Bushnell recently marked a milestone 25th anniversary of innovation in laser rangefinder technology. The company invented the first handheld unit for hunters in 1995 and followed that up one year later with the Yardage Pro 400, the rangefinder that launched the category. Since then, Bushnell has continuously improved LRF technology and introduced a host of innovations along the way. These included the Elite 1500 in 2004 with brush and bullseye modes and rain guard lens coatings, and the Legend 1200 ARC in 2007, which was the first ARC rangefinder with accurate distance compensation for uphill and downhill shots. That was followed by the Elite 1Mile CONX, the first rangefinder to use a Bluetooth app to interface with smartphones.
Now Bushnell has unveiled Fusion X rangefinder binoculars, and they’re a game-changer. That’s because they incorporate first-of-its-kind ActivSynch display technology, which automatically adjusts for lighting conditions by displaying a black readout against bright backgrounds and a red readout against dark backgrounds, with what the company describes as “infinitely variable” tones in between. ActivSynch is always on when you’re ranging targets, but you can easily adjust the intensity of the readout in setup mode, with options to set the brightness at 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent, and 100 percent. I found the default setting of 25 percent to be adequate for most situations.
If you’ve never used rangefinder binoculars, you’ll quickly find that they have some advantages over standard rangefinders for hunters. Ease and speed of use, in terms of manipulating one piece of equipment instead of two, are clear advantages. Another consideration is weight. Carrying one piece of gear versus two can obviously result in some weight savings. The Fusion X 10×42 binoculars I tested weighed 2 lbs., 2 oz. on my postal scale, while the weight of Bushnell’s Forge 10×42 binoculars, plus a separate rangefinder, came in at 2 lbs., 9 oz. That seven-ounce difference may not seem like a lot, but for high mountain or backcountry hunters, every ounce of weight matters. Binoculars also have an advantage in magnification, which makes it easier to get accurate readings so long as you can hold them steady. Unless you’re buying very high-end binoculars, you can also save money buying one unit rather than two. All these factors account for the rise in popularity of LRF binoculars in recent years, and it’s safe to say they’re here to stay.
The main drawbacks, until recently, are that LRF binoculars can be a bit bulky to use compared to smaller handheld units, and technology can, at times, be ahead of the curve with the standalone rangefinders, which have rapidly improved every few years with each new generation of product.
That gap is narrowing, as evidenced with the Fusion X binoculars. They don’t have the Bluetooth connectivity of some rangefinder binoculars, but neither do they have their price. With this model, Bushnell hit a sweet spot for most hunters in delivering quality at an affordable price. Fusion X 10x42mm ranging binoculars have an MSRP of just $699.99. Here’s a closer look at what you’ll get for your money.
For starters, the binoculars have Bushnell’s High Definition Optical System with multi-coated lenses that Bushnell says provides optimal viewing clarity, contrast and detail in low light. To put that claim to the test, I compared the Fusion X binoculars to Bushnell’s most recent top-line hunting binoculars, a pair of Forge 10x42s. I had previously tested the Forge binoculars against several models with equal or higher price tags and found that they compared favorably, so they would be a good benchmark for judging the Fusion X. I aimed the binoculars at the same targets every half hour one afternoon until it was nearly dark, and found little difference in sharpness and contrast. The image through the Fusion X binoculars was slightly darker, but warmer, red wavelength colors were more saturated.
It turns out there’s a good reason for that. The two binoculars have different optical systems. Forge binoculars have a different prism, upgraded glass, and coatings optimized to work across the color spectrum. Bushnell engineers noted that many rangefinder binoculars exhibit a sharp drop off in light transmission in the warmer red wavelengths, and they wanted to avoid that with the Fusion X. They succeeded admirably, improving light transmission in the red wavelengths while smoothing out the curve overall to make the optical performance as balanced as possible in binoculars in this price category. The boost in warmer tones is, in my book, a plus in glassing for game.
The binoculars also have Bushnell’s EXO Barrier lens protection, a coating which bonds molecularly to the lens surface and fills microscopic pores in the glass. I’ve seen this coating tested before with a steam machine, and the treated lenses simply refused to fog up. They do a great job of repelling water and dust. Even the ink from a magic marker, applied directly to a lens, simply formed tiny little beads. That’s performance you can count on when the weather turns against you.
The binoculars have an IPX4 rating, which means they can be submerged to a depth of one meter for half an hour without leaking and damaging the electronics. Ergonomically, the binoculars are well-designed. The rangefinder mode button on the top left of the unit and the “fire” button on the top right are within easy reach of index fingers. I found the center focus ring easiest to manipulate with a center finger without having to reposition my hands. The exterior wears rubber armor, and the eyecups twist up for those with normal vision and down for those who wear glasses. You’ll find a diopter on the right side to match focus with the opposing side and to focus the display.
Fusion X binoculars boast one mile ranging capability with plus or minus one-yard accuracy. Of course, the same caveat that applies to all rangefinders applies to this unit: you typically only get a maximum range with reflective targets. Non-reflective targets, such as deer and elk, seldom match up with the advertised maximum range, and a host of other factors come into play, including color, surface finish, and size and shape of the target as well as angle to the target and environmental conditions. Fusion X specifications state the binoculars should be able to range deer at 700 yards (which is considerably farther than I will ever shoot at one), trees at 900 yards, and reflective targets at 1,760 yards. In use, I found that effective range decreased on bright, sunny days, as it does with most rangefinders, and increased on overcast days. I also found that, due to the unit’s magnification, I struggled at times to get readings unless the binoculars were held very stable or braced against something to steady up the reticle, and I found myself wishing that Bushnell had included an attachment point for a tripod. That’s easily addressed with an aftermarket saddle or universal binocular tripod mount.
I’ve never liked overly busy and complex displays on rangefinders. With the Fusion X, you can keep things simple or add display elements depending on the mode selected and how you program the unit in setup. Out of the box, in default standard mode, the display shows only the aiming reticle, a battery strength indicator, and the target distance and angle to target. Standard mode works well in most situations for moderately reflective targets.
You can also select bullseye or brush modes. In the bullseye mode, when more than one target is detected, the unit only displays the distance to the nearest object, eliminating a false reading from background targets that may have a stronger return signal strength. The opposite applies in brush mode, which ignores foreground objects like brush and tree branches to get an accurate reading to your target.
One of the first options in setup is choosing an ARC (angle range compensation) mode. Options include regular mode, which displays only line of sight distance, and bow mode or rifle mode. Bow mode displays line-of-sight distance, inclination and true horizontal distance to your target. Rifle mode displays line of sight distance, degree of inclination and bullet-drop/holdover in inches, centimeters, mils or MOA out to 800 yards, with a maximum inclination of plus or minus 70 degrees.
Rifle mode allows for significant customization, but you’ll need to make proper selections for the bullet drop compensation to work properly. Bushnell engineers set the unit up so you can select one of eight available ballistic groups for centerfire rifles and one of two ballistic groups for muzzleloaders. The trick is to select the one that most closely matches the bullet caliber and ballistics of the load you’re shooting. If the ballistic groups provided don’t match up with the load you’re using, you can still get valuable bullet drop compensation readouts by zeroing your rifle at 100 yards and shooting again at 300 yards. You then simply measure the bullet drop and pick the closest match from the ballistic groups.
In addition to choosing values for how bullet drop is displayed, you can select whether you want the unit to show distances in yards or meters, and choose sight-in distances of 100, 150, 200, or 300 yards. I found the setup menu fairly easy to navigate. As always, it helps to read the user’s manual. One feature I really liked was the fact that you don’t have to go into the setup menu to switch between bullseye and brush modes. You simply press the fire button and use the mode button to toggle between those two modes or neither of them.
I had an opportunity to use the binoculars for a short time on a prairie dog shoot in Wyoming and came away impressed because the Fusion X binoculars pack a lot of functionality into an affordable package. The binoculars are backed by Bushnell’s transferable lifetime warranty, which translates into a defined life of 20 years for the binoculars and five years for the electronics. For more information, visit www.bushnell.com.
Specifications: Fusion X Rangefinding Binoculars
Magnification x Objective Lens: 10×42
Reticle: ActivSynch Display
Length: 7 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 2 oz.
Exit Pupil: 4 mm
Eye Relief: 16 mm
Field of View: 305 feet at 1,000 yards
Close Focus: 21 feet
Lens Coatings: Fully multi-coated
Dielectric Prism Coating: Yes
PCV-3 Phase Coating: Yes
Prism Glass: BK-7
Prism type: Roof
Targeting Modes: Scan, bullseye, brush
Gas Purged: Yes, nitrogen
Battery Type: CR2