Side-Scanning and Real-Time Imaging: The Latest Tech

Fishfinder technology continues to improve, providing a boost to both inshore and offshore anglers. 

There’s no doubt that for many anglers, side-scan revolutionized the way they use their fishfinders. Then along came Panoptix LiveScope, soon to be followed by other real-time imaging sonar systems. Again, the tech was so good for certain applications that it changed the way people fish. But like many things in the technological realm, these systems are constantly evolving, changing, and progressing. The three-year-old system at your helm is likely already out of date, and constant upgrading and overhauling is necessary if you want to enjoy the latest and greatest capabilities. So, do the latest advancements in side-scanning and real-time imaging in 2022 make it worth considering an electronics update? That’s your call. But before you make it, here’s what you need to consider. 

Side-Scanning Advancements 

To date, most side-scanning has been limited to a couple hundred feet and the longest manufacturer-stated side-viewing range was 600 feet off to either side, a range attained via CHIRP side-scan. But experience using these units has shown that maximum useable range is really quite variable depending on the conditions. In fact, some manufacturers don’t even publish “official” stated max ranges for some systems. 

Furuno chirp side scan
Furuno CHIRP Side-Scan reaches way, way out there for long-range views off to the sides. 

The latest from Furuno utilizing a combination of a software upgrade (version 3.01) and their CHIRP Side-Scan Transducer pushes into new territory. They allow anglers running the NavNat TZTouch3 system to send out the pings to new horizons, providing a stated max range of 750 feet off to either side of the boat. Naturally you have to expect to lose detail as you range out, but the detail levels remain surprisingly good in the 500- to 600-foot zone, verified by the screen shots and videos Furuno released when the announced the upgrade. Targets as small as ghost crab pots remain clearly visible on bottom 500 feet from the boat, and while items like pilings may appear a bit fuzzier at 600 feet than they do at 200, it’s still possible to determine what you’re looking at. 

For small boat and kayak anglers, it’s also worth noting that in the past couple of years Lowrance rolled out the Hook Reveal, Garmin introduced Striker Vivid, Humminbird announced the Helix 5 and 7 G4N models, and Raymarine came out with the Element HV. So today, there are also plenty of side-scanning options in the low-cost ($500 to $1,000) bracket. 

Real-Time Imaging Advancements 

Real-time imagers have been all the rage for freshwater and some inshore anglers, but the systems have had some pretty significant limitations. One was their applicability beyond freshwater and inshore fishing due to a very limited range of about 100 feet in freshwater and often less in saltwater. They gave it a boost with the release of Garmin’s LiveScope Plus in early 2022, gaining a 35-percent increase in target separation, but made a more significant advancement a few months later when they released the LiveScope XR system. Not an inexpensive upgrade ($2,999 for the black box GLS 10 and the LVS62 transducer), XR extends range out to a claimed 350 feet in the saltwater environment and 500 feet in freshwater. While the system is still mostly applicable to boats with bow-mounted electric trolling motors (unless you plan on doing some very fancy custom rigging), that should be enough range to perk up the interest level for offshore anglers. 

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There was also an interesting development from Humminbird at this summer’s ICAST show, which won the Best in Category award for electronics — and solves a completely different issue with real-time imaging. Up to now, with the transducer mounted on the electric motor your views were limited to the direction the motor was pointed. Activate Spot-Lock to hold the boat in position, and you ceded control of where the system was looking to the GPS virtual anchoring system. The new TargetLock system incorporates a separate shaft for the transducer, which mounts to the trolling motor shaft but operates independently. Using a foot control, the MFD, or a handheld remote, you can swing the transducer around to get a view in whatever direction you’d like regardless of which way the motor itself is pointing. You can also lock the system in on a particular piece of structure, and it’ll automatically hold that view even as you maneuver the boat. 

Humminbird target lock transducer
With TargetLock you can point the transducer independently from the trolling motor. 

There’s no doubt we’ve come a long way since the days of flashers and paper graph fishfinders. And you can expect that soon after you upgrade to side-finders or a real-time imager like these, those tech nerds will come up with something even better. The race to keep up with the latest and greatest has only accelerated in recent years and it’s bound to continue. But the bottom line is that yes, in many situations this stuff does help you catch more fish. So, is now the right time to update? The ball’s in your court. 

Marine Electronics

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