New Bushnell Fusion 1600 ARC Binocular-Rangefinder

There have been all kinds of fusion attempts in the recent past, the notion being the combining of what is usually considered stand-alone equipment. There are GPS / Binoculars, Rangefinder / Riflescopes, Video / Riflescopes, and so forth. Many of the prior combo-tool approaches have been lacking in several ways, skimping on the potential features of one appliance or the other. The Swiss Army Knife approach often sounds interesting, but the combination riflescope – GPS – flashlight -knife sharpener -hook disgorger – fish lip gripper has never fully caught on. That's probably a good thing.

This reminds me of an “interesting” conversation I had prior to purchasing my last cell phone. “What do you want your phone to do?” was the soulful question from the sweet cell phone saleswoman. It took more explaining than I thought was strictly necessary to get across the idea that I just wanted a phone to both make and receive telephone calls. I'm not sure this is possible anymore. Though acquiring a phone just to be able to make and receive telephone calls was a goal that stunned the crowd at Verizon, it is still a clock, a travel alarm, a still camera, a video camera, a calendar/daytimer, an MP3 music player, a mini video game console, and an internet messaging device. That's just as spartan and minimalist as it usually gets.

The binocular portion of the FUSION 1600 is high-end roof prism 10 x 42mm:

BaK-4 prisms with PC-3® phase corrective coating
RainGuard® HD water repellent lens coating
100% waterproof
31 oz. weight

Though Bushnell states that the Fusion 1600 “is no larger or heavier than a pair of 10 x 42mm binoculars,” that claim does not pass close scrutiny. Bushnell's own Legend Ultra-HD 10 x 42 binoculars weighs close to a third less than the 31 oz. Fusion 1600, at 22.5 ounces. I tested a set of the Legend Ultra-HD 8 x 42mm binoculars (same frame, about the same weight) and found them to be outstandingly good both in performance and value. So good, in fact, that there is scant little difference in image quality between the Legends and the Fusion that I can perceive. If I had to choose, the winner would actually be the Legend Ultra-HD by tiny margin.

Both sets have the latest incarnation of Bushnell RainGuard HD. However, the Legend Ultra-HD does have a wider field of view (340 ft. @ 1000 yds.) than the Fusion's 310 ft. @ 1000 yards. The Legend also has a better close-focus range of 6.5 feet vs. 10.5 ft. for the Fusion, perhaps of value more for the study of butterflies than big-game hunting.

The rangefinder portion of the Fusion 1600 ARC is chock-full of bells and whistles. There is a “rifle mode” and a “bow mode.” In my opinion, the bow mode makes no sense. A ten power binocular is overpowered for bow hunting. Most would find a rangefinder alone to be more than sufficient.

The Fusion has what Bushnell calls “VDT,” Vivid Display Technology. I'm not sure exactly what it is. The rangefinder readout is a red LED something that has always been easy for me to read as opposed to a black LCD on a dim lens. As best I can guess, Bushnell has a sort of reddish backlit box where the LED numbers and icons appear in. While it is claimed to “dramatically improve contrast, clarity, and light transmission” I really don't know what light transmission they could be referring to. Nevertheless, despite the incomprehensible jargon, it is an easy to read display.

As the Fusion has a built-in inclinometer, it gives you “true ballistic range.” This type of thing has been applied to a wide variety of rangefinders from Leupold to Burris to Bushnell. For big game hunting, it is a worthless feature. Any experienced hunter knows that when shooting up or down at a steep angle, the point of impact will be a bit high. Unless it exceeds the basics of “maximum six inch kill point blank range,” it is a needless complication.

So it goes with the Bushnell “Ballistic Group” letter you plug into the rangefinder. There are letters A through H based on drop, plus two bonus muzzleloader letters (I and J) that Bushnell doesn't tell you what they mean. The “Ballistic Group” is problematic at longer ranges with loopier trajectories. Here's why: Ballistic Group “A” is used for a load that gives you from 114-146 inches of drop at 500 yards. Now, our angle and ballistic compensating rangefinder is going to tell us after ranging an animal at 500 yards where to hold within one inch.

Problem is, “Ballistic group A” isn't at all accurate, encompassing 32 inches of drop all with that one setting. Your rangefinder tells you to holdover to an inch or so, but you could still be off 20, 25 or 30 inches by following the display precisely. This makes no sense. If you are aware of your load's trajectory, you don't need this nonsense. All you need is the range and you can take it from there. If you aren't familiar with your load's trajectory, you are even in a worse position. Choosing the “correct” ballistic group gets you electronically within 32 inches of where you want to be. If deer grew 32 inch kill zones, it might be valuable. They don't, so it isn't.

If all of this sounds like a bummer, it is only because it is. Like the cute cell-phone woman who couldn't understand I wanted a phone to be a phone, I prefer a binocular to be a binocular and a rangefinder to be a rangefinder. Like my old friend Bob Vondersaar used to say, “You have to be smarter than the thing you are operating.” Problem is, most hunters are a lot smarter than the Bushnell ballistic groups, or at least they should be.

Nevertheless, let's give credit where credit is due. The Bushnell Fusion 1600 is a very competent set of binoculars and it is also an extremely good rangefinder that works through glass and through rain-streaked glass. Optically, few hand-held standalone rangefinders have the image quality to compete with a 10 x 42mm lens: they would of course need a high-quality 10 x 42 lens to do that.

Alright, so the Fusion weighs 31 oz. vs. the 22.5 oz. of the Legend Ultra-HD. If we added in the 12.1 oz. of a Bushnell Elite 1500 (7 x 28 monocular), we have 34.6 oz. for the bino-rangefinder pair. More compact than the pair it succeeds in, but if weight is the issue you'll not save much if any over the pair, much less other binoculars. As price goes, the Fusion retails for $899, street-priced at $820 or so. A consideration is Bushnell's own Legend Ultra-HD binocular set that can be had in the $260 street-price range leaving you with five hundred and fifty dollars or so to shop for a rangefinder, or use the one you already own.

The Good: If you want a combo RF/Bino, it is competent at both tasks.

The Bad: It does not deliver on the promise of “no more weight,” its “Bow Mode” makes no sense, the Bushnell “Ballistics Group” attempt is horribly inaccurate, and the value in my opinion does not compare favorably to many other products, notably Bushnell's own Legend Ultra-HD binoculars.


Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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