[ Written by gun optics guru Timothy Yan ]
At SHOT Show 2012, the Hensoldt division of Zeiss released the Zeiss ZO 4x30i combat gunsight. The new sight, specifically designed as a combat optic for small arms, has a fixed 4x magnification, is robustly built and offers a very wide field of view. This puts it in the same category as the popular Trijicon ACOG series. The anticipated price of the Zeiss ZO 4x30i combat gunsight will be $800 to $1000 depending on the options. That is a good price for a Zeiss optic made in Germany.
I had a chance to try out a prototype of the Zeiss ZO 4x30i last fall in Kansas at the Big 3 Event hosted by David Fortier and Dillard C. J. Johnson. The sight gave me the impression of having the optical performance worthy of its Zeiss name, but yet it’s paring with an uninspiring reticle design. At the Media Day at the Range event right before SHOT Show, I tried the finished version of the ZO 4x30i with working illumination and improved reticles. I was able to use it to engage hanging steel silhouette targets at 300 yard with ease. The sight’s lens is sharp enough for me to identify the half-silhouette targets at 600 yard. The color rendition is very natural and it’s neither warm nor cold. It accurately depicted the desert color of Nevada and the green field of Kansas.
The Hensoldt brand
Whereas the Carl Zeiss name is well known around the world for their premium optics, but in the USA, Hensoldt is not well known. Zeiss markets their military optics and optronics under the Hensoldt brand. The M1 Abrams tank used by the US Army and US Marine Corps are equipped with the Hensoldt laser range finder. Hensoldt makes a series of sniper scopes that many believe to be among the best in the world. For a long time, Zeiss wouldn’t import the Hensoldt small arm optics into the US commercial market because of the German’s pacifist attitude. It took a monumental effort by Nathan Hunt, the vice president of Carl Zeiss Optronics USA, Inc., to bring in the Hensoldt scopes to the US market started few years back.
The Carl Zeiss ZO 4x30i
The new combat gunsight is based on the Zeiss ZO 4×30 that is in service with the German military aka the German Bundeswehr. While neither the German military nor Zeiss likes to admit it, the ZO 4×30 had been combat tested in peacekeeping missions and the NATO operations in Afghanistan. Zeiss originally developed the ZO 4×30 as the replacement optic sight for the Bundeswehr’s Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle’s build-in ZF 3×4° sight.
The newly released Zeiss ZO 4x30i version added following upgrades over the ZO 4×30:
- Reticle illumination powered by AA battery
- Improved reticle with additional BDC and rangefinder marks
- A higher mount for use on AR-15 style rifle
- 5mm additional eye relief
- A locking mechanism is added to the build-in QD lever
The Zeiss ZO 4x30i retained the same proven optical formula as the Bundeswehr’s ZO 4×30. It features a 30mm objective lens with a fixed 4-power magnification. The ocular lens size is very large at about 35mm, which gives a big and highly detailed sight picture. The exit pupil is 7.5mm and that is bit larger than the average 5-6mm offered by most of the riflescopes. The eye relief is comfortably at 2.56 inch or 65mm. The internal adjustment system offers 20 mils of adjustments on both the vertical and horizontal axis. Each click of the turrets is 0.2 mil of adjustment.
The biggest improvement over the old build-in ZF sight is doubling the field of view (FOV) from 4 degrees to 8 degrees on the ZO 4×30/4x30i. That had practically increased the viewing area by 10 times through the optic. 8 degree FOV covers 42 feet at 100 yards.
Illumination and Power
The “i” suffix in new Zeiss ZO 4x30i version stands for illumination. That was added because the German military didn’t want in illuminated reticle for the original version. The newly added illumination system is powered by a single AA battery. Interestingly, the ZO 4x30i’s illumination system is capable of regulating the battery voltage from 1.2 volt (rechargeable AA battery) to 3.6 volt (industrial lithium cells in AA size). The battery life is rated for 800 to 1200 hours per AA battery. There are 6 daylight illumination levels and 3 dedicated night-vision settings.
There were two reticles shown with ZO 4x30i models at the SHOT Show. One is a rather boring simple crosshair with a center circle and few hashmarks. However, that was illuminated by a daylight visible LED-lit bright center dot. The second reticle is what I called a Modified Bundeswehr reticle, which is based on the reticle developed for the Heckler & Koch G36 rifle. It features very fine half-length horizontal lines with thicker bars on the outside. A small circle with thick line is at the center together with a fine vertical stadia line that features some BDC marks. I found the thicker bars and center circle combination is very useable without illumination in daylight and it also assists rapid aiming with the sight at close range. There’s also a stadiametric rangefinder mark at the six O’clock position. The illumination for the Modified Bundeswehr reticle is not daylight visible but it covers the whole reticle.
Of the two, I prefer the Modified Bundeswehr reticle. However, I did make the recommendation to Hensoldt that they should offer the popular chevron and horseshoe reticles with daylight visible illumination for both. All they have to do is just replace the center circle in the Modified Bundeswehr reticle with a chevron or a horseshoe and cut back the stadia lines a little. The stadiametric rangefinder also needs to add calibrated brackets for use with the shoulder width method of range estimation. There’s also no need to have a 100m range mark in it.
The Sight Housing
The Zeiss ZO 4x30i’s exterior is encased by rubber armor with a small built-in sunshade for the objective. The sight is short at just 5.46 inch or 138.5mm but it’s very thick at 2.64 inch or 67mm. One of the downside of having large diameter lens with a roof prism design is the weight and the ZO 4x30i weights in at 20.1 oz. or 570 grams. The turret caps are tethered to the sight housing. There’s a short polymer 1913 rail section on top for piggyback mount a small red dot sight. In fact, the German Bundeswehr is usually using their ZO 4×30 with a Zeiss Z-Dot mounted on top. The Zeiss ZO 4x30i comes with a nice German made QD lever mount.
Zeiss ZO 6x36i
Hensoldt had also displayed a working prototype of their 6x magnification Zeiss combat gunsight at the SHOT Show. The ZO 6x36i looks like a longer version of the ZO 4x30i. It has a larger 36mm objective lens and a slightly small 6mm exit pupil. It uses a finer 0.1 mil adjustment and offers a 30 mil of total adjustment. It’s 6.85 inch or 174mm in length and weights at 24.5 oz. or 697 grams. The FOV is 5.3 degree or 30.5 feet at 100 yard. All of those are actually very good specs for a 6-powered sight. In comparison to the boat anchor of a 6x sight that is on the British military’s LMT made L129A1 DMR, the Zeiss 6x36i is much smaller, nearly a pound lighter! And it has a 50% larger FOV. The Zeiss ZO 6x36i is still in development and it won’t be release this year.
[ This article is Part 2 of multipart preview on interesting optics that I saw at SHOT Show 2012. Part 1 is here. Note that the featuring optic is a prototype and the final product could be different. My through the lens images should only be use for checking out the reticle. ]