Leica LRF800 and LRF1200 Rangefinders

7 August 2002
By Mark D.

This is a quick review of my Leica rangefinders which may help you decide which of the many rangefinders out there is best for you. You can see pictures and specs on the Leica website here

Let us start with the LRF800


I originally bought the LRF800 unit because it was the smallest unit I could find that would go out to 800 yards. (The LRF1200 was not around then.) It was a toss up between this and the Bushnell 1000 but the Bushnell costs half as much again as the Leica this side of the pond. (about $600 for Bushnell and $400 for the Leica.)

I had a look at someone else's Bushnell and three things put me off it. First, it is BIG. Secondly the image is very grainy and relatively dim as the image is actually viewed through the LCD screen. Lastly, it is pretty hard to see the display reticule and readout against dark areas or in poor light, (not too useful if you hunt at dawn or dusk) However, I'm told it will range significantly farther than the LRF800. If the Bushnell's LCD had a backlight it would be a much better package.

The Leica is quite small and fits easily in the palm of your hand.(12 x 10.5 x 4 cm) The optics have x7 magnification. It has a black rubberised finish and comes with a thin neck strap, a cordura and leather carrying case with belt loop and a stud fastener. It can be set to read in either yards or meters by a rotary switch inside the battery compartment. The unit runs on a single 9 volt battery which Leica say is good for 1000 readings. My only gripe is that it doesn't have any facility for attaching it to a tripod. You need a very steady hold to get readings at long range with the 800 model in particular and a tripod bushing would have helped.

As you would expect from Leica, the optics are excellent for a rangefinder and are very clear and bright even for a 7x21 monocular. The centre of the image was very crisp but quality falls off noticeably at the outer edges. I mean right at the edges, so I'm probably being a bit fussy here.

There are only two controls; the eyepiece focus and a pushbutton, so that should suit the technologically challenged among us. Push the button and a little red LED box comes on in the centre of the image. (It turns itself off after 4 seconds if you don't take a reading) Place the box over your target and push the button again. The lights go out while it thinks about things and after a second or two the box appears again with the distance to target displayed in red LED's under the box. If it didn't get a reading it will display three horizontal bars under the box instead of digits. The LED display automatically adjusts its intensity to ambient light conditions so you can see it in bright sunlight and it doesn't blind you at night.

The unit allows you to discriminate between close and far targets with another push of the button. For example if you are ranging your target through nearby branches it will give the range of the nearest target (i.e. the branches). However if you press and hold the button again within a second of pressing it for the first reading, it will ignore the close target and look for a weaker or at least delayed reflection, thus showing the distance to the farther target. Leica also recommend using this method in the rain.

Readings obviously depend on weather conditions and target reflectivity and you really do need a VERY steady hold to get the best out of the unit at extended ranges. It is pretty hard to predict what targets will give a good reading. Buildings and vehicles seem to give best results. Trees are variable but generally darker trees and conifers seem to give best results. Sheep work, (steady boys!) but I couldn't range black cows, twice the size at half the distance. I could get a reading on the grass they were standing on, but not the black cows. The farthest I have ranged with the LRF800 was a building out to 848 meters, (about 930 yards) so it does work as advertised. I have ranged an electricity pylon at 450m and that was fairly difficult to get a reading on, but I suppose it is mostly fresh air!


I sold my LRF800 as soon as I heard the 1200 was on the way. I had to wait a month until the first shipment arrived in the UK, but it was worth the wait. It costs 70 ($100) more than the LRF800 and it is worth every penny. Outwardly it is identical to the LRF800. Same size, same optics apparently, although my new LRF1200 unit's optics don't have the noticeable falloff in sharpness at the outer edges of the image that the 800 displayed. Maybe you can put that down to differences in individual units, so it may be worth having a look through a couple of units if you can and choose the best one. The big difference is that it has all new internal electronics. It has a more powerful laser, which explains the extra range and obviously they have stuck an extra digit in the LED readout. The case is now all cordura with a plastic quick-release clip fastener.

Operation is the same as outlined with the 800 but it is much easier to get good solid readings with this unit. Leica now produce an optional tripod adaptor which is basically a flat rubber coated plate with a rubber strap, which screws to the tripod and you strap your rangefinder to it. It would definitely help for the LRF800 but the 1200 is so much better that you don't really need it. I don't know why they couldn't just mould two tripod bushings into the body of the rangefinder, one on the bottom and one on the side so you could directly attach it to a tripod, either vertically or horizontally. I suppose they can make an extra 30 ($50) out of us this way. The farthest I have ranged so far was a tree (not the most reflective of targets) at 1083 meters hand held, unsupported, with this unit. It doesn't seem to mind bright sunlight and I haven't tried it at extended distances at dawn, dusk or dark to see if it goes farther. The lay of the land around here doesn't present many opportunities to see that far but other 1000+ meter readings were a small stack of tyres painted white, a truck, and a patch of “blonde” grass on a hillside. (May have been Undude's ghillie suit!) Interestingly I couldn't get a reading on some army trucks which were parked slightly closer - about 800m. Maybe it was their colour or could be they were painted with IR absorbent paint, I don't know, but I just thought it was interesting.

I have attached a few pictures (taken very unscientifically by sticking my digital camera up to the eyepiece of the LRF1200) which should give you an idea of what you will see through this rangefinder. I'm afraid I didn't have the good sense to compress them all by the same amount but considering these are compressed images from a digital camera you should be able to work out just how good the optics are. (Webmaster: I had to reduce the photos even more to cater for faster downloads. However, except for the Venetian blind photo, the two original full-size photos are available. To see them just click on the photo.) Interestingly one of the pictures was taken through a Venetian blind and a double-glazed window, so it shows it could be pretty useful for L.E. types who want to keep a low profile in urban environments. Obviously, you should stay as perpendicular to the glass as possible as the farther off axis you go the more laser light you will loose through reflection in the glass making it harder to get a reading.

In conclusion, I am very happy with the LRF1200. It goes as far as I'm ever likely to want to shoot with my .308 and .223 and I would have no trouble recommending it to anyone looking to go out to 1000 yards (and then some). When I first started using my rangefinder it was a real eye opener for me. I found out just how bad my range estimation really was (still is) particularly where there are no handy reference objects of a known size, just trees and fields. It would be ideal for hunting, Law Enforcement and I dare say the boys in green could put it to good use as well (laser detectors permitting). Get one, you won't be sorry.

This reading was taken through a venetian blind and a double glazed window.

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