Shopping guide for best rangefinders
Modern rangefinders are compact, easy to use, and remarkably accurate. Dedicated hunters and keen golfers wouldn't be caught on the job without one. The challenge comes in finding the right one. There are hundreds to choose from, and rangefinder specifications can be confusing if you're not completely familiar with the technology.
There are three distinct methods of range-finding: ultrasonic, optical, and laser. Ultrasonic rangefinders work with sound waves, though ambient noise can interfere. Optical rangefinders use a glass prism and are accurate but not highly portable; you'll most often see them in theodolites used by surveyors. Laser rangefinders (LRFs) use a focused light beam: light bounces off an object, and the time it takes to return is converted to distance using a precise digital clock and associated software.
LRFs are by far the most common type of rangefinder, and they're the only ones designed for use by the general public. Let's take a look at some specifics when shopping for an LRF rangefinder.
Choosing a rangefinder
Interestingly, absolute range isn't always the most important hallmark of a good rangefinder. Ease of use and accuracy are two qualities you should look for when making your selection.
Ease of use. Rangefinders have a reticle - a round dot or cross-hairs - that you use to identify your target. The reticule needs to be clear and easy to read in all light conditions. Some can be manually adjusted and some are automatic. Many of the best rangefinders allow you to easily adjust your focus as you look through the eyepiece.
Accuracy. Quality optics are essential to accuracy. You need a good degree of magnification to get a clear view of distant objects. Look for a rangefinder that offers a minimum magnification of 5x your normal view. Consider one with a coated lens, as this will reduce glare and enhance clarity all the more.
Entry-level rangefinders take a single measurement, but high-end rangefinders scan continuously, giving results just fractions of a second apart. The best rangefinders can also compensate for uphill and downhill targeting. Some hunting rangefinders can even calculate ballistics - taking account of how much a projectile will drop over distance.
Hunting rangefinders vs. golf rangefinders
Hunters and golfers can both benefit from rangefinders, but there is a separate market for each purpose. The two use similar technology, but there are some distinctions between them.
Rangefinders for hunting. When hunting, your prey might be some distance away, partly concealed by trees or other objects. As such, a hunting rangefinder uses what's called "distance targeting," ignoring things in the foreground.
Rangefinders for golf. A golfer is focused on hazards - streams and bunkers - or the flagstick. These are usually in your direct line of sight, so golf rangefinders use "first" or "priority" targeting to zero in on visuals.
Although you could use either a hunting rangefinder or a golf rangefinder for your purposes, you'll get best results by using a task-specific model.
Buy with your range in mind. If you're a golfer or a bowhunter, there's little point in paying hundreds of dollars extra for a device with a range of 2,000 yards or more.
Be wary of certain manufacturer claims. Manufacturers often claim that their rangefinder is water resistant or dust proof. To be sure, these are great features, but if the product hasn't been independently IP (Ingress Protection) rated, there's no way to validate this claim - or to compare one model to another.
Clean your rangefinder carefully. Rangefinder optics can be permanently damaged if you use the wrong materials to clean them. Never use household abrasives. Many experts recommend camera cleaning products, but your best bet is to follow manufacturer instructions.
Best of the best: Sig Sauer Kilo 2200
Our take: This is a compact, easy-to-use rangefinder with an exceptional feature set, and it's made by one of the most highly respected names in weapons manufacture.
What we like: A self-adjusting OLED screen and 7x magnification give tremendous clarity. "Hyper" ranging scans the target four times per second, giving instant feedback for targets up to two miles away - in 1/10th yard increments.
What we dislike: Expensive (but worth it). There is no diopter, so those who wear glasses may struggle.
Best value: Nikon 16224 Arrow ID 3000
Our take: Although specifically designed for bowhunters, it has great all-around appeal.
What we like: This product offers many high-end features for a budget price. It has excellent optics, slope technology, and target scanning. Switchable priorities make it a viable option for hunting and golf.
What we dislike: The 500-yard range will be insufficient for some. The display suffers a little in low light.
Choice 3: Bushnell Tour V4 JOLT
Our take: This is a superb golf rangefinder from a company with an unrivaled reputation for precision optical equipment.
What we like: It doesn't just give accurate distance to the pin; it also vibrates to let you know you've acquired the target. It includes slope technology, but if need be, you can switch it off to comply with tournament rules.
What we dislike: What's not to like? This great rangefinder also comes with a case, a battery, and a two-year warranty.
Bob is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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