Pros: Consistent; Accurate; Comparatively inexpensive; Simple
Cons: Requires direct light; Upgrade costs
Chronos was the Greek god representing "Eternal Time" (today's ‘Father Time') and "graph" - also from the Greeks - simply means to write (or, more specifically, "a collection of all points whose coordinates satisfy a given relationship" - see Webster's). Sounds pretty straightforward - a Chronograph would therefore be "an instrument which measures and registers time intervals." Of course, the word "chrony" is simply the shortened, slang version of the word chronograph...
The letter "F" is said to represent someone which values harmonious relationships, is loyal, likes to plan for the future (i.e., a good organizer), and is conscientious. In the same esoteric, astrological/numerological vein, the number "1" represents purity and positivity in both the physical and mental spheres, as well as being the most individualistic of numbers. (You know, just like the binary numbers of 0, 1 literally meaning "off" and "on" respectively.)
With this information, might one deduce that marketers and manufacturers select product names for a reason...?
Shooting Chrony, Inc. is a Canadian company based in Ontario which produces - surprise, surprise - chronographs. While they produce several models, with a variety of confusingly similar names, their basic, no-frills model is the Shooting Chrony F-1. The basic write-up from the company suggests:
Check velocities ranging from 30 fps to 7,000 fps with any Chrony Model and within 0.5% accuracy with any projectile: arrow, bullet, pellet, etc. LCD read-outs stay on the screen until next shot is fired... The F-1 Chrony is the basic ballistic work horse... All Chronys have a steel housing for strength and less expansion/contraction deviation than plastic housings. Lightweight, at under 2.5 lbs., these chronographs fold for safe carrying and storage, come with manufacturer's three-year warranty and, best of all, carry a very attractive price tag. Mounting hole thread measures 1/4" x 20. A manufacturer's three-year warranty is included...
(The instruction manual also indicates usability between 32 degrees and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. They also warn against storing the chronograph in a vehicle when it is over 95 degrees F due to potential heat build-up and the effect it will have on the LCD screen.)
My unit measures:
Folded - 7 ½" x 4 1/8" x 2 ¾"
Open - (max dimensions) 14 ¾" x 4 1/8" x 2 ½"
However, that does not count the metal arms and plastic diffusers. There are two sets of holes in both front and rear sections. Depending on your choice of arrangement, when attached, these create a shooting aperture (roughly a triangle) measuring approximately 1 ¾"or 2 ½" at the base and 8" or 13" at the top; with a 13 ½" vertical clearance, at the center, between chronograph body and diffuser plate. (More on these in a minute.)
Mine is a nice, dark green color; but, I have seen them in online ads in a reddish-orange. Fully assembled, with battery, the unit weighs 2 ½ pounds; plus or minus a couple of ounces. (Again, more on this momentarily.) The threaded mounting hole fits a standard camera tripod. In fact, the one I use was purchased at Target for just under $10 on sale and has a maximum weight limit of - you got it - 2 ½ lbs. Obviously, the more robust the tripod, the more ‘stable' the platform. However, you must remember that while you are shooting through the aperture created by the arms/diffuser plates, you are still, in a very real sense, shooting at the chronograph. If you miss (and, sooner or later, you will), for whatever reason, how much more resistant to damage from a bullet is the $150 tripod going to be over the $10 one?
While this may sound a trifle facetious, sarcastic, or condescending, it's really not. If you've had almost any, extensive experience with chronographs, you know that "IT" is going to happen. A moment's inattention... The generosity of allowing a ‘friend' to use it... Using a friend's rifle - one you have not sighted in... A ‘squib' load... A hundred and twenty-two other possibilities... In the end, there is no "shame," only a short-term embarrassment, followed by a moderately longer frustration, all of which ends up being a ‘good' story and a lesson learned.
Which brings us back to the ‘weight' issue. The four, metal rods are each divided into two sections; with a ‘brass' ferrule joint. These feed into the unit and the white, opaque plastic diffusers. While the following is not necessary, I am one who has ‘bought into' the thought that replacing these metal rods with wooden dowels may increase the potential ‘survivability' of the parts should you hit one inadvertently. The basic thought is that the wooden dowel is more likely to break than the metal one should it be hit by a bullet before causing severe damage to the unit. I simply purchased a couple 3/8" dowels for about 25 cents each at Wal-Mart, cut them into four, 16" lengths, then sandpapered down approximately a 1" length of each end until it comfortably fit into the necessary holes.
The Shooting Chrony F-1 operates off of a standard 9-volt Alkaline battery; with ultimate battery life being dependent upon a number of factors (including brand), though the manual claims a potential of 48 hrs. continuous use. Unlike their ‘higher end' units, the F-1 only draws power for the two photo sensors (one in the forward, one in the aft plastic housings which hold the arms/diffusers) and the approximately 1 7/8" x 7/8" LCD screen which provides easy-to-read (in about ½" - ¾" tall, bold, black numbers) velocity readings measured in feet per second (f.p.s.).
While I'd like to state that the unit is no more complicated than the simple On/Off switch located under the numeric display window, that would be misleading. As the included twelve page instruction booklet states:
"The Chrony has two eyes (photo sensors)... they detect the passage of a bullet over them by sensing the change in the amount of light. (They detect a momentary change in light intensity.)... As the bullet passes over the first detector, it trips a counter, which begins to count very rapidly... [Remember, max velocity for the unit is 7,000 f.p.s. and the distance between the sensors - the length of the unit - is approximately 2 feet. Even a ‘slow moving' round such as the .45 ACP at 830 f.p.s. covers two feet in a fraction of a second.] The counter is shut off by the second photo sensor when the bullet passes over it. The computer in the Chrony then converts this information into feet per second..."
While this sounds simple, there are at least a couple, very key issues you must address each time you use a Chrony F-1. First, depending on what you are attempting to measure the velocity of, the unit has to be set up at a minimum distance from the shooter. While some of this will come down to individual propensities, preferences, and proclivities, Shooting Chrony suggests:
"...10 feet from the muzzle of a high-powered rifle, but can be closer with a lesser blast. Five feet is about right for .22 rimfire... Shotguns should be fired at 5 feet... Arrows must be clear of the bowstring before passing over the first eye."
Personal experience has indicated that these figures probably aren't the best guidelines to go by. In general, I prefer a minimum distance of 10' for most, standard handguns. (You know, something less than the S&W 500...) I figure on 15' for most rifles; though, again, magnums are going to have to be watched carefully. In both these cases, it's the muzzle blast which can distort the readings. The issue with shotguns becomes one of compromising between the potential distortion of muzzle blast, the wad, and the spread of the shot. Muzzle loaders will have to factor in smoke and unburnt powder.
The next issue stems from the sights of the weapon. Remember that all bullets travel in an arc. This means that you must aim within the 13 ½" of clearance based on how much lower the bullet will be at the distance where the chronograph sits than it will be at the target. The instructions suggest putting tape on the front rods at approximately four inches above the unit's sensor for iron sights and another piece of tape at six inches for scoped rifles. While these are useful markers, bear in mind that the margin of error is going to be very much dependent on your, individual weapon.
You will also need to consider that while there is no, general "shoot here" within the shooting aperture, there will be a "sweet spot" for each caliber; i.e., the instructions point out that the unit is measuring a change in light intensity and, therefore, different sized projectiles will impact light intensity differently for any given set of lighting conditions. (This is also why there are two different shooting aperture sizes which can be created. The smaller the projectile - say .22 lr or bb/pellet - the smaller the aperture to more closely ‘focus' the area the sensor has to ‘search' for changes in light intensity.)
This brings us to what I consider to be the single most critical factor when using the Chrony F-1. While, in theory, you can use this thing on cloudy days without the diffusers and the diffusers themselves simulate ‘clouds,' I have never managed to get this thing to work properly or consistently without having the diffuser plates attached and solid sunlight focused directly on them. Frankly, it has never taken much of an angle change in the sun for the readings to become inconsistent or for the unit to generate errors. With an adjustable head tripod, this issue is mitigated to some degree. However, I've always found mid-day (approximately 10 am - 4 pm in the summer) to be the best; provided I'm "out in the open."
[Note: Shooting Chrony does offer an indoor light fixture assembly for those who only have access or a preference for indoor shooting ranges. It attaches to the plastic diffusers. I've never used one; but, I do know they average about $50 - $70 online.]
Accuracy and Consistency
I've no way to measure the absolute accuracy of the Chrony F-1; though the company claims 99.5% accuracy with a fudge factor of 1 part in 200 (e.g., +/- 10 f.p.s. at 2,000 f.p.s.). What I can say is that all of the readings for factory loads insofar as average velocity and range have been consistent with factory (SAAMI) specs; plus or minus depending on firearm, conditions, etc. Actually, consistency is the very reason why you would utilize a chronograph in the first place. "Absolute" accuracy is too dependent upon a variety of factors; only one of which is the calibration/programming of the unit itself. But, if the numbers are consistent, then you are measuring what you're should be - how consistent the load is.
While the variance of factory loads is beyond your control, your hand loads are a different story. While some of the deviation is going to stem from components, much of the variation can be controlled by attention to detail; e.g., technique, tools, methods, etc. The most successful, useful, and/or accurate load for a given, individual firearm isn't always the fastest. What you want to find is the one which is the most consistently accurate in the firearm for the purposes intended; e.g., target shooting, hunting, et al. Using a chronograph to measure average velocity and to calculate the variance/standard deviation of the load can be crucial in being able to replicate the consistency of your load.
Time To Measure The Results
Street price for the Chrony F-1 runs between $70 - $110 depending on your source. (My latest one ran $85.95 from a ‘local' shop.) Again, the company offers several variants, with similar names. Make sure you are looking at the one you think you're looking at.
The single, largest criticism I've seen of the unit is the fact that it does not have a detachable read-out screen. There are two factors related to this: 1.) It is easier to read the numbers if the screen is sitting next to you on the bench and (2.) If you shoot the chronograph, at least you don't lose it all. My responses are simple. Even I can read those numbers at 15 feet unless the lighting is such that I'm going to get inconsistent readings, at best, from the unit to begin with. As for shooting the chronograph, the simplest advice is - Don't!!! Failing that... If you shoot the thing, you've lost the portion which measures the velocity to begin with, leaving you with a screen that has nothing to plug into!
Put more bluntly, if you want the ‘extras,' then pay for the higher end models. In the end, if you want additional memory, print outs, detachable display screens, et al., Shooting Chrony, Inc. offers units capable of this for marginal increases in price. For example: If you're willing to pay $100 for the F-1, then do a little shopping and you can find their Beta Chrony, with detachable screen and capable of taking their $80 printer as a plug-in, for around $100 - $120. Of course, that same source will probably offer the F-1 for around $75 - $80. So, it's up to you to determine how much ‘convenience' and ‘glitzy extras' are worth to you. In theory, the F-1 can be upgraded; but, it requires that you send it in to the company and, frankly, the upgrade costs are such that I'd personally prefer to simply purchase the ‘higher' unit.
A chronograph might not be absolutely essential; I got along without one for years. But, a chronograph does provide you with a level of empiricism that would otherwise be lacking. The Shooting Chrony F-1 is about as simple as it gets; all you have to do is set it up and write down the numbers. If your math skills aren't up to computing averages and standard deviations (either as part of your standard repertoire of knowledge or by being able to utilize the formulae presented in the instruction manual), there are good, free websites where all you have to do is type in those numbers and the site will give you more output than you'll know what to do with.
If you've never used a chronograph, while it may not be the fanciest, the Chrony F-1 is a comparatively inexpensive way to get started; and, once you do, you'll be surprised how much ammo will just have to be tested. Once you've played with it awhile, you're likely to find that this little gizmo may be all the chronograph you actually need.