Well-made, but less than ideal for non-military users.

Rating: rated 2.5 of 5 stars
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 compass dial

The U.S. M1950 dry lensatic compass currently made by Cammenga gets a lot of good press for being tough, but it's only 'tougher' than most liquid-filled 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 — an easy '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 mils scale is placed on the outside circumference of the dial, while the degree scale is in red ink and relegated to second place on the inside, with only five-degree increments or markings — 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 once with your eye to get a (theoretical) reading of 2.5 degrees between increments, 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.  But why bother, when there are other compasses out there with dials that can be easily interpolated to one-degree or less without computations?

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 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 its wobbly floating dial in 'six seconds or less'. Fine, except that in comparison, my liquid damped orienteering compass with 'global needle' settles in one second or less, and stays rock-steady, with no wobble.  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 M1950 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 M1950 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 excellent, once charged with a flashlight, but if you have a flashlight anyway, the luminous feature isn't really necessary.   

In summary, the M1950 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.


Very well built, impressive compass, at least until…

Rating: rated 3.5 of 5 stars
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: Around $70


Very well built, impressive compass, at least until the lens fell out.


  • Appears tough
  • Mostly very well made


  • The lens fell out
  • Bulky

I bought two of these compasses over the years. The first one I lost on a hunting trip, and when I went back to look for it, well, the olive drab paint is difficult to spot in the grass. Take that as a plus or minus, depending on your perspective.

The second one I bought I used for all types of activities. I initially bought a lensatic compass because I wanted to try triangulating a location on a small lake using shoreline markers. It worked well for that.  

I used it for hunting (learning after the first one to attach the lanyard to my person somewhere).

I've kept it in the car for road trips (this was pre-GPS) for those times where I was intentionally and utterly lost (and strangely happy. But that's a story for later). It worked well enough for that.

I've never actually used it for any military or assault type purposes. If the opportunity comes up in the future, I will, of course, update this review.

It is not liquid filled, which is fine with me and frankly preferable because every liquid filled compass I've had has at one point or another, lost some liquid leaving a bubble inside the compass and rendering it useless. It has a dampening system, so it settles down relatively quick. The interior is white.

Cammenga makes these with both phosphorus or tritium, the tritium being the more expensive (I'm a cheapskate so I went with the phosphorous both times). It holds its "charge" pretty good.

It is bulky. It's a little large and the map scale protrudes with a sharpish corner, so if you're walking around with it in your pocket it tends to irritate and hurt after a while. Structurally, it's held up great. It's taken some abuse, some drops, being knocked around, etc.

The sighting lens recently fell out, however. I'm not sure how it happened. I lent it to my son and he returned it missing the lens. He didn't notice it missing of course, but it shouldn't have been a big deal. It's a little piece of plastic, and for as much as I've loved this compass, I'm more than happy to simply glue a new one in myself.

I called Cammenga and asked them how I can get a new lens. They told me it would cost $60 to replace the lens. I paid $70 for the bloody compass.  

I like the compass, but I'm extremely dissatisfied with the Cammenga.


Nice review, Benjamin! Thanks for sharing it. Too bad about the lens and the $60 replacement charge (ouch). Do you have any pictures of your compass you could show others in your review?

2 months ago

This compass is built like a tank. It is extremely…

Rating: rated 4.5 of 5 stars
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.


"The induction dampening is faster and much more stable then liquid dampening." Not true. The Cammenga M-1950 lensatic settles in about six seconds; Suunto's Global Needle models settle in one second or less, with no wobble.

4 years ago

For some reason...I'm the very first member to review…

Rating: rated 4.5 of 5 stars
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.

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