If you are serious about firearms and shooting, investing in equipment that improves your performance should not need much consideration. One of the more essential pieces of gear for gun aficionados is a shooting, or gun chronograph designed to measure bullet velocity as fired from a gun.
With their history dating back to the late 19th Century, today chronographs feature optical sensors or radio waves to determine the velocity of projectiles. Actually, some of the best devices from our list are so sensitive, that besides measuring fastest commercially available rifle cartridges (some can reach speeds of over 4,400 feet per second), they are also capable of keeping track of paintballs, BBs and even rocks were thrown by hand.
Comparison Chart of the Best Shooting Chronographs
Caldwell - Ballistic Precision Chronograph Premium Kit
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Magnetospeed Barrel-mounted Chronograph
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Shooting Chrony - Beta Master
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Labradar Doppler Chronograph
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Competition Electronics - Prochrono Digital Chronograph
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Sportsman Supply Inc. Shooting Chrony Gamma Master Chronograph
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What is a Chronograph Used For in Shooting?
As an essential performance evaluation tool, a shooting chronograph is the perfect instrument for the gun enthusiast and experts as well handloaders, since it plays a vital role in diagnosing shooting problems or testing new loads.
Today, a shooting chronograph measures the speed at which bullets leave the barrel of your gun, a spec that we usually call muzzle velocity.
The chronograph is a great instrument to find out if your firearm/ammo combination actually delivers the muzzle velocity in feet per second (FPS) advertised by the manufacturer or if you need to change it.
Besides a projectile's velocity, the best modern chronographs are also able to give you a wealth of other information. They will keep track of multiple shots, known as a string of shots and also provides you with a peak velocity (HV), lowest velocity (LV), average velocity (AV), standard deviation (SD), extreme spread (ES), and even power factor (PF).
When we think of handloaders, shooting chronographs are the crucial instruments because the bullets have a different performance at different speeds, barrels, or under particular weather conditions.
How Does a Shooting Chronograph Work?
Shooting chronographs are usually no-frills instruments, so imagine them as a clock or a stopwatch that will turn on and off as your rounds pass over sensors. Designed to measure projectile velocity, chronographs are either built around a proven 40-year-old, high-speed crystal oscillator with pair of photoelectric sensors, utilize a newer acoustic and electromagnetic system, or are based on an entirely different technology called Doppler radar.
The first type, called an optical chronograph is more prevalent among the gun community because it is more affordable and provides you with sufficient accuracy while measuring “almost anything that shoots”.
Unlike a radar-based chronograph using radio waves instead of light, an optical chronograph (timer tripped by the bullet shadow) consists of two sensors called chronographic screens. These optical light trap systems have screens designed in such a way that the bullet will create a shadow when it passes over the first electric cell, making the clock start. When the projectile passes over the second cell, the stopwatch stops and accurately displays velocity on its digital readout.
Aspects to Consider Before Buying a Shooting Chronograph
Over recent years, more companies entered the chronograph market with similar optical or electromagnetic systems ranging from a cost of $55 to $800. Considering a vast 1400% price differential, there are some differences in the performance and quality of these devices.
When buying a shooting chronograph, the main factor to look for is an accurate reading. Therefore, you should select a shooting chronograph known for a high level of accuracy, because anything more than plus or minus 1% is unacceptable.
Type of Mounting System
Another consideration is connected to design and type of mounting systems on shooting chronographs. The most common optical light trap systems can be attached to any type of tripod on the market or mounted directly to the barrel of the weapon. Both designs have advantages and disadvantages depending on firearms and kind of shooting range.
While we have reviewed several mainstream representatives and established performers capable of keeping track of all kinds of projectiles ranging from paintballs to high-velocity cartridges, where the powder load is often heavier than the bullet weight, there are some shooting chronographs not made to be used with all types of weapons. You may encounter some gun chronographs designed only for use on paintball and air guns.
Ease of Use
The best shooting chronographs are those that are user-friendly to set up as well as straightforward to operate. While sometimes a wider LCD display window on the was desirable, today it is the connectivity and an option for uploading the information to your smartphone or laptop.
Quick Take - The Best Shooting Chronographs
These are our recommendations for the best shooting chronographs:
Review of the Best Shooting Chronographs
Here are our top picks and the factors that make them stand out:
Caldwell - Ballistic Precision Chronograph Premium Kit
Almost without a doubt, Caldwell Precision Premium Chrono deserves to bear the title of the best shooting chronograph on the market. This shooting chronograph comes in full kit that contains an adjustable tripod, a dovetail plate; an IR led screen with AC power, extra wide sunscreens, 15-foot audio jack cable, and a carry bag.
In addition, each model is calibrated at the factory before being shipped out to an accuracy of up to 99.75%. Actually, due to the 48 MHz processor, this Caldwell 721122 model offers precision in the range of a plus or negative of only about .25% maximum. The chronograph measures the velocity of any bullet that travels between 5 and 9,999 feet per second.
For easier data reading, this Chrono boasts a large LCD screen, but also comes with the option to interface with your smartphone via a 15' audio jack cable. Using a free application, you will be able to track the velocity of each shot directly on your phone screen.
While the Caldwell Precision Chronograph provides the velocity of each shot, their app displays average velocity, standard deviation, minimum and maximum velocity, and velocity spread for a shot string. The Chrono can also record the load and environmental conditions, but will give you energy readings, as well.
With a ¼-20 threaded insert on the bottom of the housing, this Caldwell comes with a quality, height-adjustable tripod that can be set from 15" to 42”, making it entirely appropriate for various types of weapons (handguns, rifles, bows, air rifles, and paintball).
Although the manufacturer claims this affordable chronograph is ideal for all firearms types, some users complained about reliability, especially when measuring handgun velocities in bad weather conditions.
If you want something that allows you to start recording your shots without needing additional accessories, the Caldwell Ballistic Precision Premium kit is a very tempting solution, especially looking at the price, which won't break the bank.
Magnetospeed Barrel-Mounted Chronograph
The MagnetoSpeed V3 Chronograph is a bit different from the other shooting chronographs. Unlike classic shooting chronographs utilizing the optical sensors to note the passage of a projectile, the Magnetospeed V3 Chronograph features an electromagnetic sensor system in the form of magnetic start/stop sensors that are closely spaced and embedded in a short plastic housing.
Instead of sitting this chronograph in front of you and shooting through its screens, the Magnetospeed sports a more advanced system for mounting. It is clamped directly to the rifle muzzle, providing you with highly accurate muzzle velocity readings and solving the problem for those who want to use it at shooting ranges.
Furthermore, it isn't significantly affected by wind or lighting conditions because it works under any light condition without artificial illumination. It measures bullet velocity with an accuracy of 99.5% or more.
The product fits easily on barrels measuring between ½-inch and one-inch in diameter. It can accommodate muzzle brakes as well as flash hiders no larger than 2.7 inches in length.
However, Magnetospeed has some disadvantages since it takes a little time to get used to this arrangement, but of course, it can be learned with some time and patience.
While its size and design make it perfect for rifles and long-barreled revolvers, it can't be mounted on most semi-automatic pistols or weapons where this chronograph can't be positioned 1/4-inch under the bore.
This barrel-mount chronograph is swift to set up because the display that comes with the kit features one button with three settings for fine-tuning.
Using the option to measure both very high and very low velocities, you will be able to use Magnetospeed V3 chronograph with air pistols, shotguns, and high-powered rifles.
The V3 MagnetoSpeed uses a nine-volt battery to power the external display unit. It stores up to 99 shots per string but you will get full data capabilities by downloading the XFR app that will offer you more useful velocity statistics such as FPS, standard deviation, and extreme spread.
Best for the Money:
Shooting Chrony - Beta Master
Shooting Chrony Chronographs are available in three main models called Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, with two subcategories known as the Base model and the Master model.
The main difference is that the Base model sports the LCD screen on the unit, whereas the Master model has a remote control that houses the ½- inch LCD display screen. Besides that, the Beta Master model comes with a larger memory for storing velocity readings. It has room for storing the velocities of 60 shots divided into six numbered strings of 2 to 10 shots each.
The Shooting Chrony Beta Master measures the velocity of bullets, arrows, shotgun rounds, airgun pellets, and paintballs ranging from 30 feet per second to 7,000 feet per second within (+/-) 0.5% accuracy.
The durable and solid chrono housing is constructed from 20-gauge steel, but at 2.5 pounds,it is still lightweight, making it very easy to handle and transport. The Beta Master Chrony has a wide shooting window and is triangular in shape, with a shooting area adjustable in size from 8" to 14-1/2".
This compact unit features a simple fold-down design and mounts easily on any tripod or can be placed on a table. It comes with multi-part two-inch wide diffusers and support wire-rods. It is advisable to use on clear, sunny days, as the white plastic diffusers simulate clouds.
However, the Beta Master is not for use with neon or another fluorescent lighting, as for indoor use, this unit requires an optional light-diffuser, the Indoor Shooting Light Fixture that you must purchase separately.
Since the manufacturer recommends placing the unit ten fet away from the muzzle, the Master Series line of chronographs comes with the 16-foot cord to connect the control monitor/ remote control.
As the main drawback, users mention the complicated manual and outdated computer technology used are not user-friendly.
The Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph uses one 9-volt alkaline battery and also stores data when turned off, which is a handy feature.
For starters and shooters who need accurate information but are looking for a classic chronograph with all-metal heavy-duty construction, the Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph is an ideal solution covered under a three-year limited factory warranty when returned to the manufacturer.
Most Accurate Shooting Chronograph:
LabRadar Doppler Chronograph
The LabRadar from Infinition Inc of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada is an excellent addition to shooting sports for many reasons. First, it is not a chronograph with a pair of photoelectric sensors but rather an extremely accurate Doppler radar. Currently, with an accuracy variance of less than 0.1%, Doppler radar is the most precise method of measuring velocities available.
LabRadar measures velocities from 65 FPS up to 3,900 FPS and records series statistics for maximum velocity, minimum velocity, average velocity (AV), standard deviation (SD), and extreme spread (ES). Offering also kinetic energy calculations, this advanced tracking radar records up to 100 shots per series, up to 9,999 series.
The LabRadar Doppler Chronograph is the perfect device for measuring velocities of subsonic, transonic, and supersonic projectiles fired from your rifle, pistol, or shotgun (slugs only). The LabRadar will even measure the velocity of airgun pellets, paintballs, and arrows.
In addition, it continually measures actual velocities at various distances, up to 100 yards, depending upon the size of the bullet. This feature is useful for validating the bullet's ballistic coefficient
No more shooting through the small confined window/screens, nor placing the unit in front of your rifle in the firing line. Now you can put the LabRadar to the side of your gun, not downrange where classic optical chronographs require back and forth alignment of the unit and firearm.
However, this radar system requires a slight learning curve since the instructions are a bit ambiguous and the user interface needs to be simplified. On the flip side, the LabRadar is one of the most expensive chronographs on the market.
LabRadar is powered by six AA batteries and is manufactured to work in any lighting conditions. You can put it next to your rifle mounting it on standard ¼ x 20 tripod thread.
The Competition Electronics ProChrono digital chronograph is the most affordable option on this list, but this entry-level chronograph also gives a lot of the higher-end chronographs a run for their money.
While the Pro Chrono provides +/-1% or better accuracy in measured velocity, it is an extremely flexible unit, with a velocity range of from 21 FPS to 7,000 FPS. It means that Competition Electronics CE1-3800 Chrony is great for archery, handguns, center-fire and Rimfire rifles, shotguns, paintball guns, and pellet guns, as well.
This optical shooting chronograph is created with a sensing system compatible with a wide variety of light conditions, but fluorescent lights won't work with this chrono unless you invest in optional light sources.
The Competition Electronics model is also straightforward to operate with touch screen and sizeable four-digit LCD readout. The Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital is powered by a nine-volt battery and is encapsulated in a plastic one-piece housing, which won't corrode.
This basic shooting chrony package includes the wire support rods of size 3/16" x 16, durable plastic light diffusers, and a 1/4"x20 mounting hole thread for the standard camera tripod, but doesn’t include a tripod. Since some users have issues with low or missed readings, it is advisable to shoot in the upper 1/3 of the triangle screen.
Nevertheless, most buyer evaluations agree that the Competition Electronics ProChrono is a great choice in the world of budget chronographs as it can store up to 99 shots in its internal memory in 9-shot firing strings.
Besides providing you with the basic velocity, using the USB port or upgrading it with an optional Bluetooth adapter to transfer the data, you can get detailed shot information and statistics. Along with an analysis of the spread, standard deviation, and the average speed, you can compute ft./lbs. of energy, power factor, and even create graphs for easier interpretation.
A solid performer for the price, the Pro Chrono is well-known for its accuracy and is respected in the shooting industry, as well in the professional and amateur gun community. Used for the casual acquisition of velocities, the Pro Chrono is a great shooting chronograph that comes at a very good price.
As we mentioned, earlier Shooting Chrony has several different offerings called Alpha, Beta, and Gamma and are divided into the Base and Master models. Master chrony models differ from the basic as they come with a remote control with close-up read-out monitor.
The Shooting Chrony’s flagship model and most advanced line is the Gamma Master Chronograph which includes all of the features of the Beta model, plus a 500-shot memory, timer button, and rapid-fire mode which measures the velocity of 1,800 rounds per minute.
As the most expensive device in the Shooting Chrony catalog, the 7000136 model comes as a kit, ready to roll, making it a well worth the investment. The package includes all needed attachments like the chrony, remote control monitor, a printer with roll of paper, generous 16-foot long interface cable, tripod, and carry sack.
The chrony housing is made of 20-gauge steel but weighs less than 2-1/2 pounds and can be easily attached to a 1/4"-20 TPI camera tripod for fast, easy setup.
Utilizing a simple fold-down design, this lightweight chronograph is easy to set up by installing the included support rods and plastic diffusers. While the diffusers are needed only in very bright sunshine to create a uniform background to the photocells, for indoor usage there are optional chrony LED lamp diffusers.
The Shooting Chrony Gamma Master measures the velocity of any projectile from 30 to 7,000 feet per second within 0.5-percent accuracy. Compared to the Beta's 60-shot memory, this Gamma model has a 500 shot memory (divided into 50 numbered strings of 2 to 10 shots each).
The Shooting Chrony Gamma Master measures, stores, and prints not only velocities but also time elapsed between shots and statistics such as LO, HI, and Average velocities, Extreme Spread, and Standard Deviation.
Most of the testimonials and reviews claim that the Sportsman Supply Inc offers an excellent product in the form of Shooting Chrony 7000136 Gamma Master Chronograph known for the quality and dependability. However, there are some complaints about outdated software and an unfriendly user interface that make the unit unspeakably challenging to use.
Although for indoor use you can power this kit with a standard AC power adapter, for the outdoor usage, you will need a nine-volt battery to power the Gamma Master and four AA batteries for Ballistic Printer.
How to Set Up a Shooting Chronograph
Shooting chronographs are valuable tools and most decent gun chronographs are calibrated before they leave the factory. Regardless, when you open the box, it will take some time to set one up before you can use it.
Though we have suggested six chronograph models that set up easily, there are few things you should pay attention to.
1. First of all, you have to avoid shooting your expensive new chronograph, as it is one of the most common accidents that happen when people start using chronographs. The best way to avoid shooting your gun chronograph is to use bore-sighting technique and shoot from a stable position.
2. In order to get reliable readings, the next thing to pay attention to is a parallel position of the chronograph's housing and the path of the bullet.
3. Obviously, you can't shoot too low, but also your shots shouldn’t pass far above the sensors because the chronograph might not detect them. A useful trick is to mark an aiming point of no more than two inches in diameter on your target. It will provide you with consistent shot groupings and reduce the chance of screen hitting.
4. Most gun chronographs are user-friendly with a simple mode of operation, boiling down to simply connecting the wire rods to the unit, powering it on, and firing a round through the screens. However, if you cannot find the optimal distance of chronograph in the manual, the rule of thumb is to place it at 10 feet to 15 feet away from your gun’s muzzle.
5. Another general rule is not to skimp on ammo but to fire multiple rounds since shooting strings provide more reliable data than single shots.
6. Finally, to avoid getting unreliable results, you should not use the chronograph when its battery is low.
While the instructions don’t specify some details, using a YouTube video like the one we have suggested makes the shooting chronograph setup very straightforward.
How to Read Shooting Chronograph Data
A shooting chronograph is a precision instrument that efficiently measures and displays the velocity of your shots in either feet per second or meters per second, depending on your preference. As earlier mentioned, most models can display the highest, lowest, and average velocities of the projectile. Shooters also appreciate additional features like extreme spread, standard deviation, and power factor.
Whereas the first three features are mostly self-explanatory, let’s see what the last three pieces of information mean and how they can help improve your shooting.
Extreme spread describes the velocity difference between your the fastest and the slowest round and should be a small number.
Standard deviation is the most valuable data to the shooter, as it measures how close each shot was to the average value. This data can reveal how consistent your ammo batch series actually is, regardless of whether it is factory or hand-loaded ammunition.
Power factor is a ranking system which is a much-appreciated feature by shooting competitors, as it enables the shooter to measure the round's momentum and scale it to its specific weight. Calculations of the shot’s power is based on the velocity multiplied by the bullet’s grain.
If you want to obtain a reliable value for all of the shooting chronograph's data, you should fire at least ten shots in a string.
As you can see, using a shooting chronograph can improve accuracy, quality of your rounds, and your reloading skills.
But do not forget! After you have decided which make and model to purchase, you should also know that for improving your shooting skills, it is not only enough to possess a chronograph but to use one regularly.