Source: bought it new
Well-made, but less than ideal for non-military users.
- Air-filled compass housing can't develop a bubble
- Excellent manufacturing and assembly quality
- Deep-well compass housing
- Mediocre accuracy
- Mediocre shock resistance
- Degree scale in 5-degree increments only
- Can fog over in certain conditions
- Wobbly, slow-to-settle needle
The U.S. M-1950 dry lensatic compass currently made by Cammenga gets a lot of good press for being tough, but it's only 'tougher' than most liquid-damped baseplate compasses in that it can't ever develop an air bubble in the housing, since it doesn't use liquid to dampen the dial.
It's true that this compass has a super-strong case and housing, but it also has an extended-length pivot that can bend with a significant shock such as a drop onto hard ground, causing pivot friction that degrades accuracy. Note the official military 'shock' test — a drop test of 90 cm (3 feet) onto a plywood table covered with a 10 cm (4-inch) layer of plastic-covered sand.
This compass is often praised for its superior accuracy over most baseplate style compass designs in shooting an azimuth (taking a bearing) to an objective or landmark. Let's examine that.
The compass dial is in both mils and degrees, and as the military uses mils, the degree scale is given second place on the dial. As a result, the degree scale is only marked in large five-degree increments — a dial you'd expect on a $10 compass, not one costing $50 or more.
You can, if you practice, split the five-degree increment spacing twice with your eye to get a (theoretical) reading of 1.25 degrees, all while holding the compass steady and the sighting wire fixed on the objective — not easy. Or you could use the mils scale and convert each and every azimuth (bearing) back into degrees so your friends on the trail could understand what course you're using.
I just don't understand why Cammenga doesn't put out a version with the degree scale on the outer edge of the dial in one- or two-degree increments for the benefit of its civilian land navigators.
Then there is the issue of inherent accuracy. Brand-new, the G.I. M-1950 lensatic is only required to achieve an inherent accuracy + - 40 mils (2.25 degrees) from actual azimuth under milspec requirements. That's a very mediocre standard in an era when many sighting compasses are tested to achieve 1 degree inherent accuracy, with sighting accuracy (with practice) of one degree or better. Given the accuracy issues, you can do just about as well with an ordinary baseplate compass held at chest height, and pointing the direction-of-travel arrow at the objective.
That dry card housing can't ever form a bubble or leak. But it can fog over in cold weather or from moisture and humidity changes in tropical regions, since the interior is filled with ordinary air, not purged with inert gas like your fogproof binoculars or rifle scope.
The compass uses magnetic 'induction damping' to settle the floating dial in 'six seconds or less'. Fine, except that in comparison, my liquid damped orienteering compass with 'global needle' settles in less than two seconds, and stays rock-steady. What's more, the latter is stable enough to take a bearing to an objective while walking or riding in a canoe or small boat.
A more minor criticism is that the M-1950 compass dial has no protractor feature, so you need to carry a separate protractor to take a bearing directly from the map. It has no romer scales, and only one 1:50,000 metric scale, which isn't much use for USGS 1:24,000 topos. It also has no adjustable declination feature for relating all compass headings to true north. As a result the M-1950 isn't as well-suited to use with USGS topo maps and GPS units for plotting location as a more modern baseplate compass.
The compass itself is built with attention to detail and all parts on my example were well-fitted with no signs of manufacturing or assembly defects. Cammenga does an excellent job on meeting milspec standards. The luminous lighting on the standard model is adequate, once charged with a flashlight, but if you have the flashlight, the luminous feature isn't really needed.
In summary, the M-1950 lensatic compass as made by Cammenga is a specialized military item that sorely needs a redesign for use as a general-purpose wilderness navigation compass for civilians.
Price Paid: $66
This compass is built like a tank. It is extremely durable and accurate. It finds north quickly and consistently. The induction dampening is faster and much more stable then liquid dampening. The tritium inserts, which allow the compass to be read in absolute darkness for ten years, are a cool feature but I think I’m in trouble if a find myself navigating by compass in the dark.
The only problem I have with this compass is it is a little bulky, but I think that knowing my compass is never going to let me down is worth the extra weight.
Price Paid: 90 dollars
For some reason...I'm the very first member to review this compass. I've always been a major fan of this compass. It's the standard issue military compass. The model has tritium inserts and appears to be made of aluminum.
The cross hair style lensatic compass is EXTREMELY accurate. I've even successfully started a fire with the small magnetic lense.
No compass can match its durability. I once dropped a Silva compass (plastic) from about 4 feet and it shattered! Plastic is very cheap for the companies to construct a compass from. It was about -32 F. out that day. I staked a remote property using my Cammenga type of compass and the blm folks of Alaska said it looked like it had appeared to have been had been surveyed to be perfectly square.
This compass is expensive but will never fail. The only issue I have with this compass is the olive-drab paint. It is chipping off on the corners. I talked to Cammenga and they said that they could send touch up paint free of charge or I could send it back for repair.
Where to Buy
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The World's #1 Military Compass. CAMMENGA is the exclusive manufacturer of the official U.S. Military Lensatic Compass, built to the demanding specification of MIL-PRF-10436N. Battle tested - shock, water, sand proof, and functional from -50ºF to +150ºF.
Seven Tritium Micro Lights allow for navigation in low-light conditions. Equipped with a magnifying lens, sight wire, and dial graduations in both degrees and mils to ensure accurate readings. Copper induction damping system slows the rotation of the magnet without the use of liquids. Built to last with an aluminum frame and waterproof housing. The CAMMENGA COMPASS is depended on by U.S. fighting forces and adventurous outdoor enthusiasts all over the world. Proudly built in the USA.