RangeFinder FAQ & Field Tests of Units Rated to 1200+ Yards
Laser Range Finder, Rangefinder, hunting, lazer, Leica Scan, Swarovski Laser Guide, Bushnell Elite, Leupold Rangefinder, Bushnell laser, CRF 1200, CRF 1600, LRF 1200, Nikon Rangefinder, Infrared Laser, Laser Ranging, Hunting.
Introduction: Laser Rangefinders allow hunters to quickly and reliably range their targets. Today there are more choices than ever, from $130 up to $3000 or more. Most of the “consumer/sport” units actually have the same laser power output, as this is regulated for safety reasons. But the difference in “real-world” field performance is quite striking.
Some units advertised with 1500-yard capability won’t range deer reliably past 600 yards. The difference is in the details. The best laser rangefinders have expensive optics, tightly collimated beams that hold their “focus” at extreme ranges, and superior error-correction software.
In this article we review the leading rangefinders marketed with 1000-yard+ capability for hunters and sport shooters. Among these, the $889.00 Swarovski Laser Guide offers the greatest reach. It really can range objects out to 1500 yards and beyond. The Leica LRF 1200 won’t range as far, but it is a high-quality, user-friendly unit, with important features that reduce the likelihood of false returns. The Leica CRF 1200 sets new standards for light weight and compactness. It is the premier “pocket rangefinder”.
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Ground Scatter Return
Hunter Field Test
|Scan Response Time
Target Priority Control
BEST OVERALL: Swarovski Laser-Guide ($889.00). The top performer among “consumer” laser rangefinders is the Swarovski Laser Guide. Its 8×30 monocular is the best. Past 1000 yards, it ranges deer and man-sized silhouette targets better than anything under $3000, and its maximum reach (on highly reflective objects) beats the competition. The Swaro’s only notable shortcoming is its targeting reticle–an illuminated circle that is just too big. Swarovski should provide a variable aiming circle, with large and small settings.
BEST PERFORMER for the PRICE: Leica LRF 1200 ($469.00). When you consider “value for dollar” the Leica wins out. It matches the Swaro’s performance except at extreme ranges. You can buy a Leica LRF 1200 Scan for as little as $470.00–about HALF the cost of the Swarovski. This is a quality unit that gives up very little to the Swaro out to about 900 yards. It ranges very fast and Leica’s aiming dot beats the Swarovski’s oversized aiming circle. Leica’s 0.5 millirad vertical beam dispersion, the tightest in the industry, reduces the chance of scanning errors. The LRF comes with a 3-year electronics warranty, compared to 2 years for the Swarovski. When considering Price for Performance, we choose the LRF 1200.
BEST POCKET RANGEFINDER: LEICA CRF 1200 ($599.00). We were also impressed with the Leica CRF 1200, an extremely compact unit introduced in 2006. The CRF’s laser and optical performance matches its LRF bigger brother, yet the unit is truely small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. With its efficient circuitry, the CRF offers double the battery life of most other rangefinders. The CRF is designed to be held vertically, with the monocular on top. Much lighter than the Swarovski, the CRF is very comfortable to hold in one hand. However, the wide, flat design of the older LRF model works better when held (binocular style) with both hands, or placed on a rest for long-range work.
HONORABLE MENTION: Bushell Elite 1500 ($360.00). The Bushnell Elite 1500 is a good unit with many sophisticated features. At under $360.00 “street price”, it is an excellent value. We liked the fact that you can click among three modes: Standard (for most situations), “Bullseye” for short range, and “Scan” if you want to get a continuous series of readouts on multiple targets. The Elite 1500 also comes in an “ARC” version with built-in angle compensation. This would make the Elite 1500 our first choice for bow hunters.
Click Item for Product Review and Comments
|Bushnell Elite 1500||Leica CRF 1200||Leica LRF 1200||Leupold RX-IV||Nikon 1200||Swarovski 1500|
|Bushnell Elite||1500||7×26||5.1 x 3.7 x 1.7||10||19 mm||1000 scans||2 Year||$353.00||Angle Compensating|
|Leica CRF 1200||1200||7×24||4.4 x 2.9 x 1.3||7.8||15 mm||2000 scans||2 Year||$599.00||Pocket Sized|
|Leica LRF 1200 Scan||1200||7×21||4.8 x 4.1 x 1.6||11.3||14 mm||1000 scans||3 Year
|$469.99||Best Ranging for Price|
|1500||8×28||4.8 x 3.5 x 2.1||12||16 mm||1000 scans||2 Year||$439.99||Angle Compensating|
|Nikon 1200||1200||7×25||5.7 x 3.2 x 1.7||9.8||18.6 mm||1000 scans||1 Year||$398.95||Good Price|
|Swarovski LaserGuide||1600||8×30||4.7 x 3.5 x 1.6||13.7||15 mm||1000 scans||2 Year||$889.00*||Best Overall|
|“Best in Category” is indicated in Red. *OpticsSpot.com has the Swaro for $839.00, but Swaro price-controls at $889.00.|
by Chris Matthews, LongShot Rifles, LLC
Last spring I decided to get a few of my friends together for an antelope hunt. Since they were all members of the Precision Long Range Hunter Forum, our rangefinders were sure to get a workout. Ric Horst was trying out the new Swarovski 8×30 Laser Guide. John had the Swarovski as well, Steve was carrying a Bushnell 1500, Derek and I both had the Leica LRF 1200 Scan models. Just to throw a wrench in the works, we also had the new Nikon 1200.
We were hunting in the high desert region, near Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Terrain ranged from sage brush flats to rolling hills covered in grass. A few canyons, buttes and bluffs completed God’s country. This type of terrain had historically absorbed lasers like a sponge. The year before, Ric and I both had the Leicas, in addition to Steve’s Bushnell. The Wyoming sage ate Steve’s Bushnell for lunch, and wouldn’t give any readings past 400 to 600 yards, no matter what the conditions. Our Leicas were a little disappointing also, not giving consistent readings past 800 yards. This disappointment leads Ric to buy the new Swarovski 8×30 Laser Guide for this year’s hunt.
This year the Nikon and Bushnell, once again, were soon left in the truck, as they proved to be unreliable beyond 400 yards. On this particular hunt, our closest shot was just under 200 yards, and our longest was 777 yards, with the average running in the 500- to 600-yard range. Fifteen animals total were taken with 18 shots being fired. The three extra shots were due to the poor performance of the Nikon and Bushnell units.
This left the Leicas and the Swarovskis in a head-to-head battle. As much as I like my Leicas, I have to give top honors to the Swarovski range finders. In a few instances, the Leica could not give a reading where the Swarovski would. We were using them side-by-side to confirm each other, but quite often the Leica would not confirm the reading given by the Swarovski. Target reflectivity was definitely the determining factor in performance, unlike light conditions, which appeared to have little effect at all. Ranges were in the 900- to 1500-yard zone during these side-by-side trials. For example, the Leica would not give a reading on an antelope at 900 yards, but would range the bluff behind it that was 1100 yards. The Swarovski let us down only on antelope at 1200-1500 yards. But that was at the upper end of the Swaro’s stated capabilities.
The biggest problem we did have with the Swarovski was accurately aiming at the intended target. The circle that is used as the aiming reticle is so big it would sometimes be difficult to tell exactly where your laser was hitting. [Editor’s note–The outside of the circle is 20″ (20 MOA) at 100 yards.] For example, when the Leica, with its smaller, oval reticle would give a reading of 700 yards, the first reading of the Swarovski would say 775 yards, indicating that the laser missed the animal and was ranging the ground behind it. A steadier hold was needed to center the antelope in the circle and confirm the 700-yard Leica reading. It seemed like the circle of the Swarovski covered a 6-foot tall man at 600 yards. Any little wiggle and you would get a reading over, under, or around the animal. Only with a steady hold on the antelope, with the circle centered, would you get an accurate reading. The Leica’s much smaller “race-track” oval reticle did have the advantage over the Swarovski in this situation.
Overall you can’t go wrong with the Swarovski or the Leica. If you own a Leica already, I wouldn’t rush out and buy a Swarovski, but if you’re in the market for a laser rangefinder, the Swarovski would get the nod. With that said, this fall you will find me using a newly acquired pair of the Leica 10×42 GeoVids. The GeoVids represent the best of both worlds–awesome binos with high quality glass–plus the bonus of a built-in rangefinder. My initial field outings with the GeoVids indicate that they will handle most any situation that hunting can throw at you, but that’s another story in itself!
Rangefinder Q & A with Chris
AccurateShooter: All the rangefinders, regardless of price point, have pretty much the same laser power output. So why aren’t the cheaper units good enough?
|Laser RangeFinders–Features and User Comments|
Bargain Price (under $360). Costs less than anything else that will hit 1500+. Ranges quickly and ranges out past 1000 yards better than other low-priced LRFs. Tough, waterproof housing that floats. RainGuard™ lens coating really works. “Brush Mode” filters out false returns from close objects.
Beam Divergence greater than Swaro or Leica, so more chance of false readings at long range. Note Bushnell’s own Product Description describes its Ranging Performance as: “Reflective–1600 yards; Tree–1000 yards, Deer–500 yards, Flag–400 yards”. Optics are a grade below Swaro or Leica, and even Nikon. Backlight is not very effective. Unit is relatively large and boxy. Some retailers have reported higher rate of return (10+%) than other brands.
Optional ARC™ Angle Compensation (in more expensive model). Tripod mount. Triple-mode Target Priority: “Bullseye” (filters out distant background), “Brush” (filters out close objects), and Standard with Automatic Scan. Oversize ocular with diopter adjustment is good for eye-glass wearers.
“I have now used it on 3 elk hunts, numeous jackrabbit shootings, prarie dog hunting, and playing guess the yardage and have had no problems. I have seen over 1600 on the display on reflective targets in good conditions. Most everyone thats used it likes it and one friend bought his own after hunting with it. The low light LED is not much help in complete darkness but I don’t hunt in the dark anyway. The brush mode works like a champ and ranges through branches to give the yardage on the other side.” –John H.
“This unit has super fast target acquisition up to approximately 1000 yards. It is faster than the Leica LRF 1200, which I have also owned. The operation is simple and the field of view is very good. However, it gives you inches of drop [from 100-yard zero], which is difficult to translate into mil dots. The Leupold IV unit has much better angle and bullet drop logic, but the laser is not as good as the Bushnell. Bottom line is–Bushnell does a great job on the laser and quick acquisition, but failed on translating the bullet drop into usable terms for a hunter. I would suggest buying the normal Elite 1500 and skip the ARC feature until Bushnell improves it. If a manufacturer would put Bushnell’s laser with Leupold’s logic we would have a very useable rangefinder. Until then, we wait.” –Jason R., on MidwayUSA.com
“I’m an eye-glass wearer and the biggest impact the Elite Rangefinder brings to the table for me is the large, easy to see through diopter [eyepiece]. I tried several competitive rangefinders on the market as well as owned two previous Bushnell Yardage Pro Rangefinders and the Elite model is the best, by far, in obtaining fast target aquisition and providing crystal clear images while wearing my much-needed eye glasses.” –Yashoot, on Cabelas.com
“I’ve owned this product for just over a month. Ranging pretty solid out to 800 yards–beyond which is highly dependent on landscape/background/daylight/etc. Max range I’ve seen is 1200 yards. Was a little mislead by the “LED” in the product description–the display has a Liquid Crystal (LCD) reticle with a green LED below for low-light illumination. I liked the Leica red LED reticle much better.” –John D., on MidwayUSA.com
“When I saw the elk it was raining, and the wind was blowing in my face. I pulled up my binoculars, I couldn’t see anything. So I grabbed my Bushnell Elite RF, then not only could I see because of the RainGuard feature, but I ranged them for my perfect shot.” –Elkstalker, on Cabelas.com
Very good glass–second only to the Swarovski. The new CRF 1200 has TWICE the battery life of all other rangefinders. Ranging is ultra-fast with no latency. Tightest vertical beam dispersion in the business (0.5 millirads) means fewer false returns. The unit is very lightweight and very compact. “Water-tight” to one meter.
Unit is so small that it can be a challenge to hold it ultra-steady. No tripod attachment. No distance-selection filter to eliminate returns from close objects or when ranging through brush. Beyond 800 yards, the CRF’s ranging ability on deer/antelope sized targets is severely tested. Don’t count on ranging game easily at 1000 yards, as you can with the Swarovski.
Extended (2000 scan) battery life. Advanced lens coatings. Scan Mode displays continuous distance readings as you pan and scan multiple or moving targets. LED display automatically adjusts to ambient light levels. Eye-glass friendly turn-down eyepiece, with adjustable ± 4 diopter.
“The CRF is an engineering marvel. It’s much, much smaller than its LRF 1200 big brother (check out the above photo which shows both units at the same relative scale). Nothing beats the CRF for convenient carry, since it is truly pocket-sized. Ergonomics are excellent. The unit is comfortable in the hand and the ‘Scan On’ button is logically placed right where your index finger lays on top. The CRF is FAST–it will range as quickly as you can point and click. Unlike the older, brick-like Leica LRF, the ultra-light, 7.8 ounce CRF requires some technique to hold steady. It works best if you hold it vertically with your right hand, then grip the left hand tightly around the base of the right (or vice-versa for lefties). When ranging from a standing position it is also a good idea to brace your elbows against your chest. When prone you can steady the CRF in the bunny ears of a rear sand-bag.” –Editor, AccurateShooter.com
“After evaluating and comparing all mid- to high-end rangefinders on the market in September of ’06, Leica made my decision easy by manufacturing their new CRF 1200. This rangefinder is the perfect balance of clarity, brightness, precision, accuracy and durability, while remaining lightweight, compact, easy to use and waterproof (not water resistant, but actually waterPROOF). It gives precise measurements ‘realistically’ out to 900 yards, and accurately ranges large objects to its stated maximum range of 1200 yards. The red LED display gives the Leica line of rangefinders a huge advantage over competitors when ranging in low light. I also found that since the CRF 1200 is so clear, I was able to employ mine as a very useable monocular in place of my compact binos this past PA archery season; it’s always great to pack less gear. When heading for the woods, this is one item that I won’t go hunting without.” Kraig, on Cabelas.com
“Top Notch Leica product! Nice, compact unit that is light for such quality optics. The 7-power monocular is sufficient to range deer-size objects out to 500 yards with larger objects easily ranged to 1200+ yards. Two hands, or a steady rest, are needed to hold ranging square steady past 700 yards. The unit is light enough to wear around your neck without discomfort, which allows it to be handy. Works better than the American-made competition when ranging in bright sunlight. It has ranged a brightly-lit, tan deer at 500+ yards, and even farther in dimmer light or overcast sky. Ranges in light snow and rain without compromise. If Leica could combine the new Leupold ‘True Ballistic Range®’ type technology to compensate for angle it couldn’t be beat by anything on the market.” –Brian R., on MidwayUSA.com
“After using a Bushnell Legend for a few years with no major complaints, I came across an outfitter buddy of mine who had the bigger, bulkier 1200-yard Leica Rangefinder and I was very impressed! This newer, more compact model is even better. One of the things that makes the Leicas stand out is not only the super clear optics but also the bright red display. Try reading the display of a non-illuminated rangefinder in the early/late hours of twilight and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve ranged targets beyond the advertised 1200 yards and its compact design makes it easy to carry for quick access in your shirt pocket. I’d buy another one of these without second thought. This is THE BEST rangefinder I’ve come across to date.” RJ, on Cabelas.com
“I just bought the Rangemaster 1200 for my Utah elk hunt. When I bought it I was hesitant to pay the additional $150-200 over a Nikon or Leupold but I am already glad I did. I was regularly able to range hillsides out beyond 1100 or 1200 yards. The reading is almost instantaneous, I love the red display and the size is great for fitting in a shirt or pants pocket. I would highly recommend the Rangemaster to other hunters.” –UtahElk, on Cabelas.com
“I’ve had the CRF 1200 for a couple of weeks now and [it is] better than I could have hoped for. The [CRF 1200s] don’t have a bunch of bothersome settings or numerous options, just point and shoot. They are fast; actually I’d call the readings instantaneous. I’ve ranged cattle at 500 yards and I’m sure it will reach much further on them. I’ve read dark pine tree boughs out to 1202 yards. I also ranged a road sign at 1441 yards. I have a decent pair of 7×28 binoculars and I can read distant print better with the CRF 1200s. Very good optics for the size. If I could add any features it would be a Last Target mode and a pocket inside the case lid to store a spare battery. Small, lightweight, waterproof, fast, great distance, good optics, automatic rain and fog mode, cheaper than the Swarovski, and made by Leica. What else could I want?”
–Mike F., on MidwayUSA.com
Very good glass–second only to the Swarovski. The LRF 1200’s warranty is the best–3 years on electronics, 5 years on optics. Tightest vertical beam dispersion in the business (0.5 millirads) means fewer false returns. Sophisticated error-rejection software. Excellent value, with prices now well under $500.00. Wide, flat, brick-like design is very stable when rested on a pack or flat object.
LRF 1200 is merely “water-spray resistant”. Most competitive units, including Leica’s CRF 1200, are “water-proof”. No distance-selection filter to eliminate returns from close objects or when ranging through brush. Beyond 800 yards, the LRF’s Ranging ability on deer/antelope sized targets is severely tested. Don’t count on ranging game easily at 1000 yards, as you can with the Swarovski.
Scan Mode displays continuous distance readings as you pan and scan multiple or moving targets. LED display automatically adjusts to ambient light levels. Eye-glass friendly turn-down eyepiece, with adjustable ± 4 diopter. Optional ($59) clamp-on Tripod Adapter (see photo).
“The optical quality is as good as anything I have seen and I would probably leave my binos at home as this rangefinder has far better image quality than them and even though it’s only a monucular it is more than capable of spotting with its 7-power magnification. The optical quality is far superior to my Bushnell Yardage Pro which was difficult to pick out a rabbit at 100 yards with. I can’t stress how good the optical quality is. I own a few high-quality scopes and it isn’t far behind them. [Controls are] very simple–it has one button to range. To adjust from yards to metres there is a dial inside the battery cover which is easy to switch, the battery cover is removed via a coin slot. Another thing I liked was that the eye-piece rotates to focus. The eye-piece has a rubber surround which can be turned down to allow use with glasses. The housing is rubber-coated and comfortable in the hand. The aiming point is a small illuminated square which I found very easy to line up with small targets. The red reticle also works great at night. The rangefinder comes complete with a lanyard and a very nice, well-padded case with belt loop.” –CraigyBoy
“The LRF 1200 does exactly what I need it to do without a lot of confusing features. Press the button, get a range. I like the simple viewfinder image that doesn’t have a bunch of distracting icons or an oversize reticle obscuring my target. This is a solid, time-tested unit. With minimal beam divergence and sophisticated error rejection, you’ll get fewer false readouts and less ground-scatter interference. The narrow vertical beam divergence does make aiming more critical at long range–but this also means you’re more likely to get a true readout. Yes the exterior is boxy, but this means it is super stable when parked on top of your rucksack or sandbag. I wish the LRF (and CRF) had a built-in mount for a standard tripod clamp, but at least there is an optional platform (with strap) that will allow secure use with tripod (see photo). For under $500, this is the unit to get, unless you really need something that is truly water-proof.” –Editor, AccurateShooter.com
“[Leica’s LRF 1200] is extremely simple and effective. A must-have for archers and rifle hunters alike. I had the new Leupold with TBR (True Ballistic Range), but it has too many features to sift through and is almost a complete failure out past 400 yards. [There is only] $100 difference between the Leica and the Leupold.” –Nap, on Cabelas.com
“I use the Leica 1200 with the scan feature. No trouble at high noon laser ranging Groundhogs on bright sunny days. I love that unit. I used it for a whole week from 200 out to 600 yards no trouble. It’s easy to use and light enough to carry with you too–highly reccomended. I tested it to 1000 yards in the early morning, but sadly no Groundhogs at those extended ranges.” –Mike in CT
“Took my [Leica LRF 1200] out for its first hunt this morning and it ranged me two red stags perfectly even in the bad weather conditions. The image quality is brilliant and it could range deer and sheep out to 600 yards. I love how light-weight it is and the readings are so quick and clear which is particulary helpful as I do most of my hunting just as it is getting light. The bright red LED reticle really stands out.” –Wolf
“I use the Leica 1200 and have noticed it works a lot better on a fresh battery at ranges past 600 yds. There is no ‘low-battery-indicator’, but when it wont read on the first click, or you are getting widely varying readings on the same object, you probably need a fresh 9v battery.” –John, CA
Quality 8x28mm optic. Many features for the price. Choice of 13 aiming reticles. Fully armored. Good water-proofing. Distance Filter allows unit to ignore returns inside 150 yards (good for ranging through brush). Unit is available in Gray or Mossy Oak “Brush™” Camo. Unit even has a thermometer and digital compass. Leupold RX Feature Demo.
Unimpressive ranging past 600 yards–won’t run with the Leicas or Swaros. Effective range (on deer-sized objects) is less than claimed 1200 yards. View in eyepiece is too crowded with LED readouts and icons. User options are too complex–you almost need to carry the manual into the field for reference. Simpler would be better. Note, despite the RX-IV’s claimed 1200-yard rating, some retailers’ descriptions indicate: “800 yards for Deer, 900 for Trees”.
“True Ballistic Range™” Angle Compensation. Back-lit display for twilight use. “Rain Mode” corrects for rain-drop interference. The RX-IV has a thermometer, and a compass with declination.
“Excellent product to about 500 yards with complex menu. Takes multiple readings to get average beyond 500 yards and in comparison to my brother’s Leica 1200 LRF [the Leupold is] not as quick or accurate at known distances greater than 500 yards. Would be nice if Leupold could bring up to advertised specs and be able to retro fix those units already purchased.”–Uncle M, on Cabelas.com
“Four Stars. This unit… is compact, light and has reasonably good optics as well. The user must know in advance what he wants to measure and how he wants to measure it if he expects to be able to use it quickly however. This is because of the way the menu system is structured, and the very few buttons provided. You have to scroll around the circular screen in serial sequence, going through lots of options in order to make a change. Once set up the way you want it, the results appear quickly. I like the compass function, which is one of the reasons I bought this particular unit over a cheaper version. If it weren’t for the menu hassles, I’d have rated it five stars.” –Lonnie H, on MidwayUSA.com
“My hunting season this year took me through rain, snow, fog, and 100+ degree weather. Leupold says their product is water-proof. I did not hesitate to pull it out in the rain whereas my buddy left his [RF] in the truck. Leupold has a rain setting and I got accurate reads off it all afternoon.” –Monte, CA
“I was very pleased with the Leupold RX-IV. It easily acquired deer-sized targets beyond 600 yards and the true ballistic range feature was very helpful for treestand hunting. I was also very impressed with the compass and thermometer. I have the ability to choose the reticle that I need for a given situation as well as the illuminated feature for low-light applications.” –Kadpass, Canada
“I bought the Leupold RX-III several months ago. There are some things I like and some I’m kind of disappointed with. The basic ranging is good considering the price. I’ve ranged young calves and deer in the field behind my house at over 700 yards with no problem. The True Ballistic Range seems to be pretty good. I’ve compared its readings against the values Sierra’s Infinity Software produces and they’re close once you pick the correct TBR group. It would have been nicer if you could just tell it what the bullet drop is at 500 yds rather than picking a group. Of course this all assumes the inclinometer is right. On the down side, it’s pretty big. OK for riding around in the truck but not something you can put in your pocket. I’d be willing to carry it if it was a good monocular but unfortunately that’s it’s weakest point. The image is pretty sharp but it’s not very bright. Sort of like the sun goes behind a cloud when you look through it. I got mine at dealer cost, around $325. It will be OK through big game season then in the spring I’m going to break down and get the Swarovski. About the same size and weight but I’ll be able to leave my SLC binoculars at home I hope.” –Gunamonth
Bargain priced. Better glass than most $400 rangefinders. Light-weight (9.8 oz.) and compact. Guaranteed waterproof and fog-proof. Eyepiece has diopter, and is “eye-glass friendly”. Nikon 1200 is available in various colors including RealTree camouflage. Long (18.6 mm) eye-relief is a big plus.
Unimpressive ranging past 600 yards–won’t run with the Leicas or Swaros. Field performance was disappointing. Designed to be held vertically, the unit is harder to holder steady than horizontal-oriented units.
Target Priority with First Target and Distant Target Modes. Tripod adaptable. Automatic power shutoff after range has been displayed for eight seconds. Unit is nitrogen-charged and O-ring fitted.
“Readings are instantaneous and the green back light works great in low light situations. As for ranging accuracy this unit has been dead on out to 400 yards. The unit measures as advertised out to 1200 yards … with the correct background. The glass on this unit is crystal clear, the body of the unit fits perfectly in my hand. [It’s] very compact and light.”–J. Sancho on MidwayUSA.com
“The optics are clear and I am pleased with the Nikon. I have been able to range deer and elk at 600 yards–but I haven’t been able to test it farther yet.” B. James, CO
Truly superior long-distance ranging performance. The Swaro ranges farther than anything else under $3000–trees can be ranged at 1600 yards. Beam return is positive and repeatable. Wide range of diopter adjustment, from ± 4 diopters. Excellent glass–the best available in a monocular-style rangefinder. Basically, you get half of a premium pair of binos.
Aiming circle (13 MOA inside diameter) is too large. Makes aiming small objects at long distance tricky business. Some delay (latency) when scanning in normal mode.
Includes built-in 1/4″ UNC tripod connection. Unit comes with plastic hard case and straps. Adjustable push-in eye-cup allows full field of view even when wearing eye glasses. Waterproof to 13 feet.
“I bought the Swarovski because of the 8 power and 30mm glass. If you spend much time looking through the rangefinder the [smaller] 7 x 21mm Leica will wear on you. I mount the Swaro LRF to my shooting bench that swivels and tilts for elevation while shooting praire dogs. The 8×30 works so well for spotting, I don’t even bother with binos! There were eight of us on a Prairie Dog hunt in South Dakota this year and none of the other brands would range with the Swarovski.” –RodBolt, on SnipersHide.com
“I owned a Leica 1200 for few years…. Most of my friends own the Leica 1200/1200Scan, the new Geovids, or the Burris. I bought a Swarovski when I still had my Leica 1200, and the Swaro easily outranges all the LRFs I mentioned. Each unit has its foibles on what conditions and techniques it “likes”, that is true. But I haven’t seen any other LRF under $8000 that will range as well from 1000 to 2000 yards as the Swarovski. I can regularly range bushes at 1700-2000 yards in my neighborhood. The downsides of the Swarovski are the large reticle and two second “delay” in range reading (it charges up and discharges a capacitor in the normal mode).” –Zak Smith
“The first thing I noticed about the Laser Guide is the absolute clarity of the optics… the image is distortion-free, crystal clear, and extremely bright. I tested this unit on deer-sized targets from 50 yards to over 500. Ranges were extremely accurate and best of all instantaneous. [F]or a true test…myself and fellow writer Mark Nelsen started picking out objects on the distant horizon. The results were startling. We obtained instantaneous readings on large truck to building-sized objects out to almost 1,400 yards!”–Mike Schoby, Cabelas.com
“Optics quality and ranging are second to none.” –CA Hunter
“I’ve also owned the Leica 1200, and thought that was a good rangefinder until I bought the Swaro. I’ve put the Swaro through the paces and I’m very impressed with its ability to perform under all conditions. I just got back from an Elk hunt in Alberta where I took a reading off of a Pine tree on a mountain at an astounding 1982 yards. I then handed it to my friend and outfitter, Mike White of Legend Outfitting, and he hit it again at the same reading.” –Joel Russo
“Well, after owning the Leica 1200, then selling it and purchasing the Swaro, and using it on the Antelope hunt and then putting it through the paces here at home, I have to give the nod to the Swaro. I ranged some Mulies at over 1200 yards yesterday. One thing I found while using this particular model is that if you use the scan feature and scan around the object you are trying to range and then on the object you get a much more accurate reading.” –Ric Horst
“I have a Leica 1200 Scan and have used the Swaros on several occasions. I find the Swaros range much better past about 800 yards. I have only used both to about 1k, but it seemed easier to get a value from the Swaro (less repeat attempts). However, when both returned a value, they were both close to each other. The glass seems better on the Swaro as well.” –MDShooter, on SnipersHide.com
“Just took delivery on a Swarovski a couple of weeks ago. Oh my, the thing is awesome. Yes, it’s $850 or so–but well worth it. I’ve ranged stuff out to 1500+ yards, easy. The glass itself is superb, the kind of glass a fellow would expect from Swarovski. I plan on using it as a replacement for both my binoculars and my old laser rangefinder because the glass is so good. It serves as an 8×30 monocular, with tremendous clarity. A guy could substitute this for a pair of binos if he was travelling light.” –M700
|Laser RangeFinder TECH–What You Need to Know|
Aiming Reticle Size/Shape
As with a target scope, when using a laser rangefinder, you need a precise point of aim if you want to “hit” a small object at very long distances. The Bushnell and Leupold RFs have a variety of user-selectable contrasting cross-hair patterns, while the Swarovski has a large red ring, roughly 20 MOA in diameter on the outside, 13 MOA on the inside. The Swaro’s ring has the benefit that it provides an un-obstructed view of the “target” at short and medium ranges, but at long range, it is just too big. Overall, Leica’s simple, small red oval seems to work the best at all distances. It gives you a precise aim point, centered on the “target” and doesn’t obscure what you’re viewing. (Leica’s LED readout also automatically adjusts to ambient light conditions.) The complex cross-hair patterns of the Leupold and Bushnell are “busy” and obscure the ranging subject more than we like. At least Leupold does offer multiple digital reticles (show below), so you can choose a simple reticle, such as the Bracket Square with Plus Point.
When your target is located at an up-angle or down-angle relative to the shooter, the “Ballistic Distance” to the target is different that the line of sight. Whether you’re shooting up, or down, the ballistic distance will always be less than the straight-line distance from you to the target. This is because the force of gravity will be working over a shorter span. Both the Bushnell Elite (with ARC) and the Leupold RX-IV include built-in angle compensation. This give you the true “Ballistic Distance” to your target, which you use to set the elevation on your rifle scope. The systems work very well, and are most useful in situations where there is a very high angular deflection, such as when shooting from a ridge down into a valley, or when shooting downwards from a tree stand. It is a nice feature to have if you hunt in mountainous terrain.
The compact Leica CRF 1200 is rated for 2000 scans. All the other units are rated to a minimum of 1000 scans. But these numbers are a little misleading. They are based on a minimum average scanning time on a highly reflective object well within the units’ max range. The real world is different. If you’re not getting a good return, you may have to scan an object multiple times–and that uses battery life. The faster you can get a reliable reading, the less drain on the battery. The better units (Swarovski and Leica) will return a reliable return in fewer tries. This is because they have higher quality glass, higher-quality sensors, and more sophisticated error-rejection software. The premium RFs also have faster “response time” than the cheaper units. Therefore, in the real world, if you do a lot of scanning past 500m, you can expect the batteries in a Swarovski or Leica to last longer than the bargain-priced units. Also keep in mind that the performance of all the units will degrade as the batteries drain. One Leica that didn’t seem to range very well past 800 yards improved dramatically with a battery replacement.
Laser beams in commercial rangefinders expand in diameter as they reach out through the air. This is called “Beam Divergence.” As the beam spreads out, this degrades the rangefinder’s ability to return reliable range data in two ways. First the beam has less intensity when it hits the target. Second, the ever-expanding cone of laser light is more likely to reflect off objects other than your target. Excessive beam divergence in cheaper rangefinders limits their effective range because the beam energy is dissipated over a wider area. The best rangefinders have very coherent beams with reduced divergence. The Swarovski’s beam divergence is 2 millirads in all directions (laterally and vertically). The Leica LRF and CRF 1200 have a unique rectangular divergence pattern that is 2.5 millirads horizontal and 0.5 millirads vertical. Leica’s 0.5 vertical beam divergence is the tightest in the industry. This means the Leica is less likely to return erroneous readings from ground scatter or from objects that are above/below the aiming point.
In the field, our observers have found that the Swarovski will sometimes return readings when the Leica will not. In some cases this is because the 2 millirad-tall Swaro beam is hitting the target while the tighter 0.5 millirad Leica beam misses the target high or low. That’s not necessarily a flaw in the Leica, since it lessens that chance that you get a false scan return. But it does mean that your vertical aiming must be more precise with the Leicas. Since the Leica beam is one-fourth as “tall” as the Swaro beam, you need to ensure that your beam is centered precisely on the target.
Ground Scatter (and Beam Interference)
Ground scatter occurs when the rangefinder’s laser beam bounces off terrain features or brush on the surface. This can cause false readouts or can interfere with the return signal from the object you want to range. Unless you’re hunting on the Bonneville Salt Flats, you’ll not have a perfectly flat surface (like a billiard table). There will be rises and dips in the land, and vegetation will be between you and your target. To lessen the effects of ground scatter, range from as high a position as possible. If you need to stay low, as when stalking, you need to hold your rangefinder very steady. Also, you will get much better results with units, such as the Leica 1200s, that have minimal vertical beam divergence. With a 0.5 millirad beam divergence, the Leica’s laser is less prone to be “fooled” by ground scatter than lasers on other units.
To minimize ground scatter and brush-interference problems, some rangefinders, such as the Leupold RX-IV, offer a “long-range” mode that will ignore readings inside 150 yards. This is very handy when you are trying to range an animal or object positioned behind brush or foliage. Of course this is not fool-proof and the best solution is still to have a beam that remains very narrow and tight all the way to the target.
Scan Response Time and Sampling Rates
Rangefinders vary in response time. The Leica CRF 1200 is the fastest we’ve tried. Response is almost instantaneous. The Leupold unit was very fast also. The Swarovski Laser Guide, in “normal mode”, can show a delay of a second or more because it uses a capacitor to “power up”; the laser. That might only be an issue if you are attempting to range a fast-moving object or a varmint that pops up briefly into view and then darts back down its hole. And in “scan” mode there’s no delay. We recommend you go to Cabela’s or other large outdoor sporting store and test the response times yourself on the various units.
One other timing factor that is less obvious is pulse rate. All the rangefinders use multiple ranging pulses and then average the samples to provide a reading. The Swarovski and Leica use the most sophisticated pulsing system. This, combined with higher grade optics, and better error sampling, reduces the amount of false reads. Leica’s error-detection software is more aggressive than other brands. This reflects Leica’s philosophy that it is better to deliver no reading rather than a false reading.
Target Priority Features
Laser Rangefinders are sophisticated, but they don’t possess intelligence. They can’t distinguish between that big rock 30 yards in front of you and the deer 150 yards further out. Normally, the rangefinder will return a reading on the most reflective object in the laser’s “line of sight”. If that’s the big rock, you won’t get a reading on the deer. To overcome this problem, manufacturers employ various software tricks to isolate targets. The first is a simple distance filter. On the Leupold RX-IV, for example, you can tell the unit to ignore all targets less than 150 yards (see red circle at top of right photo). This is a useful feature, particularly when you are ranging through brush and branches. Bushnell’s “Brush Mode” feature is similar. It displays only distant background objects, ignoring brush and tree branches in the foreground.
When you have multiple targets in the line of sight, sometimes you’ll get the range of the most distant target, sometimes the nearest target, and sometimes the rangefinder will produce an average distance as it struggles to choose between targets. “Target Priority” allows the user to select among targets. On the Leupold RX-IV, you can select “1st TGT” to give the range to the closest object or select “Last TGT” to give the range to the most distant object. Bushnell’s “BullsEye Mode” works much the same way–displaying the closer of two objects on the internal LCD. Target Priority is a nice feature, but in the field it may be faster just to take multiple readings until you are confident of the range of your primary target. Prioritizing targets with software requires you to click through menus and push buttons in the right order, when that “once-in-a-lifetime buck” may be on the move.
As hunting tools, laser rangefinders need to be shielded against “hard knocks” and wet environments. All of the units tested had some degree of water-proofing. The Bushnell Elite, advertised as 100% waterproof, features patented Rainguard® water-repellant lens coatings that shed raindrops and resist fogging–and the Elite 1500 even floats!
Swarovski says its Laser Guide is “waterproof” to 13 feet (4 meters). The Nikon 1200, being O-ring sealed and nitrogen-purged, is advertised as both fog-proof and waterproof. We saw nothing in the field to discount this claim. Leica claims its compact CRF 1200 is fully sealed and “watertight to a depth of 1 meter”–good but not great. What’s worse, Leica’s LRF 1200 is only listed as “water spray resistant”. Hmmm, that’s not too reassuring. Overall then, if you use a rangefinder in a very wet, rainy environment or on a small boat, your best choices would be the Bushnell Elite, Swarovski, or Nikon 1200.
Cabela’s Buyers’ Guide (Rangefinders), by K. Sigler for Cabela’s.
Swarovski Laser Guide Review, by Mike Scoby for Cabela’s.com.
Bushnell Elite 1500 Rangefinder, Product review by Randy Wakeman for ChuckHawks.com.
Leupold RX-III Laser Rangefinder, Product review by Chuck Hawks.
Vetronix Vector-IV (4000m) Rangefinder. Excellent illustrated review of $12,000 military-grade rangefinder by Cory Trap, Gunsite Academy.
Topics: Rangefinder, rangefinder, range finder, laser, laser guide, laser ranging, hunting optics, CRF, LRF, 800, 900, 1200, 1500, 1600, infrared laser, ARC, Scan, Scanning laser, Monarch, Bushnell, Bushnell Elite, Rangemaster, Burris, Leica, Leupold, Nikon, Nikon 1200, Swarovski, Swaro, Swarovski Laser guide, waterproof, sampling rate, Angle compensation, Ground Scatter, error correction.