Nikon 550 Laser Rangefinder Review
Previously we reviewed the Nikon 440 Rangefinder, which has been discontinued, and replaced with the 550 rangefinder. For 2008, the Nikon 440 has been split into three different variations: Prostaff/Realtree 550, RifleHunter 550 with ID, and the Archer's Choice with ID.
Of the three variations, the base 550 Prostaff and Realtree models are most similar to the original 440 and retails at the same price ~$200.00 (Prostaff) and $220.00 (Realtree). The RifleHunter 550 (~$300) is identical to the base model but includes new Incline/Decline (ID) Technology which is Nikon's attempt at integrating ballistic ranging into their rangefinder line. Finally the Archer's Choice model is intended for bowhunters and ranges up to 100 yards and uses ID technology specific to typical arrow speeds. The Archer's Choice model also includes a special single handed operation sling and retails at ~$250.00.
Nikon ProStaff 550 Laser Rangefinder
Since our staff enjoyed the simplicity and price of the original 440, we decided to review the base model Prostaff 550. The first thing that stands out is the larger size of the 550 frame, which is considerably larger than the 440 and equal to the Monarch 800. The larger size is both a plus and a minus. The 440 was one of the smallest rangefinders on the market and if you appreciate carrying smaller/lighter equipment you might not like the larger size of the 550. On the plus side, the larger size makes it easier to hold and keep steady when ranging longer distances.
550 (Top) is considerably larger than the 440 (Bottom)
The 550 keeps most of the upsides of the 440 and gives you the ability to range an extra 110 yards for the same price as the 440. It works with a simple two mode button that allows you to switch between reading in meters or yards. It also is just as fast and simple to range distances as the 440, from 11-550 yards you simply need to point-and-click and the 550 will output the range. You do not have to select a special mode for "close" or "distant" ranges, it moves seamlessly from short to longer ranges. The scan mode also works the same, holding down the power button allows a continuous readout of range and works for up to 20 seconds.
550 and the 440 Side By Side
Like the rest of the Nikon line-up, the 550 works off a single CR2 battery. With the 550, Nikon must have improved the energy efficiency of the device since it is rated at up to 10,000 readings per fresh battery which is a noticeable improvement over the 6000 readings quoted for the 440.
On the downside the 550 uses a 6x magnification which is a downgrade from the 8x magnification that was standard on the 440. The reduction in magnification makes it less useful as a monocular and could make it a bit harder to easily see and range distant objects.
The Nikon also uses a black on clear reticle, while this is very common on base and mid-range rangefinders it has some downsides. Most hunting occurs between the twilight hours of dusk and dawn, like rifle scopes it can sometimes be hard to pick up the black reticle on the object you are trying to range. If you like illuminated reticles or are having trouble picking up the reticle under low light conditions you might consider moving to a manufacturer or model that offers an illuminated, red on clear reticle. While the bright red is sometimes not as easy to see on very bright days, it works very well on darker days.
Another issue that a buyer should be aware of when purchasing a rangefinder is how the device obtains its distance to target. Rangefinders work by IR reflection and when ranging the device may pick up multiple hits in the vicinity of your target. A simple example that Nikon gives in the 550 reference manual is when ranging a tree in front of a house with a fence. The 550, like other rangefinders, will pick up reflections from the tree, the fence between the tree and the house, and the house. The rangefinder must decide which distance to read out. The base model 550 works in "Distant Target Priority" mode, which means it will always output the reading on the house or the most distant target it picked up. More advanced rangefinders give you the ability to pick a priority mode and select whether you want to readout the closest range read or the most distant.
In conclusion, while the 440 offered some definite advantages over the 550, the 550 is still a solid buy for a basic rangefinder. The Prostaff 550 increases the distance that can be ranged and is as quick and easy to use as the 440. However the 550 is larger and does not have as powerful of magnification. The base 550 model does not offer any type of ballistic ranging, nor does it allow you to select the target priority. For a more advanced rangefinder, take a look at the Nikon 550 RifleHunter or the extensive offerings of other manufacturers.
For more information about Nikon laser rangefinders visit www.nikon.com.
Top View of 550 Choice Power and Mode Buttons
550 (Top) is basically the same size as the Monarch 800 (Bottom)