When it comes to sonar technology, Side Imaging is one of the top tier sonar features a fish finder can have. That’s because, with a feature such as this, you can obtain a much better picture of the underwater environment. This not only helps you locate way more fish than with traditional sonar, it is also great for navigational awareness.
However, if you’ve never had a fish finder before, and you would like to add one to your fishing arsenal, chances are you’ll be overwhelmed by the variety of brands out there, and by the multitude of features offered by most advanced fish finders. On top of that, understanding how SI technology works, and what exactly it can do for you, is really important before purchasing a fish finder with this feature.
Now, before we get into detail and explain how this type of sonar technology works, it’s important for you to know that not all manufacturers name it the same. You’ll find different terms for it due to copyright reasons. For example, Humminbird calls it “Side Imaging”, for Garmin is called “SideVü”, while Lowrance calls it “SideScan”. It’s essentially the same technology, but depending on brand, the transducer used, and other factors, there are slight differences. Throughout this post and this whole website, we’ll refer to it as “Side Imaging”, “SideScan Imaging”, or “SI”. Or, if it’s a specific post, dedicated to a specific fish finder brand, we’ll call it as they call it.
- 1 Side Imaging – How Does It Work?
- 2 Side Imaging Sonar Advantages
- 3 Other Important Aspects About Side Imaging
- 4 A Few Aspects to Consider Before Buying a Side Imaging Fish Finder
- 5 A Few Recommendations…
- 6 Garmin Striker Vivid 7sv
- 7 Lowrance HOOK Reveal 7 TripleShot
- 8 Humminbird Helix 8 Chirp MEGA SI+ GPS G4N
- 9 Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 93sv
Side Imaging – How Does It Work?
Your average fish finder with Side Imaging comes with a special type of transducer, which typically must be mounted on the outside of the boat’s transom. Of course, mounting options may differ; some transducers can be mounted in-hull, while for others there is the trolling mount option.
The Side Imaging transducer uses two sonar beams, one on each side of the boat. These sonar beams are aimed in a right angle from the path of the boat, and typically can cover up to 300 ft. (91 m) of water, on each side (depending on unit). Most SI sonars can be operated at two frequencies: 455 kHz and 800 kHz.
Now, the image that materializes on the screen might be a bit difficult to understand, if you don’t know how to look at it properly. As you can see, Side Imaging offers a view of the bottom from the above, but with a bright-white line in the middle, and two darker bands on each side of it. Each dark band is continued with what actually appears to be the bottom of the water. The following photo should speak for itself.
As you can see, your boat is in the middle of the image, on top of the bright-white line, which is the turbulence created by the motor of the boat. The darker bands from side to side of the white line represent the water column under the boat, from top to bottom. But since it’s a 2D image, they appear flat on your screen. Whatever fish or structure appears in these dark bands is normally suspended in the water column under the boat, on the left or right. Also, the image above illustrates a submerged bridge that appears broken, but its middle section is actually not visible because it is simply not caught by the two beams of the Side Imaging sonar.
The water bottom planes appear on the sides of the image and actually touch each other. However, they appear apart from one another because the water column is displayed flat in the middle. Fish appear as white dots or elliptical shapes on the screen. You’ll see that some of them cast shadows, which means they’re more or less above the bottom. In general, the farther the shadow is cast, the higher in the water column the fish. Baitfish appear as cloud shapes. Ditches and drops appear like dark shapes or lines. Trees, rocks, grass or any other structure can immediately be distinguished, this being one of the main advantages of this type of sonar technology.
Side Imaging Sonar Advantages
First of all, a sonar of this sort will point out a lot more fish than traditional sonar. If you have a fish finder with a split-screen function and you’ll conduct a scan of a certain place, while observing both side view and regular sonar view in split-screen, you’ll see that many fish detected by the side imaging won’t show on the standard sonar.
Second of all, since it scans the water from side to side of the boat, it allows you to determine immediately where exactly a fish is in relation to your boat. This being said, it’s perfect for lure fishing or baitcasting as you’ll know exactly where to throw your lure.
Another advantage is coverage. SI sonar covers a rather wide surface of the water, not just the portion of water that comes under the boat. In other words, you may miss many decent fish with a regular sonar, just because they were placed outside the Down Imaging sonar beam or standard sonar beam, while Side Imaging can reach quite far out, and detect them for you.
Last but not least, and this is a huge plus, SI technology allows you to easily distinguish between structure and fish. For example, in traditional sonar imaging, the branches of a sunken tree may appear like fish returns and delude you, while in SI you’ll be able to see clearly where the tree’s branches are, and whether or not there are fish hidden among them.
So, as a small conclusion here, if your question is “Will Side Imaging sonar really help me catch more fish?, the answer is “Absolutely, YES!”
Other Important Aspects About Side Imaging
Maybe one of the most important aspects that many anglers overlook when buying a side imaging fish finder, is the depth capability of this feature. This is very important! Side imaging is a type of sonar to use for shallow water fishing. Most SI sonars have a depth capability of 150 ft. (50 m). So, if you’re planning on fishing in deeper waters than that, this feature will be useless to you. When used for higher depths than it can scan, the image on your screen will be just blank. Or it may be able to show fish that are upper in the water columns, at depths that the SI sonar is able to scan.
Another important aspect to consider is the way the images are displayed on the screen of your fish finder. Many anglers will get the wrong idea that SI sonar works somewhat like an underwater camera, and you can actually see the fish on your screen, or that the images created by the SI sonar are like photographs. That’s not how it works! Even though with side sonar the returns are crystal-clear, offering almost photo-like imaging, they’re still sonar images and not actual photographs. As we’ve mentioned above, fish will appear on screen like small white dots, arches, or elliptical shapes. Of course, there are highly advanced units that can be connected to an underwater camera, so that you can see the camera feed live on screen, but that has nothing to do with sonar.
Okay, so by now you should have a pretty clear picture of what this type of sonar technology is all about, and what it can do for you. But there are many more aspects you must not overlook, if you want to buy an SI fish finder, and not end up throwing money away.
A Few Aspects to Consider Before Buying a Side Imaging Fish Finder
Type of boat you own
In case you haven’t thought of it, the type of boat you own may not offer the possibility to install and use just any fish finder. Now, most fish finders with SI are designed to be used on motorboats, bass boats, or vessels similar to the ones mentioned. An inflatable boat or a kayak may require custom modifications or the use of a trolling mount for the transducer. Also, trying to mount a Side Imaging transducer in-hull, while it is clearly meant for mounting on the transom or on a trolling motor, may result in poor functioning.
Depending on brand and model, some fish finders may include a transducer, and others may not. It’s important to make sure that the unit you will purchase, comes with a transducer. Otherwise, you will have to go through the process of ordering a transducer as well, wait for it to be shipped to you, and maybe even pay more than it would cost, if included with the box in the first place. Most fish finders recommended on this website come with a transducer though.
In other cases, you may be able to change the transducer your unit comes with, for a different type. For example, if your unit comes with a transom transducer, you may be able to send it back and ask for a through-hull transducer instead, if you require such a type of transducer.
Side imaging is indeed an extremely helpful fish finding feature, that really does help you locate more fish. However, many fish finders featuring this type of sonar, also come with quite a bunch of other features that you may not need. For example, if you’re going to fish on the same 2-3 lakes you’ve been fishing your whole life, lakes that you know like the back of your own pocket, chances are you won’t need a package of fancy maps, or precision GPS. Evidently, each and every additional feature will increase the price of a unit. Therefore, prior to choosing your SI fish finder, look carefully at all its other features, and decide what’s useful to you, and what isn’t.
Budget and Pricing
The amount that you want to spend on a depth finder is one of the most important aspects to consider. Most electronics in this category don’t come exactly cheap. But in most cases, just as for flat-screen TV sets, the price is proportional to the unit’s screen diagonal. The wider the screen, the higher the price. Keep in mind though, that a bigger unit, with a wider screen, doesn’t necessarily mean it has a superior number of features. A unit may also be capable to support certain technologies, but these are available only separately.
It is important though, to have a wider screen for SideScan Imaging readings. That’s because the longer you stretch your side view, the smaller the fish returns will show up on your screen. If the screen is wider, returns will be bigger as well.
When it comes to the pricing of SideScan sonar fish finders, you will find units priced as low as $500, and up to $6,000. Of course, the ones highly-priced provide a wide array of navigational features, and there’s a good chance one would be a bit of a stretch for a bass boat. On the other hand, you can find quite a complete unit within the $1,500 – $2,500 price range.
So, in the last part of this post, you’ll find the best options by price, in terms of side imaging fish finders.
A Few Recommendations…
- Side Imaging Sonar
- SideVü Sonar
- SideScan Sonar
- Side Imaging Sonar
- SideVü Sonar
Humminbird HELIX 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2
Although the HELIX 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2 is one of the models released in 2016, it is still available in 2021. It’s currently one of the most affordable Side Imaging fish finders. For reference, this is the Humminbird part number 410230-1.
To begin with, the HELIX 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2 offers three CHIRP sonar technologies. These are DualBeam Plus sonar, Down Imaging sonar, and Side Imaging sonar. It supports four main frequencies, these being 50/83/200/455 kHz. It comes with the XNT 9 SI 180 T transducer that supports all three sonar modes. Also, this transducer has a built-in temperature sensor and comes with a transom mount.
For DualBeam Plus the transducer uses two conical beams at 83/200 kHz with a coverage of 60°/20° and a maximum depth range of 1,500 ft. (457 m). For Down Imaging and Side Imaging, the unit can only use the 455 kHz channel. The Down Imaging beam has a maximum depth capability of 150 ft. (46 m), while the Side Imaging beams can reach a distance of 240 ft. (73 m) on each side of the boat.
In terms of navigation, the unit is equipped with an internal GPS receiver. It offers the possibility to create waypoints, routes, and plot your track. It can also enhance its fixes via WAAS, EGNOS, or MSAS. Also, via GPS the unit can indicate and track your vessel’s speed.
The unit is pre-loaded with the Humminbird Basemap. These charts cover more than 10,000 U.S lakes with 1-foot depth contours, and also provide coverage for coastal waters, showing depth markers, buoys, hazards, marinas, nav-aids, and various other points of interest. It also has the AutoChart Live feature which allows you to create your own fishing maps with the most up to date depth contours.
As its name suggests, the unit features a 5-inch display. Its pixel resolution is 800H x 480V. The unit does not have Ethernet but does support NMEA 0183. It also has a microSD card slot for Navionics, LakeMaster, and SmartStrike charts.
Garmin Striker Vivid 7sv
The Striker Vivid 7sv is one of the newest Garmin fish finders released at the end of 2020. It’s one of the most affordable Side Imaging fish finders from Garmin. It’s not a chartplotter but does offer basic navigation features. For reference, this is the Garmin fish finder part number 010-02553-00.
The Garmin Striker Vivid 7sv has SideVü, ClearVü, and Standard CHIRP sonar. It comes with the classic GT52HW-TM transducer featuring a 12-pin connector, 20 ft. (6 m) of cable, transom mount, and an internal temperature sensor. In terms of standard sonar, the transducer only supports High-Wide CHIRP (150-240 kHz); however, the unit does support 50 kHz and 77 kHz as well. The depth capability of the High-Wide CHIRP beam is 800 ft. (244 m).
For ClearVü and SideVü, the included transducer uses the 455/800 kHz channels. The SideVü beams have a maximum side coverage of 500 ft. (152 m), while the maximum depth range of the ClearVü sonar is 500 ft. (152 m).
As we’ve mentioned above, the unit is not a chartplotter. This being said, it does not supports maps such as LakeVü or BlueChart. It has a basic GPS plotter that represents your boat on a blank background on which you can save waypoints, draw a route, or record your track. Although it does not have charts, the unit does have the Quickdraw Contours feature. Therefore, you can reveal and record the depth contours of your lake, and craft your own custom fishing maps.
The Striker Vivid 7sv features a 7-inch display with a pixel matrix of 800H x 480V, color with LED backlight. It does not have NMEA or Ethernet. However, it does have wireless connectivity and is compatible with the ActiveCaptain app. Therefore, you can sync it with your phone in order to access the Quickdraw Community to upload or download charts created with the Quickdraw Contours application. The ActiveCaptain app also offers several other useful functions, like fishing trip planning, data backup, etc.
Lowrance HOOK Reveal 7 TripleShot
The HOOK Reveal 7 TripleShot is one of the fish finders released by Lowrance in 2020. It’s also a chartplotter and offers a fairly decent range of navigation features. To begin with, it has built-in GPS and offers the possibility to create routes, plot your tracks, and save waypoints. The unit’s GPS supports GLONASS, WAAS, MSAS, and EGNOS for position augmentation. It also has the GPS speed function so it can calculate the speed of your boat via the GPS input.
The unit is pre-loaded with the standard United States basemap from C-MAP. These charts cover more than 4,000 lakes with 1-foot contours. They don’t offer super detail, but the unit is compatible with premium charts from Navionics and C-MAP. The unit also has the Genesis Live feature which allows you to record the depth contours of your lake and create your own bathymetric maps.
As its name suggests, the Lowrance HOOK Reveal 7 TripleShot offers three sonar technologies – SideScan, DownScan, and standard CHIRP. It supports multiple base frequencies, including 50/83/200 kHz for standard CHIRP and 455/800 kHz for the structure scanning sonar.
The unit comes with the TripleShot transducer which has a transom mount, 20 ft. (6 m) of cable with an 8-pin connector, and also integrates a temperature sensor. The transducer uses a conical beam with a coverage of 44° @ 200 kHz for the CHIRP sonar. Its depth range is 500 ft. (153 m). For SideScan, the beams are oval; they offer a coverage of 600 ft. (183 m) @ 455 kHz, and 300 ft. (91 m) @ 800 kHz. The DownScan beams are also oval; their maximum depth range is 300 ft. (91 m) @ 455 kHz, and 150 ft. (46 m) @ 800 kHz.
The unit has a 7-inch diagonal with a pixel resolution of 800H x 480V. It’s an LCD-type color display with LED backlight. It’s keypad operated only and does not have touchscreen technology. Unlike the older generation of Hook units, the Hook Reveal 7 does not have networking features. It does not support NMEA and does not have any Ethernet ports. It does have a microSD card slot, though, so you can load it with premium charts from Navionics and C-MAP, or with a blank card for data transfer or backup. The unit comes with the standard Gimbal mount.
Humminbird Helix 8 Chirp MEGA SI+ GPS G4N
The HELIX 8 CHIRP MEGA SI+ GPS G4N is one of the fish finders released by Humminbird in the second part of 2020. It’s a fish finder and chartplotter featuring Dual Spectrum CHIRP sonar, MEGA Down Imaging+, and MEGA Side Imaging+. It supports multiple base frequencies, including 50/83/200/455/800 kHz and 1.2 MHz for the MEGA sonar modes.
The unit comes with the XM 9 HW MSI T transducer which supports all three sonar technologies. For Side Imaging, it offers a side-to-side coverage of 800 ft. (244 m) at 455 kHz, 250 ft. (76 m) at 800 kHz, and 400 ft. (122 m) at 1.2 MHz for the Mega SI+ mode. The Down Imaging beams reach a maximum depth range of 800 ft. (244 m) at 455 kHz and 400 ft. (122 m) in Mega DI+ mode. And finally, the maximum beam depth of the Dual Spectrum CHIRP is 1,200 ft. (366 m).
The unit has a built-in 10 Hz precision GPS receiver. This means it can provide position updates up to 10 times per second. It supports WAAS, MSAS, and EGNOS for position enhancement. It can also save waypoints, tracks, and record routes.
The unit is pre-loaded with the Humminbird Basemaps. This chart platform covers more than 10,000 U.S. lakes and also offer coastal U.S. coverage. They offer a fairly decent amount of information including day markers, depth markers, hazards, marinas, buoys, depth contours, and more. The unit also supports charts from Navionics, LakeMaster, and SmartStrike fishing charts.
The AutoChart Live feature is available with this Humminbird fish finder as well. This application uses the 2D sonar data and GPS data to reveal and record the depth contours of the lake that you are scanning. Also, in terms of navigation, the unit supports external GPS or AIS, plus, you can upgrade to add-on technologies like Minn Kota i-Pilot Link, Talon and Raptor shallow water anchors, and even Humminbird CHIRP Radar.
The unit has an 8-inch display with a rich, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution. It is keypad operated and IPX7 waterproof. It offers plenty of networking possibilities, including Ethernet, NMEA 2000, WiFi, and Bluetooth. The mount included with the unit is the standard Gimbal model; a unit cover and a flush mount are not included.
Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 93sv
The ECHOMAP UHD 93sv is one of the SideVü fish finders released in 2020 by Garmin. Of course, it also has ClearVü sonar technology and standard CHIRP sonar. Plus, it supports Panoptix sonar.
The unit comes with the GT54UHD-TM transducer which supports all the sonar technologies provided by the unit, except Panoptix. It includes a transom mount and integrates a temperature sensor. For the 2D CHIRP sonar, this transducer uses only one High-Wide CHIRP conical beam at 150-240 kHz, with a depth range of 800 ft. (244 m).
For UHD SideVü, the transducer uses the 1,060-1,170 kHz frequency channel. The side beams cover up to 125 ft (38 m) for the UHD SideVü mode and 500 ft. (152 m) for the regular SideVü mode. And finally, for ClearVü the transducer can only use the 800 kHz channel offering an oval beam with a coverage of 0.94° x 60° and a depth range of 200 ft. (61 m).
Of course, the unit is also a chartplotter. It is pre-loaded with the Garmin LakeVü g3 charts that cover more than 17,000 lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. They’re enhanced with Navionics data and provide more information than the previous LakeVü g2. They also make available features like Depth Range Shading and Auto Guidance. Also, the unit supports the coastal BlueChart g3 and BlueChart g3 Vision, as well as the superior version of the LakeVü g3 charts.
Along with the LakeVü charts, this Garmin fish finder also has the Quickdraw Contours feature. This gives you the possibility to create your own bathymetric maps as it reveals and records the depth contours of the lake you’re scanning. Plus, the unit has waypoint creation, route creation, and track plotting functions.
The unit is equipped with a 9-inch, 800H x 400V display, with LED backlight. It has touchscreen technology plus the side keypad. Its interface is highly intuitive and easy to use. The unit is also IPX7 waterproof.
In terms of connectivity, the ECHOMAP UHD 93sv has NMEA 0183 ports and supports NMEA 2000. It has Wi-Fi and is compatible with the ActiveCaptain app. It also features a microSD card slot which can be loaded with other charts from Garmin or with a data card up to 32 GB.
All these Side Imaging fish finders currently stand at an almost completely clean 5-star rating on most retailer websites. Our selection here covers most budgets, from models under $500 to models over $1,000. Also, all these fish finders have at least a minimum of navigation features, so they can be versatile navigation tools, not just devices for finding fish and measuring water depth.