Zeiss ZO 4x30i Combat Gunsight: A SHOT Show Optic Preview

[ 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 Optic

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.

The Reticles

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.

Zeiss ZO 6x36i Prototype

[ 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. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • THis optics is amazing! Best at SHOT Show.

    I was shooting it on a couple of guns along with Bryan Jones ( http://prometheus.med.utah.edu/~bwjones/ ) and we both said afterwards “I am getting one!”.

    I can’t wait to put one of these on one of my rifles 🙂

    • Leonard

      Makes me proud to be German, even though I’m not even remotely involved in that industry. This is just another example that when it comes to quality engineering, Germans are hard to beat 😉

      • AZRon


        That’s the reason I’ve never SOLD an HK.

  • jagersmith

    Excellent article, exceptionally well written. I appreciate the attention to detail and minimal editorializing. Blogs like this are the reason certain gun rags are going the way of the dodo bird. All the facts, none of the hype. I am certainly looking forward to testing one of these outside!

  • William C.

    Between this, the Leupold HAMR, and the Elcan SpecterOS 4x, I wonder if Trijicon will be offering any new variants of the ACOG with the same improvements in eye relief, etc. these sights feature.

    Also, I wonder if H&K will offer this in place of the current sight that comes with most G36 export models.

  • Leonard

    Very cool, just when I was thinking of importing an ACOG or ELCAN type of sight from North America, they make something just as sweet, maybe even better, back home here in Germany 🙂

  • Buck

    German “pacifist attitudes”? Mmmm kay. I like Germans. I like their culture and their products and their women but to say that they (Zeiss) resisted selling the Hensoldt brand to the US market because of pacifist attitudes seems a little odd. There must be an alternative reason.

    • Nick

      It is true. The reason was they weren’t in the USA is simply was nobody importing them. There were a few people that imported them on thier own; and they have been readily available in Canada for years and years prior to the USA getting them.

      • Buck

        To equate pacifism with a lack of desire to enter a market is also a bit of a stretch. Either way, I am sure they are very nice and I even have two Zeiss Conquest scopes but I don’t see a Hensoldt in my immediate future. For me the upper limit for sporting optics is about $1500 and after that price-point I don’t even bother looking because I know I won’t buy. I do however want to get the new Aimpoint 34mm Hunter for my whitetail/hog rifle. At $755 MSRP and probably $660 dealer I will give one a shot and see how I like it.

  • snmp

    They retake the Formula of the ZF24 Henslodt/Fero/Kern ….For the HK G3/MP5 & the FASS 90 (SIG 55X)

  • Anon E. Muss

    What kind of rifle is that in the third picture?

    • jagersmith

      Sig 556

  • SGB

    Can’t wait to add this to one of my rifles.

  • kilroy

    $800-1000 seems really high. That’s the base price of a good rifle! Can someone explain why it’s worth that much money? What specific qualities make it 15x better than a wal-mart scope?

    • Timothy Yan

      For the same money others pay for their ACOG 4×32 RCO, you can get 30+ NcStar/Leaper/UTG/etc “scopes” at Wal-Mart.

    • John Doe

      If you were doing long range shooting, good luck hitting anything past a few hundred yards with your Walmart glass.

    • G

      A gun store clerk once told me that many of his customers bought $1600 rifles and put $400 scopes on them. Whereas it would have made more sense to put a $1600 dollar scope on a $400 rifle.

      (This was a few years ago in Sweden. The prices were 16.000 Swedish kronas and 400 kronas. At the time a Blaser R93 Professional costed something like 16.000 SEK.)

      A more expensive scope will have better glass. Better glass means improved light transmission, better edge-to-edge clarity, better colour reproduction and so on..

      A cheap scope may have internal components of plastic and if so those components will probably not age well.

      A cheap scope may have a canted reticle. More about canted reticles:

      • EsEf

        In Germany I often see old K98s or fairly inexpensive Rifles with highly expensive Zeiss-glasses (€ 2000+) on top. Hunters say, the old K98 shoots well enough, but you need a good optic. They can prove it ^_^

        BTW: I had the opportunity to test some of the Hensoldt-Optics. They’re expensive, but awsome.

        You say it was problematic to get Hensoldt optics outside of Germany. On the other hand it’s not possible to get some of the US stuff to Germany – for similar reasons.

  • John Doe

    I love it. Now your move, Trijicon.

  • T, That was a great read on a great product!
    It was good to see you at SHOT.

  • Nate

    My father-in-law is a Zeiss dealer and I asked him about it and he had no clue what I was talking about. Thought I was talking about the Z-point… I then called Zeiss to get some more information about it and they said that the deal isn’t finalized to bring it to the US market. So I think it’ll be some time till we can get this in the states and even longer till the price comes down after the inflation of being “new”.

  • Hi, where was the scope landscape shot taken? May I guess Fremont, CA?

  • Zeiss sells a good product, but there prices are so high the average man cannot afford most of what they sell. Other companies are charging high prices also. With the latest materials and glass i can not see paying for a name. My brother is in the Optometry business and has been for over thirty years. Even he says that many scopes are overpriced for what you get. When you buy a new pair of glasses most people buy a new frame from let’s say $80 up into the hundreds. When newer frames come on the market he can pay $10 to $50 for the high end frames, also the glass is not as costly as years ago because there are machines that grind the glass and an inspector – human- in most cases does the final inspection. He also is a long range shooter on steel and hunting.

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