10 Differences Between prismatic compass and surveyor compass

Prismatic Compass vs Surveyor Compass: Understanding the Differences


When it comes to compasses, there are two types that are commonly used in various industries – the prismatic compass and the surveyor compass. While these compasses may seem similar, they serve different purposes and have distinct features. In this article, we will explore what prismatic and surveyor compasses are, their examples, uses, and highlight the key differences between these two essential tools.

What is a Prismatic Compass?

A prismatic compass is a navigational instrument used for measuring bearings or directions relative to magnetic north. It consists of a magnetic needle, a prism, and a compass card with degree markings. By looking through the prism, the user can align the compass with the target and precisely read the bearing.

Examples of Prismatic Compasses

– Silva Ranger S Compass
– Suunto MC-2G Global Compass
– Cammenga Lensatic Tritium Compass

Uses of Prismatic Compasses

– Navigating in forests, jungles, or any other terrains with limited visibility.
– Orienteering and land surveying.
– Military operations requiring accurate direction determination.
– Geographical and geological surveys.

What is a Surveyor Compass?

A surveyor compass, also known as a transit compass or a theodolite compass, is a device used to measure horizontal and vertical angles as well as determine bearings. It consists of a telescope mounted on a graduated circle, allowing measurements with great precision for land surveying and construction work.

Examples of Surveyor Compasses

– Topcon DT-200 Series Digital Theodolite
– CST/Berger 56-DGT10 Electronic Digital Transit Theodolite
– Leica Builder 405 Total Station

Uses of Surveyor Compasses

– Land surveying for creating maps, boundaries, and property lines.
– Construction layout and alignment of structures.
– Tunnel and road construction.
– Alignment and measurement of angles in engineering projects.

Differences between Prismatic Compass and Surveyor Compass

Area of Difference Prismatic Compass Surveyor Compass
Functionality Used to measure bearings relative to magnetic north. Measures horizontal and vertical angles for surveying purposes.
Design Compact and handheld, typically with a prism for accurate readings. Bulkier with a telescope mounted on a graduated circle.
Application Navigation, orienteering, and limited surveying. Land surveying, construction, and engineering projects.
Precision Offers moderate precision for general direction determination. Provides high precision for angular measurements and alignment.
Compass Card Marked with degree measurements for bearing reading. Typically lacking a compass card and focuses on angular readings.
Telescope Absent Uses a telescope for precise target sighting and angle measurement.
Target Distance Works best for shorter distances. Used efficiently for long-range measurements.
Accessibility Commonly available and widely used. More specialized and primarily used in professional applications.
Portability Extremely portable due to its compact design. Bulkier and less portable due to its larger size.
Price Relatively affordable for personal use. More expensive due to its advanced features and precision.


In conclusion, while both prismatic and surveyor compasses are essential tools in their respective fields, they have distinct differences in terms of functionality, design, precision, applications, and pricing. The prismatic compass is mainly used for navigation and basic surveying, whereas the surveyor compass is instrumental in professional land surveying and engineering projects.

People Also Ask

Q: Can I use a prismatic compass for land surveying?
A: Prismatic compasses are not recommended for precise land surveying as they lack the high precision and features required for accurate angular measurements.

Q: What is the advantage of using a surveyor compass?
A: A surveyor compass offers high precision for measuring horizontal and vertical angles, enabling accurate mapping, construction alignment, and engineering projects.

Q: Are both compasses portable?
A: Prismatic compasses are extremely portable due to their compact size, while surveyor compasses are less portable due to their larger size and complexity.

Q: Which compass is more widely used?
A: Prismatic compasses are more commonly used among outdoor enthusiasts and occasional surveyors, while surveyor compasses are primarily used by professionals in land surveying and civil engineering.

Q: What is the price range for these compasses?
A: Prismatic compasses are relatively affordable for personal use, starting from around $20. On the other hand, surveyor compasses with advanced features and high precision can cost several hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars, depending on the brand and specifications.

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