Best Chronograph for Shooting: 2021 Buyer’s Guide and Best 5 Models

best shooting chronograph

The best shooting chronograph accurately measures the muzzle velocity, or speed that the bullets leave the barrel of a gun. Muzzle velocity is an important factor when it comes to determining which bullet cartridges offer the best performance based on their speed and weight.

Unfortunately, not all shooting chronographs are created equal, which is why I’ve created a buyer’s guide that includes all of the important features to look for in a chronograph that can deliver accurate readings. I’ve also tested many of the best-selling devices, narrowing it down to five that are reliable and offer the type of performance every buyer is looking for.

Below, you’ll notice a comparison chart, which includes every model, in addition to their rating and other important information, all of which can help you choose a chronograph that’s right for you.

However, if you are looking for best laser dry fire training system to improve your aim and precision, we’ve come up with a guide you can read here.

Chronograph Comparison Chart

ProductDesignPowerAppRating
Caldwell Ballistic
Precision
Chronograph

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Standalone9 Volt BatteryYes
Caldwell G2 Ballistic
Chronograph

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StandaloneLi-IonYes
Competition Electronics
Chronograph

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Standalone9 Volt BatteryYes
MagnetoSpeed
Ballistics Chronographs

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Barrel-Mounted9 Volt/ CR123 BatteryNo
MagnetoSpeed Shooting
Chronograph Kit

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Barrel-Mounted9 Volt BatteryNo

Best Chronograph for Shooting-Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph


Our Rating: (5/5)

The Caldwell Ballistic precision chronograph is versatile, reliable,  and comes calibrated right out of the box. The device measures meters per second and feet per second. For smartphone use, you’ll connect the device to your smartphone, via the included 15 foot audio jack cable, to review important data.

Using the free app, buyers can review the velocity of each shot on their phone screen. Thanks to the app, reading important diagnostic information is fast and simple. The app automatically calculates the standard deviation, average velocity, and the maximum and minimum velocity spread for shot strings.

Pros

  • Comes with 15-inch audio jack cable
  • Extra-wide sunshades
  • +/- 0.25% accuracy
  • Calibrated right out of the box
  • Large display
  • Includes carry bag

Cons

  • Is only compatible with iOS and Android devices

Conclusion

The Caldwell Ballistic Precision chronograph is one of the most accurate shooting chronographs on the market and it’s able to measure across a wide range of conditions, including high winds. Shooters can review and store string data using the Caldwell app on their phone, which also displays weather conditions, velocity, and other important information. While the chronograph uses top of the line technology, the device itself features a very intuitive design that makes it more beginner friendly.

Best Starter Kit-Caldwell G2 Ballistic Precision Chronograph with Tripod


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

The G2 Caldwell Ballistic Precision chronograph features 18-inch sensor spacing for improved accuracy. Each of the units has been calibrated at the factory, so this system is ready to go, right out of the box. The chrono measures within +/-0.25% accuracy, with the ability to measure from 5-9,999 feet per second. The system includes inverted LED lights that improve the indoor shooting experience. The free app displays weather conditions, notes, log data, and velocity.

The data can be exported via email or text so you can review important shot strings data on your cell phone. This system is compatible with Fire tablets, Android devices, and iOS devices. This Caldwell system runs on a rechargeable li-ion battery and comes with a charger. Buyers can choose how the data is displayed using feet per second or meters per second. This chronograph is perfect for paintball, firearms, air guns, and archery.

Pros

  • Works indoors and outdoors
  • Intuitive app
  • Includes 2 LED panels
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Large display

Cons

  • Tripod is flimsy

Conclusion

The Caldwell ballistic precision chronograph comes with an app that is easy to use and displays the velocity of shots, right on your smartphone. The Caldwell chronograph records other data including environmental and load conditions and calculates standard deviation, average velocity, and max, min, spread velocity. The system itself is easy to set up and is factory calibrated, so it’s ready to go right out of the box.

By inverting the system, this model can accurately measure velocity in poor light conditions, compared to competing systems that may provide inaccurate readings every time you try to use it on overcast days or in dim light conditions. The Caldwell system’s improved accuracy is all thanks to the 48 MHZ processor which is faster than what you’ll find in other models, making the G2 one of the best shooting chronographs on the market.

Beginner Friendly-Competition Electronics ProChrono DLX Chronograph


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

The Competition Electronics ProChrono chronograph is perfect for measuring shots from firearms, paintball, airguns, and shotguns, and it can also be used for archery. This system also comes with everything you need for outdoor and indoor use. Unfortunately, for indoor use, a lighting system is recommended, however, the lighting system by Competition Electronics is sold separately. The chronograph is operated via a 9 volt alkaline battery. The Competition Electronics Prochrono also features onboard Bluetooth connectivity and a free app that’s compatible with Macs, PCs, Kindle, Android, and iOS devices. This model features a full operating system, complete with shot string memory, so you can review each practice session and take an in-depth look at your shooting statistics.

Pros

  • +/- .5% accuracy
  • Diffuser hood
  • Compatible with Macs, PCs, Kindle, Android, and iOS devices
  • Works indoors and outdoors
  • Provides shot string velocity data
  • Display instantly provides diagnostic info

Cons

  • App can be difficult to use

Conclusion

The Competition Electronics ProChron is one of the best shooting chronographs on the market. It comes with a large display that’s easy to read in bright sunlight, onboard memory, a free app and has a high accuracy rating. This Competition Electronics unit is designed to help you accurately measure your shooting speed so you can evaluate every shot string to improve your performance at the range or in the field. The Competition Electronics ProChrono comes loaded with all the features that make this unit easy to use both indoors and outdoors.

Most Versatile-MagnetoSpeed Barrel-Mounted Ballistics Chronographs


Our Rating: (4.5/5)

This is a barrel-mounted chronograph by MagnetoSpeed. This device is designed to be used with suppressors and barrels between ½ an inch up to two inches. This kit comes with everything you need to obtain accurate velocity readings. This system relies on electromagnetic sensors that measure the velocity as the bullet passes by the sensor. The velocity results are sent to the handheld display, which provides other information, including standard deviation. The large display is very beginner friendly and features a three button design that you’ll use to navigate the user menu. Unlike competing models, this system provides easy access to the large battery compartment, so you can swap your batteries out when you’re on the go.

Pros

  • Versatile
  • Accurate
  • Easy to use
  • Operates on 9 volt battery
  • Large LCD screen display
  • Intuitive users menu
  • Displays shot information
  • Compact unit

Cons

  • Not compatible with all models of air guns

Conclusion

Instead of optical sensors, this shooting chrony relies on electromagnetic sensors, which eliminates common issues that you’ll run into with systems that use optical sensors. This unit can operate in any type of light conditions, is accurate, easy to set up, and can store up to 99 shots per string. This barrel mounted chronograph kit accurately measures bullet velocity standard deviation, and is compatible with a wide range of firearms.

Best Choice for Centerfire Rifles & Revolvers-MagnetoSpeed Sporter Barrel-Mounted Ballistics Shooting Chronograph Kit


Our Rating: (4/5)

The MagnetoSpeed Sporter chronograph kit is a barrel-mounted system that’s compatible with barrels from half an inch up to 1 inch in diameter. It also works for flash hiders and muzzle brakes that measure up to 2.7-inches long. The bayonet style sensor will record shot strings, providing fast and accurate data, every time. The accuracy of this system is well worth the higher price tag. Not only is the system accurate, it’s also easy to use, thanks to the single button display. This chronograph kit is perfect for long-barreled revolvers and contoured rifle barrels.

Pros

  • Barrel mounted
  • Low price
  • Easy to use
  • Decent battery life
  • Adjustable quick attach strap
  • Single button display unit

Cons

  • System is designed for centerfire rifles and revolvers only

Conclusion

This unit is lightweight and compact. It operates on a 9 volt battery, with a battery compartment that’s easy to access, which is something that many competing models lack. The included quick attach strap system includes a triad thumb nut and metal buckle for improved security. This system is designed for centerfire rifles and revolvers and is not compatible with the MagnetoSpeed rail adapter and brake adapter.

Chronograph for Shooting Buyer’s Guide

If you don’t know much about shooting chronographs, then you may not know why muzzle velocity is so important. Heavy bullets that travel at slower speeds will start to fall to the ground sooner compared to a lighter bullet that travels at faster speeds at the same target. A chronograph for shooting can measure this type of difference. For many beginners, a shooting chrony is something they don’t consider using, mainly because these devices  seem intimidating to use.  But if you want to improve your shooting skills, this type of diagnostic tool can be invaluable. Below, I’ll start this buyer’s guide off by going over how these devices work and the different types available.

How a Shooting Chronograph Works

Ballistic chronograph

While a shooting chrony may seem complicated, these devices are pretty simple to use. Once you switch on the device, it will start up a crystal oscillator. The oscillator works sort of like a stopwatch and will turn off and on when rounds pass over the photoelectric cells.

When you fire a round, it creates a shadow when it passes over the first photoelectric cell. The change in light makes the oscillator stop. Since the device knows the exact distance between the cells and how fast a round covered this surface, it’s able to calculate the speed of a round.

Types of Shooting Chronographs

You’ll come across a few standard types of chronographs. Each unit has the same goal of measuring the rate of a projectile, but each type will rely on different types of technologies to get an accurate reading.

Light

A chronograph looks at the light below or above a couple of sensors that are set ten to twelve inches apart. The device waits for the light to be disturbed on each sensor, then it calculates the rate.

Electromagnetic

Other types of chronographs will work using a similar method, but instead of using a light, the unit is equipped with small electromagnetic sensors. A projectile will disturb the electromagnetic field, then it will calculate the rate and provide a result.

Doppler Radar

A shooting chrony that uses doppler radar technology is all the buzz in the shooting community. But are these  radar shooting chronographs better than light or electromagnetic models, or is it all just hype? If you’re shopping online for a new device, you may have stumbled across an article or two that discusses radar chronology technology and use.

Labradar is one of the leading manufacturers in the industry. Its release of the Labradar doppler radar chronograph comes with a steep price, but some gun enthusiasts claim this model is well worth the money.

When not equipped with artificial illumination, optical models can run into issues with accuracy. Too little light or too much light can produce system errors or missed shots. The use of electromagnetic sensors are meant to solve these inaccuracy issues, and while they can help, these tools are not without their limitations. Labradar chronographs don’t use the same type of doppler radars that the military uses because products that are sold for civilian use must meet FCC regulations. These regulations limit transmissions, which impacts the device’s radar range and sensitivity. However, Labradar’s shooting chronograph is sensitive enough to capture bullet velocity, with the help of an acoustic mic.

Labradar Offers an Alternative to Older Tech

Unlike other technologies, the Labradar shooting chronograph doesn’t capture the velocity by determining the amount of time it takes a bullet to shoot between the start and stop sensors that are separated by a fixed distance. Instead, the acoustic mic is used to establish the start and stop time of each shot, then it calculates the velocity backward to the muzzle from doppler returns that are reflected off the bullet’s base.  During this time, the radar constantly pulses so that reflections are kept at random ranges for every shot with a range of 15 to 25 feet. Chronographs that use doppler radar technology do not measure velocity between sensors. Instead, a reading is processed using firmware that predicts the muzzle velocity. Of course, the right electromagnetic or light system can offer the type of accurate readings all shooters are looking for, without the steep price that comes with a doppler radar style system.

Which Type of Chrony is Right for You?

magneto speed chronograph

The word is still out concerning how reliable the chronograph radar systems are, and they also come with their own slew of problems, such as issues with standard deviation, high power needs, and difficulty aiming the shooting chronograph precisely down range to get an accurate reading. For now, most shooters still prefer the standard electromagnetic and light chronys that have been around for decades, due to their ease of use, lower price tag, and reliability.

Must-Have Features

Before you order one of these devices, there are some important factors you should consider. These factors will determine how reliable, accurate, and easy to use a device is, and whether or not it’s compatible with your  firearm.

Accuracy

When you’re shopping for a shooting chronograph, accuracy is by far the most important factor to consider. The ability to find a bullet’s true velocity is heavily dependent on how accurate a device is.

Fortunately, most models are calibrated right out of the box. However, it’s important to be aware that accuracy can vary from model to model. In terms of accuracy variation, it’s usually only a one to two percent difference. Although, when it comes to any type of measuring tool, this can be a major difference.

If you want to learn just how accurate one of these devices is, make sure you read shooting chronograph reviews, where you can read reviews from real customers who have experience with each particular model you’re interested in.

Display

On most devices, you’ll find a display that lists important data and statistics. A large LCD display allows you to easily review your data in bright and low light conditions. However, you may also come across a low quality display that is difficult to read in bright light. Many of the leading models come equipped with an LCD display that can easily be read in a variety of light conditions, whether you’re indoors or outside. Steer clear of any device that received low marks for display quality or design.

Typically, the display can easily be controlled with the use of 1-2 buttons that are used to scroll through the stored data.

Ease of Use

Generally speaking, a shooting chronograph is pretty easy to set up and doesn’t require much in terms of assembly, aside from putting some sun shields and rods together. Additionally, a shooting chronograph is usually calibrated at the factory, so it’s ready to use right out of the box. If the device comes with a large display, you can reference the user’s manual to learn how to retrieve and save important data. Many modern systems now come with a dedicated app that will display all of the data from past shot strings instantly and store them for later review.

Unfortunately, some apps are more intuitive than others, so you may find yourself struggling to navigate the user’s menu on your phone to access certain features. These problems usually come from newer apps that still have some bugs that need to be worked out.

Read the User’s Manual

Before you try your chronograph for the first time, make sure you read every page of the user’s manual, and an online article or two regarding your specific model. You can also watch Youtube videos, which can be very helpful, especially if you’re a new shooter and have never used a chronograph before.

What Can Impact Chronograph Readings?

caldwell chronograph

Below is a list of factors that can have a negative impact on a chrongraph’s readings.

Ambient Temperature

A bullet’s powder will burn slower when it’s cold out. Because of this, it’s normal for a shooting chronograph to record lower velocities than it will when it’s hotter outside or once the ammo and barrel have had a chance to heat up.

Light Conditions

If you’re using a chronograph with light sensors, be sure to check that both sensors are receiving the same amount of light. Don’t expose the sensors to direct sunlight on bright days.

Muzzle Blast

One of the biggest issues that can impact accuracy is muzzle blast. Muzzle blast can interfere with the chronograph’s results if it reaches the sensors before a shot. Because of this, it’s important to keep the device about ten to twelve feet away from the muzzle.

Data a Chronograph Can Provide

The best shooting chronographs can provide shooters with important data, including extreme spread, shot string data and shot speeds.

Velocity

All of these devices will provide data on speed. Most models will display this info in meters per second or feet per second, so you can choose how you want to display the data, based on personal preference.

String Data

Most of these devices can keep track of a string of shots. This provides important info regarding a user’s shooting skills, which makes this tool just the thing some shooters need, if they’re looking for a device that’s accurate and one that can help them advance their shooting skills.

Highest & Lowest Velocity

The highest data shows the user the value of the fastest shot in a string, while the

lowest data provides the value of the slowest in a string.

Average

Average velocity is the average speed of all the shots combined

Power

Not all models are able to measure the power factor, however, some can. This type of data will multiply a shot’s velocity with a bullet’s grain to calculate the power of  shots.

Extreme Spread

Extreme spread info shows the difference between the slowest and fastest round.

Standard Deviation

The best way to find value for standard deviation is to fire a minimum of ten shots per string. Fewer shots in a string can make the data unreliable, so, if you want a better value, then be prepared to shoot more rounds.

Power Factor

The power factor is the ranking system that’s used in shooting competitions. The power factor measures a round’s momentum and will scale it to its weight. This data is calculated in Newton seconds and is what determines a shooter’s score.

Setting Up a Chronograph

caldwell chronograph set up

When you’re using a shooting chrony, there are some basic rules you should follow.

You’re not supposed to shoot at one of these devices. This may seem obvious, however, it also happens to be the most common mistake those new to chronograph use have made.  You must shoot over the photoelectric cells if you want an accurate reading.

The chronograph’s reading will be more accurate if you’re able to fire consistently over the same spot of the photoelectric cells. For this, scopes, boresights, and red dot sights can be really helpful.

Shots should pass over the light sensors at a minimum of five inches above them. If shots pass higher, the device may not detect it.

If you end up using a red dot sight or a scope, don’t set up the chronograph based on their height. A red dot sight or scope is often positioned a couple of inches above the bore.

Read the chronograph’s instructions and follow them closely. If the instructions don’t mention how far you should stay away from the device when you take shots, make sure you place it a minimum of ten feet away from the muzzle.

Usage Tips

  • When you plan on using a chronograph, take several guns with you. If you’re using a high power rifle, make sure you give the barrel time to cool down, otherwise, the chronograph may provide inaccurate information.
  • To prevent false readings, be sure to set the chronograph at the correct distance.
  • Set a target at the same distance as the chronograph, shooting once from each firearm to determine the point of impact at the set distance.
  • Before you shoot over the chronograph use the target to determine where to aim over the device. Shots should not be placed closer than two feet or more than four feet above it. Keep in mind, sky screens are not sensors. The sensors can be found on the top edge of the device’s body.
  • Keep a notepad on hand to write down the results, noting the type of firearm and load used. You can write down other information, including the temperature, light conditions, and any other information that can impact readings.
  • Keep extra batteries on hand. Chronographs tend to die at the most inconvenient times.
  • Be sure to mount the chronograph on a sturdy stand or tripod that will keep it securely in place.
  • Take shots from a bench rest position. It will be a lot easier to make shots from an off hand position and hit the chronograph. Be sure that the firearm doesn’t touch any part of the rest or bench since recoil can cause the muzzle to jump.

Do I Need a Shooting Chronograph?

A shooting chrony may be useless to the average shooter, but if you shoot competitively or you want to learn how to shoot long range with precision, then using one of these devices will be the best thing to boost your shooting performance. Precision long range shooting is very velocity dependent. While chronographs are considered devices that are more directed toward advanced shooters, they’re actually easier to use than most people think.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Important is a Chronograph for Reloading?

How important this device is depends on what you’re reloading for. You’ll need to use this device to develop accurate rifle loads.

What is Measured by a Chronograph?

This device can be used to measure elapsed time in terms of minutes, seconds, and split seconds.

Will a Chronograph Work Indoors?

Chronographs will work indoors, but it will need even lighting. This can be difficult to pull off in some homes. The best indoor setup is a white background with an even amount of light over the sensing area. You can come across some models that are compatible with optional accessories that can make them more accurate for indoor use.

How Accurate are Chronographs?

The results of a chronograph can be corrected or validated with field data. You can shoot targets at a known distance to validate measured average velocities.

How is Muzzle Velocity Measured?

Muzzle velocity is usually stated in FPS, or feet per second. However, there are some brands that will list the readings in MPS, or meters per second.

Final Thoughts

The best shooting chronograph can help you improve the performance you get out of your ammo. It can also help you achieve faster reload speeds. A shooting chronograph is an important piece of equipment to have on hand, if you want to improve your skill as a shooter. This guide, and my product recommendations, can help you narrow down your search so you can choose a tool that works the best for you and one that’s accurate and comfortable to use.

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