October 01, 2021
By Andrew McKean
Technological innovation is always looking forward. Think about the smart phone in your pocket. You are probably more interested in what the next generation will do than you are with details of what your last model did, even though you were impressed with the cutting-edge technology of that "old" product at the time.
It's only when we arrive at significant milestones that we turn our gaze from the future to what got us here. Bushnell has reached just a point with its 25-year anniversary of innovation in the laser rangefinding category.
It's fitting, just as the company introduces a new rangefinding binocular, the Fusion X 10x42, and a new "ActivSynch" display that morphs between black and red depending on light conditions, that we consider the generations of technology over the past quarter-century that have benefitted generations of hunters and shooters.
Bushnell's relationship with laser rangefinding started as a moon-shot, almost literally. Back in 1995, the company’s first handheld unit adapted the same technology pioneered by NASA to measure distances in space, fundamental to the deployment and retrieval of satellites. That first handheld laser rangefinder was the size of a microwave, unwieldy, and slow. But it showed product developers the promise of adapting the technology to the field, to help hunters and shooters understand the precise distances to their targets.
The first Bushnell-branded laser rangefinder, introduced in 1996, was the Yardage Pro 400, the first laser rangefinder for the U.S. market that featured scan and rain modes, attributes that competitors' units wouldn't include for years. The unit is actually charming in its design. It had binocular objective lenses, but a single monocular ocular lens, and was about the size of a motorcycle battery.
That first rangefinder scored Bushnell something besides a devoted core of customers; it earned the company the first of a handful of U.S. patents that proved its primacy as a leader in laser-aided rangefinding and the integration of digital displays.
The Yardage Pro dominated the market to such a degree that the next frontier in Bushnell's innovation was more than a decade after its introduction. The Yardage Pro Compact 800, introduced in 2001, brought illuminated display, a more powerful ranging engine, and a compact chassis. With two notable exceptions, this was the end of the sandwich-style design, intended to be used with both hands.
New Rangefinding Style
The year 2004 brought the introduction of the vertical, one-hand monocular-style rangefinder that has come to define the category. The Yardage Pro Scout, with ranging out to 700 yards, was not only easier to carry and deploy, but its waterproof rating and high-quality optics made this an essential part of hard-hunters' kits. The unit earned Bushnell its second laser-rangefinding patent, for refinements to the display.
Also in 2004, Bushnell brought out the horizontal Elite 1500, positioned to join the other top-quality optics in the Elite line. The unit was renowned for its pinpoint accuracy and ability to range through just about any sort of atmospheric condition.
Starting in 2007, with the introduction of the Legend 1200 ARC, Bushnell's innovations grabbed another gear. The ARC technology earned Bushnell a patent, for its mid-trajectory range acquisitions.
Bowhunters, especially, appreciated the ability to determine—before releasing an arrow—whether they would miss that bothersome limb hanging in the middle of their shooting lane. But the Legend 1200 brought something else to the party, a compensated-distance feature that displayed mid-trajectory ranges based on projectile drops along 10 different ballistic curves. That technology remains a big part of angle-adjusted rangefinders from any brand and was a game-changer for bowhunters and high-angle mountain hunters when it was introduced.
A World-Changing Binocular
In 2010, Bushnell put all the ingredients that it had poured into different units into its Fusion 1600 ARC Laser Rangefinding Binoculars. This was world-changing at the time, the ability to range targets through a traditional 10x42 binocular. The unit, copied by many brands in the decade since its introduction, ranged targets to 1,600 yards, added ARC bow and rifle modes based on arrow- and bullet-drop dynamics, and brought it all to the user with the "Vivid Display Technology" that was enhanced by the use of special coatings. Plus, it delivered all these attributes in an affordable platform, compared with the early European rangefinding binoculars.
The company's next quantum leap came in 2015 with the introduction of the Elite 1 Mile ARC CONX, the first laser rangefinder that connected with smart phones. Linked by the CONX Bluetooth connection, users could set up the unit with custom ballistic curves, get hold-over values in inches, MOA, or MILs, and inform shooting solutions through linkage to Kestrel wind and environmental units.
Some long-range shooters, looking back on nearly a decade of super-charged innovation in the category, claim the precision-target revolution started with the 1 Mile ARC.
The Class of 2019
Bushnell tripled up on innovation in 2019 with the introduction of the Prime 1300 and 1700 models, plus the Nitro 1800. The Prime units feature an all-glass optical system that boosts brightness of the image and a rich-black LCD display that enhances contrast in various light conditions. The 1300 with ARC technology became a darling of bowhunters, who used its capability to select the correct pin when shooting from high-angle elevated stands.
The Nitro 1800, also a product of that productive class of 2019, gave precision shooters a small, light, bright tool to inform their shots. Powered by Applied Ballistics’ suite of trajectories, the unit provides a ballistic solution out to 800 yards out of the box and is upgradeable to 2,000 yards. Like the CONX before it, the Nitro 1800 pairs with a smartphone for custom ballistic inputs. The ability to link to Bushnell's Ballistic App provides even more customization, and linkage with Kestrel's powerful environmental station gives shooters some of the best real-world aiming solutions on the market. The unit also gave Bushnell another patent, this time for integrating off-unit data in the on-board ranging solution.
This nearly catches us up with Bushnell's rangefinding innovations, but the company celebrates its quarter-century of giving hunters and shooters smart, useful tools with the Fusion X rangefinding binocular and an updated version of the Prime 1800.
Both units feature a patented dual-color display, called ActivSync™ that automatically morphs from rich black in bright daylight to vivid red in twilight conditions. The ability of the display to intuitively transition in brightness and visibility means hunters and shooters no longer have to fumble with brightness settings or risk misreading the display in changing light conditions.
Even more remarkable, the display can be simultaneously red and black when environmental conditions require.
What will Bushnell's engineers and product developers have for their next quarter-century of innovation? That's the other thing about technology: it's far easier to trace the origin of innovations than to predict where they're headed. But with its haul of patents, its understanding of its customers' needs, and its ability to combine high technology with user-friendly features, we can't wait to revisit this topic in 2046.