Garmin vs Humminbird: Sonar Face-Off Resolved

Humminbird HELIX review

Both these leading marine electronics brands make great fish finders – but which is the best across the range of criteria that are important?

Our resident guide and sonar specialist Shawn Chapin breaks down his views on Garmin and Humminbird ranges by looking at their most popular models and the technology that underpins them.

Humminbird vs Garmin: the models we reviewed

Here is a list of the six fish finder models we reviewed in this summary of which fish finder brand offers more to the user: Garmin or Humminbird.

Reputation: Garmin vs Humminbird

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Garmin gaining ground

Garmin’s Livescope and Panoptix features have vaulted the brand to close to the top of the pile when it comes to fish finders for recreational use.

The Garmin display and settings take a bit of getting used to if you are a dedicated Lowrance or Humminbird fish finder user, but once you are familiar with it, you realise it is quite intuitive.

Garmin has a long history in the development of GPS technology, which has underpinned their move into automotive, marine and aviation electronics. They also have a range of wearable GPS devices that are popular with athletes.

Humminbird has a strong history in sonar fishing technology

Humminbird started in a small garage in Alabama in 1971. They have been at the forefront of product development for over 30 years and are still growing in popularity. They are the first to introduce a waterproof depth sounder and were first to use LCR screens. Their product line has grown to include 15-inch HD displays, Mega Side Imaging, and Mega Down Imaging and CHIRP traditional sonar.

Humminbird vs Garmin: Key Features

Garmin

Garmin fish finders have down imaging, GPS and Side imaging as standard features. Garmin has also pioneered a few features including the Panoptix and Livescope transducers. (we explain more about these below in the Innovation section). Garmin’s chartplotting and scanning technology is very accurate and produces great, detailed maps.

Humminbird

Humminbird fish finders have traditional CHIRP sonar, down imaging, chartplotting, GPS, side imaging and more as standard on most models.

Humminbird fish finders also boast a user-friendly interface and a menu that makes finding and activating various functions on the water a breeze.

Recently Humminbird introduced the SmartStrike feature, which takes into account the body of water and the contours from the Lakemaster digital charts and uses a special algorithm to give the user likely fish locations depending on data such as fish species, weather conditions, time of day and year, water conditions and wind.

Humminbird vs Garmin: Innovation

Humminbird has leading fish finder technology

We already mentioned the SmartStrike features that helps anglers find potential fish hangouts, but these fish finders much more to offer.

In additional to the standard traditional CHIRP sonar and side imaging, Humminbird now boasts MEGA down imaging in their fish finders, which increases the fish finder depth readings to 200 feet while offering 20% more clarity and detail on the display. These fish finders also provide 360 degree imaging to give you an all around view of the water around your boat.

Humminbird fish finders also have the I-Pilot setup allowing you to set your trolling motor to follow a particular contour while you can cast away.

Garmin fish finders have some smart features

Garmin’s Panoptix feature directs a sonar beam horizontally from the boat, allowing you to see fish moving either towards or away from you. It also lets you see structure from a side view that is not directly beneath the boat, out to 100 feet away.

Using the REALVU and FRONTVU modes you can see a detailed feature packed 3D view of the area in front of the boat, including structure and fish.

The detail that Livescope brings to the table is at times jaw dropping. You will have the ability depending on depth and fish size to actually see the fin movement of fish in sharp crisp detail, as well as individual fish in bait schools.

Individual branches from sunken trees or brush and other structures with high resolution and detail compared to more traditional sonar imaging.

You can even see your lure as you retrieve it. And your boat doesn’t need to be moving. These fish finder images are so clear and precise that with a little practice, you might be able to distinguish between species of fish!

The LiveScope function has 3 different modes to choose from. Forward, Down and perspective modes. Down and Forward mode are essentially the same as with other fish finders on the market with few differences.

Mapping System: Humminbird vs Garmin

Humminbird Piranhamax 197c review

Garmin

Garmin uses the industry leading BlueChart mapping system, but it’s not the only bathymetric or mapping software available for Garmin fish finder units.

You can also get Navionics cards for Garmin and their other mapping software called LakeVu.

LakeVu US and LakeVu Canada feature incredibly detailed bathymetric maps of lakes, reservoirs, rivers and other waterways .

Humminbird

Humminbird has integrated mapping systems in each GPS unit on their fish finder units. These operate off data from both Lakemaster and the NOAA, but you’ll find some of these maps – like C-MAP – can lack detail on some bodies of water.

We recommend buying the Lakemaster SD map cards for your state, region or body of water.

These maps are more accurate on many bodies of water than Navionics and help you get the most out of your fish finder.

Fish finder user interface: Humminbird vs Garmin

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Garmin

Garmin boasts an intuitive touch screen user interface allowing you to select anything with one touch. They also including a safety feature on their fish finders in the form of SOS button you can press if you become stranded or get stuck in bad weather.

Humminbird

Humminbird’s fish finders are, if anything, more user friendly – although that could be my bias coming through as I have used Humminbird units more than any other brand of fish finder. Humminbird’s touch screen fish finder user interface makes using these units a breeze.

Popular Humminbird and Garmin fish finder models

Garmin fish finder range explained

Striker Series

The Garmin Striker series is the entry to mid-level fishing model offered by Garmin.

These Garmin units range from small basic 4-inch screens to 9-inch screens, and have great CHIRP sonar readings and GPS.

They also feature the quickdraw charting software on some units so you can chart out the lake yourself if there aren’t any maps for it on the original or aftermarket chips.

ECHOMAP Series

ECHOMAP fish finder units range from mid price to higher end and have all the features discussed in this article including excellent mapping, CHIRP sonar and chartplotting.

The only difference between many of the fish finder models in this range is whether or not they are compatible with the Panoptix or LiveScope transducers.

Some of these fish finders come with the LiveScope at a higher price while others feature the most standard Panoptix, so be sure to consider that when purchasing, or simply purchase both transducers to swap out when needed.

Humminbird fish finder range explained

Helix Series

The Helix series is the new bread-and-butter fish finder line from Humminbird. These fish finders have some excellent sonar capabilities, including the mega MEGA 360 imaging and down imaging as well as great CHIRP traditional sonar.

The 360 imagining can be used to view the water in a full 360 degrees radius around your boat, or if you wish you can switch it to side imaging only.

Along with the GPS and Lakemaster capabilities they also feature the Coastmaster cards as well for the saltwater angler.

They also have variants in the networking capabilities with the G2 and G3 fish finder models not having networking and the G3N and G4N models being networking capable.

These fish finder models are also bluetooth compatible with the Humminbird smartphone app.

Solix Series

The Solix series is Humminbird’s high end fish finder. It has a large flat screen display featuring chartplotting, excellent GPS and can even be used to display radar for any incoming weather that may be moving into your area.

Features such as MEGA imaging+, dual spectrum CHIRP sonar, and Autochart live, and I-Pilot are all included as standard with these fish finders.

The sonar readings are sharp and highly detailed and the contour and charting displays on this fish finder range are some of the best available.

Piranhamax

The Piranhamax is the cheapest fish finder range offered by Humminbird and are pretty bare bones, featuring down imaging, along with traditional sonar, as the only real feature.

This affordable fish finder is made for two particular groups: kayak fishers and ice fishers.

Humminbird offers ice fishing packages with a mobile carry case and battery setup.

As well as having swivel mounts to adjust as needed. The sonar transducer is also a double beam setup allowing you to choose between narrow and wide sonar cones.

Garmin vs Lowrance: which is the best fish finder?

In our view the Humminbird HELIX range offers the best range of features and capability of the two brands for entry level and casual users. For the price, they are great fish finders. At the higher end, there is no doubt the Garmin ECHOMAP range is creating a stir in angling circles for its LiveScope feature and if having this real time imaging is a must for you, it is probably the best choice of the two brands at this price point.

Fish Finder FAQs

Frequency Demystified

Low frequencies penetrate water better than high frequencies, but can’t tell you much about the bottom. High frequencies offer greater detail, allowing your fish finder to “find” fish and tell you their size and location. Dual sonar pairs a high and low frequency to combine the best features of both, such as 77/200/200 kHz and 200/100/200 or 77/300/100 kHz.

Display Size and Resolution

A fish finder’s screen resolution is a measure of how much detail it can provide. A large screen with great resolution can be easier to read and use than a small screen with only average resolution but be aware that screen size is a key driver of a fish finder’s price – the bigger the screen the higher the cost.

Transducer Beam Angle

Wider angles of fish finder are not nearly as important as marketing leads you to believe. The structure of the bottom can greatly affect performance. The shallower the water you fish, the wider the transducer beam angle you want. Too much will create problems, and if you fish in deeper water, you want a tighter, more focused beam angle. For a specified beam width, the more likely this problem is. And the greater the width that width is, the greater that width, it’s more likely there will be a problem. As a general rule, the shallow the water, the deeper the beam angle, you should use a wider angle….

CHIRP sonar

Modern sonar systems use something called CHIRP, or Compressed High Intensity Radiated Pulse. CHIRP sonar is far more effective than dual frequency sonar. It provides better imaging, greater accuracy, and more information and most models have it as standard not.

Authors

  • Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He is a regular on fly fishing podcasts and appeared in the international fly fishing film Predator.

  • Shawn Chapin is an experienced fishing writer and guide based in Wisconsin, where he loves targeting muskie and a range of other species.

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