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How Do Range Finders Work?

Soldier using a laser range finder

Understanding how range finders work can help you utilise them better in the field. A range finder is a device that estimates the distance of an object from the observer. There are a variety of range finding methods, using laser, sonar or radar, with laser range finders being commonly used in military scenarios and airsoft.

How They Work

All laser range finders work using the same basic principle. Pushing a button emits laser beams, which bounce off distant objects. The high-speed clock of the range finder measures the time it takes the laser beams to leave the unit and return. Knowing the beam travels at the speed of light, the unit uses that measurement to calculate the distance travelled.

Though laser range finders all work in that concept, there is space to innovate, and it is impressive to see the difference in performance from one range finder to the next. Below we have taken a look at what makes for a good range finder.

Spotting Target

For the range finder to spot the target, it will need quality optics with proper magnification. Game shooters go for an 8x to 10x magnification, but for airsoft, when targets are larger and slower moving than birds, a 5x magnification may suffice. Most important is that the quality of the scope and appropriate magnification are balanced.

Aperture Size

The aperture is a hole or opening through which light travels. On a range finder, the larger aperture helps in how much data the unit can collect. This also allows the finder to perform at greater distances and helps with the resolution and accuracy of measuring shorter distances.

Getting Laser Energy on the Target

The ability to get the laser energy to focus on a target relates to beam divergence and the quality of the laser pulses transmitted. The type, wavelength and sharpness of the beam are hard to measure but do indicate a good quality range finder.

Analysing Results

Range finders can differ significantly on how they interpret the readings, with some being better than others. Older units will display the first reading, while newer models use multi-pulse technology. A multi-pulse approach emits a burst of hundreds of small laser beams over a short period, collecting a large sample of readings. These results are analysed to determine the range with more certainty.

Why Use A Range Finder in Airsoft?

In the military, range finders provide an exact distance to targets which are located beyond the range of point-blank shooting, for snipers or artillery. They are used for military reconnaissance too. This application can be transferred to airsoft, also. While a top-shelf range finder is not necessary for airsoft, a handheld range finder can help you locate your opponents and make a note of the distance, which is an important aspect to skirmishes for many players. It can also help you whilst you are setting up your rifle & scope and be incredibly useful in helping you to estimate distances properly, whilst you may not have time to whip out your range finder in game, spending some time with one before hand may mean you don’t have too! Range finders can also be useful in hunting, so you may want to have one with you when rabbiting with an air gun or game shooting.

Check out the range finder we have available at Surplus Store, along with scopes and airsoft guns. Whether you are new to the sport or are wanting an upgrade on your gear, we are happy to help and give some expert advice.

Image credit: Mathuel Browne

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