Without a doubt the last few years have produced numerous advances in optical range finding. Mil-dot reticles and entry level priced laser range finders come to mind.
Laser rangefinder technology and manufacturing have progressed to the point where the average sportsman, hunter and law enforcement or paramilitary organization can afford to purchase this equipment.
Even though Bushnell was not the originator of laser rangefinder technology it certainly can be considered an innovator. Bushnell's successful Yardage Pro lineup has opened up various new markets for this product where they basically did not exist before. The extreme cost of prior models from other manufacturers made owning a laser rangefinder a very prohibitive experience for most civilians.
Bushnell's product line has expanded from its first Yardage Pro 400 (YP 400) model to a 600 yard compact model and a 800 yard YP 800 model. Recently it has been rumored that a new 1000 yard YP 1000 model will soon be released. Other competing manufacturers such as Tasco, Simmons and Nikon have entered the marketplace with designs of their own.
Recently I had the opportunity to test a YP 400. I borrowed it from a friend of mine who had received one as a Christmas gift, and had it for several days. I had used one of these rangefinders last year although I didn't have the time to thoroughly evaluate it then.
During my previous experience I had ranged several buildings, road signs, vehicles and other highly reflective targets well past 400 yards. The longest reading I got was 575 yards off a Ford full size panel van. Since this product is more than likely to be purchased by civilians such as myself, I felt that continuing to range these types of objects would be almost irrelevant considering that it is highly improbable that civilians like myself would require such a device in an urban setting.
Police and military usage of a laser rangefinder in an urban environment is another issue all together. Since I am neither a law enforcement officer nor a member of the military I am hardly qualified to even discuss the employment of laser rangefinders in either of these professions. Doing so would be pure speculation on my part.
This time, however, I wanted to put the YP 400 through a variety of realistic field conditions that civilians were more than likely to encounter. Hunting and tactical target shooting competitions currently en vogue comes to mind. I also wanted to test the unit under varied weather conditions and during both day time and at night. I felt evaluating the YP 400 under these conditions would be an adequate test of the unit's capabilities.
The YP 400 comes equipped with a soft padded carrying case, neck strap, lens cleaning cloth and an instruction manual. Just like most children's toys, the necessary 9V battery was not included. The exterior shell of the YP 400 is made of hard plastic with soft rubber grip panels provided. These grip panels come in good use when your hands are gloved or when they are wet. I was a little disappointed by the fact that Bushnell didn't rubber armor the whole unit to protect the delicate electronics inside the rangefinder.
The YP 400 felt comfortable in my hands and the two main control buttons, FIRE and MODE, were fairly big and easy to reach with your fingers without having to adjust your grip.
To activate the LCD display the operator needs to press the FIRE button once. The unit is then ready to be used. To range a target the operator first has to place the target inside the rectangular box in the middle of the the cross hairs, then simply depresses the FIRE button until a range value has appeared in the LCD. When a target has been successfully ranged the FIRE button is released, after which the display will remain in view for 30 seconds before turning off.
The very top of the LCD has a target quality indicator bar that gives the user information as to the quality of the range reading. As the bar fills in from left to right the user is assured that there is a sufficient amount of laser being reflected back to the rangefinder for an accurate range reading. This can be deceiving however, as it is possible to get accurate range readings even though the bar indicates that the quality of the reading is low.
There is a precision indicator that lights up when the rangefinder has a very accurate reading of + or - 1 yard. During my testing this indicator seldom lit up, even though multiple rangings would prove the measurements to be accurate.
There is also a battery indicator on the bottom right of the LCD that warns the user of low battery power.
The MODE button allows the operator to select among the various targeting modes available, depending on the environment in which the unit will be used.
Depressing the MODE button for 5 seconds will activate the unit of measurement feature of the YP 400. This allows the operator to decide if the unit will range its targets in either yards or meters. The selected unit of measurement is then displayed inside the LCD, and will become the default setting for the YP 400 until it is changed again.
There are four main targeting modes that the user can select depending on the situation they are faced with - standard, reflective, rain and zip thru. To select between these modes the operator simply depresses the MODE button until the desired setting is achieved and displayed in the LCD.
The standard setting has no indicator setting in the LCD and will allow the operator to range most normal, moderately reflective targets out to a distance of 400 yards. Under most circumstances the standard setting is adequate.
The reflective setting is more appropriate when targeting very reflective targets such as road signs and other similar objects. Bushnell claims that the maximum distance one can achieve under these circumstances is 999 yards. This has to be purely theoretical as I sincerely doubt that even road signs would provide enough reflected laser to allow the YP 400 to measure them at those distances.
Precipitation such as snow and rain can effect the ranging performance of the YP 400. The laser emitting from the unit can be easily reflected off precipitation causing the YP 400 to produce false readings. Selecting the rain mode minimizes the chances of poor performance under these circumstances - Bushnell claims that the YP 400 will ignore targets under 70 yards while in this setting.
The zip thru feature allows the operator to use the YP 400 in situations where there are many obstacles that could interfere with ranging a distant target, and allows the YP 400 to ignore readings from objects under 130 yards. This is a very useful feature that can allow the use of the YP 400 in wooded areas for example, where lots of trees and branches could affect the unit's performance.
Having re-acquainted myself with the basic controls and features it was time to put the YP 400 through its paces.
Looking into the eye piece there appeared to be five black spots ranging in size from small to very large. Three of the larger spots were so big that they were distracting and obstructed my view of targets at longer ranges. I was somewhat dismayed at what I saw until I read the disclaimer label located on the top of the YP 400:
"Note: Small spots within LCD are inherent with the application of magnification, and do NOT denote a product defect nor will they adversely affect the performance of the unit in any way."
During my previous experience with a similar YP 400 last year I did not experience this problem, nor was there any type of product disclaimer located on the device. There were no spots whatsoever anywhere in the LCD display.
Based on my previous experience I would have to chalk up this episode as a simple case of very poor workmanship. I can accept their disclaimer providing what I saw was only very minor spots. However what I experienced with this unit was totally unacceptable, as these spots did in fact impede the use of this product. I only wish there was some way that I could have taken photographic evidence of this to show you, the reader, what I'm describing here.
Discovering the YP 400's practical range limitation in a realistic field environment was of particular interest to me. For this reason I concentrated on hunting type situations where game approximately the size of deer or bear could be the intended target. I wanted to know specifically at what range I could have complete confidence in the YP 400 to accurately range a particular target. In doing so I placed little emphasis on the YP 400's target quality feature which I found to be somewhat inconsistent. Conducting multiple rangings on the same target while aiming the range finder at exactly the same point on the target, often produced varying target quality readings, even though the range reading was identical. Distant objects would typically show a high target quality value on one reading and a low value on the next one.
To ensure that the range readings were indeed accurate I ranged each target a minimum of three times with a self-imposed 6 yard extreme spread between the highest and lowest readings. This would allow for a + or - 1 yard average variance between readings.
As I pressed the YP 400's ranging capabilities with more distant targets it took longer and became more difficult to range as the distance increased. I considered the YP 400 at its practical range limit when the three readings exceeded the self-imposed 6 yard extreme spread limit. On several occasions I could not even acquire three range readings on distant targets.
Generally speaking, it appeared as though most targets were more easily ranged when the target completely filled the box within the cross hairs. It seemed that if the target could not fill the box completely, ranging took either longer to accomplish or could not be done at all. This is probably just a coincidence, although I did find using this technique helpful at times.
My first targets consisted of approximately two dozen sheep in several clusters located on a hillside with rough terrain, pocked with large rocks. The hill gradually sloped down into a stream. The weather at the time was cloudy and there would be snow flurry activity later on in the afternoon. It was approximately 2:00 p.m. so there wasn't a lack of daylight.
It was on this occasion that I found the zip thru feature to be very helpful. There was a fence that was approximately 50 yards in front of me that kept interfering with my ranging. The unit would pick up reflected laser from the fence and would register the distance to the fence instead of the intended target. Selecting the zip thru mode eliminated the problem immediately.
The clusters of sheep varied in size from 2 to 5 at distances from 200 to 365 yards. The smaller groups of 2-3 in size could be accurately and readily ranged at distances up to 250 yards. The larger groups of 3-5 could be done out to 350 yards. The maximum distance that I could reliably range them was 365 yards. At this distance, on these particular animals, it was increasingly getting more difficult to get even a reading from the YP 400. I have concluded that 365 yards was the accurate range limit of the YP 400 on this particular occasion under these circumstances. Given that Bushnell claims that the YP 400 should range accurately up to 400 yards, I do not think that its performance was all that baaaahhhddd !! Sorry, I just couldn't help myself.
Later on that afternoon around 4:00 p.m. I traveled to a farm where I knew some horses and possibly some cattle may be feeding off hay bales in an adjacent field. Some light snow flurries began to fall at the time. I felt that the flurries were light enough as not to interfere with the test. As a precaution, I enabled the rain mode feature to offset the chances that I could have been wrong.
My initial belief was that the horses would provide better targets for the YP 400 because of their increased size over the sheep. I presumed that I could exceed the 365 yards because the targets would reflect more laser back to the rangefinder than the sheep did. What happened next was completely unexpected. I could only get an accurate reliable reading of no more than 277 yards off individual horses.
Thinking that I was on a bad shooting angle, where more laser would be reflected away from the YP 400 rather than to it, I decided to change positions so that I was perpendicular to the target. I hoped this would improve the chances of getting a range reading greater than 277 yards, as I believed more laser could be reflected back to the rangefinder. The repositioning strategy worked as I ranged individual horses up to a maximum of 301 yards. However, I was a little disappointed that the large bodied animals failed to produce increased range readings over the smaller bodied sheep. After having given the situation a fair amount of thought, I felt the poor readings could have been a combination of several factors.
I gave the weather conditions some more consideration. Even though the flurries were light in my immediate surroundings, looking at distant objects through the naked eye revealed that the flurries may have been more of a factor than I had believed. Viewing an object with the naked eye, I estimated it to be roughly 1000 yards away. I realized my eye had to filter those images through literally 1000 yards of flurries that looked like a complete wall of snow at that range. I suppose the YP 400's optic system had to overcome similar circumstances. Its laser not only had to penetrate the flurries to the target but back to the rangefinder as well. I then realized the weather probably played a bigger part with the readings than I thought previously.
Also, the colour and composition of the horses' hair may have been a significant factor as well. I felt that the dark brown colour of the horses' hair may have been less reflective than the off white coloured sheep. Darker colours are going to absorb more laser and be generally less reflective than lighter ones.
Considering these two factors I'm now not surprised with the outcome. If there had been no precipitation at all, I can presume that the readings could have been significantly better than they were.
For my next test, I wanted to see how well the YP 400 performed under very low light conditions. This took place the day after the two previous test sessions.
It was completely dark at the time with only a small amount of light available to me from a nearby street lamp to see what I was doing. It was a calm clear night with no chance of precipitation unlike the day before. I wanted to see how well the YP 400 would perform under these conditions.
There was a partially lit storage building across a river from my vantage point. Reading the LCD display was a rather difficult task as there was no back light feature available to make reading the display easier. Instead, I had to resort to shifting away from the target to find a light source in order to read the display. This was a little un-nerving. Apparently, the back light feature is available in the YP 800 model but not in the YP 400. Here is an instance where Bushnell has had the opportunity to refine and improve on its product but has failed to do so.
The readings I got were achieved quite quickly and I had no problem ranging this target out to its location 485 yards away. It was getting late at night and I wanted to range some more targets in the general vicinity, so I marked my exact location and decided to come back the next day.
I returned at 1:00 p.m. the next afternoon. Weather conditions were the same as the night before and there was not a cloud in the sky. Wanting to get started, I began to range the same storage shed as the night before, so that I could establish a baseline performance for this session. I wanted to make sure that the readings would be identical as the night before.
After close to 10 minutes of trying, I could range that very same target only one time whereas the night before I could get readings every single time without any effort what so ever. I was completely stumped by this. I could not understand why this was happening. I figured if anything, my readings would be easier to perform because I was not hampered by darkness. The only thing I can think of is perhaps the lack of sunlight in some way improved the capability of the rangefinder. Maybe it was easier for the YP 400 to read the laser at night because it did not have to filter out the daylight?
Don't get me wrong, I am not an engineer or physicist and I have no way to prove this theory of mine at all. However, its the only plausible explanation I can come up with. Perhaps any of you out there reading this review can shed some light on the subject (no pun intended).
After having tested the YP 400 over several days I believe I have now had enough experience with it to form an opinion on the device.
First, let me say that I personally believe that Bushnell has performed a remarkable achievement bringing this high-tech product to the marketplace for a very reasonable cost. Having said that, I also feel that Bushnell could incorporate some new product improvements along the way as well.
Quality control has to be at the forefront for any manufacturer. This particular rangefinder should never have left the factory with the LCD in the condition that it was. A 5 second visual inspection at the factory would have prevented this rangefinder finding its way on the store shelf. I realize this type of thing happens all the time and you can never totally eliminate product defects. Having said that, I told my friend to return the unit and exchange it for another. He did. There were no problems with the second YP 400.
I realize that it is probably Bushnell's marketing strategy to offer the YP 400 as an entry level model and to keep the price as low as possible. However, this doesn't mean that Bushnell can't make changes to make this model more "value added" to the consumer. A little extra effort could be made to include such items as a back light feature that has found its way on the YP 800 model. Also, there were no lens caps or covers with the unit. Bushnell includes these with their el-cheapo binoculars so why not with a more expensive and potentially more profitable laser rangefinder? This is only common sense stuff ladies and gentlemen.
Even though it may make the product more costly to produce, I would like to see Bushnell rubber armour its rangefinders. I personally would pay a little more money for armouring to help protect my investment. Period.
If technically possible, in the future I would like to see Bushnell incorporate a mil-dot type system in at least one of its models to use as a backup in case the device is unable to produce a reading using its laser. Perhaps it could be offered as a completely separate model (for example, designation: YP 400 M). This would be an excellent feature that would give the user complete confidence that Bushnell's product is capable of doing the job.
There maybe even be some marketing advantages for Bushnell to incorporate this system as well. Even though one cannot consider any YP model to serve as a set of binoculars, it can perform this function in a pinch if necessary. It might be possible that the addition of a mil-dot system would also help Bushnell compete against other manufacturers offering mil-dot type range finding binoculars.
After all, aren't all of these products in some way either directly or indirectly in competition with each other, trying to get us to spend our hard earned dollars buying them?
If someone asked me if I would recommend the YP 400, I would have to say yes, providing that the purchaser is aware of the YP 400's capabilities and limitations and that they thoroughly examine the LCD for poor quality workmanship like I have noted above. I would also recommend that the buyer seize the opportunity to look at some of the other manufacturers' competing products in this market as well.
One must take into consideration that these laser rangefinders are not capable of performing miracles. Yes, they are precision instruments and quite capable of excellent results, but there are so many factors that can limit their performance it is best not to rely on them solely as a means to determine accurate range estimation.
If I had to purchase a Bushnell laser rangefinder for my own personal use, it would not be the YP 400. I would prefer to own either a YP 800 or possibly the rumored upcoming 1000 yard model to have the convenience of the extra range capability; even if I did not need it on all occasions.
Sure, there are plenty of uses for the YP 400 such as bow, handgun and varmint hunting for example, and those that require a rangefinder with a capability of up to 400 yards will not be disappointed with this product. The YP 400 does indeed live up to its billing.