Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph

Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph

When people first get into reloading, they’re usually able to produce fairly accurate rounds with nothing more than a press, reloading manual, and some time at the range.  While this will generally yield good enough results for most folks, there’s a certain subset of reloaders who instinctively push for more; be it that extra quarter inch smaller rifle group at 200 yards, or a custom load that just isn’t available in any manual.  Whatever the motivation, for these reloaders, a chronograph becomes an essential piece of equipment. So what is a chronograph?

In simple terms, a chronograph is a device that measures the velocity of projectiles fired over it, and reports their speed in either feet per second, or meters per second.  For the reloader, this is an invaluable source of information as it allows them to see the results of changes they make in their load formulas and how they correspond to speed as well as consistency.

With that in mind, today we’re going to be taking a look at the Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph.

Contents

We’ll start with the hardware; the basic kit includes the chronograph, carrying bag, a data cable, a set of sunshades, and a manual.

Construction

The chronograph’s construction is pretty typical of today; featuring a rugged plastic exterior with an LCD screen.  On the top you’ll find a a small recess at either end where the cameras are housed.  By measuring the time it takes for a projectile to travel from one to the next, the device is able to determine the speed your projectile is traveling at.  Power is supplied via a 9V battery in a compartment on the bottom, which also includes space for a spare.  There’s also a standard 1/4-20 tripod mount which fits perfectly with my camera tripods.  The unit also features a very nice screen with large, clear, and high-contrast characters making it easy to read even from a distance.  Like most chronographs, this model includes a sunshade for use on bright days, as direct sunlight can sometimes interfere with readings.

Setup

To set the chronograph up, the user simply inserts the four rods into the corresponding slots on the chronograph, then lines the plastic shades up and slides them over top.  The tension created by curving the shades is all it takes to lock them into place, and you’re ready to go.  With the assembly complete, the entire unit can either be placed on a table or other flat surface, or mounted to a tripod (not included).

In addition to the standard hardware, this model is unique among most chronographs in that it also includes a really slick app you can load onto a tablet or smart phone, free of charge.  We’ll visit that in greater detail later on, but first we’ll discuss how it connects.  Instead of a conventional USB cable or wireless connection, Caldwell has opted to employ an included 15′ audio cable which connects to the chronograph via your smartphone’s headphone jack.  And odd choice to be sure, but it works well enough.

Operation

Alright, now that we’ve got the hardware out of the way, let’s talk software, and operation.

As you’ll see in the video above, I set the chronograph up using a standard camera tripod and place it about 20′ away from my shooting position, centered in front of my target.  As you’ll be shooting over top of the cameras, but below the sunshades, it’s important to take the time to get this right not only for accuracy, but also to avoid putting a hole in an expensive piece of equipment!  With that done, it’s a simple matter of launching the chronograph application on a smartphone or tablet, and we’re ready to shoot.

The software with this tool is fantastic.  As you’ll see in the video above, it can actually use the internet and GPS to capture local temperature and barometric pressure, both of which can have an impact on ammunition performance.  Unfortunately I’m in a location with poor cell coverage, so those options aren’t generally available to me, but they’re still pretty neat.  The device can also be configured in either imperial or metric, with variable date and time formats.  As a Canadian used to American standards, I really like that I’ve got some options.

From here on out the system is as simple or complex as you choose to make it.  If you just want to fire a handful of shots and see the data in real-time, you can do that from the Home tab.  Conversely, if you’re planning to test out a dozen different prototype loads, you can easily create and save groups for each by navigating to the New Group tab, entering a name for the series, and pressing Start.

In the video above, you’ll notice how with each shot, the system not only records the velocity, but also updates the average, standard deviation, minimum, maximum and other values automatically.  After you save a group, you can review it and any others you’ve shot in the Saved Groups tab.  I generally enter these into my Pressure Trace 2 system software or an Excel spreadsheet, but again, how you use the data is up to you.

Pro’s

The Caldwell is light, compact and well made.  It works well in many different weather/lighting conditions and seems to be very accurate.  The included software is free, simple to install and very intuitive, even if you’re not super tech-savvy.  There’s a lot to like here.

Con’s

Is it perfect? No, but it’s darn close.  I do wish Caldwell had used a standard USB cable instead of the audio model they went with.  This is particularly annoying since there’s already a USB port on the thing already, likely for loading the factory software.

Although I had no problems whatsoever getting the software to work on my Android smartphone, I’ve heard of others having trouble with it.  I can’t speak to that personally, but there’s enough chatter that I’m certain there’s at least some truth to it.

I also really wish Caldwell had a PC version of the app; this, in conjunction with the USB interface I mentioned earlier, would really open things up in terms of usability as shooters could connect it directly to a laptop computer with a nice, large screen instead of a tiny phone or tablet.  Likewise if the device allowed you to store data directly on the chronograph, you could simply take it home from the range and download everything to the computer.

Summary

So what’s the verdict on the Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph?  This is without a doubt, the finest chronograph I’ve ever used.  It’s fast, lightweight, easy to set up and seems very accurate.  I love the included software, which in my opinion puts it head and shoulders above anything else on the market right now.

My own personal wish-list aside, this is a phenomenal product and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to purchase a chronograph.

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