TFB Review: LabRadar Doppler RADAR Chronograph

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Though I’ve been involved with shooting sports for a long time, Chronographs never really interested me before.  When people were setting them up on crowded range days, it could be a big time-killer for everybody else while the user tried to get the shades right, get their equipment in line, and check and recheck the spacing.  Moreover, they were very sensitive to light, could be knocked over by wind, could be thrown off by bright light reflecting off the range surface, the displays could be hard to read, and some models were useless indoors.  I also didn’t compete frequently enough to require reloading equipment, and didn’t need to download ammunition close to velocities that might be borderline in order to stay competitive at my level.

Around the same time I heard of Magnetospeed, information emerged about a Radar-based chronograph that did not have to be attached to the firearm.  Such a chronograph would fit my needs a bit better, as I didn’t want to attach something to my barrel that could be damaged by a brake or throw off my POI.

Recently, I’ve been trying to increase my own level of precision in known and unknown long range rifle shooting.  I also want to provide more information in my articles in the form of ballistic data particular to the firearms I will be reviewing.  Though I have a pretty well-developed DOPE book with lots of data for my various firearms, I was aware that the velocities stated by manufacturers can vary greatly depending on one’s individual firearm.  The same can be said of reloading manuals.  Some manufacturers like Buffalo Bore use actual firearms instead of ballistic test barrels to chrono their ammunition.  Velocity measurement methodology varies greatly in the industry, however, so sometimes it’s hard to tell at what density altitude the measurements were taken or what barrel length they used.

Another issue I’ve run into a few times is that velocities can vary greatly round to round due to manufacturing errors.  I’ve seen this happen primarily with initial production of a new load, even from major manufacturers.  This can lead to accuracy problems downrange, or blown primers/cases.  Thankfully, my business partner was able to diagnose the problems with his chronograph, and got the sloppily loaded ammunition swapped out for new product.

All these factors led me to finally seek out a chronograph.  The LabRadar had recently become available, and I was very interested in trying one out.  Here was a chrono that I could set up in seconds, record data, and review in the comfort of my own workshop.  Before trusting the unit, however, I had to put it through it’s paces and test it out thoroughly.

SETUP:

I did give the LabRadar manual a read-over before heading to the range.  It was well laid out, easy to understand, and brief at 23 pages. One area where the LabRadar really shines is it’s customization of data.  There are many options one can adjust when setting the LabRadar up, listed here:

  1. Velocity Units
  2. Distance Units
  3. Weight Units
  4. Type of projectile (Rifle, pistol, archery)
  5. Offset from muzzle (6″, 12″, 18″)
  6. Measurement distances
  7. Projectile weight in grains or grams (In order to calculate power factor or kinetic energy)
  8. Arm Time of the Radar
  9. Screensaver
  10. Trigger source+sensitivity level (either microphone or with archery/slow moving projectiles, doppler)
  11. Transmission Channel (In case someone else is suing a LabRadar at the range)
  12. Transmission Power (EU models are permanently set to low)

Though the options are numerous, operation is pretty simple.  There are only 8 buttons in the user interface.  I’m not going to delve into the weeds on every single option one can dial-in, but I’ll run through setting up a normal use of the LabRadar.

  1. Align LabRadar to where it will be within 18 inches side to side of the muzzle and slightly rearward of the muzzle with a rifle, even with the muzzle if with a handgun. (A barrier is needed between especially vigorous brakes or heavy-caliber firearms and the LabRadar)
  2. Power on unit
  3. Press “Series” button to create new series
  4. Adjust distances at which you desire measurements (up to 5, not including at the muzzle)
  5. Adjust projectile weight
  6. Press “Arm” button twice to arm unit and commence fire.

The LabRadar can run on 6 AA batteries or an external USB power source.  I used AA’s for all my tests, as they were only 3/4 depleted after 4 hours of range time. The whole setup tat the range took me less than 5 minutes for the initial setup, and 2 minutes to adjust between different firearms/loads.

The AA's worked great over 3 different range sessions for a total of 6 hours with 3/4 battery power remaining.

The AA’s worked great over 3 different range sessions for a total of 6 hours with 3/4 battery power remaining.

I didn't end up needing the USB port, but it's a nice option for power via USB power packs, solar-recharged batteries, etc.

I didn’t end up needing the USB port, but it’s a nice option for power via USB power packs, solar-recharged batteries, etc.

RANGE TIME:

For testing, I used a wide selection of firearms and cartridges.  The LabRadar also can measure velocities of slow-moving projectiles such as arrows, but in the interest of fun I used an XS-Products Can Cannon to test this function.

Clockwise from top: PKM 7.62x54R, Ruger LCP .380, Walther P22 .22lr, FN Five-seveN 5.7x28, Can Cannon 12oz, FN PS90 SBR 5.7x28

Clockwise from top: PKM 7.62x54R, Ruger LCP .380, Walther P22 .22lr, FN Five-seveN 5.7×28, Can Cannon 12oz, FN PS90 SBR 5.7×28

 

I placed the LabRadar on the bench next to the firearms and used the optional bench plate as a mount.  One can adjust the position of the unit 4 different ways with the mount.  The unit needs to be aimed at the direction as your target.  When doing so, I found the LabRadar’s sight notch a bit lacking.  I may have to attach a better sight in the future.

This tiny notch doesn't function super great as the sight.

This tiny notch doesn’t function super great as the sight.

I used the LabRadar at the range on both clear and smokey days.  The particulate matter  from the smoke did affect the unit somewhat, as longer range measurements were not registering.   The maximum measurement range per projectile diameter is as follows:

  • 5.56mm: 60 yards
  • 7.62mm: 100 yards
  • 9mm: 130 yards

Using the LabRadar in “Archery” mode via the Can Cannon was hilarious.  It did work as advertised.   Those 12oz projectiles were screaming along at an average of 109fps!

Thanks to LabRadar, now I know the true ballistics of the Can Cannon!

Thanks to LabRadar, now I know the true ballistics of the Can Cannon!

I also used the LabRadar at dusk, where a photo-reliant chronograph would be useless.  The unit functioned perfectly.

Setup for some dusk/low light shooting

Setup for some dusk/low light shooting

OBSERVATIONS:

Small sample of data collected (average fps)

  • PKM:  2784
  • Can Cannon: 109
  • PS90 w/SS192: 2384
  • Five-seveN w/SS192: 2077
  • Walther P22 w/subsonic: 901
  • Ruger LCP .380: 1130
  • Tikka T3 .300wm:  2932
Display screen of the LabRadar

Display screen of the LabRadar.  Yes, I didn’t bother to set the system time/date correctly yet.

Overall, I was very happy with the performance, ease of setup, versatility and ease of use of the LabRadar.  I did, however, encounter some issues.  When shooting the Five-seveN, I selected handgun mode, and got grossly incorrect velocities.  For high-velocity handguns, the rifle setting is needed.  I also noticed extreme spreads and standard deviations were higher than what they should be in some strings.  I concluded that it was due to not having the muzzle in roughly the same spot relative to the chronograph for each shot, and corrected this error moving forward.  Shots also failed to record if I shot too rapidly.  Two seconds between shots seemed to work just fine.  Overall, I had 5 out of 140 shots fail to record over 14 series.  In my estimation, that’s a pretty good success rate.

One other potential shortfall of the LabRadar, especially if one shoots at a crowded range, is that the microphone can pick up other shooter’s shots if the sensitivity is not dialed in perfectly.  The unit can also become confused on a crowded range by multiple projectiles downrange in the cone of the radar signal.  Overall, it’s better to use it during slower range times.

CONCLUSIONS:

Despite a high investment cost (They were going for $560.00 on Midway as of writing this article), the LabRadar offers one of the quickest setups of any chronograph, especially when using multiple firearms. The user interface is also very easy to learn and stores a ton of data that one can review at one’s leisure.  I’ve enjoyed applying the data, and have used it to make a DOPE card in .300wm for this fall’s hunting season.  I’ve tested the data out to 800 yards, and it was dead-on.   For my own purposes, I do believe LabRadar fits the bill quite nicely.

Pros:

  • Quick and easy setup
  • Stores a ton of data
  • Good battery life
  • Don’t need to go downrange to setup or take down
  • Can use indoors or without direct sunlight
  • 6 measuring points downrange for greater precision vs other chronos which have 2 or 3.
  • Doesn’t affect POI
  • Calculates KE and Power Factor

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Emits radiation (when armed/measuring a fired projectile)
  • Susceptible to some signal reflection/weather conditions

Thanks to Aaron Hughston Shooting School for range time



Rusty S.

Having always had a passion for firearms, Rusty S. has had experience in gunsmithing, firearms retail, hunting, competitive shooting, range construction, as an IDPA certified range safety officer and a certified instructor. He has received military, law enforcement, and private training in the use of firearms. He is fortunate enough to have access to class 3 weaponry as well.


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  • Joseph Goins

    You know you have finally arrived at gun writer elitism when you spend $560 on a chronograph. But hey, Military Arms Channel has been there for a while.

    • Nick

      Admittedly though, this one almost completely eliminates the risk of putting a bullet through it, and it works indoors (something light based ones have trouble with).

      Besides, if you’re serious enough about reloading, it’s probably worth it, especially considering it has data over distance (can measure velocity up to 100yrds off).

    • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

      As a pistol/revolver reloader, this is basically the ONLY practical chronograph on the market for me.

      But don’t let facts get in the way of your sob story.

      • Joseph Goins

        What sob story?

    • raz-0

      It’s pricey, but it fixes a problem, and it is not as pricey as it seems. TO get anywhere near the functionality of it, you are looking at a magnetospeed v3 which is a CED M2 with infrared screens and a 12v battery pack, and if you really want consistency, you build a chrono coffin to go with it.

      You want the $399 magnetospeed to work on a semi-auto pistol? It better have a rail, and you need their rail mounting kit at $25. You want to chrono something with an oversized brake? That’ll be $150 more. The magnetospeed will do rapid fire though. But for about $575, you can do everything the lab radar can do, except unrailed semi auto pistols, and bows.

      And that 12 v battery pack requires a charger. You are at $289 just for the chrono and screens. If you bargain shop, you can do the battery pack for $20-40 depending on the deal you can get on a battery charger.

      And you are still playing around with an erector set of adapters. For the M2, you do that once at the beginning. For the magnetospeed, it’s every gun. For the lab radar, you spend about a minutes putitng it on a tripod or whatever, 10-15 seconds configuring it for each bullet weight/pistol or rifle.

      For me, getting to the range is either morning or evening unless I take time off work. Because of that, I can either not chrono, take time off to chrono, or buy a magnetospeed or lab radar. A bonus is that compared to optical, it saves me about 10-20% of my chronoing ammo not fighting with errors.

      It’s definitely not for everyone, but it isn’t as far removed form the competition as it seems.

  • Giolli Joker

    “Clockwise from top: PKM 7.62x54R”

    I like your style.

    • Rusty S.

      Thank you!

    • Sunshine_Shooter

      I have to concur. PS90 SBR, Can Cannon, and a PKM is a hell of a lineup!

      • Giolli Joker

        Let’s not forget the MOA All Day challenge with an M240. 🙂

  • KestrelBike

    What’s that cheek-rest sleeve/riser on the rifle stock? That looks awesome.

    • Rusty S.

      That’s a Bradley adjustable cheek rest, and it is indeed awesome.

  • derpmaster

    Cons: Emits radiation

    So? Are you worried that the feds are going to hit you with an AGM-88 HARM?

    • Rusty S.

      No, it’s a safety factor to be aware of. If you happen to be within 2 meters of the face of the unit and left it armed by mistake, someone else triggering a shot nearby could result in you getting a dose of radiation.

      • Haunted Puppeteer

        Wrong kind of radiation. You’re thinking of ionizing radiation. Doppler radar uses electromagnetic fields at radio frequencies. A low power device such as this poses absolutely no harm. We’re all swimming in radio waves right now. You’re starting to sound like Dale Gribble..

        • Rusty S.

          Not being paranoid. Just going by the microwave safety warning in the manual.

          • Haunted Puppeteer

            Really? Some CYA lawyer stuff, almost certainly. Ridiculous.

          • derpmaster

            Agreed. It can’t be more than a few watts. No worse for you than using a handheld radio or walkie talkie.

            Anyone know for a fact what freq. band and power this thing uses?

          • Rusty S.

            24.080-24.168GHz
            4.84 dBm

          • derpmaster

            That’s only 0.003W of radiated energy, and anything that high into the microwave spectrum isn’t going to penetrate a solid object beyond 1 mm or so. Radiated energy wise, this thing is completely safe, and actually about 10x weaker than your standard police radar.

  • Julio

    Thanks for the review. It would be interesting to see a comparative review comparing readings (for the same shots) obtained using radar, electromagnetic induction (Magnetospeed), acoustic (Steinert Superchrono) and photosensitive devices. Perhaps that’s something we can look forward to?

    • Rusty S.

      not a bad idea! Maybe someday.

    • raz-0

      Well I can tell you it gives more consistent readings than photosensitive chronos.

      I can also tell you that the review didn’t cover one other caveat, which is shooting close to a berm with vegetation on it can confuse it as well. First time I took mine out, I set up near a berm with lots of weedy bushes blowing around slowly. I got some funky errors.

      Also, it’s not “about 2 seconds” between shots or you get an error. It’s a tad longer, but it isn’t random. It’s the time it takes to do the math on the shot and flush out the info to storage. The screen changes when that happens, and if it isn’t back to normal, another shot will waste a bullet. That’s not in the manual, and can be incredibly frustrating/anger inducing until you figure it out on a $500+ product.

      It’s a bit slower than a photosensitive chrono, but not a huge amount, and once you know how it behaves, you can get 100% function out of it, which was something I have never gotten from a photosensitive setup without using IR shields and building a chrono coffin.

      • Rusty S.

        That’s interesting, I had no issues around sagebrush and tumbleweeds

        • raz-0

          Totally different shape of plant. Also lots of little ~ .25 caliber berries on the blowing branches. Dunno if that made the difference.

          Growing out from the side berm at head level. Also it was with .223, so at the harder end of the spectrum. Further down range didn’t seem to matter.

  • Thomas Gomez

    Great review!

  • WM13

    Will it work indoors? if you were the only one in the range of course.
    I am curious if concrete walls would affect it.

    • Rusty S.

      Yes it works indoors