What’s Better: Down Imaging Or Side Imaging?

Imaging technology is probably the biggest advance in fish finding since CHIRP sonar. Many anglers ask themselves whether down imaging or side imaging is best for the one goal they all have in mind: catching more fish.


The answer is a bit surprising – to understand it, we’re going to take a look at the different fish finders on the market, and what the difference between down and side imaging really is.


What is imaging technology?

Imaging technology goes by many different names:

  • Down Imaging/Side Imaging by Humminbird
  • ClearVu/SideVu by Garmin
  • SideScan/DownScan (collectively called Active Imaging) by Lowrance


Each of these technologies effectively accomplishes the same thing: turning the information your transducer receives from its sonar into moving images, so that you know exactly where fish are in the water. Down imaging scans below your boat, much like traditional sonar, while side imaging scans to the side. Simple enough.


The square/rectangle of fish finding

Look on the market for a fish finder that offers side imaging, but not down imaging – I can pretty much guarantee you won’t find one. That’s because transducers are built for down imaging first – remember, a fish finder’s core functionality is scanning below your boat. 


In other words, all transducers that can work with side imaging fish finders can work with down imaging fish finders, but not all down imaging fish finders have side imaging. When you’ve got a side imaging finder, it can down image, too.


That means that the real question here isn’t whether side imaging or down imaging fish finders are better – side imaging fish finders are, in fact, strictly better, because they can also provide down imaging. The question is whether or not side imaging is worth buying.


Is side imaging worth it?

Side imaging fish finders are often around $500 more than their solely down imaging counterparts. Should you spend that extra $500?


It depends heavily on how you like to fish. Fishers who like to troll, tend to find side imaging pretty advantageous – it gives you a great look at underwater structure surrounding your boat, so you can avoid getting caught in the weeds, and fish incredibly close to – but not in – structure. 


Side imaging can also be great for folks who enjoy shallow water fishing. When water depth is at around 6 feet, your down imaging is only showing you so much – side imaging, however, can continue to help you see fish in a large radius around your boat, so you can maneuver to more fruitful fishing grounds.


You might also find side imaging useful if you’re a tournament angler, and you want to pre-fish a lake – it can be easier to find the best spots to fish when you can see what’s out to the side.


Other anglers might find it’s best to stick to down imaging only, opting to spend that extra cash on a bigger screen or other fishing technology.


Now that you know a bit more about the difference between down and side imaging, check out our fish finder reviews! We provide a deep look at all of the top-end fish finders on the market, with a full comparison of their imaging models.

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