The optics industry is in large part a globally-sourced industry where component parts from all over the world are brought together to create optical devices that meet the performance and cost specifications of various brands. Consider, then, if there was an optics industry veteran with decades of high-level experience from some of the best manufacturers in the world who took that knowledge and combined it with his many global contacts to create an optics brand that competes with the higher end on performance, and the lower end on price.
That someone is Mike Jensen and the brand is German Precision Optics-USA (GPO).
Jensen’s CV reads like a roadmap to starting just such a premium optics brand — President of LSS Supply where he negotiated exclusive international firearms deals; General Manager at Swarovski’s Kahles division where he built Kahles into a profitable, viable and sustainable division in the U.S.; VP of sales for Remington where he drove sales and marketing functions for multiple, globally reaching brands; and most recently as President of Carl Zeiss A/S where he strategically led the organization and achieved record growth.
A little more than a year ago, Jensen teamed up with former CEO of Zeiss Global, Richard Schmidt, now of German-based parent company, GPO GmbH & Co. KG in Munich, Germany, to form a premium optics brand that creates high-quality, high-feature products at prices below competitive offerings. According to Jensen, GPO has a unique corporate structure that allows it to build higher-quality products with better features at similar prices, or similar-quality products at better prices.
“Within Germany we have product engineers, we have test and development departments and we have a global headquarters that understands how to build a European-quality, super-premium binocular and the specifications that need to go into that product,” explains Jensen of the starting point of GPO’s production flow. “[W]e design everything in Germany, we quality assure everything in Germany, we define the specifications of every product within Germany. We are using engineers from other companies that are European engineers,” he emphasizes.
“Finally, production of our product we generally outsource to another facility so we can actually keep features [and] the quality up on a product, but keep the price down on the product. After final production, the product goes from whichever manufacturing plant we use, generally they’re an Asian manufacturing plant, products are shipped back to Germany for 100-percent inspection, everything is inspected in our quality control laboratory in Germany before it is distributed here in the United States,” he adds.
In addition to knowing the optics industry and features that appeal to the hunting market, Jensen is a serious big game hunter who cut his teeth in the mountains around Tucson, AZ chasing such elusive quarry as Coues deer and bighorn sheep. It’s the culmination of all that real-world experience that leads to a lot of GPO designs.
For example, though Jensen was one of the pioneers around Tucson mounting 15x binoculars on tripods for glassing big game, and even brought the idea to Swarovski, he opted to go with 12.5x50mm as the high-magnification solution for the GPO brand. “With the 12.5x, you have a 30 percent larger field-of-view, they’re 30 percent lighter and 8 percent brighter at twilight when game is most active,” says Jensen when explaining why he went with the different power.
GPO recently sent SCI a sample of its 12.5×50 Passion HD binocular for review that we took along on the AZSCI Chapter annual youth deer/javelina hunt. There, chapter members and Arizona Game & Fish personnel act as guides and mentors for the youth, helping them learn how to be successful, ethical hunters. The youth hunt presented a great opportunity for a variety of hunters at all skill levels to try the GPO binocular.
All found the 12.5×50 a nice size and lightweight compared to the 15x binos in camp. It sports several desirable features the hunters liked, including locking diopter, lightweight body and two-step twist-up eyecups. “[W]e went to a disengaging center-focus locking wheel for the diopter, which you normally find in products two to three times that price,” says Jensen. The locking diopter lets hunters focus the individual barrels for their vision and lock it so it doesn’t get bumped out of adjustment while rubbing against your chest or climbing through brush.
“A lot of the premium optics are built on aluminum or polycarbonate chassis,” explains Jensen. “We simply went to magnesium on all of our binoculars….” Magnesium is a strong and lightweight material that on the Passion HD is fully rubber armored to protect it from damage. Mounted on a lightweight aluminum tripod using the supplied mount, the 12.5×50 Passion HD packs easily and provides a “dead field of view” helping guides and hunters peer deep into dark canyons and spot the slightest movement on distant hillsides.
It’s often bright and sunny when hunting in southern Arizona, so the Passion HD’s twist-up eyecups were a welcome feature. Those help block out any harsh sidelight, which can contribute to eye fatigue — especially when tactics call for extensive hours of glassing.
Optically, the Passion HD provides a tack-sharp image, even on the edges of the field of view. This is an area where value-priced optics often fall short, and can cause a hunter to not notice something as slight as an ear twitch or tail flick at the edge of the view.
There was no color fringing or distortion. The view was simply clear with exceptional detail even in low light. Jensen attributes that in part to GPO’s own proprietary GPObright lens coating technology that allows up to 99.7 percent of the available light to pass through each optical surface. With every surface of the Passion HD system fully multi-coated, total light transmission can reach up to more than 92 percent.
Another significant factor in creating such a clear image is GPO’s “Double HD lens” that’s created by chemically laminated multiple extra-low dispersion lenses to make a single, multilayer high-performance optical lens. “Laminating multiple lenses minimizes light reflection on the surface of multiple lenses, creates enhanced resolution and color contrast images and minimizes chromatic aberrations,” explains Jensen.
Though it has rained a time or two during the AZSCI youth hunt, rain on the lenses was not an anticipated issue, seeing as how the hunt takes place in the desert along the Mexican border. Dust, however, was another matter. There’s plenty of it and to deal with either rain or dust, the Passion HD has a special PASSIONdrop hydrophobic coating applied to the exterior surfaces of the lenses that easily repels water, dust, oil and dirt. Dust disappears with a strong puff of air while water rolls off like it does from a good hand car wax. Additionally, with this technology are dramatic improvements in smudge repellency; lenses stay cleaner longer and are easier to clean when necessary.
According to Jensen, SCI Members simply don’t want to be let down. “He does not want to spend money on a hunt and have an optic come apart on him. He does not want to go on a trip and be hung up because a binocular isn’t focusing or because of a riflescope ocular or something is wrong with the reticle,” he says of hunters. “People need features, they need quality, they need dependability….”
While our time with the GPO binocular was limited, it was clear that the company is making products for people who require high quality and performance, but who also know the value of a dollar. “[H]igher quality can be broken down into a couple of areas,” says Jensen. “It can be broken down into optical quality, or it can be technical features quality. We are either adding more bells and whistles and better quality, or in many cases both better bells and whistles and better optical quality for similar prices. If it’s similar quality and similar features to premium European brands, we’re substantially cheaper in price. We’ve got it on both sides.”–Scott Mayer
Prism type: Schmidt-Pechan
Field of view at 1000 yds: 286 ft.
Objective diameter: 50 mm
Ocular diameter: 42.4 mm
Exit pupil diameter: 4 mm
Eye Relief (inches): 0.65
Close focus: 9.8 ft.
Interpupilary Distance (IPD): 58-76 mm
Dioptric compensation range: +4, -4
Waterproof: 500 Mbars
Transmission Daylight: 91%
Height: 2.5 inches (without covers)
Weight: 34.1 ounces (without covers)
Length: 6.9 inches
Width: 5.3 inches
Twilight Factor: 25
Accessories included: instruction manual, cleaning cloth, hard case, neoprene neck strap, hard case strap, objective covers, ocular covers, tripod adapter.