Chevy vs Ford, Apple vs Android, wife vs husband... the world LOVES head to head comparisons and rivalries! And in the marine electronics world, there is no hotter rivalry right now than in the forward facing live sonar segment. Guys and gals lay down their very hard earned money for either the Lowrance Active Target or the Garmin Livescope and discussions can get heated on which one is better. For years, Lowrance and Garmin have been in an intense battle for live sonar dominance. It all started when Garmin released Panoptix in 2015. This was revolutionary and for the first time allowed anglers to see in REAL TIME what was around their boat, even if it was stationary. Garmin instantly had a monopoly on live sonar as it took Lowrance four years to have an answer to Panoptix. And just as Lowrance was excited to announce their answer, the Livesight, Garmin had a trick up their sleeve and announced Livescope (Panoptix's second generation) right behind them instantly turning all of the attention back onto Garmin. Imagine dieting and exercising like crazy to get ripped enough to finally get the attention of the beautiful girl at the bar and the next night the annoying guy she usually hangs around announces he got promoted... to CEO....... and just bought Ferrari. That's how Lowrance felt. Lowrance did not take this lightly and in a little over a year, announced their second generation, the Active Target. There were a lot of discussions on if Lowrance could gain back those customers that bought independent Garmin fish finders to run Livescope, but once Active Target launched, it was clear Lowrance hit a home run. We saw an unprecedented demand for Lowrance's latest technology and they were soon way backordered as demand greatly outstripped supply. This was exciting as we FINALLY had another competitor in the live sonar game. Since the launch of Active Target, we at Russell Marine Products answer phone calls on an HOURLY basis with customers asking which one is the best. As so frequently happens, the answer is not always as black and white as it may seem and "the best" is not as simple as pointing to Lowrance or Garmin. These are both top-tier, flagship sonar technologies that each do certain applications better than the other, but there isn't one that dominates in all applications. Let's look at the differences...
Both the Livescope and the Active Target come with a transducer w/ trolling motor mount, black box and all necessary cables to hook everything up and run it. They both utilize 135 degree vertical cones and both can be tilted onto their side (with the optional perspective mode mount with Garmin). But that's where the similarities end. Lowrance chose to use an 18 degree horizontal cone against Garmin's 20 degree cone for the Livescope. This is one of the most talked about differences as it presents some unique pros and cons. First, with the main benefit. The narrower, more focused cone of the Lowrance does provide brighter images. Especially when you're watching your lure with the sonar. In most cases smaller targets like fish or your lure is easier to see with the Lowrance. But just as watching your lure in more detail because of the narrower cone is a pro. This also causes one of the cons... it's harder to keep your lure in the cone since it is narrower. We do typically see less grainy images with the Lowrance over Garmin because of the more focused cone and that gives another pro for the Lowrance.
Perspective and scout modes: This is where we turn the transducer on its side and it offers a completely different viewpoint than the standard "forward" and "down" modes. With Lowrance, the included mount that comes standard allows you to do scout mode whereas with the Garmin you have to spend another $100 to get the perspective mode mount. Speaking of the mount for the Lowrance... they use the knobs from their standard gimbal brackets to allow for the adjustability on the Active Target. These are a dime a dozen if you happen to lose them and most Lowrance guys have spares laying around their house. Well done Lowrance. While we are on the topic of mounts, Garmin and Lowrance utilize different angles built into their mounts. This does affect certain applications. We typically see the Garmin outperforming the Lowrance in shallower water as the angle is less severe on the Garmin, whereas the Lowrance typically outperforms the Garmin in deeper water. This is only in scout / perspective mode. Remember when I said there isn't one that dominates over the other in all applications? This is one of the details I was referring to.
WHICH ONE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
As previously mentioned, there are some differences between these two powerhouses. But... and I mean this is a big but here (pun intended), overall the performance is very similar between the two. So much so, that we don't recommend someone selling all of their Garmin stuff to buy the Active Target. We also don't recommend someone selling all of their Lowrance stuff to go to the Garmin Livescope. If you're setup with one brand already, stick with that and run the corresponding live sonar. If you're starting fresh and don't have anything, Garmin does offer a little more value per dollar than Lowrance with their comparable units typically running cheaper than Lowrance's. That being said, if you're somebody that doesn't like to constantly tweak settings or if you're the type that messes them up and makes the image worst... the Lowrance Active Target does look better right out of the gate with factory settings. You can correct for all of that with the Garmin by tweaking the settings however. If you're mad at me for not providing a black and white simple answer, I get it... check out our in depth three-part head to head comparison on Youtube and you can decide personally on which one is the best.