Over the past few months, I’ve been testing several high-end pocket laser rangefinders, like the new Vectronix Terrapin X and Leica Rangemaster CRF 2800.COM, alongside other popular, top-of-the-line models in the $1,000+ price range. I used all of them extensively, and took them out to the field to test their ranging performance side-by-side. This post summarizes those results and other noteworthy points about features on each one.
An accurate rangefinder is one of the most critical pieces of gear for long-range shooting. A few years ago, I wrote a post that quantifies how much range uncertainty can impact hit probability. The chart below shows what you can expect to happen to your odds of hitting the target with your first round as range uncertainty grows. You can see how quickly your hit probability drops off if your range isn’t accurate to within about 5 yards. (View the full post to learn more about how this data was calculated).
Side-By-Side Ranging Performance
To quantify the ranging performance of each pocket rangefinder, I ranged real-world targets at various distances under the same conditions. All of the data I’m showing below was collected within a 2 hour period on the same day. It was midday in bright, sunny conditions. I used a digital light meter to periodically measure ambient light to ensure conditions were consistent between devices.
Bright, midday conditions are the worst-case scenario for ranging performance, because light from the sun is also collected by the sensor and makes it harder for the rangefinder to separate the signal from the noise. Rangefinders will range further and more accurately at twilight conditions (i.e. sunrise/sunset) – but we aren’t always in twilight conditions! So I find it most helpful to see how they’ll perform in sunny conditions and if they meet my needs there, I can be confident they’ll perform virtually anytime I need a range.
The long distance targets were steel targets that were all around 2 MOA in size. Rangefinders were all mounted on a tripod to keep them steady and ensure each range attempt was centered on the target. I did a similar rangefinder test a few years ago, but it was focused on ranging binoculars. The majority of targets on this test were the same targets from the same location as that previous test, and you can read more details about the targets and surroundings in that previous rangefinder field test post.
A couple of these rangefinders were able to accurately range out the farthest target I had set at that location, which was 1950 yards. Beyond that distance, I’d attempt to range specific hillsides at 2375 yards and 2507 yards, and even further if the rangefinder was capable. I ranged each target 10 times with each device. The chart below shows the results, with a breakdown of how many of those 10 range attempts were correct (within 5 yards), or if it gave an incorrect range (wrong by more than 5 yards), or if it failed to give a reading.
You can see there was a wide range of performance. Keep in mind that I only tested high-end rangefinders (all have a street price over $1000), and many budget rangefinders might not even be able to range the 800 yard target in bright, midday conditions. In fact, the Leupold RX-1000i I tested a couple years ago struggled to get a range on the 800 yard target in ideal, low-light conditions (see the data). So even the “lowest performer” on this list, is still an excellent rangefinder compared to most other models on the market.
Here is a list of links to more details for each rangefinder, along with the current street prices:
- Vectronix PLRF 25 (Replaced PLRF 15)
- Vectronix PLRF 25C = $9300
- Vectronix PLRF 25C with Kestrel Firmware Upgrade = $9800 (wirelessly connect to a Kestrel weather meter)
- Vectronix Terrapin X = $1800
- Leica Rangemaster CRF 2800.COM = $1100
- Gunwerks G7 BR2500 = $1600
- Sig Kilo 2400 ABS = $1040
The Top Performer: Vectronix PLRF
The Vectronix PLRF was the top performer, by a huge margin, which won’t surprise anyone who has ever used one. It gave an accurate reading every time I pressed the button out to just over 6,000 yards, which is ridiculously good performance in bright, midday conditions. The Vectronix PLRF is the only military-grade rangefinder on this list, so it’s no wonder it could range twice as far as any other rangefinder.
What makes military-grade rangefinders so much better?
The biggest differences comes down to the power of the laser. The key to getting an accurate range is to get enough energy on the target, so that it will be reflected back to the rangefinder and the device can separate the signal from the noise. A massive, instantaneous pulse of energy is ideal. A military rangefinder might produce a pulse with 100,000 watts of peak power, compared to 10-25 watts of peak power in consumer-grade rangefinders. There is a lot of technical details behind that difference, which I explain in this post, but the executive summary is the parts in a military-grade rangefinder are MUCH more expensive and overkill for distances 99% of shooters will ever engage. That’s why they’re all priced well over $5,000! It’s really only the guys shooting Extreme Long Range that need the level of performance the PLRF is capable of. If that’s you, Bryan Litz does a good job summing it up:
“Bottom line: unless you have access to a high-end military laser rangefinder, determining the exact range to target will be a significant problem for ELR shooters.”
Note: The model I tested was the PLRF 15, which has been replaced by the Vectronix PLRF 25C. The PLRF 25 is lighter, more compact, and features Bluetooth connectivity, all while still offering jaw-dropping ranging performance. The PLRF 25 currently is $9300 from EuroOptic.com, or $9800 for the model with the Kestrel firmware upgrade (so it can connect wirelessly to a Kestrel device).
Vectronix Terrapin X vs. Original Terrapin
The original Vectronix Terrapin was legendary in the long range shooting community. A decade ago it was the gold standard for consumer-grade rangefinders under $5000, but it was eventually discontinued. A rep from Vectronix told me the military has always been the primary customer they focus on serving. The original Terrapin wasn’t designed for the civilian mark, and while it found a niche among long-range shooters, it wasn’t a viable product for them long-term, so they had to cut it.
However, that all changed with the design of the new Vectronix Terrapin X. It was designed from the ground-up to serve the long-range shooter in the civilian world – who are usually under a tighter budget than military customers. The Terrapin X has a street price of $1,800, which is 80% less than the PLRF 25!
Vectronix sent me a Terrapin X to test several months ago, and I used it A TON! I carried it the NRA’s Whittington Center and to multiple matches, including the Q Creek Extended Long Range PRS Match in Wyoming. The Q Creek ELR match has much longer distances than most PRS matches. The average target distance was beyond 1,000 yards, and the furthest were over 2,000 yards. Many of the targets were set in difficult ranging situations (e.g. silhouetted on a hill, sitting low in tall grass). I shot the match with a couple friends, and we carried both the Terrapin X and my PLRF 15, and ranged every target with both rangefinders. The Terrapin X was both reliable and accurate, and we didn’t feel like the PLRF really gave a measurable performance advantage, even in that longer distance match. At the end of it, my buddy was set on buying a Terrapin X.
The big question a lot of us where wondering is this: Is the Terrapin X as good as the old Terrapin? The answer: YES!!! A close friend still has an original Terrapin rangefinder in great condition, so I took the two out over multiple days and tested them side-by-side in both bright/midday and twilight conditions. I can say with confidence that Vectronix successfully duplicated the performance. The rangefinders were virtually identical! It shocked me how similar the performance was. I couldn’t find any targets that one could consistently range and the other couldn’t.
I loved the 8x magnification on the Terrapin X, compared to 5x or 6x on many pocket rangefinders. The extra zoom in the optics can help you better pinpoint a target with the crosshairs. Case in point, magnification on the old Terrapin is 5x and the PLRF 15 is 6x, so 8x is an upgrade! 8x or even 10x magnification seem to be more ideal for ranging long range targets.
To be clear, the Terrapin X is not a military-grade rangefinder (based on a 905nm laser not 1550nm, and not regulated by ITAR), so it doesn’t have near the extreme range performance of the PLRF – but do you really need that? While it’s cool to know you could range 6,000+ yards with a PLRF, I’ve never found myself needing to engage targets that far out. That may be useful for calling in air strikes, but doesn’t serve any practical purpose for shooters. The Terrapin X was able to accurately range out to beyond 2000 yards in bright/midday conditions and could range hillsides out to just over 2700 in overcast conditions later in the evening, which should satisfy most shooters. However, if you need accurate ranges 3000 yards and beyond at any time of day, you need a military-grade rangefinder – it’s the only tool for that job.
The beam divergence on the Terrapin X is very similar to the PLRF. The PLRF 15 has a beam divergence of 0.5 mils x 2.0 mils, and the Terrapin X is 0.5 mils x 1.2 mils. A tight beam divergence allows you to get more energy on your intended target, and is typically better in most long range scenarios. (To learn more about beam divergence, check out this post: How Do Rangefinders Work?)
Ballistics & Kestrel Integration
The Gunwerks G7 BR2500 and Sig Kilo 2400 ABS both feature built-in ballistic calculators that are very accurate, and can be a critical feature when time is of the essence, like when hunting or shooting matches with unknown distance targets that you must range and engage while on the clock (like Steel Safari). Both of those devices allow you to setup ballistic profiles on the rangefinder, and then when you range a target it shows the distance followed by the elevation adjustment you need to dial. That functionality allows you to optimize your workflow so that you’re able to range a target, get behind the rifle, make the correction, and send a round in about 10 seconds.
In comparison, if I’m using a standard rangefinder without a ballistic engine, it will simply tell me the range, and then I have to go enter that into my Kestrel or an app on my phone, which will calculate what my adjustment needs to be for that distance, and then I can move to the rifle. Because I have to touch two devices, the workflow is not as quick and smooth. It might be a slightly faster to look up the range on a pre-calculated dope chart, but you have to ensure that matches your environmentals for the best accuracy.
A couple of these newer rangefinders feature Bluetooth connectivity, like the Vectronix Terrapin X and the Leica Rangemaster CRF 2800.COM, which allows you to connect them to your phone or a Kestrel Ballistic Weather Meter.
However, Vectronix rangefinders are only configured to do one-way communication with the Kestrel. When I connected a rangefinder to my Kestrel 5700 Elite with Link and Applied Ballistics, I could range a target with the rangefinder and let’s say the reading was 824 yards. That would be wirelessly transmitted and the target distance instantly changed to 824 yards on my Kestrel. The Kestrel then quickly calculates and displays the adjustment for that distance and the wind/environmental conditions I have configured. Then I can get behind the rifle, apply the adjustment, and make the shot. This still isn’t as smooth as an integrated ballistic engine, because I still need to switch between two devices, the rangefinder and the Kestrel, to get to my firing solution.
I asked Vectronix if they could do two-way communication with the Kestrel, and they said that was a possibility, but not how they designed it to work. I’ve suggested they change it to not just send the range to the Kestrel, but have the Kestrel send the elevation and windage adjustments back to the rangefinder so it can display those in the field of view. I’ve talked to engineers at Kestrel and Applied Ballistics, and they’ve confirmed that is possible. That would provide a streamlined workflow similar to what the Gunwerks G7 BR2500 and Sig Kilo 2400 ABS provide out-of-the-box, which is pretty ideal and I’d suggest even critical for serious hunters. When I went to hunt in Africa about 18 months ago, I actually packed my Gunwerks rangefinder over my PLRF 15 for that exact reason! There are times where you see an animal, and you only have a few seconds to take a shot. If you have to fumble around with a rangefinder to Kestrel to rifle setup, the firing solution might be extremely accurate, but the animal is already gone.
The Vectronix rep I spoke with said the company had solicited feedback from a group of respected long-range shooters and military teams on how the device should work, but to his knowledge none had suggested that functionality. That could mean it’s a bad idea (I’ve had a lot of those!), but that functionality seems to be the only path to a seamless workflow where you aren’t forced to switch between multiple devices.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Leica’s integration with the Kestrel is similar to what I described. Here is how they explain it in the 2800.COM’s User Manual:
“The LA+ setting allows you to use ballistic correction values calculated by Applied Ballistics as an alternative for Leica ballistics. This requires a relevantly equipped Nielsen-Kellermann device (Kestrel Elite models). It can contact your Leica Rangemaster, once you have activated its Bluetooth function. The Leica Rangemaster will then measure the range and the angle and sends the information to the Kestrel Elite device. That device will include the received data in its calculation of the ballistic values and will subsequently deliver the relevant correction values to your Leica Rangemaster.”
The Vectronix X features on-board sensors that measure not just the range, but also the angle of incline and direction of fire. It can also display equivalent horizontal distance, which is the distance that gravity will act over. If you are firing a really long shot, those can be important inputs to enter into your ballistic calculator. The new Leica rangefinder also measures distance and angle of incline, and it also has a built-in compass to give you the direction of fire.
Here is another fact about the ballistic engines in the Gunwerks G7 BR2500 and Sig Kilo 2400 ABS, which I don’t say lightly: Their ballistic engines are very accurate. Both devices feature on-board environmental sensors for pressure, temperature, and humidity, and use those to customize the firing solution. Some rangefinders have ballistics features, but they’re based on pre-calculated tables and if you’re shooting small targets or long distances they aren’t reliably accurate. Honestly, I don’t trust most ballistic engines. I’m highly skeptical because I’ve actually tried to write my own and it’s difficult. There are so many compelling shortcuts you can take, but each one stacks on small errors, resulting in the final solution being a couple clicks off one way or the other. Often times if the bullet impact is off by a couple clicks a shooter will blame the rifle, the ammo, some “unseen wind,” or themselves – but if you aren’t using a proven ballistic engine with good inputs, often a bad firing solution is the real root cause. I’ve used both the Gunwerks ballistic engine and the Applied Ballistics engine for first-round hits out to 1 mile, and in my experience both are very accurate and trustworthy.
Both the Gunwerks and Sig rangefinders display the range (yards or meters) for a couple seconds followed by the elevation adjustment (mils or MOA). The difference comes in how they display the wind corrections. While it may come down to your specific application and personal preferences, I prefer how the Gunwerks model works, which allows you to use external buttons to cycle through wind corrections in 5 mph increments. When you first push the wind buttons, it will display what the hold would be for a 10 mph wind, and then you can toggle down to show a 5 mph or up to see a 15 or 20 mph wind. While that might not sound super-accurate, it is very quick and practical. If the wind is blowing 7 mph, it’s easy to think of that as 70% of the 10 mph or between the 5 and 10 mph holds. You might be thinking, “But, 7 isn’t exactly half way between 5 and 10,” and you’re right. But nobody in the world can actually call the difference between a 7 mph and 7.5 mph wind. It’s easy to fake ourselves out on how accurately we can call the wind. For practical shots inside of 1000 yards, I prefer the speed and simplicity of how the Gunwerks model displays wind corrections, but the Sig user interface is also an effective design.
What About Color Blind People?
Most manufacturers never consider the 7-10% of men who are color blind, and reading the display on rangefinders can be a problem for those people. There are a few types of color blindness, or more precisely color deficiency, and people are also color deficient to differing degrees. Honestly, I didn’t even realize I was color blind until I was in my 20’s and happened to be tested by an optometrist. The world looks normal to me! Here’s a quick test to see if you might be color blind. Can you see a one or two digit number inside all 6 of the circles?
The most common type of color blindness is referred to as red-green, which means greens, yellows, oranges, reds, and browns may appear similar, especially in low light. When trying to range a target in low light that is against a green or brown background red numbers can be hard to distinguish. In fact, a friend of mine struggles to see the reading on most rangefinders, because they virtually all use displays with red letters/numbers. I can usually see it, but the display has to be pretty bright. My buddy and I are both red-green color blind, but he is a “moderate protan” and I’m a “moderate deutan,” which are slightly different but represent the majority of color blindness.
We could both see the display on the Vectronix X very well, which means most color blind people should be able to see it well. I’m not sure why that was, because they use red letters and numbers like most rangefinders, but I’d suspect their display may be higher resolution, higher contrast, or is brighter than most. Whatever the reason, if you’re color blind, it’s a good rangefinder to try out.
Manufacturers, here is an idea I’d like to pitch: Allow us to toggle the display color, and we can avoid this issue all together.
Other Noteworthy Features
I used these rangefinders for a couple weeks, and a few I actually tested for months. So I wanted to point out a few other noteworthy things about each.
Most rangefinders have a “digital reticle,” which means you don’t see it until you press a button and the device turns on, then you press the button again to range. The Vectronix PLRF features an etched reticle, which is “always on.” The etched reticle is also finer than the digital LED reticle, and most people who used both said they preferred the etched reticle.
Most rangefinders had a way to mount onto a tripod, which is the best way to get an accurate range at long distance. Most had an integral tripod mount on the housing of the rangefinder, similar to a camera. The Sig Kilo 2400 ABS includes a tripod mount in the package. However, the Leica CRF 2800.COM requires you to buy an accessory to mount it into a tripod. It seems like that should be included on a $1000+ rangefinder capable of such long range measurements. However, it’s still one of the lowest priced models of the group.
The Vectronix Terrapin X was convenient to use in the rain. At the Q Creek ELR Match, we had a light rain the majority of the second day and we noticed the recessed lenses on the Terrapin X never needed to be wiped off (unlike the PLRF). Most people might be fair-weather shooters, so this may not matter – but for hardcore hunters and competitors who might brave rainy conditions that is a handy design feature.
Another thing worth mentioning is the Leica and Sig are truly pocket rangefinders, with much smaller form factors than the others – that actually can fit in your pocket.
Those two are also about half the weight of all the other rangefinders. The PLRF 15 provides extreme performance, but its aluminum housing makes it noticeably heavier than the others. The newer PLRF 25 is slightly more compact and has a lighter weight housing, weighing in at 15.2 ounces. Here are the exact weights I measured for each of the devices I tested:
I hope all this info helps you get an idea for the real-world performance you can expect from this group of high-end pocket laser rangefinders. Like I said at the start, rangefinders are a critical piece of gear for long range shooters, so I just wanted to help my readers make informed decision on which might be best for their application.
P.S. While this isn’t related to pocket laser rangefinders, I did want to mention that Sig recently released the Sig KILO3000BDX 10X42 MM ranging binoculars and I’ve heard they offer amazing performance … especially for a current street price of $960. They’re not a military-grade rangefinder (based on a 905nm laser, not 1550nm), but if you’re interested in binoculars instead of a monocular like these – you might check those out. Also, you might check out my rangefinder binocular test results.