranging Bincoulars Panorama with Targets Labeled

Remember this isn’t a laboratory test … it is a field test. Although I was meticulous to ensure each model was tested in the same exact way and under the same exact circumstances, the targets and ranging scenarios varied just like they would in the field. By that, I mean the target shape, exact size, and surroundings were not identical at every range … just like they would be in a competition or hunting situation.

How Ranging Performance Was Tested

There 3 primary ways I tested the rangefinders. The targets for each scenario started at 600 yards and went out to 2,000 yards.

  1. Ranging 2 MOA highly reflective targets from 600 to 2,000 yards from a supported position (i.e. firmly attached to a tripod), and …
    1. Under ideal conditions (i.e. low light, sunset conditions with great visibility)
    2. Under bright conditions (i.e. sunny, midday conditions with great visibility)
  2. Ranging 3’ x 2’ reflective targets offhand (i.e. standing, unsupported position with great visibility)

I also performed a bunch of other tests, but didn’t find significant performance variance between the 8 models tested in those other tests … so they weren’t very interesting. Here are a few of the other tests I performed:

  • Ranging soft, non-reflective, medium-game-sized targets. I was able to range soft targets out to 928 yards (the max distance attempted) in ideal conditions with each pair without a single “no read.” There was some variance in accuracy, but that variance closely mirrored what I found for test #1 above.
  • Ranging targets at very close distances (like a bow hunter would encounter). For short distance targets (at 25, 50, and 100 yards), none of the models were ever off by more than 1 yard … with the exception of the Zeiss Victory RF. The Zeiss Victory RF 10×45 gave a reading of 22 yards for a 25 yard target, and 97 yards for a 100 yard target. This was surprising based on the surgical precision the Zeiss pair had at mid and long distance targets.
  • Ranging mid-distance targets – Mid-distance targets (between 100 to 500 yards) also showed very similar ranging performance between the 8 models tested. It was really at 600 yards and beyond where significant performance among these rangefinders started to diverge, which is why I focused most of the tests there.

Supported Ranging Results

Rangefinder Binocular ReviewIdeal Lighting Conditions

These results were based on ranging 2 MOA, reflective targets in 200 yard increments from 600 to 2,000 yards. A description of the targets and scenarios are given later in this post. The rangefinders were firmly attached to a stable tripod for this set of tests, and it was performed right at sunset (i.e. low light conditions), which is ideal for optimal ranging performance. Conditions were clear, with visibility of 10+ miles. Each target was ranged 10 times with each model, and each reading was recorded.

This test represents the best-case scenario for ranging 2 MOA sized targets. You can see that some of the rangefinders didn’t perform up to the max range claimed by the manufacturer. Before we get too cynical, I need to add that if you were ranging the side of a hill you may be able to get readings for further distances.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Ranging Performance Under Ideal Light Conditions

I only had targets set up out to 2,000 yards, but the Vectronix models were able to go well beyond that. With the Vectronix Terrapin PLRF, I was able to range the opposite side of the canyon shown at the top of the post and get consistent readings at 4,950 yards in low light conditions. Vectronix publishes a max range of 2,624 yards for this model … they are obviously an under-promise, over-deliver type of company. I like that. The Terrapins had a lowest standard deviation of readings than any other pair tested, including the Vector 23s. They also had the lowest percentage of incorrect readings. In fact, after spending a lot of time testing all of these rangefinders I have to say that if my life depended on getting an accurate range to a target … I’d reach for the Terrapins every time. They are just ridiculously accurate. For more on the amazing accuracy of the Vectronix Terrapins, check out my post on Models & Specs and scroll down to the bottom of the article.

The Vectronix Vector 23 rangefinder was able to blow that away with consistent readings of 31,612 yards on a very distant hillside, which is right at 18 miles away. I don’t know how practical that is, because I actually had to drive 100 miles to be able to see something that far away that I could range. But make no mistake … it is cool to do it. To make it even more unbelievable, those 18 mile readings were taken in bright, midday lighting conditions as well. In my experience, you can expect most rangefinders to perform 10-25% better in low light conditions than in bright light conditions. Another thing about the Vector 23s that even surprised me was that they would always, always give you a reading. It didn’t matter the scenario, bright light, brush, ranging through a windshield … it was always able to get a reading back. In fact, I couldn’t come up with a single tough ranging scenario where the Vector 23 would give me a reading for anything other than my intended target. Both Vectronix models have a feature named “3 DIS” you can enable that will make it display up to 3 different distance readings it got from a single measurement. I never once had to enable the “3 DIS” feature in my testing for the Vector 23, because the range it displayed was always the one I was trying to get. Honestly, after using all these other models, it almost felt like magic.

Vectronix Vector Max Range 31612 Yards

The Leica Geovid HD-B had phenomenal ranging performance, which paired well with its best-of-class optical performance the tests showed in my last post. The Leica HD-B’s were able to range out to a full mile (1,760 yards) with 90% accuracy, and were able to get a few readings at 1,950 yards … although I couldn’t get a single reading on the 2,000 yard target. They gave the 2nd fewest number of incorrect readings, just behind the Vectronix Terrapin. The HD-B’s were able to handle some of the toughest ranging scenarios possible, and come up with the correct reading. For rangefinding binoculars under $20,000, I think we have a clear winner in the Leica HD-Bs in terms of ranging performance.

The Zeiss Victory RF pair provided surgical precision out to 1,200 yards. If it gave you a reading, you could pretty much take it to the bank. Not only did it not give many readings that were off by more than 1% of the actual distance, the readings given by the Zeiss Victory RF had the 2nd lowest standard deviation of all the models tested (only bested by the Terrapins). For example, on the 800 yard target the Zeiss model gave the following 10 readings: 801, 800, 799, 799, 799, 799, 800, 800, 800, and 800. Although it didn’t perform that precisely on all of the targets, it didn’t take long for us to see that the Zeiss was one of the top ranging performers. Its tight beam divergence (1.6 × 0.5 mrad) allowed it to handle some of the toughest ranging scenarios I could throw at it, right along with the Leica Geovid HD-B … although the max range I was able to achieve out of the Zeiss Victory RF was 350 yards shorter than that of the HD-B’s.

And the surprise performer here was the new Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars. They blew away my expectations, and were actually able to get some accurate readings on 2 MOA targets all the way out to a full mile (1760 yards). At less than half the cost of any of the binoculars mentioned to this point, they are definitely the value in ranging performance. Bushnell has made some radical improvements over the Bushnell Fusion 1600, and has really come to the table with their A game in the Bushnell 1 Mile binoculars. Like the test results showed in the last post on optical performance, the only place they lack is optical clarity. They took a step back there from what the Bushnell 1600’s offered, but they certainly made a giant leap in their ability to range.

The remaining models were all disappointing underperformers. The original Leica Geovid HD model has world-class optical quality, but the ranging performance is clearly subpar beyond 800 yards. The Leupold RX-1000i rangefinder clearly fell short of the 1,000 yard max range they claim, which is all too common for rangefinders. But none fell further from their claimed max range than the Bushnell Fusion 1600 binoculars. Bushnell claims a whopping 1,600 yard range for this model, but I was barely able to get readings out to 800 yards (at least on my 2 MOA targets).

Bright Lighting Conditions

These results were identical to the first test, except they were performed in bright, cloudless, midday lighting conditions. These are the lighting conditions most people will be using their rangefinders in, because it compromises 90% of the daylight hours. In bright light conditions, radiation from the sun can cause interference and limit the range and resolution of readings the rangefinder is able to gather. This obviously has a negative effect on performance, but the tests showed that it seemed to effect some rangefinders more than others.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Ranging Performance Under Bright Light Conditions

Like I mentioned before, the Vectronix Vector 23 model was able to get consistent readings of 31,612 yards on a very distant hillside, which is right at 18 miles away. That was taken in bright, cloudless, midday lighting conditions. That means the Vector 23 was able to range 18 times further any other rangefinder in these conditions.

The Vectronix Terrapin was able to get readings to 1 mile at least 90% of the time, but couldn’t get a single reading for 1,950 yards. But once again, it was extremely accurate even with the tough radiation interference it had to deal with. It was able to provide 9 out of 10 readings at one mile, and here is what it displayed for those: 1760, 1762, 1761, 1759, 1760, 1759, 1759, 1760, and 1758. I’m telling you, these things are extraordinarily accurate … it’s almost absurd the amount of ranging performance you get for $2,000. Of course, keep in mind these are monoculars not binoculars like most of the rest of these.

The Leica Geovid HD-B led the rest of the pack once again, and was still able to get at least 1 accurate reading out of 10 attempts at 1 mile. It remained 90% accurate out to 800 yards, and was over 50% accurate out to 1,200 yards. The Leica HD-B’s didn’t give a lot of incorrect readings, but in bright conditions past 800 yards, it did give a lot more “no reads.” I guess no reading is better than displaying one that is wrong.

The Zeiss Victory RF closely mirrored the Leica HD-B performance, except it wasn’t able to stretch out quite as far. The Zeiss Victory RF did average 75% accuracy on targets in the 1000-1200 yard range, where the Leica HD-B’s were closer to the 50% mark.

Once again, the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile binoculars exceeded expectations. They were able to accurately range to 800 yards 90+% of the time, and were able to give at least a few readings out to 1,400 yards … which in bright lighting is rather amazing. I’m telling you, Bushnell has some great technology built into that little rangefinder.

The underperformers all hung in right around where they were under ideal, low-light conditions. Not too much of a surprise, since it is much easier to ignore or cancel out the interference caused by radiation at shorter distances. It seems like it is only at those further distances that rangefinders have to really work to get a reading in bright conditions.

Ranging Accuracy & No Reads

The charts and analysis so far have all been about how far the models could get an accurate range, but that doesn’t give you the whole story. For example, if a rangefinder gave you correct readings half the time, and incorrect readings the other half … how would you know what to believe? An incorrect reading is completely different than a “no read.” I would much rather rangefinders not give me a reading at all, rather than give me one that is wrong. That is why I also analyzed the “ranging correctness,” for lack of a better term. This can also be thought of as ranging accuracy or ranging error. It essentially breaks down what percent of the time each model gave an accurate reading, what percent it gave an incorrect reading (the situation we want to avoid the most), and what percent it gave a “no read” (a frustrating, but less harmful problem). This is based on all of the readings taken from 600 yards to whatever the max range was for each model, under ideal conditions (low-light with great visibility), and from a supported position (i.e. mounted on a tripod).

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Ranging Accuracy Within Max Range

Note this does not mean, for example, that the Leica Geovid HD Classic gives an incorrect range 46% of the time. In my experience, it likely gives a very accurate range up to 800 yards. Remember these tests started at 600 yards, because it was only at that distance that the ranging performance among these models seemed to diverge. What is true is that for the 600-1,200 yard targets I was ranging, 46% of the time the Leica Geovid HD gave incorrect ranges (off by more than 1%).

Both Vectronix models were as close to perfect as you can come … no surprise here. The 3% incorrect or “no reads” given were well within the margin of error for my 100 reading sample size. If it was 100%, you should probably think something was fishy about this data. No data is that clean in the real world, and this is real data. I did say that this was up to the max range of each model, but that doesn’t apply to the Vectronix rangefinders. In low-light conditions, both of these rangefinders still had a lot left in the tank at 2,000 yards.

The Zeiss pair was extremely accurate, with zero “no reads” out to its max range of 1,600 yards in ideal, low-light conditions. That means it ranged 1,600 yards 10 for 10, then when I tried to range 1760 the Zeiss Victory RF never gave me a single reading out of 20 attempts. It almost felt like they may have put some kind of hardcoded limit that didn’t allow it to display a distance over 1600. The downside of the Zeiss was that it did give me bad readings 7% of the time from 600-1600 yards.

The Leica HD-B’s gave almost no incorrect readings (again 3% is well within the margin of error), and only gave “no reads” 8% of the time through its max range of 1950 yards. And most of those no reads were actually at that 1,950 yard distance. If you just look at 600-1760 yards, only 3% of the reading were “no reads” (remember this is in low-light conditions). So from 600-1760 yards, the Leica HD-B had a stunning 3% “no reads” and 3% incorrect reads … meaning it displayed a range within 1% of the actual distance 94% of the time. Stunning results.

The Leupold RX-1000i was accurate, but had a high percentage of no reads and this was only out to their max range of 800 yards.

The Bushnell 1 Miles gave 20% incorrect ranges, but that was mostly due to its inability to range one particular target with any consistency (it was the 1200 yard target that you can read more about later in this article). I believe this was due to brush near and around the target, and the wide beam divergence on the Bushnell 1 Mile. I tried to range it in all 3 modes using the Bushnell 1 Mile with the same inaccurate results on that particular target. If you exclude that 1,200 yard target, the Bushnell 1 Mile only had 6% incorrect readings, which raises the percent of accurate readings up to 87%. It had relatively low “no reads” at 7%. Overall, I was very impressed with the Bushnell 1 Mile’s ranging accuracy. As you’ll see later in this post, there isn’t a single pair that was more accurate when ranging offhand.

The Bushnell 1600 and the Leica Geovid HD Classic both had dismal ranging performance beyond 600 yards. I felt it was completely unacceptable (even in ideal conditions), and I wouldn’t recommend either of them unless you knew you’d never need to range beyond 600 yards.

Offhand Ranging Results

The results so far have been for ranging from supported position, with the rangefinder firmly attached to a tripod. But, ranging offhand is a totally different ballgame. When ranging offhand extremely tight beam divergence can actually be a bad thing, and the logic within the device that interprets the results becomes critical. For more on what I mean by that, check out my post on How Rangefinders Work.

All the offhand results are based on ranging large, bright white rectangles that were 3 foot wide and 2 foot tall at 600 and 800 yards. I did collect a lot of data for ranges beyond 800 yards, but it gets increasing difficult for the user to hold the unit steady enough to accurately range at 1,000 yards or more. Also because of the motion/vibration induced by the user in an unsupported position, most units struggled to detect enough laser energy to be able to determine the distances at 1,000 yards or more. The Vectronix Terrapin model was the only one that could consistently get accurate ranges offhand for 1,000 yards or more.

Here are a couple scatter charts that illustrate the ranges each unit gave at 600 and 800 yards. It is based on two different people ranging 3’x2’ white rectangles 10 times each. Each of the 20 readings taken is displayed as a dot on the chart, with the number of “no reads” out of the 20 attempts listed below the chart.

Rangefinder Binocular 600 yard Offhand Results Rangefinder Binocular 800 yard Offhand Results

You can see that there is a lot of variance between some of the models. Notice the extreme precision of the Bushnell 1 Mile binoculars at 800 yards. This is one of those moments where having the advanced ranging modes really paid off, because we switched the unit to Bullseye mode which essentially helps it ignore readings off the background objects and only focus on the closest results. For more info on what I mean by advanced modes, check out my post on How Rangefinders Work.

Most models did better on the 800 yard target than the 600, which likely had to do with the different target surroundings between those two ranges. The 600 yard target had brush in front of it about 30 yards (yet it wasn’t obscuring the target), and the 800 yard target didn’t have anything in front of it. Again, for more details on the actual targets and surroundings, scroll to the bottom of this article.

One great way to look at how spread out the numbers are is by looking at the standard deviation of the set of results. A smaller standard deviation is better. If a unit has a standard deviation of 16, you can expect that 68% of the readings will be within 16 yards of the average (plus or minus), and 95% of the readings will be ± 32 yards from the average (i.e. twice the standard deviation).

Rangefinder Binocular Standard Deviation of Offhand Ranges

Then here is a graph that illustrates how many “no reads” each rangefinder gave out of the 20 attempts at 600 yards and the 20 attempts at 800 yards.

Rangefinder Total No Reads At 600 & 800 yards

You can see in the chart above that the Zeiss Victory RF struggled offhand. This was likely due to the tight beam divergence. Tight beam divergence can help when ranging off a tripod, but it can hurt you when ranging offhand … and that is likely to be the case here.

Ranging Spec Comparison

The table below lists the maximum range of each model, along with the beam divergence and an illustration that shows the size that beam divergence equates to at 1,000 yards. I used a deer as a reference for the size of the beam area.

Model Beam Divergence @ 1,000 yd
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 2,000+ yd
Beam Divergence: < 0.3 mrad
Vectronix Vector 23 Rangefinder Beam Divergence at 1000 Yards
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 2,000+ yd
Beam Divergence: 2.4 × 0.4 mrad
Vectronix Terrapin Rangefinder Beam Divergence at 1000 Yards
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 1,950 yd
Beam Divergence: 2.7 × 1.5 mrad
Leica Geovid HD B Rangefinder Beam Divergence at 1000 Yards
Leica Geovid HD Classic
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 800 yd
Beam Divergence: 2.5 × 0.5 mrad
Leica Geovid HD Rangefinder Beam Divergence at 1000 Yards
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 1,600 yd
Beam Divergence: 1.6 × 0.5 mrad
Zeiss Victory RF Rangefinder Beam Divergence at 1000 Yards
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 1,760 yd
Beam Divergence: 1.5 × 3.0 mrad
Yes, this vertical transmit beam instead of the typical horizontal beam. See notes below for Bushnell’s explanation of this design decision.
Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile and 1600 Beam Divergence
Bushnell Fusion 1600
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 800 yd
Beam Divergence: 1.5 × 3.0 mrad
Yes, this vertical transmit beam instead of the typical horizontal beam. See notes below for Bushnell’s explanation of this design decision.
Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile and 1600 Beam Divergence
Leupold RX-1000i TBR
Max Range on 2 MOA Targets¹: 800 yd
Beam Divergence: 1.3 mrad
Leica-RX-1000i-Rangefinder-Beam-Divergence-at-1000-Yards

¹This was the max range found in my field tests that the rangefinder would give readings with 90+% accuracy. For more info on the targets and scenarios used in the field tests, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Bushnell Fusion Beam Divergence

Bushnell has historically refused to provide the beam divergence. In fact, the first time I asked them about it they said that spec was proprietary and they wouldn’t be able to provide it. But once I was able to talk to Paul Arnhold, Bushnell’s PR Manager, he was willing to share that spec for this field test. He said both the Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile and the Bushnell Fusion 1600 have the same exact beam divergence, which is 1.5×3.0 mrad. I thought it was odd they listed them in that order, so I asked him if it was a vertical or a horizontal transmit beam and to my surprise it actually is a vertical beam. They actually put a lot of thought into that design decision. Here is how Bushnell’s Engineering Manager, Scott Nyhart, explains it:

The [Bushnell] Fusion binoculars use a vertical transmit beam. A vertical beam is better in hunting situations. If a target object is on a hill with nothing else around it then both a horizontal or vertical transmit beam will work equally well. In most hunting situations there is cover (typically trees) in which the target is hiding. A vertical transmit beam can allow more energy reach the target of interest since the beam is oriented in the same direction as the cover. Every hunting situation is different, but a horizontal beam is more likely to have more of the beam energy reflected by the trees.

An analogy is trying to range through a picket fence. If the beam is in the same orientation of the fence slats then more energy will go through the openings of the fence. If the beam is horizontal, then more energy will be blocked by the fence slats.

Bushnell Fusion 1M also provide bullseye and brush modes which further help to discriminate between closest and farthest objects. However the best ranging performance will occur when as much of the transmit beam as possible covers the target.

Best Rangefinder For The Money

I also thought it would be helpful to include a chart to show how the ranging performance compared to the price of each model. I only credited models for ranges out to 2,000 yards, because that was the max distance  I had 2 MOA targets to range and also that is what many believe to be the practical limit of shoulder fired rifles. If you are planning to range beyond that, then the choice is simple … buy a Vectronix. Simple as that.

Rangefinder Binoculars Price Per Yard

To see how the full list of specs compare side-by-side, check out The Models & Specs post.

The Long-Distance Targets

The long distance targets used for ranging from a supported position (i.e. from a tripod) were around 2 MOA wide. However, the surroundings varied quite a bit between targets. The offhand results were based on ranging targets 3’ wide x 2’ tall (not the targets shown here). We actually just attached those bright, white 3’x2’ boards to the face of the targets shown, so they were in the same exact scenario … just with a larger surface area than the ones shown.

600 Yard Target

The 600 yard target was an IPSC Silhouette Auto Reset Target from MGM Targets. It had a 12” x 24” target face. There was brush 30 yards in front of the target, which appeared just below the bottom edge from the ranging position. The full target face was visible and unobscured, but just barely. Click on the image for a more detailed view from the ranging position.

800 Yard Target

At 800 yards, we ranged a 12” square turned to hang like a diamond. The widest point of the target is 16” wide. There was nothing in front of these targets, but there was brush in the background that a lot of rangefinders would get readings off. It was difficult for some rangefinders to get adequate energy off the targets compared to the brush in the background, causing incorrect distance readings.

1000 Yard Target

1000-Yard-Rangefinder-Scenario

At 1000 yards, we were ranging a full-size IPSC silhouette, which is 17.25” wide and 29.5” tall. This was the toughest of all the ranging scenarios, because there were a couple hills that appeared just beneath the target from the ranging position, and then the target frame was located on a decline that caused the background to be significantly farther than the actual targets. The diagram shows more details on this scenario. Most rangefinders had trouble getting an accurate range on this target.

1200 Yard Target

I call this 1,200 yard target a “man gong,” and it was inspired by targets Todd Hodnett shoots in The Art of the Precision Rifle DVD from Magpul. It has a 12” circle over a 16” square. This target wasn’t as hard as some of the others, but there was brush a little below the target, and more in the background behind and to the side of the target.

1400 Yard Target

At 1,400 yards, we were ranging a 28” circle. There was brush directly below the target, but not obscuring it. Behind the target was an open grass field.

1600 Yard Target

The 1,600 yard target is a 30” square hung like a diamond, with the widest point being 42” wide. This could have been the easiest of the ranging scenarios, because for the most part the target was in an open grass field. There was some light brush behind it to one side, as you can see in the photo.

1760 Yard Target

At 1,760 yards (1 mile), we had the same target as the one at 1,600 yards. It is a 30” square hung like a diamond, with the widest point being 42” wide. There was brush that appeared below the bottom edge from the ranging position, and there was brush in the background as well.

2000 Yard Target

Finally at 2,000 yards is a (rough) custom target that is 48” wide and 60” tall. There was brush that appeared below the bottom edge from the ranging position, but nothing but an open field of grass behind the target. NOTE: This was the same target used for 1950, but simply from 50 yards closer.

Other Posts in this Series

This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this rangefinder field test. Here are links to the others:

  1. How Do Rangefinders Work? From Basics To Advanced Features
  2. The Models & Side-By-Side Spec Comparison
  3. Optical Performance Test Results
  4. Ranging Performance Test Results
  5. Overall Results Summary

While performing the field tests I used each model to range 500 times on average … so I used them a lot. I also asked two of my close friends to use them, and I took notes on what we did or didn’t like about each of them. I transformed those notes and the test results for each model into comprehensive reviews for each model. I also took a bunch of high-res pictures of each model and have a photo gallery of each posted along with the review. Check them out:

Enjoy this type of data-driven information? That’s what this website is all about. Sign-up to receive new posts via email, by entering your address under the “Follow via Email” heading in the top-right corner (at the bottom of the page on the mobile version).
 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Data, Optics, Rangefinders

 

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Rangefinder Binoculars Reviews & Field Tests: The Optical Performance Results

Ranging Binocular Field Test and Reviews

This is one of a series of posts about the results of field tests on rangefinding binoculars. Here are the models included in the test:

I hear so many people claim there is no way to objectively test optical clarity, because everyone’s eyes are different, so you just have to look through each pair for yourself. My rebuttal to that is this: “Okay, even if that’s the case … couldn’t you test several people and then average the results?” That would at least give you an idea of whether a set of optics will be more or less likely to be clear and sharp for someone’s special unique eyes.

The idea for testing and trying to quantify this came when I was shooting in the Sporting Rifle Match at the NRA’s Whittington Center a couple months ago, and I saw a mule deer buck 700 yards away. I was viewing it through the Zeiss Victory RF 10×45 binoculars and was straining to try to count how many points he had. One of my friends was carrying the new Leica Geovid HD-B 10×42 binoculars, and I asked if I could borrow them. When I raised them up, I could immediately see more detail than I was able to with the Zeiss pair. It wasn’t a lot, but at that particular distance, even a little more clarity went a long way. I could actually count the points with the Leica pair, where I couldn’t with the Zeiss. In that moment, I knew I had to find a way to objectively quantify optical clarity between these different models.

I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a data-driven approach to optical clarity, and what I ended up with was a clever, original approach to testing optical performance (at least I’ve never heard of someone using this approach). This is a field test, not a laboratory test … and I’m not claiming it is 100% perfect. But, at the very least it gives you something to go on that is based on more than someone’s opinion.

The Optical Performance Field Test

What I came up with is placing large Snellen eye exam charts at 600, 800, 1000, 1200 and 1400 yards. These are very similar to the charts used at an eye doctor’s office, which they use as a tool to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition you can make out at a particular distance. The letters on the charts I made were 3, 4½, 6, 7½, and 9 inches in size, with two or three rows of different sized letters on each chart. Snellen determined a person with normal visual acuity was able to read his special “optotype” letters at a distance of 20 feet when they are subtended to 5 MOA. This became known as 20/20 vision. So I calculated how large a letter should be at each distance to appear to be 5 MOA when viewed through 10x magnification, and then printed letters on each chart that were slightly larger, some right around that 20/20 vision size, and on the targets 1,000 yards or less I added a line of letters that were a little smaller than 5 MOA.

Snellen Eye Exam Chart

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical Quality

To keep one person’s vision from skewing the results, I asked two of my friends who have great vision to help me with this test. One of them wore prescription glasses and the other didn’t. I asked each of them to take one set of optics at a time and try to make out as many of the letters at they could on every chart, and I recorded exactly what letters they called out. The letters on the charts were all scrambled, so there weren’t any repeating patterns that an observer could memorize. Later, I compared what they called to what the letters actually were on each chart, and came up with the accuracy percentage each person was able to get for each line, on each chart, with each model of optics.

I wanted to try to convert those results into a score or index that could be used to objectively rank the optics relative to one another. So I weighted the percent each person was able to accurately read on each line by how big those letters were compared to 5 MOA. That meant if they were able to read the tiny row of letters on a chart that would count more than if they could only read the larger row of letters.

Without further ado … here are the overall scores that fell out of those calculations:

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical Quality

The Leica Geovid binoculars led the pack, with their new Perger-Porro prism HD-Bs edging out the original HD model (I’ll typically refer to it as the HD Classic for distinctness). Conventional wisdom has said that a roof prism like what those used on the original Geovid HD and the Zeiss Victory RF should provide a better image, but Leica’s new Perger-Porro prism out-performed all of them. The Zeiss Victory RF was not far behind Leica. I consider all three of those top performers and roughly in the same class of clarity, although there was obviously a noticeable difference between them.

Coming in at #4 was a surprise in the Bushnell Fusion 1600 binoculars. The glass in those was really impressive. These were the model before the newer Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile came out, and it was obvious with the two side-by-side that the glass in the newer model we tested wasn’t quite as sharp as the 1600s. Now, you will see in my next post that the Bushnell 1 Mile binoculars had amazing ranging capabilities and was able to range out to 1760 yards, where the 1600s struggled with ranging past 800 yards. If you could combine the glass from the 1600s and the ranging capabilities of the 1 Mile, you’d have a show stopper … especially for the price.

Remember the Leupold RX-1000i and the Vectronix Terrapin are both monocles, and have 6x and 5x magnification respectively. I included them here because I’ve heard more than one person say there were considering just carrying a monocle with them, in place of binoculars. The problem is the magnification on those units just isn’t enough to be able to locate targets or game in some situations. On our range we have an unknown distance target field where we move the targets around a lot. One of my friends was using the Terrapins to locate and range targets, and thought he’d found them all. However, when he raised up his Leica HD-Bs he immediately saw a target that he had completely overlooked with the Terrapins. Don’t get me wrong, the Vectronix glass is world-class … it just doesn’t have enough magnification to use them as your primary optic in the field situations I find myself in regularly.

Optical Spec Comparison

Here are a few charts that illustrate how the rangefinders compare for some of the major optical specifications:

Rangefinder Binoculars Field of View At 1000 Yards

Rangefinder Binoculars Relative Brightness and Twilight Factor

Relative Brightness is a rough guide to image brightness, and used to estimate how well binoculars with different size exit pupils will perform under low light conditions. It is based on the size of the exit pupil, which is the size of the circle of light coming out of the eyepiece of the binoculars. The bigger that circle of light is … the brighter the image (at least to a certain point). Binoculars.com says “This index reminds us that as the size of the exit pupil increases, its area and ability to transmit light grow geometrically.” If the relative brightness value is below 15, the optics will likely struggle in anything but bright light. If relative brightness is over 25 it will likely be exceptional in low light conditions.

Twilight Factor is a rough estimation of the resolution or amount of detail that can be seen in dim light conditions. It is a little different, because it is based on the magnification and the size of the objective lens (the large lens that collects the light). This measurement largely favors magnification, presumably because increased magnification can somewhat make up for the decrease in brightness in “twilight conditions” (when the eye is not yet fully dark-adapted), according to ChuckHawks.com.

Both of these factors are completely based on the dimensions and magnification of the optics, and don’t take into account factors such as optical quality or coatings which can also play into image brightness and resolution.

To see how the full list of specs compare side-by-side, check out The Models & Specs post.

Vectronix Vector 23 BE10 Magnifier

For then optical tests, I used a special accessory (BE-10xT) on the Vectronix Vector 23 binoculars to bring their 7x magnification up to 10x. It essentially just screws into the tripod adapter on the bottom of the binoculars. The glass is amazing, and for being an external adapter, I was impressed with the overall clarity. However, the extra glass does make them heavy. The Vector 23 weighs 4.0 lbs., but with the BE10 attached, it weighs in at a hefty 6.3 lbs.

Vectronix Vector 23 Rangefinder Binoculars BE10Vectronix Vector 23 Rangefinder Binoculars 10x

More About The Optical Score

The basic idea is that two observers were awarded points for each letter they called correctly, and the smaller the letter was the more points it counted for. The final score was a combination of lots and lots of letters being read at long distances.

It’s easiest to explain how the details of how the scoring worked through an example. Let’s start with the 800 yard chart. The first step is determining what size the letters would need to be at 800 yards to match Snellen’s 20/20 vision. We know Snellen’s mark for 20/20 vision is being able to read 5 MOA letters, so how big is 5 MOA at 800 yards?

Rangefinder Binoculars Review 5 MOA at 800 Yards Calculation

Since we are going to be viewing those letters primarily through 10x magnification, we need to shrink that by 10x to get to what appears to be 5 MOA when viewed through the binoculars.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review 5 MOA Adjusted for 10x Magnification

Now here is the 800 yard chart, along with the actual letter sizes of each row. It also gives the weight the score will count for on each row. Essentially a letter that appeared to be exactly 5 MOA in size would be 100%, and anything larger would count less, and any letters smaller would count more. Since we know 100% would be 4.188” from the calculations above, the 4.5” letters are pretty close to the adjusted 5 MOA. The 6” are bigger, and the 3” are considerably smaller. The weights were calculated by simply taking the adjusted 5 MOA size divided by the actual letter size. So for 6”, it would be 4.188 / 6 = 70%. Then the other calculations are 4.188 / 4.5 = 93%, and 4.188 / 3 = 140%.

Rangefinder Binoculars Review Optical Clarity Chart

Observer #1: Let’s say the first observer called all 4 of the large letters correctly, and called all 6 letters in the middle row correctly as well. They weren’t able to make out any of the letters in the bottom row.

Observer #2: The second observer was able to call both the top and middle row 100% accurately as well, but they were also able to make out 3 of the 7 letters in the bottom row.

Here are those results in tabular form along with the score calculations:

Row

Letter Size

Score Weight

Observer

% Correct

Score

Top

6”

70%

#1

100%

100 Points x 70% Weight x 100% Correct = 70

#2

100%

100 Points x 70% Weight x 100% Correct = 70

Middle

4½”

93%

#1

100%

100 Points x 93% Weight x 100% Correct = 93

#2

100%

100 Points x 93% Weight x 100% Correct = 93

Bottom

3”

140%

#1

0%

100 Points x 140% Weight x 0% Correct = 0

#2

43%

100 Points x 140% Weight x 43% Correct = 60

So the total score for both observers on this chart would add up to 386 points. This example was actually the exact results found when using the Leica Geovid HD-B binoculars.

This scoring process shown here for the 800 yard chart was repeated for the charts at the other distances (600, 1000, 1200, and 1400 yards). The letters on the charts were all scrambled, so there weren’t any repeating patterns that an observer could memorize. I strictly used the 10 Sloan letters seen on typical Snellen charts, which are the special optotype letters that are similar in shape and difficult to distinguish between. The scores from all the charts were then summed together, and the result was the score shown in the chart for that model.

It is a fairly simple approach, but don’t get lost in the details. Remember, the whole idea here was to objectively quantify optical clarity between these different models. It is even more helpful if that can somehow be represented with a single number, which is what the scoring attempts to do. Although this approach may not be perfect, it is informative and data-driven. I hope it helps.

Other Posts in this Series

This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this rangefinder field test. Here are links to the others:

  1. How Do Rangefinders Work? From Basics To Advanced Features
  2. The Models & Specs
  3. Optical Performance Test Results
  4. Ranging Performance Test Results
  5. Overall Results Summary

While performing the field tests I used each model to range 500 times on average … so I used them a lot. I also asked two of my close friends to use them, and I took notes on what we did or didn’t like about each of them. I transformed those notes and the test results for each model into comprehensive reviews for each model. I also took a bunch of high-res pictures of each model and have a photo gallery of each posted along with the review. Check them out:

Enjoy this type of data-driven information? That’s what this website is all about. Sign-up to receive new posts via email, by entering your address under the “Follow via Email” heading in the top-right corner (at the bottom of the page on the mobile version).
 
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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Data, Optics, Rangefinders, Uncategorized

 

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Rangefinder Binoculars Reviews & Field Tests: The Models & Specs

Welcome to the largest and most comprehensive field test & review of laser rangefinder binoculars ever conducted. I tested almost every pair available in a variety of real-world scenarios, to see which had the best performance in the field in terms of both optical clarity and ranging capabilities.

The results are based on over 10,000 data points collected from the field over 3 months of testing.

Rangefinder Binocular Review

I shoot in long-range rifle competitions, and some have known distance targets and some are unknown distance. For example, in the Steel Safari competitors have to locate, range, and engage 6 targets within 5 minutes on each station. They take pride in the difficulty of the course and that includes locating the targets, with some painted green and hidden in trees. In competitions like that, rangefinding binoculars can make or break you quick. You have extremely demanding optical performance to be able to even locate the targets, then you encounter a lot of tough ranging scenarios with brush in front of and around targets over 900 yards out. These same rigorous requirements are also true for long-range hunting, and these scenarios are what I had in mind when devising the field tests.

The Rangefinders Tested

I thoroughly tested 8 different models, from Bushnell to Vectronix and everything in between. 6 of the models tested were binoculars, and the other 2 were monoculars. I included a Leupold monocular for reference because a lot of shooters have a 1,000 yard monocular rangefinder similar to that model, and including it allows those people to see how a model like that compares to these binocular models. I also included the Vectronix Terrapin model as my control for ranging performance, because it is known to be an extremely accurate rangefinder (more on this later). Here’s the line-up:

Vectronix Vector 23 Rangefinder Binoculars
Vectronix Vector 23
Claimed Max Range = 27,340 yards
Vectronix Terrapin Rangefinder
Vectronix Terrapin
Claimed Max Range = 2,624 yards
Leica Geovid HD-B Rangefinder Binoculars
Leica Geovid HD-B
Claimed Max Range = 2,000 yards
Leica Geovid HD Rangefinder Binoculars
Leica Geovid HD Classic
Claimed Max Range = 1,400 yards
Zeiss Victory RF Rangefinder Binoculars
Zeiss Victory RF
Claimed Max Range = 1,300 yards
Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Rangefinder Binoculars
Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile
Claimed Max Range = 1,760 yards
Bushnell Fusion 1600 Rangefinder Binoculars
Bushnell Fusion 1600
Claimed Max Range = 1,600 yards
Leupold RX-1000i TBR Rangefinder
Leupold RX-1000i TBR
Claimed Max Range = 1,000 yards

*These prices reflect what each model was available for online through a major, reputable distributor as of Nov 2013.

Side-By-Side Spec Comparison

Most manufactures make it very tough to compare their product to others out there. So, I spent days searching websites, user manuals, and calling/emailing manufacturers (several times each) to gather a complete set of detailed specifications and put them in a format that allows easy side-by-side comparison. There are almost 40 different specs, including actual measured weights, dimensions, and the max ranges found in my field tests for each model (which can be very different from what the manufacturer claims). Some manufacturers list this specs in metric units and others are in U.S. standard units … I’ve converted everything to the same units to make comparison easy. I also read through each of the manuals to see exactly what each one does or doesn’t have in terms of advanced features like equivalent horizontal range, and ballistics functions. Some of the specs I even measured or calculated myself, because they weren’t available anywhere or were specs manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating.

Rangefinder Binoculars Spec Comparison Data Sheet

Swarovski EL Range: The Missing Pair

The Swarovski EL Range is the only pair of rangefinding binoculars I’m aware of that wasn’t included in my field tests … but it wasn’t for lack of effort. I talked to people at Swarovski multiple times trying to convince them to be part of this. I spent hours explaining the comprehensive line-up I’d compiled, and even detailed the field tests I was planning to run through with each pair. I answered every question they asked, and they still declined to be part of it. I’ll let you decide what that means.

The Control: Accuracy of the Vectronix Terrapin

At this year’s NRA Whittington Center’s Donor Appreciation Weekend, we met Earl Clark at the High Power Silhouette Range. We had several rangefinders out, and Earl asked what we were doing. After a little conversation, it turns out that Earl was one of the original surveyors for the NRA’s High Power Silhouette Range. He told us about how he and a group of experts used “transit equipment” to determine the range to the white buffalo, which is 1,123 yards. In fact, Earl showed us the exact spot they surveyed that distance from … a small X in the concrete near the center of the firing line that is still there.

Earl Clark & The White Buffalo at The NRA Whittington Center

What a find. Now we could see how accurate these rangefinders really were … the buffalo was not only a large target, and 1000+ yards is a good distance … we now knew the exact distance from an exact spot. I spent the next few minutes testing the rangefinders I had with me to see how close to the known 1,123 yards they would actually get. Here are the results from ranging the white buffalo several times with each rangefinder.

Model Avg Yardage Measured Range of Yardages Measured*
Vectronix Terrapin 1,123 1,123
Zeiss Victory RF 1,122 1,121 – 1,123
Leica Geovid HD-B 1,122 1,120 – 1,123
Leica Geovid HD 1,121 1,120 – 1,125
Actual Surveyed Distance 1,123 1,123

*The range of yardages measures represents the “extreme spread” of the distances displayed for each model. For example, the Leica Geovid HD showed distance measurements from 1,120 yards to 1,125 yards and everything in between. The amazing thing is the Vectronix Terrapin would only display one distance no matter how many times we tried … the correct one (exactly 1,123 yards).

Other Posts in this Series

This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this rangefinder field test. Here are links to the others:

  1. How Do Rangefinders Work? From Basics To Advanced Features
  2. The Models & Specs
  3. Optical Performance Test Results
  4. Ranging Performance Test Results
  5. Overall Results Summary

While performing the field tests I used each model to range 500 times on average … so I used them a lot. I also asked two of my close friends to use them, and I took notes on what we did or didn’t like about each of them. I transformed those notes and the test results for each model into comprehensive reviews for each model. I also took a bunch of high-res pictures of each model and have a photo gallery of each posted along with the review. Check them out:

Enjoy this type of data-driven information? That’s what this website is all about. Sign-up to receive new posts via email, by entering your address under the “Follow via Email” heading in the top-right corner (at the bottom of the page on the mobile version).
 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Data, Long-Range Shooting, Optics, Rangefinders

 

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How Do Rangefinders Work?

By understanding how rangefinders work, you’ll be able to employ them more skillfully in the field. This article should equip you with the fundamental principles.

Laser rangefinders (LRF) all work using the same basic concept. The rangefinder emits laser beams at the push of a button. Those beams bounce off distant objects and the rangefinder’s high-speed clock measures the total time it took from when the beams left the unit until they returned. Since we know how fast the beam was traveling (speed of light) the unit can simply use that time measurement to calculate the distance it traveled, and then it displays the distance to the user.

How Do Rangefinders Work?

Although laser rangefinders all work along those same lines, there is a lot of room for innovation around the implementation details. I recently reviewed 8 of the top laser rangefinders used for hunting and long-range shooting, and was shocked by how much variance there was in their performance.

Ranging performance depends on many factors, but here are the biggest differentiators between rangefinders when using them for long range shooting or hunting. I’ll touch on most of these in more detail throughout the article. Special thanks to Mike at Vectronix for talking through this with me and putting so much thought into this list.

  • Ability to spot the target – This means good quality optics with proper magnification. You can’t range the target if you can’t find it. Most shooters opt for an 8x or 10x magnification. While doing field tests on rangefinders we searched a field for targets using 5x magnification, and we thought we’d found all the targets. However, after searching again with 10x magnification we immediately saw one more target that we’d completely missed with the 5x unit. But like I’ve mentioned in other posts, really good glass can sometimes make up for magnification. I can see more detail on a 2000 yard target using a 45x Leica spotting scope than a 60x Bushnell spotting scope. The point is quality glass and appropriate magnification both matter, and you can’t totally ignore one or the other.
  • Ability to get laser energy on the target – This has a lot to do with beam divergence, which is a description of how “focused” the beam is. There are a few trade-offs between a very tight or larger beam divergence, which we’ll talk about later in this article. There can also be a difference in the quality of the laser pulses transmitted, in terms of the type, wavelength, and sharpness … although those things can be very difficult to quantify.
  • Receiver aperture size – This is the size of the opening on the receiver optic that captures the return readings and sends it to the actual sensor. A larger aperture can have a huge impact in how much return data the unit is able to collect, which can allow the unit to perform at greater distances and can help the resolution/accuracy of measurements at a shorter distance as well.
  • How the unit analyzes results – There are a lot of differences between how rangefinders interpret the readings once they receive them, and some are much smarter than others. Older models simply displayed the first reading that returned to the unit, but many modern rangefinders use “multi-pulse technology.” This approach emits a burst of hundreds or even thousands of small laser pulses over an extremely short period of time. It then collects a large sample size of readings, then analyzes those results to identify/ignore outliers (like brush, fog, rain) and determine the reading you are intending to range with more certainty. More beams emitted can also help the odds that you’ll get a reading off a small and/or non-reflective target. The logic and algorithms used to determine what to display to the user can have a major impact on how well a rangefinder performs.

Beam Divergence – The Ability to Get Laser Energy on Target

Beam divergence, also referred to as beam dispersion, is an angular measurement (typically in mils) of how “focused” the laser beam is. Smaller beam divergence provides greater ranging precision and greater max distance in most situations. With rangefinders of similar quality, beam divergence can be a major indicator of ranging performance. If you can focus 100% of the laser energy on the intended target, you have a much better chance of getting multiple readings off of it. However, if a rangefinder is smart in how it analyzes the readings, it can make up for less than ideal beam divergence … so contrary to popular belief, beam divergence is not the only factor to consider.

Rangefinder Beam Divergence Diagram

To understand beam divergence, think of shooting two rifles at a target 1000 yards away. One of those rifles averages 2.5” groups at 100 yards, and the other averages ½” groups. Which of those would give you the better chance of hitting your intended target at 1000 yards? Now if you are trying to hit a 12” target at 300 yards, either rifle should work. But as you stretch out the distance (or shrink the target size), the smaller divergence becomes critical. This is the same for beam divergence on laser rangefinders. If you are ranging relatively large (deer size) targets at ranges under 500 yards … there is probably no need to worry about beam divergence. But as the targets get further or smaller, beam divergence quickly becomes critical to accurate ranging.

I’ve heard of beam divergence as large as 4 x 2 mils, and one military-grade model I’ve tested was under 0.3 mils … so there is a lot of variance out there. Here is a diagram that illustrates how big of a difference beam divergence can be at 1000 yards.

Rangefinder-Beam-Divergence-at-1000-Yards

One scenario where a very tight beam divergence may be a drawback is if you are trying to range a distant target offhand (i.e. not supported by a tripod). In that case, the motion caused by the unsupported position may make it difficult to hit the target precisely with a tightly focused beam. On the other hand, if you had a beam with more divergence you could more easily hit the target even with some wobble and then rely on the rangefinder’s “smarts” to determine what you were intending to range within that larger window.

Example-Where-Tight-Beam-Divergence-Could-Hurt

I was talking to a representative from Vectronix, and we both agree that a beam divergence around 1.5 x 0.5 mils is probably ideal for targets in the range of 500 to 2000 yards, although that isn’t a hard and fast rule.

Factors Affecting Measurement Range

There are a number of factors that influence how well a rangefinder is able to perform, including target properties, atmospheric conditions and rangefinder support, and those all play into the maximum effective range of the unit in a given scenario. Here is a very helpful diagram provided by Vectronix that illustrates what those are:

Vectronix - Factors Affecting Measurement Range

When manufacturers advertise a rangefinder to have a max range of 1000 yards or 1 mile, you can usually translate that to meaning there is a chance you might get a reading at that distance, but only under absolutely ideal conditions (e.g. low light, off a tripod, on a very large, reflective target). In my experience, you will usually only be able to get readings out to 70-80% of that advertised max distance under most daytime conditions (bright light) on a 2 MOA reflective targets.

Understanding What the Rangefinder “Sees”

The easiest way to understand how rangefinders work is through a quick example. The diagram below shows a couple tough ranging situations, with each of the yellow targets highlighted by a red box meant to indicate the related beam divergence when trying to range that target. You can see in each situation there will likely be readings returned for the tree, the target, the near hill, and the far hill.

Long-Range Rangefinder Beam Divergence

The next few illustrations show what the rangefinder might “see” when it tries to range one of our tough scenarios. The first diagram has a grid of just under 200 boxes. You can think of that as all of the beams emitted by the rangefinder. The blue boxes indicate beams that were reflected back to the rangefinder that it was able to record as readings. Boxes that aren’t marked blue mean the rangefinder didn’t get a reading back from that beam, which may be due to things like poor reflectivity (e.g. the tree doesn’t reflect as well as a metal target) and angled objects (e.g. the hills are at a shallow angle away from the user, instead of directly perpendicular like the target). Note: This is example is only meant to illustrate the theory and concept behind how rangefinders work. It is easy to get lost in the technical details, so this is a simplified example.

Rangefinder Beam Hits Example Closeup of Target

Here is a side-view of the same target that shows the readings the rangefinder received, and what those beams hit (click on the image to zoom in).

Rangefinder Beam Hits Example Sideview of Target

In less than half a second, the rangefinder will have received all of the readings, and it creates a graph of those readings similar to the one shown below. This essentially represents what the rangefinder “sees,” or what data it has on hand with which to make a decision about what distance to display to the user.

Rangefinder Distance Readings Graph

How a Rangefinder Analyzes Results & Decides What to Display

This is where it gets interesting. There are a number of approaches rangefinders could be programmed to use to determine which of the readings it should display. Here are a few of the most common.

  1. 1st reading – This is how older rangefinders worked, and there are still a few that use this simple approach. When the unit receives the first beam reflected back to it (the closest object), it calculates and displays the corresponding distance. In our example, this approach would display 225 yards.
  2. Closest spike – This is similar to #1, but it looks for the closest peak instead of the closest single reading. This approach can help filter out “false” readings from things like rain or fog, which are more scattered in pattern and don’t really result in a peak. There may be a “threshold” hard-coded that says something like “look for the first spike that has at least two readings for the same distance.” In our example, this approach would display 230 yards.
  3. Highest spike – This looks through the entire set of readings, and finds the largest peak of readings for the same distance and assumes that is what you are intending to range. This is a good approach in general, but especially helpful when ranging reflective targets that are perpendicular to the user. In our example, this approach would display 350 yards (our intended target).
  4. Largest cluster – This approach would also analyze the entire set of readings, and look for the biggest group of readings. In our example, you can look at 350 yards and see there is a group of 7 readings next to each other (these hit the target, the target stand, and the ground near it). But, if you look at 650 yards there is a group of 8 readings next to each other (these hit the far hill). So the approach would display 650 yards.
  5. Furthest spike – This is similar to #2, but it looks for the peak that is the furthest out. This approach is helpful when trying to range a target that is partially obscured by brush. In our example, this approach would display 660 yards.

Isn’t it crazy how many ways a rangefinder can interpret the results? The fact is, none of the approaches are perfect in every situation. I intentionally picked a tough example that illustrates the weaknesses of each approach, and even though approach #3 happened to give us the range to our intended target, I could think of other scenarios where the highest spike approach wouldn’t yield the correct result (like if the target wasn’t highly reflective or completely perpendicular to the user).

Most rangefinders are hard-coded to always use a single approach (usually either #1 or #2), but there are a few models that are becoming much smarter in how they analyze readings.

Allow the User to Specify the Best Approach

The Bushnell Fusion binoculars provide three different modes the user can select from:

  • Normal – This is similar to either approach #3 or #4, and is their best all-around approach.
  • BullsEye – This is similar to approach #2. The Bushnell manual says “this advanced mode allows easy acquisition of small targets and game without inadvertently getting distances to background targets that have stronger signal strength. When more than one object has been acquired, distance of the closer object will be displayed.”
  • Brush – This is similar to approach #5. The Bushnell manual says “this advanced mode allows objects such as brush and tree branches to be ignored so that only distances to background objects are displayed. When more than one object has been acquired, distance of the further object will be displayed.”

In my view, these “advanced modes” are an innovative feature, and something the other optics manufacturers should take notice of. Essentially this allows the user to “hint” at what approach will give them the best chance of getting the reading on their intended target. Ultimately, the user knows more about the particular situation they are trying to range, for example if there is brush partially obscuring the target or they are trying to range a very small target. These modes simply provide a way for them to convey that info to the rangefinder so it can better interpret the results.

I recently did some comprehensive field tests on several rangefinder binoculars, and tried to range the target in the picture below. The target is a huge 30” square turned like a diamond, and it was only 360 yards away. The few branches that were partially obscuring the target were 103 yards away. I tried rangefinders made by Leica, Zeiss, Vectronix, Bushnell and Leupold and almost all of them would only give me a reading of 103 yards. The new Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile pair in brush mode gave me a reading of 360 yards most of the time. And although the Vectronix Terrapin model would only give a primary reading of 103 yards, the Vectronix Vector 23 binoculars gave a range of 360 yards every time. (Note: The Vectronix Terrapins do have a “3 DIS” feature I’ll touch on later that would’ve allowed me to see the 360 yard reading.)

Tough Ranging Scenario With Partially Obscurred Target

Allow the User to Explore the Readings

Vectronix has a feature on all of their rangefinders called “Multiple Object Measurement” (also known as “3 DIS”) that you could enable to make it show the top 3 readings from a single measurement. It will automatically highlight the distance it thought you were intending to range, but also shows you the second and third strongest readings received as well. For example, if you were ranging a tree at 250 yards, and 100 yards behind it was a jeep, and 1000 yards behind that was a building … it would display 250, 350, and 1350 (and probably highlight the 350 yard reading).

Vectronix Multiple Object Measurement Feature 3 DIS

The point is to ensure the real range information is available to the user somehow, instead of hiding it from them. The unit obviously has this information already, so it would really just be creating a way for the user to view and scroll through those readings (preferably in order from strongest to weakest). This would only need to be the top few readings. This feature isn’t something that you’d want to use on every measurement, but in tough ranging scenarios (which aren’t uncommon) having a quick and intuitive way to see the full set of possible readings could make the difference between knowing the range or not. At the very least, it would give the user additional confidence that the reading displayed was the intended target.

Just Make Them Smarter

The Vectronix Vector 23 model illustrates that you don’t have to have the “advanced modes” to be smarter about deciding what reading to display. In fact, I couldn’t come up with a single tough ranging scenario where the Vector 23 would give me a reading for anything other than my intended target. I never once had to enable the “3 DIS” feature in my testing for the Vector 23, because the range it displayed was always the one I was trying to get.

Now the Vectronix Vector 23 model costs around $24,000, and I know that puts it in a different class than most other rangefinders. But it does prove there can be a huge performance difference in rangefinders just by how smart they are about analyzing results and deciding the correct distance to display. I’ve personally developed software professionally for over a decade and I know this is possible on the software side. Subtle improvements in the algorithms used by the unit to determine the distance can make huge leaps in ranging performance … and cost almost nothing compared to the parts and labor that go into a high-end rangefinder.

I’m sure as time goes by and technology advances, this type of performance and innovation will trickle down into the more consumer-priced rangefinders. Hopefully this post will educate more consumers, and help motivate manufacturers to integrate these innovative features sooner rather than later.

Other Posts in this Series

Ranging Binocular Field Test and Reviews

This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this rangefinder field test. Here are links to the others:

  1. How Do Rangefinders Work? From Basics To Advanced Features
  2. The Models & Specs
  3. Optical Performance Test Results
  4. Ranging Performance Test Results
  5. Overall Results Summary

While performing the field tests I used each model to range 500 times on average … so I used them a lot. I also asked two of my close friends to use them, and I took notes on what we did or didn’t like about each of them. I transformed those notes and the test results for each model into comprehensive reviews for each model. I also took a bunch of high-res pictures of each model and have a photo gallery of each posted along with the review. Check them out:

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Data, Long-Range Shooting, Optics, Rangefinders

 

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