What is the best chronograph for Long Range shooting?

When I’m running Precision Rifle courses, my students often ask me what the best chronograph is for long range shooting.

In this article, I’ll be discussing the types of chronographs available, the pro’s & con’s of each, and finally I’ll let you know which type (and brand) I consider to be the best chronograph available today.

What is a shooting chronograph and what is it used for?

A chronograph is used to measure the velocity of a projectile when fired from a weapon (including bows and crossbows). This is known as the muzzle velocity (MV).

Why do we need to know our projectiles velocity?

Because if we know the projectiles velocity, dimensions, and ballistic coefficient (BC), we can accurately predict where the projectile will go which is vital, especially when shooting at long range.

Advancements in modern technology allow us to use ballistic solvers (like the incredibly accurate Applied Ballistics App) on smartphones and tablets to obtain a firing solution.

The outputs (firing solutions) provided by these ballistic solvers are only as accurate as the inputs that we give them so having accurate data (bullet BC, bullet dimensions, and MV) is critical.

So…to get that MV you are going to need an accurate chronograph.

To assist you, I’m going to explain what separates a good chronograph from the best chronograph. 

Let take a look at the different types of chronographs…

There are many types of chronographs available for shooters but essentially they fit into one of the following categories:

  • Optical Chronographs
  • Acoustic Chronographs
  • Doppler Chronographs
  • Electromagnetic Chronographs (IMHO the best chronograph type available today)

Lets take a look at each of these different types and I’ll explain how they work and what their advantages and disadvantages are.

Optical Chronographs:

Image showing the CED ChronographOptical Chronographs are made up of a series of screens that are set up “inline” and a set distance apart.

The chronograph is then set up a short distance (measured) in front of the muzzle of the rifle (usually around 10 feet/3 meters).

A projectile is then fired between the screens.

As the projectile passes through the screens, sensors measure the time it takes for the projectile to travel from the first screen to the last.

Because the distance between the screens is known, the software can determine the velocity of the round.

Generally, it pays to fire between 10-20 rounds through the chronograph and take the average MV.

Things like Standard Deviation and Extreme Spread can also be measured and recorded.

Once the average MV has been measured, you then have to “back-calculate” to get the true MV. This is required because the chronograph is set up forward of the muzzle a set distance depending on the caliber of the rifle being fired (to avoid muzzle blast affecting the results).

As such the chronographs readout is actually not a “true” MV until you have taken the distance from the muzzle to the first screen into account).

This results in a true MV that is slightly higher than the initial readout.

Right…let’s take a look at the advantages of using an Optical Chronograph…

  • Can detect projectiles travelling anywhere between 50 fps (feet per second) and 7000 fps.
  • Provides the shooter with relevant data including the highest MV, the lowest MV, the average MV, the SD (standard deviation), and the ES (extreme spread).
  • Some can also provide the shooter with a “Power Factor” for IPSC & IDPA matches.
  • Reasonably accurate if set up correctly.
  • Price…Optical Chronographs can be picked up online anywhere from $79 for a “cheap” (and probably less accurate) model up to around $200 for a top of the line chronograph like the CED M2 optical chronograph.
  • Availability…there are several manufacturers producing optical chronographs.
  • Can be used by Archers to get arrow velocities.  

Now for the disadvantages…

  • Some can be time consuming and “fiddly” to set up properly.
  • The industry standard is that they accept errors of up to 4% (if set up perfectly). It is common to get much larger errors. Note: Despite this, I average about a 1% error when using the CED M2. This equates to a MV error of around 25fps for a standard .308.
  • Require consistent light levels for accurate reading and won’t work indoors. Without consistent lighting (sunlight or light-box), errors are common. IR screens are usually available but they are an additional cost. 
  • It is recommended that you shoot through two chronographs simultaneously to identify and avoid any errors.
  • The requirement to “back calculate” to get the “true” MV.
  • It’s fairly common for the shooter to accidentally shoot their chronograph, hence the availability of spare parts. 

So…although most of them are pretty damn good, IMHO an optical chronograph, even one as good as the CED M2, is not the best chronograph type for long range shooting.

Time to move on to Acoustic Chronographs…

Image of the Superchrono, an acoustic chronograph Acoustic chronographs are not hugely popular and I really only have experience with one, namely the SuperChrono by the Norwegian company Steinert Sensing Systems.

The SuperChrono itself is a small compact unit consisting of two acoustic sensors (situated at either end) and a readout display.

It is placed in front of the muzzle either on the ground (if shooting prone) or mounted on a tripod (if shooting from a bench). 

With the SuperChrono, as the projectile travels over the chronograph, the first sensor detects the shockwave from the bullet. The second sensor detects the shockwave moments later. Once again, because the distance between the two sensors is known, the device can calculate the MV.

As with Optical chronographs, due to the requirement for the device to be placed well forward of the muzzle to avoid errors caused by muzzle blast (usually around 10 feet/3 meters), the MV is not a “true” MV and a “back-calculation” is required.

So, let’s look at the advantages of an Acoustic chronograph…

  • Compact and very easy to set up.
  • Can be used indoors as it doesn’t require “perfect” lighting conditions.
  • Larger detection area than with Optical or Electromagnetic chronographs.
  • Can be placed downrange (below the target) to get the velocity at a given range. This can then be used to develop a BC for the projectile.

Time for the disadvantages…

  • Price…at around $350 (excl. shipping), the SuperChrono is pretty expensive.
  • In my experience, the 99% accuracy claim is just not accurate. As with Optical chronographs, the “claimed” error is not what you should expect. I have seen errors of up to 5% and I’m pretty pedantic when setting things like this up. With a standard .308, this equates to an error of around 120fps which just isn’t good enough.
  • The requirement to “back calculate” to get the “true” MV.
  • The readout is on the unit…which is 10 feet in front of the shooters muzzle. This makes it difficult to read the results.
  • It only works if the ammunition is travelling supersonic. No arrows for this chrono! 
  • You only get the average MV for your shot string. No SD, No ES, No Highest/Lowest Velocity.

So…despite the hype, IMHO an acoustic chronograph (like the SuperChrono) is not the best chronograph type for long range shooting so let’s see what else is on offer.

That’s enough of that..let’s move on to Doppler Chronographs…

Photo of a Labradar ChronographDoppler radar is considered to be the most accurate method of measuring the velocity of a projectile and its what the US military roll out when they test their munitions.

The military-grade Doppler radars can measure the velocity of the projectile throughout its entire flight! 

It’s also used by the Police to identify speeding vehicles (although not to be confused with their “laser” speed detectors).

Unfortunately, up until now, this tech is generally beyond the means of most shooters because these devices are large and there is a huge cost involved. 

However, things have changed!

The development of a portable Doppler system by Labradar is a HUGE step forward!

I have now replaced my Magnetospeed V3 Chronograph (see below) with the Labradar.

Here are my thoughts as far as advantages and disadvantages go.

Advantages…

  • Portable and easy to set up.
  • Provides the shooter with relevant data including the highest MV, the lowest MV, the average MV, the SD (standard deviation), and the ES (extreme spread).
  • Can provide velocities at any distance between the muzzle and 100 yards.
  • Works in any lighting conditions.
  • Works with projectiles travelling at supersonic, transonic, and subsonic speeds, specifically between 65fps and 3900fps….which means I can use it for my arrows etc. as well!
  • Large detection area.
  • Records all of the shot data which can then be downloaded to PC. 

Disadvantages…

  • Definitely price!!! The Labradar is a whopping $599. Now that WILL make your eyes water…and that doesn’t even include the tripod!
  • Only works out to 100 yards depending on the ammunition used. For some projectiles its as low as 30 yards, for others its up to 130 yards.

So…my final thoughts on the Doppler Chronograph are that it is AWESOME!

As I alluded to above, I liked it enough to replace my Magnetospeed V3.

In saying that though…I would happily use the Magnetospeed as it is just as accurate.

That leaves us with…you guessed it…the Electromagnetic chronograph.  

Now it’s time for the Electromagnetic Chronograph…

The MagnetoSpeed V3 chronograph is rapidly gaining popularity with shooters the world over due to it accuracy, portability, ease of set up, and ease of use. It’s definitely in the race to be the best chronograph money can buy.

It really is a well thought out piece of kit! The V3 also works with suppressors and muzzle breaks.

It provides you with all the details you need including the highest MV, the lowest MV, the average MV, the SD (standard deviation), and the ES (extreme spread).

It will detect steel core projectiles traveling between 300fps and 7000fps but for accurate readings of copper jacketed lead or solid copper projectiles, the projectiles speed needs to be 1000fps or greater.

Something to note, unless you get the picatinny rail mount, the bayonet attaches to the barrel which I know puts off reloaders.

Now, I’ve have not seen my group size blow out while using this device but I have seen a slight POI change (up to 1″). Personally, if you are concerned about the barrel harmonics being effected, I suggest a couple of things:

  • Get the picatinny rail mount (if applicable to your firearm).
  • Shoot your 10 round string to assess the accuracy of your load, then attach the chronograph to get the MV.
  • Jerry-rig (aka do a MacGyver on it). See below for a few examples, including my own which works a treat and was inexpensive.
  • Purchase a purpose build Magnetospeed mount such as the Wiser Precision Mount or the MK Machining Mount.

A couple of examples of bench shooters MacGyvering it…

Below is a photo showing how I have the Magnetospeed V3 set up on my personal rifles.

You can read the “how-to” instructions here and find the links to the required materials by clicking here.

Photo of my Magnetospeed V3 mounted to my rifle
My personal set up using a magic arm

This is a photo of the Wiser Precision Magnetospeed Mount…

Photo of the Wiser Precision Magnetospeed Mount
Wiser Precision Mount

This is a photo of the MK Machining Mount…

Photo of the MK Machining Magnetospeed Mount
MK Machining Mount

So…it’s about time we looked at the advantages and disadvantages of the MagnetoSpeed V3…

Advantages…

  • Price…in terms of price the V3 sits in the middle of the pack at around $400. It’s more expensive than the “cheap”, less accurate chronographs available but the cost isn’t outrageous like the Labradar. Given it’s accuracy, its money well spent.  
  • Portable and easy to set up.
  • Provides the shooter with relevant data including the highest MV, the lowest MV, the average MV, the SD (standard deviation), and the ES (extreme spread).
  • Will work with Rifles, Pistols, and Shotguns and will even detect full auto fire.
  • Works in any lighting conditions.
  • Works with steel core projectiles travelling at supersonic, transonic, and subsonic speeds, specifically between 300fps and 7000fps. Will work with lead copper jacketed and solid copper projectiles travelling 1000fps or higher.
  • Records all of the shot data which can then be downloaded to PC. 

Now for the Disadvantages….

  • Mounting the bayonet on the barrel will put some people off but IMHO the “issues” caused by this can be avoided or in some cases are just blown out of proportion.
  • It won’t pickup lead copper jacketed or solid copper projectiles travelling less than 1000fps but given that I’m unlikely to use this type of ammo for long range shooting, I’m not to concerned about this.
  • Can’t be used by Archers to get arrow velocities. 

So…IMHO the Magnetospeed V3 chronograph is an AWESOME chronograph money for Long Range shooters.

Final thoughts…

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to every type of chronograph. At the end of the day, personal preference will play a part in your decision, as will the price.

As for the original question…what the best chronograph is for long range shooting, IMHO (and having used MANY chronographs over the years) you should really only seriously consider either the Magnetospeed V3 or the Labradar.

My first Chronograph was an Oehler, which was replaced with a CED M2.

When the time came to upgrade, I trialled the SuperChrono but it just didn’t cut the mustard and so I returned it.

I then used the MagnetoSpeed V3 for years and thought it was absolutely fantastic before finally biting the bullet and switching to the Labradar.

Rarely have I ever regretted my decision to keep my equipment up to date however, on this occasion I did.

Dont get me wrong, the Labradar is a fantastic chronograph…it just wasn’t suited to the additional tasks that I require of my chronograph or the style of shooting I do.

Also…as for price influencing your decision…why spend $100 – $200 on a “cheap”  and inaccurate device?

IMHO you are just wasting money. It’s like putting a $500 scope on a $4000 rifle (yes…I’ve seen this done!!!) which is absolute madness.

You are better off taking the initial hit and purchasing the best chronograph you can…buy once, cry once. 

Anyways…that’s enough of me and my opinions.

Ultimately, the choice of chronograph is yours.

However, if you’d like to know more about the MagnetoSpeed V3, check out my Magnetospeed V3 Chronograph review, where I review it in more detail, explaining why I think it’s one of the top two chronograph’s that money can buy.

Oh, just a couple more things…firstly it’d be great if you would leave me a comment below and secondly, if you found the article helpful, please share it with people you know who may be interested in it.

Take care and I hope to see you back here at Skill at Arms soon…

Jeremy

P.S. Now before you go, don’t forget to take a look at our other resources…

Leave a Comment

close

Like what you see? Tell your friends :)

Visit Us
Follow Me
Tweet