Schmidt & Bender Optics

By Todd Burgreen

Ignorance can truly be bliss. Most shooters have no idea what they are missing in terms of rifle scope optics performance that is offered by Schmidt & Bender (S&B). S&B produces one of the most diversified high performing line-ups of rifle scopes on the market. Most in our community hold strongly to preconceived notions regarding rifle scope optics. There are times when one must get past these comfortable set beliefs to truly appreciate what another product may offer. Granted, we all deal with budget pressures either as individuals or work entity. This does not change performance ratings; only what we are willing to pay to best get the job done. S&B optics may be beyond reach either for reasons of economics, more pressing equipment needs, or upon reflection, a lack of understanding of what Schmidt & Bender offers in terms of capabilities. We will here explore what important advantage S&B optics give U.S. forces on the battlefield, law enforcement, contractor, or security conscience private citizen.

Schmidt & Bender was founded in 1957 and has been family owned for its entire existence. S&B’s focus has always been to produce the highest quality scopes with hunting originally in mind. The company started by producing telescopic sights for large German hunting equipment sales chains under various brand names and gradually started to produce telescopic sights under their own name. Hunting in Europe is pursued differently than here in the U.S. with night hunts common; thus generating the need for the highest light gathering and clearest optics possible. Even in the early S&B years, Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Bender insisted on the highest quality components and attention to detail in constructing S&B scopes. Much of the assembly process is done by hand, which is why the company can only turn out a limited number of scopes annually. Schmidt & Bender is an ISO 9001 certified company. This implies all research, development, production and assembly is monitored by an independent agency. No matter if hunting or a tactical scope, S&B will not sacrifice reliable functioning of internal parts and is always on the prowl for the most sophisticated glass and finishes to enhance optical quality.

Along these lines, in 1992 Schmidt & Bender Hungaria Optik GmbH in Budapest, Hungary was founded as an independent company by Schmidt & Bender. Schmidt & Bender bought Hungarian Opticai Works since this company produced, and still produces, the optical components Schmidt & Bender uses in their rifle scopes. The process of privatization in Hungary made it possible for Schmidt & Bender to buy the previously owned government owned enterprise. This gave Schmidt & Bender more control over the production of precision optics and fiber optics from Hungary. A look at the Schmidt & Bender Hungarian website indicates that the Hungarian entity makes precision medical microscopes and other types of high end optical medical gear.

In the past few years Schmidt & Bender has made a couple powerful statements by winning two of the most prestigious U.S. military optic contracts. Most recently, S&B was chosen to provide the optic for the U.S. Precision Sniper Rifle (PSR). Schmidt & Bender will be supplying its 5-25x56 PM II scope in a special PSR version to U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Special Forces for existing and future sniper rifles. The PSR and Schmidt & Bender optic are expected to serve and perform all over the world under widely varying and harsh environmental conditions; albeit under water, near coastlines, in arctic surroundings, in the jungle and last, but not least, in urban warfare. Another milestone that established Schmidt & Bender as a major player in the tactical optic market was the S&B 3-12x50 PM II model being chosen for use by the U.S. Marines on their sniper rifles. This was after two years of comprehensive testing by the U.S. Marines against 25 rival scopes.

Even though already highly respected around the world, the impact of these experiences with the U.S. military for Schmidt & Bender lent even more credibility to S&B tactical optics. This is due to the U.S. military’s thorough testing procedures and protocols. All tests and decisions by U.S. military authorities receive a lot of attention around the globe. This also has a positive effect on S&B’s hunting and sports shooting optics. All Schmidt & Bender products, hunting and sports shooting as well as the products for military/tactical applications, are manufactured and tested in accordance with the same high military quality standards. Schmidt & Bender’s reference list does not stop with the U.S. military. Accuracy International actively promotes fitting the Schmidt & Bender PM II / Military MK II product line as sighting components on their family of sniper rifles and sells these products as accessories, which is rare for a rifle manufacturer. The Swiss firearms manufacturer Brügger & Thomet uses specially made Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50 PM II LP product line scopes with a B&T designed TRS reticle pattern for their APR bolt action sniper rifles. Lastly, Heckler & Koch uses Schmidt & Bender 3-12x50 PM II telescopic sights as standard aiming optics for their highly regarded PSG 1A1 semiautomatic sniper rifles.

Schmidt & Bender reliability and optical performance in the harshest conditions is the foundation of their success and reputation. Even a cursory inspection of an S&B scope shows solidness. S&B scopes can be considered overbuilt in terms of the tube bodies, erectors, lenses, and turrets; minimizing weight is a secondary concern. Frankly, saving a few ounces in what may sacrifice reliability on a weapon system usually weighing over a dozen pounds is not an S&B priority. S&B optics are renowned for their resolution. Optical resolution describes the ability of an optic to resolve detail in the object that is being observed. Each component of a scope contributes to the optical resolution of the system. S&B optics provide the best image sharpness and contrast you can buy.

Other Schmidt & Bender features further set them apart from their competitors. S&B does not favor multiple revolution elevation turrets as it is too easy for a user to become confused in a pressure situation or unable to determine setting in a low light situation. The use of 34 mm tubes with the PM II models allows for greater range of adjustment. Even at 1cm adjustments, the S&B scopes offered 130 click (30 MOA) adjustability in one turn. S&B refined this further by offering a “Double Turn” turret. The new MOA version of these S&B scopes use a 1/4 MOA double-turn knob (two rotations to go from min to max elevation). The first thing you will notice are the "windows" on top of the elevation turret. These windows show the shooter when he's dialed into the second rotation of the elevation turret. A clear panel displays the first rotation, while a yellow panel shows the second. The lower white-painted index numbers read from 0 to 27 MOA, though the adjustment goes to 29 MOA before it shifts to the upper set of yellow numbers commencing at 30 MOA. The “double-turn” knob has 56 MOA of complete rotation. The final index mark is at 54 MOA with two MOA lines beyond. Further, accentuating S&B advantages and clear input by real world tactical shooters are the clear tactile click adjustments and “zero stop” setting. The zero stop allows the shooter to use the scope in complete darkness. Once the scope is zeroed, you simply loosen the two small Allen screws on the turret, and rotate the turret cover twice in the opposite direction to set the stop to zero. Once you have set this, you can return the scope to zero at any time without looking. One should note the zero stop begins about three clicks below absolute zero. Both windage and elevation adjustments can be distinctly felt as you turn the scope to the desired MOA. The "feel" of the adjustments is very positive; there is no question when you adjust either elevation or windage. S&B turrets are lockable as well to avoid unintentional moving of turrets during dynamic entries or movements when afield.

The two examples above with the PSR and Marine S&B scopes were not the first S&B tactical experience with the U.S. military. In the early 1990s S&B was contacted by an elite Army special operation unit (known unofficially as Delta and/or the “Unit”) about upgrading their optics beyond non-magnified red dots. This collaboration led to the S&B 1.1-4 x 20mm ShortDot Police Marksman II scope. The concern for operating the variable magnification S&B optic in a CQB environment is answered with a briefing of the Bindon aiming concept. Human vision is based upon a binocular (two eyes) presentation of visual evidence to the brain. The simple substitution of a bright red dot for the usual cross-hairs makes it very easy to keep both eyes open. The brain merges the two images. During dynamic movement, the scene through the telescope blurs because the image moves more rapidly due to magnification. The one eye sees the bright dot against the blurred target scene, so the brain picks the scene from the unaided eye. The shooter swings the weapon towards the target while perceiving the dot indicating where the weapon is pointed. As soon as the weapon begins to become steady in the target area, the brain switches to the magnified view.

The S&B 1.1-4x20mm ShortDot is a combination of a red dot sight and a magnified scope. It was developed for the use at short and medium distances. With a low magnification setting the ShortDot can be used like a red dot sight. The red target dot is in the center of the reticle. The reticle in the first focal plane keeps the reticle muted at low magnification keeping the dot the main emphasis. Turned off the illuminated dot vanishes completely leaving the user with a normal reticle. S&B’s ShortDot variable allows CQB speed at the lowest power setting and enough magnification to make headshots at 100 meters or more without requiring a soldier to carry another platform on top of their M4s. The illuminating unit offers five illumination stages for the use in broad daylight. The red dot remains visible, even on snow or sand or in bright sunlight. The use in poor lighting conditions provides for three illuminated stages, while another three stages permit the use in combination with night-vision goggles. An automatic locking function is used to secure elevation and windage as well as the illuminating unit against any involuntary adjustment. The S&B 1.1-4x20mm ShortDot scope will strike many as unconventional in terms of commonly associated optics on a military style rifle. However, for military, law enforcement, civilian or private security contractor it is a worthy consideration as it enhances any rifles performance.

A side by side comparison was conducted using S&B scopes next to various other manufacturer offerings. Stable tripods were utilized keeping the scopes next to each and focused on the same object. Various structures and targets were observed from 100 yards to over 1,500 yards. Your eyes tell you immediately what scope offers the most resolution and clarity. Even past 1,000 yards rooftops and windows could be watched easily determining if someone was present. The other scopes could detect this as well, but the S&B scope offered a much more defined view. One way to describe this anecdotally is the S&B scope set at any power setting is similar to looking through a high powered spotting scope. For example, at 900 yards, an S&B scope can tell if someone is holding a weapon with another optic not being so refined. This is an important nuance for a military or police marksman observing a target. This ability is even more important if working in a dense environment such a jungle or urban setting. If a well-hidden target were concealed behind foliage or other masking feature, an S&B optics clarity would make it easier to detect any color or contrast differences alerting a user of a potential target.

The “eye opener” is the benefits S&B optics can bring not only to military and law enforcement, but to civilians as well. Low light/darkness is when crime and violence predominantly happens. As typical with any technology, there is a premium cost associated with any increase in capability. The greatest compliment paid to Schmidt & Bender optics is that elite units and manufacturers regard their optics as a vital piece of equipment to be mounted on their precision rifles. Is it to be expected mass numbers of military, law enforcement departments, or even civilians with tight budgets to run out and equip themselves with Schmidt & Bender optics? Obviously, not. However, individuals and any department or agency owes it to themselves to explore the different level of performance offered. As with any purchase involving gaining a tactical advantage, it is all about perceived needs versus cost.

Schmidt & Bender USA Inc.
Service Center
(703) 953-1253

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on January 3, 2014


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