Leupold RX-1000 Laser Rangefinder
Six years ago, I compared a variety of laser rangefinders in the Guns and Shooting Online article “Rangefinder Round-Up.” Rangefinders as a group, in times past, have generally been a series of compromises. Some have had lamentably dark optics, poor battery life, and illegible displays. Another negative feature found in some rangefinders is the lack of diopter focusing, or fixed focus. Dark, blurry optics are bad no matter what the application; some of the early rangefinders were bad enough that it hard to believe they were actually designed to look through, though not of them work without doing just that.
There are few things as important as awareness of target distance and few accessory optics of greater value to most hunters than a quality rangefinder. Leupold, obviously a huge name in optics, has been a bit slow to enter the rangefinder market compared to many others. So, with that, let’s take a look at how the Leupold RX-1000 stacks up.
A couple things are instantly noticeable about the RX-1000. It has a tough, aluminum case: a big step up from fragile, “insta-crack” models. The monocular itself has a 3.6mm exit pupil (22mm objective, 6X magnification). It is a good, usable compromise. For comparison, our Leica Rangemaster 900 scan, a unit that gave us good brightness and clarity, is a 7x21mm, meaning a 3.0mm exit pupil. Just like scopes and binoculars, you can only get so much out of small lenses and higher magnifications; with with weak quality glass, you get markedly less.
Leupold has hit a very good compromise here, the multi-faced compromise of portability, handling, brightness and usability. In early morning and at night, I compared the RX-1000 to one of my most often-used rangefinders: the Bushnell Elite 1500. The Bushnell has a 26mm objective, 7x, equating to an exit pupil of about 3.7mm. With a similar objective / magnification ratio, and a very slightly larger exit pupil as a result, you might think that optically the throughput would be similar. I did, and I was completely wrong. The Leupold’s brightness and clarity soundly trounced the Bushnell Elite 1500, obviously, clearly and without question. In low-light conditions, it was just like wiping off the windshield or turning the lights on. The Leupold is amazingly, remarkably superior.
Now, we get into other areas of concern with a rangefinder, frame dimensions and ease of deployment in the field. There has been a trend in getting away from the horizonally held units (Leica, Bushnell Elite 1500) and going to the vertically oriented united that are easier to use with one hand. That defines the Leupold; it is shorter than a pack of cigarettes and just a bit wider at 3.8 inches long by 2.8 inches wide. It is also slim, at just 1.3 inches thick. It fits the hand beautifully; one hand operation is effortless.
Now, we get into another area: battery life. The Leupold uses a red LED, with a choice of three reticles you can select as you prefer. LED’s suck more juice than LCD’s, though. The Leica already mentioned is rated for approximately 1000 rangings. Other LCD units boast of approximately 10,000 cycles. So, this is obviously another area of compromise. To bolster the display of some liquid crystal units, backlighting is sometimes employed. This largely negates the advantage of longer battery life. This was partly the case in a previously tested Nikon Laser800 that gave us poor battery life; less than the promised 1000 cycles. In the literature, you’ll read about cycles, actuations, rangings and other esoteric terms. With no standards for this and no universally held definition of what cycles actually might be, these “ratings” should be taken with a grain of salt, or maybe two grains of salt.
The Leupold has two advantages here. Firstly, the unit has efficient electronics. Its rated battery life is 2000 cycles, double that of the Leica LED and the backlit Nikon we tested. This is also attributed to the better life of the Leupold CR-2 battery versus other battery arrays, such as stacks of four AAA’s, as was the case with the Nikon example.
Secondly, the battery life indicator is prominent and bright; you really can’t miss it. It gives you “full,” “half,” and “low” battery indication every time you use it. If your battery goes dead, it isn’t likely to be Leupold’s fault, because they warned you. Suffice it to say that as far as I can tell, the Leupold has more than adequate battery life for any type of hunt, better than others I’ve used, and it is very easy to make sure you have a charged battery based on the display.
Along with the usability factor of rangefinders beyond the dimensional considerations is the often-overlooked case that it comes in. Ripping open Velcro isn’t the best practice in the quiet hunting woods, to be sure, nor is struggling with a zipper that is far from silent. Leupold did a good job here as well. The Cordura “holster” can be easily carried in a jacket pocket, or attached to your belt. An internal magnet in the flap makes deployment of this rangefinder both quick and refreshingly silent. It is hard not to both notice and appreciate it.
The RX-1000 comes in the standard model as tested and also the “RX-1000 TBR” model, the “TBR” meaning “True Ballistic Range.” (There is a complete review of the RX 1000 TBR on the Scopes and Sport Optics page. ) My opinion about TBR, not just the Leupold version, but all similar gimmicks, is that if reading the instructions and programming your rangefinder takes longer than cleaning your deer, I have no use for it. Most experienced hunters know that shooting up or down at a steep incline reduces resultant bullet point of impact drop, translating to less “vertical ballistic range,” but rarely less than a ten percent reduction. All of this is meaningless to the hunter that uses maximum point blank range as his barometer for big game hunting. If, for example, you shoot a .270 Winchester at an animal with a six-inch kill zone MPBR of 300 yards, it has the effect of allowing you to hit the switch with no adjustment at 315 yards when shooting up or down an incline. This is hardly worthy of any advanced algorithms or hyper-technical over-sophistication. It is also easily explained and understood: linear distance goes in all directions. Gravity only functions vertically, simple as that.
This type of feature is no substitute for sighting in your rifle at the ranges you intend to shoot at, does not compensate for ambient conditions, altitude, and it does not dope the wind for you, either. I have no use for this in big game hunting, but I suspect Leupold was forced to offer this option to fill out the line. A windmeter and range flags will put more game cleanly in the bag for you than an electronic suggestion, but the choice is there if you want to go that route. Obviously, I do not. Save a few pesos on your rangefinder and practice more at longer ranges would be my advice, appropriately priced at free.
Maybe you’ve heard enough about this rangefinder for one day? Well, there is more. Both the objective and the laser reading lenses of the RX-1000 are deeply recessed into the unit; they are not going to be easy to get dirty or scratched up as a result. The battery compartment is well-designed and rubber gasketed. I’ve had battery compartments lids break, leak and rattle. The Leupold design does not, another plus.
It takes a lot of combinatorial features to make a good rangefinder, even more to make a truly outstanding one. Leupold has really hit a home run here. It is the best rangefinder I’ve ever evaluated in terms of practical, real-world field use. The RX-1000 soars to the top based on size, ease of use, an outstanding LED display, and outstandingly good image quality. It is a privilege to test an item this good. I can almost hear the e-mails piling up asking, “Okay, how much is this technological marvel going to cost?”
The Leupold RX-1000 sells for about $350; I’ve seen nothing out there that competes with it at this price point. It is wonderfully designed, extremely well thought-out unit and a great value as well. It is reviews like this that remind me of the sales pitch I received from a friendly lady concerning a cell phone. “What do you want your cell phone to do,” she asked excitedly. I replied that I wanted to me able to make and receive phone calls with it; I wanted no hassle, a phone that did not explode and I wanted to be able to hear people clearly and people to be able to hear me clearly. In other words, I wanted my new phone to be a phone and work like one. She sounded more than a little disappointed. So it is with rangefinders: I want to be able to see what I’m looking for and get the range with no hassle. That’s where this new Leupold shines. It does what a rangefinder needs to do and it does it superbly well.
Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.