Range finding binoculars were first placed on the market by Leica in 1992 and in 2000 implemented this technology into monocular. Rangefinding Binoculars combine two optical instruments in one device. Binoculars for viewing distant objects and a laser rangefinder for determining the exact distance to objects in the field of view. Measurements of the distance are initiated with a press of a button when a laser beam is emitted. The time that laser reaches the target and its reflection back to the binoculars is intercepted, determines the distance to the object. All lasers in these types of binoculars (Class 1) are eye safe.
If such binoculars also incorporate ballistic software then the calculation of bullet trajectory can be done based on gravitational force and the exact aim can be provided. Some of these range finding binoculars have implemented different Setup Modes, with Rain mode (making corrections based on the impact of the rain), Scan mode (continually calculating and displaying) and First target priority (offering the shortest distance of all the objects in the field) adjustments. Range finding binoculars are very helpful in conjunction with the use of the ballistic turret or ballistic reticle on the rifle scope when shooting at longer ranges.
There are however also other uses of these binoculars. With the addition of the laser rangefinder, these binoculars gain a very distinct additional functionality compared with classical binoculars. The downside of this matter is that producing such devices with the same level of optical quality demands much higher costs than normal binoculars.
(+) two optical instruments in one device
(+) laser rangefinder for measurement of the distance
(+) eye-safe laser
(+) implemented Setup Modes
(+) very helpful to correct the ballistic turret or ballistic reticle
When comparing high-class Rangefinding binoculars and regular binoculars, we see that some features are slightly better on regular binoculars. However, the differences in optical performance are very small.
The differences in light transmission, field of view, and image quality are so small that most people don't even notice them.
The optical performance of premium LRF binoculars can almost match with the regular binoculars on all levels. This is the reason for the high price of premium brand LRF binoculars.
Cheaper rangefinding binoculars have more significant problems since they have up to 10% loss of light transmission. The problem with low-cost LRF binoculars is that they have a laser built in only one barrel. This means that optical performance is different for each eye. The barrel with integrated laser has a very distinctive color deviation. Lookin through LRF binoculars, we see that blue and yellow are especially problematic.
LRF binoculars are a great compromise - they measure the distance but for the price of a lower optical performance. LRF binoculars are an excellent choice for hunting since the hunter carries only one device instead of two. For the majority of long-range hunters, the trade-off between range finding capabilities and a bit weaker optical performance is well worth taking.
When choosing between Rangefinding Binoculars and Regular Binoculars, the user has to decide what its priorities are. For quick scanning, fast measurements, and no need for a high-end optics, even the low-cost rangefinding binoculars are a great choice. Buying low-cost LRF makes sense when optical performance isn't an essential factor. Even inexpensive rangefinding binoculars are functional and calculate clicks very well. For someone that doesn't need a bright image with vivid colors, low-priced LRF binoculars will do just fine.
Rangefinders with Smartphone connectivity are very popular ever since Sig Sauer introduced their first rangefinder that was able to connect to a smartphone through Bluetooth. When shooting on a long distance (1000 meters or more), every small detail is essential. Smartphone connection enables the use of advanced ballistic calculators and the creation of the ballistic curve for a specific rifle.
Given the current popularity of Rangefinding Binoculars with Smartphone connectivity, it is reasonable to expect that all manufacturers will follow this trend. Zeiss and Leica already produce their series of LRF binoculars:
There is no doubt that sooner or later, all manufacturer will have their line of LRF binoculars. The only question is whether the less demanding users need this kind of device.
Geovid from Leica was the pioneer of laser rangefinder binoculars, made in 1992. To this day, of course, there are already a few series of them. Currently in 2018: Geovid R, Geovid HD-R and Geovid HD-B.
Leica Geovid 8x56 R
They are actually the only ones of this type with the Perger Porro prism system. Their first Leica Geovid had a 42 mm lens, and then many years later 56 mm models were developed, which again put them in the first place by uniqueness. They were also the first to offer programming of the user's own ballistic curve in the incorporated ballistic software- Zeiss was the second in a row that made it possible. If you are interested in the history of Leica Geovids, read more at the following link: Leica Geovid History
When Leica company started to produce their first series of Rangefinding binoculars, Zeiss was the first to follow their lead.
The 1. Generation of Zeiss Victory Rangefinding binoculars had four different configurations, with the largest lens diameter of 56mm. Because of the big objective lens, the binoculars were large and heavy.
The 2. Generation of Zeiss Victory RF also has four configurations. The biggest lens diameter is only 54mm, which makes the binoculars lighter. Thanks to a special HT glass, the light transmission is the same as with a larger lens.
Zeiss was the first premium brand that started to develop unique ballistic software. Zeiss developed special hunting software that calculates the ballistic curve of the rifle and the number of clicks needed for elevation correction at a measured distance. The user enters the ballistic data - bullet drop in the App on its phone. The App then calculates the number of clicks required to compensate for the distance.
Information regarding wind speed, air pressure, temperature, bullet speed can also be put into the calculation. When a personalized ballistic profile is made, the Hunting App and binoculars synchronize.
Zeiss Victory RF 10x54
Like Zeiss, other manufacturers started to develop ballistic calculators. Still, the optical performance of these devices can not compete with Zeiss. The appearance of Victory RF is also unique. Zeiss is the only manufacturer that managed to hide the rangefinding elements under the surface and blend it with the whole look. The design has a typical, and classic "Zeiss look" except for two buttons on the upper side of the binoculars.
The model that we need to highlight is the Swarovski EL Range with an exceptional optical performance and SWAROAIM electronic integrated. It has an inclinometer that calculates the distance and the equivalent horizontal distance with laser measurement and helps to correct the ballistic turret or reticule. Swarovski EL Range is also extremely compact and has the same light transmittance and the same color fidelity in both barrels, which is usually the problem of LRF binoculars. Their LRF binoculars can also measure through the glass which is a great improvement.
Swarovski EL Range 10x42 WB
Steiner Commander 7x50 LRF
Steiner makes most of the optics for military and police use. These binoculars are very compact, high quality, reliable, and extremely durable.
They are mostly used throughout the day and therefore the configuration 10x42 is very suitable as these binoculars are usually used for watching on longer distances. These binoculars work very well for shooting at targets during the day and are very convenient for hunting in the mountains or for safari, both with strong daylight. They fade faster in low light compared to the 8x42.
For low light use, it is important that the binoculars have a 54mm or 56mm objective lens, which are currently manufactured only by Leica and Zeiss (LRF included). 8x56 and 15x56 models by Leica and 8x42, 10x42, 8x54, 10x54 models by Zeiss, which are all suitable for use in low light conditions. Leica's models, however, have the advantage of having a Perger Porro prism that has a higher light transmittance. In general, most likely, these laser rangefinding binoculars will never be as bright as the ones without it, because the display in the field of view and the LRF system degrade the light transmittance.
Since Leica was the first to enter the market with their Geovid series, they do have a bit of advantage over Swarovski and Zeiss. It is hard to say which one of these three manufacturers produce the best rangefinders because the differences between them are minimal.
Swarovski has a vast field of view and very innovative carrying straps.
Leica LRF binoculars have a powerful laser, which means that the device allows long-distance measurements. The measurements are unbelievable fast, and no other manufacturer can compete with that.
The great advantage of Zeiss Vicory RF is its design - it looks just like an ordinary binocular. A great asset is also the fact that Zeiss allows smartphone connectivity for two years already, while Leica only since 2020.
The fact is that Leica, Swarovski, and Zeiss currently have top rangefinding technology, and no other manufacturer can match that at the moment.
A short presentation of LRF Binoculars is available here.