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.
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.
- Ranging 2 MOA highly reflective targets from 600 to 2,000 yards from a supported position (i.e. firmly attached to a tripod), and …
- Under ideal conditions (i.e. low light, sunset conditions with great visibility)
- Under bright conditions (i.e. sunny, midday conditions with great visibility)
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- How Do Rangefinders Work? From Basics To Advanced Features
- The Models & Side-By-Side Spec Comparison
- Optical Performance Test Results
- Ranging Performance Test Results
- 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:
- Vectronix Vector 23 Review
- Vectronix Terrapin Review
- Leica Geovid HD-B Review
- Zeiss Victory RF Review
- Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile Review