The 4 Best Chronographs for the Money – Ballistic Shooting Reviews

best chronograph for the money, best shooting chronograph for the money, best ballistic chronograph

Photo by Roger Fenton / CC BY

The first electronic shooting chronographs date back to the late 19th Century and relied upon crude arrangements where a bullet cut a wire, which registered an electric pulse. A rather crude affair, but reasonably effective, and useful for military training and experimentation, particularly with artillery. Eventually, the shooting chronograph evolved to the point of using optical sensors to note the passage of a projectile.

Today, a modern shooting chronograph consists of two “screens” fitted with optical sensors that note the passage of the bullet through them, and then calculate the speed of the bullet as it passes through each screen. Shooting chronographs are in great demand with handloaders who seek to determine the speed various bullets achieve when loaded in particular ways. This is crucial when working up custom loads for hunting, target shooting, or self defense ammo. Bullets have different performance at different speeds, and so it is important to know how fast you are pushing them out of the barrel of your gun.

Additionally, some people seek to load ammo to maximize velocity, and again need to be able to accurately measure that speed. Below, we examine some of the best chronographs for the money:

The Shooting Chrony Alpha Master

  • Shooting Chrony Alpha Master Chronograph (red)
  • Price: $138.30
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This is about as no frills a shooting chronograph as you can get. Designed to measure projectile velocity ranging from airgun speed to a high powered rifle, the Alpha Master accurately displays velocity on its digital readout. To use, simply connect the screens to the unit, power it on and fire a round through the screens (ideally without shooting the chronograph itself!). With its low price and lack of excess features, this is a great entry level chronograph, or simply the best shooting chronograph for people on a budget.

Shooting Chrony Alpha Master Review

Competition Electronics Pro Chrono Pal

  • Competition Electronics 539009-SSI Pro Chrono Pal
  • Price: $91.80
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    Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.
Another great choice in the world of budget chronographs, the Pro Chrono Pal is a nice, sleek streamlined unit. Capable of measuring shots from 22 to 7700 feet per second speed, as well as displaying high, low, and average velocity of a shot string. Running off a single 9 volt battery, the Pro Chrono Pal is among the top contenders for the best ballistic chronograph that offers versatility, low cost, and efficient power consumption. Built for years of rugged service, this particular shooting chronograph will serve you for a very long time.

Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital – Review

Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph Kit

Almost without a doubt the best shooting chronograph on the market, Caldwell is a name long associated with premium shooting equipment, and their chronograph is no exception. This isn’t just a chronograph, it’s a full blown kit, with everything a shooter could want, from a mounting tripod, to software that interfaces with an iPad or iPhone to record outputs of shot strings, average velocity, and all other data put out by the chronograph. Designed with the serious shooter in mind, the Caldwell Ballistic Precision kit is the first and last shooting chronograph you ever need to buy. Built to last for many years of hard use, this chronograph will make you the envy of all your shooting friends.

Caldwell "Ballistic Precision" Chronograph Premium Kit

Shooting Chrony Gamma Master with Printer

A deluxe packing from the folks at Shooting Chrony, the Gamma Master measures velocity from 30 to 7000 feet per second, making this suitable for pretty much any firearm you might care to use (laser gun owners need to look for something else). Built of rugged 20 gauge steel, and running off a single nine volt battery, the Gamma Master is accurate to within .5 percent accuracy, and is surprisingly lightweight for its heavy duty construction. If you are looking for a complete chronograph kit that won’t break the bank but is packed full of useful features and a printer for logging your shot records, then the Gamma Master is certainly one of the best chronographs on the market today.

Chrony Gamma Master

So What Exactly Should I Be Looking For?

The technology behind any shooting chronograph is fairly mature, that means a quality chronograph can be had fairly reasonable and that they all offer about the same performance. Having said that, the real value and difference between chronographs lie in the accessories and what sort of output data you can get off them.

The primary use of a shooting chronograph is to measure the speed of a projectile. However, because most people who buy chronographs are handloaders who want to understand and examine the loads the work up for various guns, they will want to know more than just the speed of any given shot. Handloaders often work up ammo in small batches, using a particular primer, powder load and bullet. They may not know exactly how that load will perform in a given rifle, or under particular weather conditions. Ammunition performs differently in different temperatures, so a load that is a great load for the summer, may be terrible to shoot in the cold of winter, or vice versa. Therefore, it is important to examine a load under different temperatures.

Additionally, experimental loads are often worked up, which would require examination beyond simple velocity. The best chronographs will record data for a group of shots, and give you a peak velocity, lowest velocity and average velocity. This will allow you to see if your loads are shooting consistently (for instance if you have a major deviation between your fastest and slowest round in the same batch, something may be wrong) and what the average performance from a particular lot is.

Nowadays, the best shooting chronographs also offer a way to permanently record shot data. They do this either through printing it off on a small printer which resembles a grocery store receipt tape (which in turn is useful for storing with a batch of ammo) or by outputting it electronically to a smart phone or tablet. Either way, with the right attachments and accessories, you are able to simply dump data, instead of recording it by hand.

In the end, the best ballistic chronographs are defined by your needs and budget. There are chronographs suitable for all budgets, that are as bare bones as one can get, to complete full blown kits packed full of accessories and shiny features. No matter what though, you’ve got some great choices to pick from right now.

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