Best Fish Finder for the Money: Humminbird vs. Garmin vs. Lowrance

A top-of-the-line fish finder is the best fishing accessory. You won’t have to guess what’s underneath your hull with powerful sonar, precise electronics, and a sharp display. You’ll be able to see everything, from the structure to the cover to the fish themselves.

We’ve compiled an unparalleled resource that will help you choose the best fish finder for your money after careful research, field testing, and detailed comparison.

A quick look at the top 2021 fish finders:

  • Lowrance HDS 12 Fish Finder/ChartplotterOur Choice!
  • Humminbird SOLIX 12 CHRP MEGA SI+ Fish Finder/GPS Chartplotter
  • Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv
  • Garmin Striker 4
  • Humminbird PIRANHAMAX 4.3 D

The Best Fish Finders Reviews

Lowrance HDS 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter – Our Pick for 2021

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size:12″
Resolution:1280 x 800
Frequencies: CHIRP (83/200kHz) and traditional 455/800kHz
Side scanning: Yes, 150
Maximum Depth:CHIRP 1,000′, DownScan 300’
Transducer AngleWhat is the best way to get started?
Target SeparationWhat is the best way to get started?
GPS: Yes
Mapes
  • Amazing screen and image quality
  • Excellent depth and variety
  • Standard and CHIRP sonar options
  • Maps and GPS with powerful features
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your smartphone
  • It’s expensive!

Summary

Lowrance marine electronics have been around for generations. They are a trusted name in saltwater navigation systems. Lowrance’s fish finders rival, and possibly even surpass, the exceptional Humminbird Helix or Solix series.

Lowrance HDS Live 12 appeals to professionals and comes at a fair price. The Lowrance HDS Live 12 is a direct competitor to the Solix 12. It boasts a wealth of truly high-end technology and meets or exceeds the standards set by Humminbird on every front.

HDS Live 12 has a large screen and amazing resolution. It’s clear and crisp, so it can be read in any condition. The touch screen is augmented with the standard keypad to allow for all-conditions accessibility.

The Simrad Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transom Mount Transducer is used to create this fish finder. It provides CHIRP, traditional sonar, and side-imaging. This fish finder even surpasses the Solix 12 in terms of range, thanks to its detailed side-and-down imaging. That’s quite impressive!

Simrad Yachting and Lowrance do not offer certain specifications (although they have been the same company since 2006). This would normally cause us to pause. If you are proud of a product’s performance, you will provide that information! We would not hesitate to use the HDS Live 12 fishfinder because of its real-world performance.

CHIRP mode can reach depths up to 1,000 feet. DownScan, a high-frequency mode that is roughly equivalent to Humminbird’s MEGA system, provides incredibly sharp, clear images without the loss of depth.

Lowrance’s expertise in marine navigation is evident when you look at the HDS Live 12 GPS sports and map. Lowrance’s C-Map US Inland and US/Canada Navionics+ cards make navigation and charting easy. Lowrance also offers a real-time mapping feature called Genesis Live, which is similar to Humminbird. It can create 1/2-foot contour maps and is a great tool for studying the areas you fish.

Is Lowrance able to beat the Humminbird and reclaim the top spot in our reviews?

It does what we think it should, and if it is affordable, it’s the best fish finder available this year.

Our complete buying guide for the best Lowrance fishfinder can be found here

Humminbird SOLIX 12 CHRP MEGA SI+ Fish Finder/GPS Chartplotter

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size:12.1
Resolution:1280 X800
Frequencies: Dual Spectrum CHIRP; MEGA Down Imaging+, MEGA side Imaging+; Full Mode (28–75 kHz), Narrow Mod (75–155 kHz), Optional Deepwater (228-250kHz), Wide Mode (1130–250 kHz).
Side scanning: Yes, up to 200′
Maximum Depth:200’MEGA Down Imaging+, 1,200′ CHIRP (with an optional 50kHz transducer),
Transducer Angles20deg, 42deg, 60deg, (2) 86deg & (2) 55deg @ -10dB
Separation at Target: No more than 2.5″
GPS: Yes
Mapes
  • Amazing screen and image quality
  • Amazing depth and variety
  • Standard and CHIRP sonar options
  • Maximum 2.5″ separation target
  • GPS, charts, chart plotting, and autopilot capabilities.
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your smartphone
  • Expensive

Summary

Humminbird’s Helix series fishfinders have been a favorite of ours for many years. This is due to their top-end features. Humminbird’s Helix series has been upgraded to include the Solix series in 2017.

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Humminbird has a clear advantage over its competitors thanks to the Solix 12 CHIRP MEGA SI+ G3 fish Finder/GPS Chartplotter, which is packed with the best electronics money can buy. Only Lowrance’s HDS Live series, which is a superior fishfinder, can match or exceed this fishfinder’s performance as of 2021.

The 12.1-inch Solix screen is a marvel of electronic wizardry and sonar technology. Even in full sunlight, its image quality is unsurpassed. The images are sharp and clear, regardless of the conditions. Even Lowrance may be beaten by the Solix.

The Solix series offers a larger screen, but we don’t think it’s worth it unless you absolutely need it.

With the MEGA upgrades, Solix’s images look amazing. They provide very fine-grained detail and high-frequency detail, but at the expense of some range. This is a good trade considering that there’s still 200 feet of range for any MEGA-equipped feature.

The Solix takes this already outstanding tech to the next level with even more clarity. This is indicated by SI+. While other manufacturers may offer similar tech, Humminbird’s is unmatched.

Have a look, and you’ll be able to make your own decision.


The Solix has many transducer angles that are specific to its applications. One of these features is Mega 360, which allows side scanning at 360° while you sit still. This is a truly amazing technology with obvious utility.

I’m blown away!

The Solix 12 is powered by a powerful CHIRP system and standard sonar. Fish have no place to hide. It has a 2.5-inch target distance and offers an amazing range and excellent imaging. This makes it deadly for experienced anglers. You can change viewing modes by pressing a button. This allows you to get the information you need without being distracted by things you don’t.

The Solix series also includes charts of over 10,000 lakes and U.S. coasts. It has two SD slots so you can add more. The powerful GPS of this fish finder allows chart plotting and marking points of interest such as honey holes. This will make it a great tool for any angling adventure. The powerful AutoChart Live software lets you map the bottom and account for everything, from hardness to cover to structure.

This combination of high-tech and science will allow you to learn more about the area you fish in, which will help you catch more fish.

Lowrance offers even better technology. Lowrance’s C-Map and Genesis Live features are the best in business.

You can receive messages from the fishfinder by linking them with your phone.

This is an incredible system that is well worth the price. This fishfinder is not for everyone.

Our buying guide will help you choose the best Humminbird fishfinder.

Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv

Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv, Easy-to-Use 5-inch Color Fishfinder and Sonar Transducer, Vivid Scanning Sonar Color Palettes, 9 inch (010-02554-00)

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size:9
Resolution:800 x 480
Frequencies:50/77/200kHz CHIRP (mid- and high); ClearVu, SideVu 260/455/800kHz
Side scanning: Yes, 500
Maximum Depth:ClearVu: 500 ft. 800 ft.
Transducer AnglesTraditional: 24deg-16deg. ClearVu/SideVu – 2.0degx50deg @455 kHz, 1.0degx30deg at 800 kHz
Target SeparationWhat is the best way to get started?
GPS: Yes
maps
  • It is very easy to use
  • Outstanding depth and breadth
  • Standard and CHIRP sonar options
  • Excellent screen
  • Lowrance and Humminbird have better image quality than Lowrance and Lowrance.
  • There are no maps
  • The high-tech options available are limited and the unit is not intended to compete with a full-sized fishfinder.

Summary

Garmin is an established brand in electronics and fishfinders. They offer excellent products at an affordable price and have proven that sometimes good enough is enough.

Garmin has dropped the Echomap series as the king of the hill and the Striker Vivid 9sv now features the GT52HWTM Transducer. This replacement is essentially a similar system to Echomap with data storage and maps missing.

Let’s get into the details.

The image quality is not as good as the Humminbird Solix, which has a larger screen of 9 inches and a decent resolution. It also features a seven-color color palette. This is to be expected given the flagship Garmin model’s lower price.

The Solix 12 is only about half the price of this top-end Garmin, so be aware.

The sonar performance is satisfactory. The Striker Vivid 9sv uses CHIRP sonar as well as standard sonar. This provides excellent depth and range for bottom-scanning as well as side-scanning applications.

Garmin is pretty secretive about the Vivid 9sv specs, so we are left to guess if they can match the transducer.

One bright spot in the Striker Vivid series’ Striker Vivid series is the disappearance of ClearVu.

Garmin’s original downward-facing system was found to be a violation of Lowrance DownScan’s copyright. Instead of purchasing the license, Garmin used side-scanning instead to create a downward-facing image.

Garmin now equips its fishfinders to legitimately down-scan. It’s not a great match-up with Humminbird or Lowrance, but it’s still nothing to be proud of.

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Side-scanning can cause shadows to be an issue. The overall image quality of the Big Three is the worst. If this concerns you, Garmin should be considered.

The Striker Vivid 9sv is a clear and easily readable screen. Even in bright sunlight, it has the best controls of all the Big Three. It is also very affordable for CHIRP-enabled Sonar.

Garmin is simply not trying to match Humminbird and Lowrance in terms of overall performance. This is evident by the lack of pre-loaded mapping.

We recommend that you give this unit a pass.

For the best Garmin fish finder, check out our buying guide

Garmin Striker 4

Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 with Transducer, 3.5' GPS Fishfinder with Chirp Traditional Transducer

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size:3.5″
Resolution:320 X480
Frequencies: CHIRP 50/77/200 kHz
Side scanning: No
Maximum Depth:1,600′ Freshwater; 750’ Saltwater
Transducer AngleWhat is the best way to get started?
Target SeparationWhat is the best way to get started?
GPS: Yes
maps
  • Amazing price
  • Acceptable screen size
  • Excellent depth and variety
  • CHIRP
  • GPS
  • There is no side-scanning
  • There are no maps
  • The image quality is poorer than the Hummingbirds.

Summary

Garmin’s ECHOMAP Plus flagship is not for us. The Striker 4 is a better fish finder than the ECHOMAP Plus. It’s packed with features and is worthy of comparison to the PIRANHA MAX DI 4.3 DI.

The Striker 4 has a 3.5-inch screen, which is a little smaller than its Humminbird counterpart. Humminbird’s down imaging offers a clearer picture, but there is no contest. What can the Striker do to be included on this list?

CHIRP.

The Striker 4’s heart is a powerful CHIRP-capable transmitter, which broadcasts on frequencies between 50 and 200 kHz. This provides excellent depth and range as well as fish identification. So while image quality may be sluggish, fish identification isn’t. That’s the point of this tech.

Garmin chose not to reveal the transducer that the Striker 4 is paired up with. We can’t give you details like target separation and beam angles. We can tell you that the Striker 4 works great, is simple to use, and offers excellent GPS features such as waypoints and marking. These features are not to be dismissed, and the Garmin may be the best budget fish finder for you if you are willing to sacrifice image quality to the Humminbird.

Humminbird PIRANHAMAX 4.3 DI

Humminbird 410160-1 PIRANHAMAX 4 DI (Down Imaging) Fish Finder, Black

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size:4.3″
Resolution:272 X 48
Frequencies: Dual 200/455
Side scanning: No
Maximum Depth:320′ @ 455 kHz; 600’@ 200 kHz
Transducer Angle28deg. 16deg. and 74deg
Separation at Target:2.5″
GPS: No
maps
  • Amazing price
  • Acceptable screen size
  • Excellent depth and variety
  • Dual sonar
  • You get powerful down imaging without any gimmick
  • No CHIRP
  • There is no side-scanning
  • No GPS
  • There are no maps

Summary

The Helix series is not for everyone, and many anglers have to make do with what they can. Humminbird has budget models such as the PIRANHA MAX that offer a lot for their money.

This unit’s heart is the superb XNT9 DI T transducer. It offers a dual frequency sonar at 200 kHz and 455 kHz. The 4.3-inch screen and this transducer provide excellent detail and depth, as well as sharp images. The DI in the name stands for “down imaging”, which provides more precise images than traditional sonar systems.

This is more than just a marketing trick, as you can see.

This is a unique feature that competitors cannot match. If you are looking for a fish finder at a reasonable price, this is arguably the best option.

You can choose between narrow beams to go deeper or wider beams for shallower waters. Most anglers will find that the 600-foot range of bottom-finding sonar is sufficient. You can see the fish you want when you pair electronics with 2.5-inch target specifications.

What’s the problem?

CHIRP, side-scanning sonar, large screen, GPS, and maps. You won’t find them otherwise competent PIRANHA MAX can help with waypoints, course charts, or GPS marking.

It is still a great choice for budget-conscious anglers.

Our Pick – TheLowrance HDS 12 Fish Finder/ChartplotterYou can!

Although it was difficult to choose, we believe that the Lowrance HDS Live 12 has the advantage over the Humminbird Solix 12.

This screen is a great combination of an amazing user interface, powerful side, and down imaging capabilities, as well as CHIRP, side and down imaging capabilities. Many high-tech features have been proven to be effective on the water.

This was a close decision, but if image quality is important, the Humminbird might be the winner.

We can assure you that you won’t be dissatisfied in any way

Basics of Fish Finder

Frequency Demystified

Sonar is sound. Sonar is beyond human hearing range, but it’s in principle no different from any other noise.

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Sound is a wave with crests, troughs, peaks, and valleys. These oscillations are more concentrated at higher frequencies than those at lower frequencies.

Low frequency

Low frequencies penetrate water more effectively than high frequencies. Fishfinders equipped with low-frequency transducers can “see” through the water more effectively, giving them greater depth.

Low frequencies have a weakness in that they provide data. However, with fewer crests or troughs per second, low frequencies can’t provide the same information as high frequencies.

For a second, think about your mobile phone. This is how 4G works. It can transmit more information, more data per second than 3G. More information is obtained when frequencies are higher.

High frequency

High frequencies provide greater detail and allow your fish finder to “find” fish, telling you their size and whereabouts.

However, they are unable to penetrate water and can’t give you any information about the bottom, such as structure and cover.

Dual sonar

Dual frequencies are used by most fish finders. They pair a high frequency and a low frequency to offer the best of both. If you see a fishfinder listing two frequencies (e.g. 77/200kHz), it means its transducer broadcasts simultaneously at both 77kHz and 200kHz.

The low-frequency signal is used to read the bottom. While the high-frequency signals are used to locate the fish.

Sonar Pings and CHIRPs

“Please, one ping only.”

The sonar of the Red Oct used “pings”, bursts and pulses that sent sound into the water. It struck objects, then returned to its transducer for analysis. Sonar wasn’t always transmitting sound when it was active.

The majority of fish finders are the same. Dual frequencies are used in pulses. These include short “pings”, like the one in the video. These pulses are transmitted together and provide enough data for the electronics of the fish finder to take a picture on the bottom and any suspended objects in the water column.

However, military technology has come a long way since the Cold War. Modern sonar systems use CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse).

CHIRP sonar uses longer pulses than other systems. It starts at the lowest frequency and moves quickly to the highest frequency. These longer bursts and the wider range of frequencies between the lowest to highest provide more information than standard sonar systems.

You can see that there are many more peaks than valleys in the CHIRP signals, each carrying information. CHIRP sonar is used by the military because it’s far more efficient than dual frequency sonar. The good news? You can too!

CHIRP sonar is now available on some fish finders. This provides superior imaging, more accuracy, and more detail.

This is not a marketing ploy. It’s real. We believe it’s worth the price.

How to Choose a Fish Finder

We prefer the CHIRP sonar system. What else is important?

Target Separation

The fish finder’s ability to distinguish individual fish from each other is measured by their target separation. Smaller numbers mean better performance.

Transducer Beam Angle

This is often a selling point but it is not as important as what marketing leads you to believe.

All other things being equal

You can see more below the transducer with wider angles.

The “specified cone” doesn’t actually represent the area that the fish finder detects. It’s more like this:

The bottom structure can also have a significant impact on performance for beams with a specific beamwidth. This problem is more common the wider the beamwidth.

The transducer beam angle should be wider if you fish in shallower water. You don’t want to have too much. If you fish in deeper waters, you will need a narrower beam angle.

Side Imaging Sonar

It is exactly what you hear. Advanced fish finders have specialized transducers that can transmit and receive from the starboard and port sides. This creates a 2-D image showing the water column from either side.

Some brands have a range as high as 800 feet!

This is a popular choice for fish locating, as it can be extremely useful. These side-facing transducers have a limited depth. Although the side imaging sonar will not penetrate the water column as deeply, it is an excellent complement to a traditional transducer.

Maximum Depth

A fish finder should have a good maximum depth rating. This rating should be matched to your actual usage. This is especially important if your preferred water depth is the Great Lakes or saltwater anglers.

Display size and resolution

Larger displays are easier to read and use but they also cost more.

Sometimes, bigger is not always better.

A fish finder’s resolution is the amount of detail that a screen can display. A small screen with a high-resolution resolution is easier to read than one with a low resolution.

GPS and Maps

These are essential considerations for a fish finder.

GPS and maps offer so many functions, from precise waypoints to honey-hole markings, that it’s almost an automatic choice.

Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.