Leica’s LRF 1200: compact, reliable and easy-to-use, is this the best of the laser rangefinders?

Leica’s LRF 1200: compact, reliable and easy-to-use, is this the best of the laser rangefinders?

Dave Douglas

When I hear the name Leica, I remember the first really high-quality camera I ever owned. It was the famous Leica M-3. The year was 1969, I was 19 years old and very much into photography. I bought it used in a downtown Philadelphia pawnshop.

It was beat up, ugly, about my age, cost three months of my meager retail sales salary and it was the best, most prestigious 35 mm camera I ever owned.

I used about all of the Asian produced single lens reflex cameras available around that time, but none was as sharp and clear, nor as forgiving as my Leica. It was the kind of camera that when you brought it up to your eye to compose your shot, other photographers around you would stop what they were doing and point out the classic to their companions. It was to cameras what an Armand Swenson .45 is to the 1911 shooter.

We parted company about two years later when my ’54 Chevy lost a contest with an elm tree. The Leica was crushed and so was I, both physically and figuratively. I was only a month away from going off to Army basic training and just couldn’t replace it.

New Heartthrob

Since then, Leica products have always meant top engineering, bulletproof, reliable performance, and downright pure quality to me. At a recent photo shoot, a fellow participant offered one of the brand-new Leica LRF 1200 rangefinders as a photo prop. I begged, pleaded and sniveled until he agreed to loan it to me for evaluation. The diminutive LRF 1200 didn’t disappoint at all. In fact, it reaffirmed everything I recalled about the German company’s products.

Leica entered the rangefinder market with the high quality binocular, infrared ranging and electronic compass system called the Geovid. Their newest offering is the LRF 1200. The LRF 1200 comes on the heels of the highly successful LRF 800.

Extremely compact, the package is about the size of a sandwich — measuring 4 by 4 3/4 by l 3/8 inches. The black, polycarbonate case weighs 10.5 ounces. It’s covered in black, water-resistant, rubber armor.

Its 7x monocular is of fine quality, with glass lenses, diopter focus, and a 21mm objective lens. Hunters will want to use the monocular in lieu of binoculars. With its extraordinarily bright, clear picture, you can just about count the ticks on a boar’s back at 100 yards.

The LRF 1200 uses an eye-safe laser system. Ron Cormier, technical expert at Leica Sports Optics, told me that in order to qualify as eye safe, the system must be able to focus directly on a subject’s eyes for 48 continuous hours and do no damage. I didn’t try it. I just can’t stay awake that long anymore.

Pushing the distance-measuring button activates the laser. A red targeting mark appears in the view window. Using the targeting square, you select the target to range and depress the go button a second time. Distance to the target appears just below the targeting square. Distance can be measured from 10 to 1,200 yards.

Incredible Accuracy

Accuracy is within one yard up to 400 yards, and two yards out to 1,200 yards. It will read even further under optimum lighting conditions. The system may be set to display distance in meters rather than yards. This is accomplished by switching the unit’s single mode switch. The mode switch is hidden from errant fingers under the battery housing cover.

Align the dot on the “M” for meters, or rotate the dial counter clockwise 180 degrees to “Y” for yards.

“It’s hidden like that to prevent those of us with sausage size fingers from inadvertently pushing the wrong button,” said Cormier, “and getting a reading of 137 (meters) rather than 150 yards.”

Leica uses a pulse laser. The light makes 60 trips back and forth to the target every millisecond. This system eliminates the need for a degraded operation or rain mode switch. If there is an outcropping of rock or tree branches in the way, the laser will read the target. If the laser bounces the main target 51 out of 100 times, and the branch 49 out of 100 times, it will read back the main target distance. Majority rules here.

Critical Difference

The milliradiance, or size of the beam, of the Leica laser is 2.3 meters wide by .5 meters high at 1,000 yards. Most systems give a reading of 7 meters by 5 meters at that distance. That’s bigger than most double-car garage doors.

The LRF 1200 also uses this in lieu of a rain mode. Its beam is much more narrowly focused than competing systems. When functioning in the rain mode, other systems block out the first 60 to 110 yards. Now, if your trophy white tail is 54 or 104 yards away, it is very frustrating when the range read-out gives you triple zeros.

The LRF 1200’s four digit display numbers are a produced using a Light Emitting Diode. Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) are used in most other rangefinders. LCDs require far greater power draw from a little 9-volt battery than an LED does.

This becomes especially critical when the temperature is low. Battery power is required to keep the LCD warmed up in order for you to see the read out. Leica’s LED has an auto-sensing system that varies the intensity of the read out. It has seven adjustments to give the user the best contrast possible.

Returning the LRF 1200 to its owner was almost painful. My experience with it had been completely satisfactory. Like my much-loved Leica M-3, 35mm camera, it proved easy and enjoyable to use, and simply personified refined quality. Hopefully, there won’t be flashbacks of my ’54 Chevy and that Leica-killing elm tree. In all these intervening years, I failed to replace my camera. I don’t think I’ll make the same mistake with this Leica.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Publishers’ Development Corporation

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group