Best Side Imaging Fish Finder (2021 Reviews)

Kenneth ReavesEdited by: Kenneth Reaves
Michael DarmontReviewed by: Michael Darmont

Last Update:

The Rundown

Best Overall: Hummingbird 410950-1 HELIX 7 Fish Finder
“You need a fish finder that gets the job done no matter how demanding your fishing conditions can be. The Humminbird Helix 7 provides crystal clear imaging and great scope of coverage, making it the most reliable fish finder you can find.”

Best Budget Option: Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 Fish Finder
“If you’re a tournament angler looking for a top-notch quality fish finder for a budget-friendly price, the Humminbird HELIX 5 is definitely worth checking out. Its side and down imaging capabilities is impressive for a fish finder at this price point.”

Most Versatile: Garmin Striker 7SV
“The Garmin Striker 7SV is a fish finding partner that won’t let you down all year long. It’s designed to work in different weather conditions, making it the fish finder of all seasons. It’s clear, versatile, and durable – everything you could ask for in a fish finder.”

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Few inventions have had such a profound effect on the world of recreational angling as that of the fish finder. Fish finders allow anglers to see what lies below the water’s surface, thereby presenting a wealth of opportunity. Anglers can now make more efficient use of their time on the water by keying in on areas with the highest known concentrations of fish.

Since the advent of sonar technology, fish finders have advanced into highly precise pieces of equipment. Modern side imaging fish finders are capable of displaying highly defined images, which depict a lake’s features and the fish that reside within a body of water, in great detail.

Premium side imaging fish finders feature high pixel counts, easy to navigate interfaces, and substantial range. The bulk of these units also include integrated GPS mapping capabilities, which allow an angler to mark waypoints and store various forms of data for later use.

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Customer reviews
18,293
Customer reviews
Hours spent testing
21
Hours spent testing
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5
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Our ranking
Ranked #1
Ranked #2
Ranked #3
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Humminbird 410950-1 HELIX 7 CHIRP MSI (MEGA Side Imaging) GPS G3 Fish Finder
Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish finder , Black
Garmin Striker 7SV with transducer, 010-01809-00
Our grade
Our Rating 96/100
Our Rating 94/100
Our Rating 93/100
Feature 1
Dual Spectrum programming for multi-faceted viewing
AutoChart Live programming for on-the-fly mapping capabilities
Integrated flasher for use when ice fishing
Feature 2
Split screen capabilities for simplified data management
Vibrant images for improved readability
CHIRP sonar for lightning fast update speeds
Best Overall
Our ranking
Ranked #1
Thumbnail
Humminbird 410950-1 HELIX 7 CHIRP MSI (MEGA Side Imaging) GPS G3 Fish Finder
Our grade
Our Rating 96/100
Feature 1
Dual Spectrum programming for multi-faceted viewing
Feature 2
Split screen capabilities for simplified data management
Buy Now Button
Best Budget Option
Our ranking
Ranked #2
Thumbnail
Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish finder , Black
Our grade
Our Rating 94/100
Feature 1
AutoChart Live programming for on-the-fly mapping capabilities
Feature 2
Vibrant images for improved readability
Buy Now Button
Most Versatile
Product Name
Our ranking
Ranked #3
Thumbnail
Garmin Striker 7SV with transducer, 010-01809-00
Our grade
Our Rating 93/100
Feature 1
Integrated flasher for use when ice fishing
Feature 2
CHIRP sonar for lightning fast update speeds
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Best Side Imaging Fish Finder

1. Hummingbird 410950-1 HELIX 7 Fish Finder

Best Overall: Gets the job done under even the most demanding of circumstances

Humminbird 410950-1 HELIX 7 CHIRP MSI (MEGA Side Imaging) GPS G3 Fish Finder
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KEY FEATURES

  • Dual Spectrum programming for multi-faceted viewing
  • Crystal clear imaging for improved readability
  • Split screen capabilities for simplified data management

The Humminbird Helix 7 CHIRP MSI is perhaps the best possible choice for experienced anglers, who have used lesser sonar products in the past, and now demand nothing but the highest level of performance. This unit combines CHIRP sonar with Mega Side Imaging and Mega down imaging detail, in order to produce a fish finder that is capable of providing next-level image clarity. The Humminbird Helix 7 MSI also possesses a deep level of mapping functionality.

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One of the Humminbird Helix 7 CHIRP’s most unique features is its Dual Spectrum programming. The use of this programming allows anglers to toggle between individual transducer modes to select their desired view of what lies beneath. When in Wide Mode, this unit scans the largest sweep of water possible, providing anglers with a significant scope of coverage. In Narrow Mode, a smaller area is scanned, with an ultra-high level of detail.

No matter its mode of operation, the Humminbird Helix 7 CHIRP MSI should provide a level of image clarity that few other sonar units can match. The Mega Side imaging allows an angler crystal clear views out 125 feet on either side of their boat. The Mega Down imaging reaches up to 125 feet below the surface of the water. This unit allows you to see individual fish, identify the bait and structure, and reach greater depths and range. This level of ingenuity is likely to give tournament anglers the competitive edge that they seek.

The Humminbird Helix 7 CHIRP MSI also features a pronounced 7 inch screen, on which all data can be viewed in vivid color. Additionally, users are given the option of toggling between numerous split screen menus, which allow for simultaneous viewing of maps, graphs, and images. This should be of immense benefit to those who are looking to maximize their efficiency while on the water.

2. Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 Fish Finder

Best Budget Option: A feature rich unit at a reasonable price

Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish finder , Black
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KEY FEATURES

  • AutoChart Live programming for on-the-fly mapping capabilities
  • Possesses both side and down imaging capabilities for enhanced versatility
  • Vibrant images for improved readability

The Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP should be ideal for tournament anglers who regularly fish many different lakes in a single calendar year, as this unit features a significant degree of mapping capabilities. From live automated mapping to unrestricted upload capabilities, the Humminbird Helix 5 allows every angler to access a significant amount of data pertaining to lake conditions and underwater topography.

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Many anglers will find immense value in the Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP’s AutoChart Live programming. This program allows you to create custom maps of any given body of water in a fully automated fashion. As you pilot your boat, information is automatically stored regarding lake bed contour, vegetation, and bottom hardness. This information can then be used from that point forward to seek out areas of promise, when attempting to locate fish in numbers.

One can also load additional maps onto the Helix 5, through the use of the unit’s SD port, which further expands its guidance and mapping capabilities. Maps of any type can simply be loaded onto a SD card, and placed within their Helix 5 unit, and this map too, will be at their fingertips anytime that they are on the water. 

The Humminbird Helix 5 CHirp is also notable for its use of both side and down imaging. Each of these two capabilities provide a different vantage point of what is going on beneath water’s surface. Side imaging gives an angler clear wide angle horizontal views of what is below the water.  Down imaging is especially known for its crystal clear depiction of structure, and high-resolution capabilities. The unit’s CHIRP sonar is also largely impervious to any foreign form of interference, which bolsters the Helix 5’s reliability.

3. Garmin Striker 7SV

Most versatile: As versatile as a fish finder can possibly be

Garmin Striker 7SV with transducer, 010-01809-00
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KEY FEATURES

  • Integrated flasher for use when ice fishing
  • CHIRP sonar for lightning fast update speeds
  • High-frequency sonar for improved operation under a wide range of conditions

The Garmin Striker 7SV should be ideal for those who fish from a boat during the spring, summer, and fall, yet ice fish during the winter. This stems from the fact that the Striker 7SV features a built in flasher, which is ideal for use when fishing through the ice. The Striker also features an easy to navigate interface, which takes the difficulty out of initial setup and use. This also further amplifies the unit’s range of versatility.

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Many anglers will also likely appreciate the Striker 7SV’s use of CHIRP sonar. Sonar of this variety sends continuous pulses, in order to achieve the fastest refresh rate possible. This rapid response rate produces vibrant images, which are extremely accurate in scope and relative location. This should be a favorite feature of tournament anglers, who are looking to pinpoint the location of fish in the quickest manner possible.

The Garmin Striker 7SV also features high frequency sonar, which is capable of relaying photographic-like images. As a result, anglers are able to decipher fine details regarding the location of fish, their size, and any nearby cover and structure. This makes it easier than ever to form the best possible strategy to boat any fish that appear on the Striker’s display.

Garmin offers the Striker in several different display sizes, which include 3.5”, 5”, and 7” options. This allows anglers to select the particular variant that best fits their style of fishing, as well as their budget.

4. HOOK2 Fish Finder

Easiest To Use: Easier to use than today’s mobile phones

HOOK2 Fish Finder with TripleShot Transducer and GPS Plotter
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KEY FEATURES

  • Premium 9” display for enhanced viewing
  • Automatic Sonar for ease of use
  • Built-in mapping capabilities for simplified navigation

If you are currently in search of a side imaging fish finder, that is simplistic in nature, yet extremely versatile, then the Lowrance Hook2 should be worthy of your consideration. This sonar unit features a prominent 9” display, with easy to navigate menus, and one-touch access to key features. This is likely to be a hit with those who are new to sonar use, and wish to skip much of the complexity associated with many similar market offerings.

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The Lowrance Hook2 features automated sonar settings, which adapt to the conditions at hand, without manual intervention. This should be appreciated by many, who cover extensive amounts of water during a single outing, and have grown tired of constantly fumbling with lesser sonar units, to achieve the same level of accuracy. As a result, one should be able to spend more time fishing, as opposed to amending settings.

Many anglers are also likely to find favor in the Hook2’s built-in mapping capabilities. The unit comes pre-loaded with pertinent information regarding over 3,000 of the nation’s most popular fisheries, including lake contours, boundaries, and points of access. This makes it possible to travel from one lake to the next, armed with the necessary information to make the most out of your day on the water.

In order to take this feature one step further, Lowrance has equipped the Hook2 with interactive mapping capabilities. Anglers can now set waypoint markers for any points of interest, allowing them to return with ease, at a later date. This information is conveniently saved to a micro-SD card, which can be easily switched to alternative devices.

5. Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 93sv-

Best Premium Option: A feature rich sonar unit that’s worth every penny

Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 93sv, 9' Keyed-Assist Touchscreen Chartplotter with U.S. LakeVü g3
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KEY FEATURES

  • Ultra High-Definition SideVü scanning sonar for unmatched clarity
  • Comes with access to over 17,000 lake maps
  • Compatible with Panoptix Livescope sonar packages for increased versatility

If you are looking to upgrade from your current fish finder, and are in search of a premium unit that is packed full of premium features, then you will likely find favor in the Garmin Echomap UHD. This sonar unit features a 9” touchscreen, and comes pre-loaded with one of the most comprehensive mapping programs in the industry. Additionally, the Echomap is compatible with many of the company’s most sought after transducer upgrades.

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The Garmin Echomap UHD features Ultra High-Definition SideVü scanning sonars and Garmin high wide CHIRP traditional sonar for unmatched image clarity. The images relayed by the Echomap are unlike those produced by many competitor’s units, and are photographic in nature. This provides anglers with much greater insight into all which takes place below the water’s surface, than many would have ever dreamed possible.

Many tournament anglers should also appreciate the Echomap’s comprehensive selection of preloaded lake maps. The Echomap comes pre-loaded with Garmin’s LakeVü G3 inland maps, with integrated Navionics data. This programming includes maps to over 17,000 lakes, which include contour lines, boundaries, and access points.

The Echomap UHD is also compatible with many of Garmin’s most recent transducer packages. This includes Panoptix Livescope sonar packages, which provide real-time data transmission, with vidioistic qualities. This technology has become a mainstay of the professional fishing world, and is utilized by many of the industry’s biggest names, such as 2020 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Hank Cherry.


Things to Consider When Finding the Best Side Imaging Fish Finder Screen Resolution

Without a quality display, even the most advanced of side imaging sonar is of little value.

Fish finder displays come in many different forms. However, not all are created equally. Some units feature a much higher pixel count than others, therefore rendering a better picture. Anglers are wise to consult such figures when selecting between sonar units, in a side by side manner. Units featuring a higher pixel count will be much easier to decipher, allowing one to grasp the full depth and scope of their side imaging fish finder’s data delivery.

The importance of quality screen resolution lies in the ability to make the best use of a sonar unit’s findings. Grainy images are difficult to decipher and often leave one guessing. However, clear, vibrant images can be easily read, enabling an angler to capitalize upon the latest in intel.  

Screen Features & Size

Much like a TV, the quality of a fish finder’s display directly determines how easy its images will be to view.

Today’s fish finders come in numerous display formats, with some being infinitely easier to view than others. The three main fish finder display types are color, black and white, and high-definition. Each type of display can be imagined in parallel with subsequent development within the television market.

Color display sonar units are priced moderately and likewise offer a standard grade picture. Fish finders with black and white displays are generally very affordable. However, their display quality can leave a lot to be desired. On the upper end of the spectrum, high-definition displays are now offered for a top-tier price.

Transducer

A transducer’s wattage is one of the single biggest factors related to how well sonar frequencies penetrate through the water.

The wattage of a transducer carries an RMS designation. This designation directly reflects the amount of power that is being pushed through a transducer, and the unit’s ability to penetrate the depths below with its output. The higher a particular unit’s RMS rating, the easier it is for the unit transducer to deliver its output in less than ideal circumstances, such as extremely deep or silty water.

When fishing inland bodies of water, such as lakes or rivers, a 200 watt (RMS) rating is typically sufficient. However, when fishing in deep, blue coastal waters, the use of a unit with a rating of 1000 watts (RMS) or more is advised.

Power

An underpowered sonar unit is of little benefit when water conditions take a turn for the worst.

A fish finder’s power rating is indicated by a particular unit’s RMS designation. This says how much power is being driven through the system’s transducer. The higher this rating is, the easier it is for a fish finder to transmit a signal to deeper depths, especially in less than ideal water conditions.

Higher RMS designations also make it possible to separate multiple targets within a single given location. This often serves as the difference between obscured and highly defined images, in situations where fish are schooled tightly together, especially in the presence of substantial cover.

Frequencies

Choosing the right transducer frequency can be the difference between seeing what you wish to see, and being left guessing.

The frequency of sonar that a fish finder emits also differs from one particular unit to the next. Higher frequencies do not penetrate as deeply as lower frequency outputs. However, as a fish finder’s frequency increases, so does its ability to quickly cover water, and avoid background noise. 

When fishing in deeper water, an output of 50 kHz is desirable. Alternately, when fishing shallow water, it is best to use units with higher frequencies, such as those in the 192 kHz and 200 kHz range. For an excellent compromise, an 83 kHz frequency can be quite employed.

Maps

The inclusion of GPS technology has paved the way for many new sonar-integrated mapping capabilities.

Over the past decade, numerous manufacturers have begun equipping their fish finders with GPS enabled features. These features provide anglers with the opportunity to make more efficient use of their time, as they move about a body of water. An angler is now able to navigate from one point to the next, with little in the way of difficulty, by simply referring to their sonar unit’s integrated maps.

These maps not only streamline lake navigation but allow waypoints to be dropped for future reference as well. If an angler were to locate a brush pile or other pronounced lake feature, they could simply mark the site, allowing them to return on future outings without any substantial difficulty.

Durability

If a fish finder is to survive life on the water, it must be inherently durable on every front.

Fish finders are subject to a wide array of weather conditions, from pouring frigid rain to scorching heat. Sonar units of this nature are regularly pushed to their extreme and must be extremely durable in order to exhibit any level of longevity. Premium fish finders are designed with such concerns in mind and are rated to operate within a wide temperature range. Many of these units are also engineered to be water resistant.

Today, it is not uncommon for a fish finder to last 5 or more years, experiencing little in the way of issues along the way. Additionally, a number of the industry’s most renowned manufacturers have begun offering world-class warranty policies that far exceed the length of standard warranties within the market.

Waypoint Markers

There are few better ways to keep track of your favored honey holes than to store them as waypoint markers.

As of late, many side imaging fish finders have begun featuring a host of GPS integrated functions. Perhaps the most helpful of these functions lies in the ability to drop and save waypoint markers, whenever a point of interest is encountered. Many anglers sink fish attractors of various types, in order to create their own honey hole of sorts. When marked as a waypoint, these locations can be visited time and time again, without fail.

Anglers can also use waypoint markers to denote important lake contour features, such as points, drop-offs, shelves, or flats, all of which hold significant value in specific situations. Returning to these points of interest is as simple as selecting them from an on-screen menu, and following the plotted route.

GPS

GPS software turns a fish finder into an invaluable tool that most anglers do not leave home without.

Today, we no longer live in the primitive age of fish finder use. Gone are the days in which fish finders served just a single purpose. Today, most units of this nature now feature a wealth of additional functions, with perhaps the most important of which pertaining to GPS use. The advent of GPS capable fish finders have revolutionized the way that we fish and allows us to be more efficient when on the water.

The use of a GPS enabled fish finder allows you to mark brush piles and other underwater covers as waypoints for future return. Many such units also depict underwater topography. While non-GPS fish finders are still available for purchase, there are numerous reasons to spend the extra money to upgrade.


Questions & Answers

What is a side imaging fish finder?

A side imaging fish finder is a piece of sonar equipment that allows anglers to see what resides below the water’s surface. Unlike traditional down imaging units, side imaging sonar presents images of a horizontal nature, rather than vertical. These units also relay view images from the area around their origin, rather than directly below it. 

Many side imaging sonar units now include numerous GPS enabled capabilities. This allows anglers to mark waypoints and chart other points of interest. One can also use this GPS programming to navigate about the waterway of their choice. These features further illustrate the value of side imaging fish finders.

How do I read a side imaging fish finder?

Side imaging fish finders emit sonar beams from each side of a boat, in order to achieve a full range of coverage. These beams reflect back to the system’s transducer, where they are interpreted into viable images. To read these images, one must first familiarize themselves with their particular unit’s range of detection. The detection range of most units can be adjusted on the fly.

If a point of interest has been detected, a unit’s sonar detection zone can be narrowed, to achieve a faster refresh rate. This is of significant value, as faster refresh rates provide more comprehensive imaging. It is also important to limit boat speed and maintain a straight line of travel when employing the use of side imaging sonar, in order to prevent image distortion.

Does side imaging work well in deeper waters?

In a side by side comparison, side imaging fish finders are not as ideal for deep water detection as their down imaging counterparts. Side imaging fish finders are designed to detect that which is around the boat, rather than that which is directly below it. As a result, this style of sonar is incapable of penetrating to significant depths.

However, most anglers still achieve stellar results with the use of side imaging sonar units, due primarily to the fact that many freshwater fishing applications do not exceed the operating depth range of side imaging sonar. The exact range to which side imaging sonar is capable of reaching differs from one unit to the next.

What perspective am I looking at with side imaging?

Side imaging sonar presents anglers with a downward view of all that is situated within the immediate vicinity. The image which is depicted on a unit’s screen is representative of what one could expect to see in crystal clear water when staring down through the water column. These images are acquired through the unit’s transducer, which is responsible for sending and receiving signals.

The perspective that is provided includes a 180-degree zone to each side of the boat. This allows anglers to cover large areas of water, without being forced to move from their current position. When using down imaging sonar, it would take far longer to achieve the same range of coverage.

What’s the difference between side imaging and down imaging?

Side imaging and down imaging fish finders differ from one another in the way that their sonar beams are cast across the water. Side imaging sonar units present a horizontal view, rather than vertical. Side imaging fish finders also provide a far wider scope of view than traditional down imaging units, which focus directly beneath an angler’s boat.

Side imaging sonar units feature an adjustable outward detection range, which can be narrowed to provide faster update rates or can be broadened for wide-angle detection, with slower imaging return. This makes such units highly versatile, as an angler can tailor their approach to the situation at hand.

Why are frequencies of beams important?

A sonar unit’s range and image clarity are both direct products of the frequency at which its beams are emitted. Beams of a low frequency are capable of traveling much further than beams of a high frequency and are largely impervious to disruption. However, beams of such a frequency are largely incapable of presenting images in as great of detail as those produced by high-frequency beams.

On the other end of the equation, beams of a high frequency are able to transmit images in great detail, though at a significant cost of effective range. When selecting a sonar unit for purchase, an angler should be prepared to make a determination regarding how such characteristics will play into their on-water endeavors and choose accordingly.

Does side imaging work on kayaks?

Luckily, the use of side imaging sonar is indeed a possibility for those who regularly fish from kayaks. However, there are a few key things to know and understand, prior to installation. First, side imaging sonar must be mounted externally. This can be done with specialty mounts, which simplify fitment related issues.

A side imaging fish finder must be mounted along the side of a kayak, in order to achieve the proper angle for sonar delivery. Mounting of any other type can lead to skewed or inaccurate image transmission.


Final Thoughts 

The advent of side imaging sonar technology has made it possible for anglers to fish with a far greater level of efficiency than many could have imagined twenty years ago. One can now key in on prime locations, rather than wasting their time wondering if they are in the right spot. In essence, side imaging sonar units remove much of the guesswork from an angler’s day on the water. 

In the world of side imaging fish finders, the devil is in the details. The purchase of a fish finder is an investment and should be treated as such. By carefully considering the criteria listed above, and planning your purchase accordingly, you afford yourself the best possible chance at selecting a sonar unit that will prove to be of significant value for years to come.