Vintage binos are cool, and if they work as they are designed to, then they are even cooler.
In this post, we’ll be looking at a trio of prismatic binoculars –
- one entirely serviceable pair of 1960s or 70s 6×30 British Binoculars, Prismatic, No2Mk3 made by Kershaw;
- one pair of 1943-manufactured British Binoculars, Prismatic No. 2 Mk. III which require restoration work made by Taylor & Hobson;
- one pair of new-manufacture, Chinese made M_AUSE_R 8×24 prismatic, brass-bodied binoculars.
We’ll also look at the WWII British binocular strap and two WWII binocular cases, the British Pattern 1937 and the Australian Jungle No. 1.
All three pairs of binoculars have what is called “graticles” in the right hand lens. The graticle is used for rangefinding, and is similar in form to the crosshairs in a rifle scope.
The 6×30 designation means 6x magnification and a 30mm lens. It’s not super-zoom magnification but is good for discerning detail out to around 500m-ish. 6×30 binos were the standard for field binoculars used by most militaries during WWII. For basic artillery or for air or naval observation, more powerful 7×50 binos were often used. There were huge naval and air defence binoculars used by the Germans and Japanese too, but these fall outside the scope of this post.
The British 6x30s were issued through several marks, beginning with the No. 2 MkI and No. 2 MkII of the Great War. The No. 2 MkII soldiered on through the early years of the Second World War too. The US Type EE of the WWI-early WWII era manufactured by Bausch & Lomb were almost identical to the British No. 2 MkI and No. 2 MkII binos.
The British No. 2 MkIII was the same basic pair of binos as the earlier marks, but were designed to reduce condensation inside the binos and to improve water resistance. They weren’t actually waterproof unless the eyepieces were screwed down tight, which of course threw them out of focus, so no one bothered. The red painted screws on the front plate of the binos are a feature of the British military binoculars of the era. These are gas ports which allowed the binos to have the air inside purged under vacuum, then completely dehumidified (desiccated) and then drawn back in before the binos were sealed again. The theory being that the lack of moisture in the air would mean condensation could not form inside the binos.
8×24 likewise means 8 x magnification and a 24mm lens. These binos were quite popular during the Great War with most European militaries, and the recently-retired (and uber-expensive) Swiss Army surplus binoculars used the 8 x 24 magnification. Typically, 8×24 binos are smaller and lighter than the 6x30s.
1960s-70s British Bino., Prism., No2Mk3
The first binos we’ll look at are the No2Mk3 pair. They are not dated, but due to the NSN they are definitely post-war and probably 1960s or 1970s. These are a lighter weight than the 1943 pair of Taylor and Hobsons and of the two, these are in completely serviceable condition.
The image through both sides is bright and the graticle is clear. I purchased them from an Australian seller on ebay for around A$80. The promise was that they had been recently serviced and I believe that is the case.
I will most likely strip the black lacquer from the brass surfaces of these binos and they will be my new “Vintage” binoculars. It’s easy enough to repaint them at a later date should they require a refurb or a return to “as-issued” condition.
1943 British Bino., Prism No. 2 MkIII by Taylor and Hobson
These were a bit of a rip-off. They weren’t cheap, and they also weren’t as described on the ebay listing. They aren’t quite a basket-case, but will require a few more dollars to be sunk into them in order to make them serviceable and I think they are deserving of the time, money and effort.
- Collimation (lenses aligned so the view through both appears as one stereo image)
- Removal of fungus in the lenses or replacement of same
- Removal of dust and debris inside the lenses or prisms
- Fixing the diopter on the left lens, which just spins but doesn’t focus
- A general clean and polish of the remaining reflective and optical surfaces.
- A general clean up externally
- Replacement of one of the bakelite eyepieces which is chipped.
Luckily I found a bloke locally who is qualified, equipped, willing and able to complete the required work to a professional standard. No more ebay binos for me- it really is a crap shoot.
Far heavier than the 1960s/70s models, these binos have a ton of potential. These are the correct binoculars for both the Australian No. 1 jungle binocular case seen above and the Pattern 37 binocular case below.
Aside from the general cleaning up and repairs, these binos will be left in the same finish as they are now.
New-Manufacture, Chinese-made M_AUSE_R 8×24 Binoculars
These are a rare gem in my opinion. They are brass-bodied binoculars made to some pre-WWII Zeiss design and they have a graticule as well. They have bright, clear optics and any problems I have had with them, I have been able to repair in a bush camp. Obtainable for under A$100 posted they are a great entry-level into the world of vintage-style prismatic binos.
In 2018 this pair accompanied me on my travels throughout every state and territory on the Australian mainland, as well as Tasmania, and the binos have the dust to prove it. I was using them for everything from birdwatching to stargazing to field observation and they were great. Being almost pocket-sized and light weight they were easy to carry and unobtrusive. I carried them in the WWII Australian No. 1 jungle binos case, which proved to be a little less than dust-proof, so I apologise for the dusty state of these binos in the pics below.
The binos are counterfeits sold under the brand names of M_AUSE_R or Comet. Counterfeits of what I do not know, but there are reports of some Soviet-era military 8x24s being faked, and these sort of look like them.
So what problems have I had with these? I have had condensation issues in the tropics and the left diopter wouldn’t adjust the focus. The latter problem was rectified when I went in after it man to man with a flat nosed jeweller’s screwdriver, and the former seems to have fixed itself once I travelled south of the Tropic or Capricorn. There may be a slight collimation issue which means I have to strain the eyes a little to force a single stereoscopic image, but rather than pay a couple of hundred bucks to fix an issue with a pair of $70 binos, I’ll just live with it.
WWII British Binocular strap –
These are not really rare, but are getting scarce. They are a webbing strap with two brass buckles sewn in. Some of the earlier models include metal tips, but most you’ll find have tips which have been stiffened with clear resin or lacquer so as to make it easier to thread them through the brackets on the body of the binos.
I have one complete WWII British strap on its way to me which has metal tips. This one is destined for my 1943 Binos Prism No. 2MkIII. While complete, it has some serious wear which I will need to repair.
Currently the binocular strap on the 1960s/70s No2MK3 binos is a new-manufactured repro from What Price Glory. It stacks up very well to the originals. The buckles are identical, as is the width of the webbing and the quality of the stitching. The only major difference is the weave of the webbing. You can tell the WPG one is Indian-made. It’s completely fit for purpose, if a little pricey for what it is when shipping Down Under is factored in.
Luckily, I have the remains (about 3/4) of the original one which was issued with the 1943 binos. I will probably cut this incomplete strap assembly and use it to patch or reinforce the damaged areas on the one. I have coming.