Ray Garner looks to the past – and looks through a Schmidt & Bender 425 Leichtmetall M riflescope.
Marketing folk tell us that in order to sell something, you must first of all give it a name. And Leichtmetall M is a crackerjack of a name. In full, it is the Schmidt & Bender Leichtmetall M 4×25 Zielfernrohr.
I can’t remember where I first heard of Schmidt & Bender. Possibly they showed up in Guns Review magazine from way back, or maybe some fellow shooter spoke of them in passing. Either way, with a name like Schmidt & Bender, and a product called the Leichtmetall M, they were fated to go far.
The two Helmuts
It was back in 1957 that two German citizens got together with the idea of making high-eminence telescope sights for use on rifles. Mechanic Helmut Schmidt and engineer Helmut Bender let loose their Project Passion, and the company of Schmidt & Bender came to be.
Working initially with limited resources, the founders prospered and grew to become one of the world’s best in the field of rifle optics. By the early 1980s, S&B’s reputation for quality was well established, and they were commissioned by the government to make a telescope sight for the German army.
What they made became the 4×25 Leichtmetall rifle sight, now rightly regarded as a masterwork of minimalist design. Incidentally, the German firm Steiner made an almost identical sight, as did Hensoldt (the military division of Zeiss). Karl Kaps too made them, presumably also under government contracts.
The 4×25 is built on a straight aluminium (light metal, or Leichtmetall) tube of 30mm diameter, with an overall length of just 235mm. The remarkable compactness of the sight stands out at once.
Unusually, neither end of the tube is flared, which means all of the lenses and the adjusting internal mechanism are contained within that tube.
All that is evident on the outside are small dials for focusing and for point of impact corrections. Windage adjustment is performed using the dial marked ‘Azimuth correction’. Set midway along the tube, this is graduated to move the point of impact by 25mm increments at 100 metres distance.
The dial on the top of the tube is for elevation correction, and has both fine and coarse adjustment. The coarse adjuster is calibrated for bullet drop compensation (BDC) for the 7.62×51 cartridge, out to a range of 600 metres. The third dial is for focusing.
All three dials are easy to reach with the rifle in a ready to shoot position. Such fine figuring of an industrial object is not accidental; it requires disciplined thought and method. Someone here understood their craft. With an all-in weight of only 345 grams, the military must have loved it.
The 4×25 was intended for use on the Heckler & Koch G3 rifle using the 7.62×51 NATO cartridge, and came with the military specification Stanag 2324 mount. Stanag is short for the Standardisation Agreement within the NATO alliance for common military or technical procedures or equipment. It was also available without the Stanag mount for conventional ring-mounting of the 30mm tube on to civilian rifles.
I bought my Leichtmetall M many years ago; as I recall, it was about 1985. This would be towards the end of production of the 4×25. For a good long time it sat atop an Anschütz Model 64 .22 rimfire rifle. The rifle went some time ago but I still have the scope.
The sight was available with either a wire reticle or a glass variant. Mine has the glass reticle, which is configured with a heavy vertical post finished with a blunted point. The horizontal part of the reticle is much finer, with regularly spaced vertical divisions along its length.
The reticle was no doubt intended to promote fast target acquisition, as would be required by the military, but at some point the makers referred to the 4×25 as a ‘sniper scope’, and I do recall reading somewhere that this particular reticle could be used for rangefinding by reference to man-sized targets.
I consider the reticle to be entirely viable for precision shooting, with the tip of the centre post placed on the centre of the target, or, with adjustment, just below the black diagram of a paper target – match dioptre fashion.
It won’t provide tack-driving precision at extended distances, but for sensible rifle ranges, the aiming mark is perfectly usable and easy to locate on dull days.
The field of view is 100 metres at 1000 metres distance. Quite an important attribute for what is essentially a combat sight, but not so important for passive target shooting.
Parallax is set as standard at 100 metres. On request, my Leichtmetall M was adjusted by S&B to be free of parallax error at 50 metres, this being more practical for rimfire rifle use.
The exit pupil diameter, if you do the sums, is 6.25mm. Compared with a pair of 8×30 binoculars, often considered as the best all-round arrangement for use in the field, with a 3.75mm exit pupil diameter, the low-light performance of this Schmidt and Bender is excellent. Image sharpness and colour fidelity and are also outstanding.
Eye relief, as best I can measure, is 50-60mm. This appears alarmingly short for a scope originally intended for use on a rifle of 7.62 calibre, which has a quite heavy recoil.
Luckily it proved not to be a problem – either that or countless infantrymen got a surprise and a black eye from NATO’s choice. When used on a low-recoil rifle off course, such short eye relief will cause no harm.
Literally ‘rubber cap’, this refers to the Leichtmetall’s lens protectors. In line with the rest of the design of the 4×25, the rubber lens covers are cleverly thought out and work easily and reliably.
Once fitted to the ends of the scope tube, the caps simply turn inside out to expose the lenses. When shooting is finished, the caps fold onto the rubber base and remain there giving protection to the lenses.
The 4×25 is no longer in production, and Schmidt & Bender advise me that there are none left on retailers’ shelves. I doubt they will ever make them again. The military now have different requirements of battle sights, and many civilian shooters like to mount larger sights on their rifles.
The Leichtmetall 4x25M might rightly be regarded as a classic. It is an exemplar of its type and, as a design, is as fresh today as it was almost 40 years ago when first made.
If you do happen across one, pick it up and look carefully; it might have a story to tell, and in the words of the late Harry Crews, “Everything was stories, and stories was everything.”
Many thanks to Katharina Looft of Schmidt and Bender, for archive information and historic catalogues.