There are “chronographs” and there are chronographs. I have dealt with many of the former and a few of the latter.
Trust me when I tell you, any money “saved” on the former would have been better spent using the cash to light your cigar.
At least you would only be frustrated the one time.
That being said, there are some great chronograph options out there that will improve your shooting. Here are my three favorites:
1. Caldwell Precision Chronograph
The Caldwell (and similar) chronographs use sun-shaded photoelectric sensors that pick up the shadow of the bullet and determine velocity from that.
These tools work well, when they work well. However, most of us shoot outdoors and the light is variable day to day and even minute to minute.
This makes for much less consistent reading of the shots and often requires many more shots to be fired.
With some practice and attention, this is easily overcome. One trick is to use them on mostly overcast days for more consistent lighting.
They also require shots to be roughly 10 yards away from the sensor to avoid the gas plume interfering with the reading.
This can lead to errant shots. Errant shots can lead to terminal consequences for the chronograph.
I personally have never shot one, but have had mine shot by a “friend” who wanted to chrony his new pet load.
Since he did not offer to replace the destroyed chronograph, he left the friend circle.
With patience and proper lighting, a solid shooting platform and someone who can shoot straight, these can work quite well.
You will need a willingness to reshoot on occasion. These chronographs are a good value for the money and work very well for pistols.
2. Magnetospeed Chronographs
There are a couple of variants of the Magnetospeed chronograph.
This chronograph is different from others, in that it is directly mounted to the barrel of the gun.
In most cases this makes it not useful for pistol shooting.
It also has a slight learning curve regarding properly mounting the sensor to the barrel of your rifle.
But within one go of it, you will be a seasoned pro and know how to properly adjust for each future rifle.
In my experience, there is an occasional shot that does not read properly.
This usually happens at the beginning of the testing and is a result of user error in not securing the sensor properly.
Once that learning curve is overcome, very reliable and repeatable data is produced.
One distinct advantage to this method is it is very near impossible to shoot the sensor, unlike many of the dual sensor systems.
It also has no need for finicky sunlight to work properly.
The downside is they cost about double that of the Caldwell and as mentioned before, are a bit tougher to use with pistols.
3. Lab Radar Chrono
When you absolutely have to be able to chrony just about anything and do so with precision, this is the choice.
This method uses Doppler radar and is capable of providing multiple velocity data points on the same shot out to 100 yards.
This is especially useful for slower-moving objects like paint balls, arrows and crossbow bolts.
The radar unit is set up slightly off to the side and behind the shooter, which makes it almost impossible for all but the most ham-fisted among us to shoot it.
Like the Magnetospeed, it can be used in complete darkness (although I wouldn’t).
Unlike the Magnetospeed, there is no need to mount it to the platform. Quite simply, point the radar downrange along the shooting path.
Within a few shots you will have the bullet path and radar lined up and rarely will a shot be missed.
The downside to this option is once again price.
The lab radar base package is roughly half again the price of the Magnetospeed and this is before several of the add-ons that are nice to have.
A solid tripod makes for much easier use.
There are adaptors for use with non-firearms and there are even options for remote target viewing cameras.
One is good for up to 300 yards, the other is guaranteed for at least two miles.
Conclusion: My Favorite Chronographs
As with most things, it comes down to utility, convenience and price.
One dead photoelectric chrony coupled with a limited budget and a strong need for rifle data means you can probably guess what I currently own.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want the other one. It is simply a matter of too many wants and too little budget. I assume many of you can sympathize.
What are your favorite chronographs? Let us know in the comments below!