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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
I 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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:
- How Do Rangefinders Work? From Basics To Advanced Features
- The Models & Specs
- 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