One of the most possible confusing things for the average consumer are eyeglass lenses. What I’ll talk about today are why there are so many different prices for prescription lenses. I’ll use a later blog to discuss cheap complete glasses versus expensive complete glasses and the difference between drugstore/gas station sunglasses or readers and Optical quality sunglasses and readers.
Single Vision (applies to most of you under 40)
Single vision lenses come in a variety of material, in a variety of qualities and with a variety of coatings. This is why the same person can get a pair of lenses for $50.00 or $500.00. Both are the same prescription but that is where the similarity ends. Different materials, produced by different factories who follow different standards, then finished with different types of coatings can make the quality of your vision and the price you pay vary a great deal. The technology has changed so much in the 25 years that I have been dispensing eyeglasses, some of the products I use to recommend 25 years ago aren’t even made today. Materials alone have made leaps and bounds. There used to be just glass for the longest time, and then after the second world war came the development of plastic lenses. Now there is glass, plastic ( In a range of indexes such as 1.5, 1.6, 1.67, 1.74), polycarbonate, and Trivex to name the most common lens materials. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages and each material is good for certain prescriptions. It is the job of an Optician to recommend the appropriate type of material depending on your needs.
There is no material that is scratch proof however with the proper coatings and care regimen, you should be able to get a good life out of your lenses. Breathing on them and rubbing them with your tshirt is not the correct way to clean your lenses.
I personally do find that Polycarbonate is a good lens for many situations. It is very impact resistant which makes it a good barrier between your fragile eyes and the outside world.
Progressives, or No line bifocals, no line multifocal, Invisible bifocals. (many names for the same line of products) However, they are NOT called Transition lenses, that is reserved for the Transition brand lenses which tint dark in the sunlight.
This is where it gets extremely confusing. There are hundreds of different progressives available on the market and of course, everyone claims that theirs is the best. Add that to the progressives that have been around from the beginning and all the different material options and the combinations are almost endless. There are progressives made by the traditional lens companies like Essilor, Varilus, Zeiss and Hoya to name a few. Then there are the other companies who once upon a time specialized in camera lenses, and you have Nikon, Pentax, Kodak, and Seiko. Add to that all the other companies who might be less well-known but still make a good product like Schmir, Sola, and AO. There are even small independent laboratories who also produce their own branded progressives as well and big corporations like Lenscrafters who have their own branded lens as well. What is a person to do?
I have been wearing progressives for a few years now and I generally recommend a lens that I wear. Before I needed progressives, I had family members who would be my testers and I would have them wear various lenses to see what worked the best. I have gone to seminars and attended lectures put on by the various companies touting their wide range of lenses and as I mentioned before, everyone of course makes the best lens according to themselves. When you are buying a progressive lens, find out if the Optician wears that lens and if it’s comparable to other quality lenses on the market.
Having said all of that, there is a big difference in the quality of lenses out there. Some of the old style progressives are comparable to a horse and buggy while some of the newer high technology lenses are like driving a Porsche or a Mercedes. And in between are your standard lenses which are like a Honda Civic or Ram 1500. All the progressive lenses will give you what you need, just some will do it better than others. And at every level of quality are different producers, just like cars and trucks. Some of the places that promise cheap progressives are giving you the old horse and buggy which still works, but there are so many more out there which will give you much better satisfaction. Even at the high-end, just like cars, you can get your Porsche, Lamborghini or Jaguar, all are great high-end vehicles and are very high performance, but depending on your need or situation, a Lamborghini quality progressive might not be right for you. Of course the Lamborghini dealer is going to tell you his car is the best, and the Porsche dealer will tell you his is. Neither is necessarily wrong. Progressives are the same way. This is where the relationship and trust in your Optician comes in. It is their job to know the different progressives and recommend what they feel is the best lens for you. Buying that cheap progressive on-line is an even bigger risk. At that price you are probably getting a horse and buggy progressive but when it is delivered, you find out it’s not even a horse, it’s a mule. Again, it might get the job done but it will take a lot more effort on your part and you will be compromising a lot.
I personally feel that there are places in our lives where we can save money and buy cheap. Generic Acetaminophen kills my headache just as good as name brand Tylenol. However, progressive lenses which you are wearing on your face every day for a year or two, is not one of those places to save money in my opinion. A progressive needs to be fit properly by a qualified Optician who can recommend the proper type of frame and lens best suited to your needs. A poorly fit progressive, or one that is not fit at all, like a progressive purchased on-line, is almost never going to work out well. In my personal experience I have had a client who I have sold progressive lenses to and they were having a difficult time adjusting to them. They came in to see me and I made some frame adjustments so that the lenses sat a little differently on their face and suddenly they could see perfectly and use the progressive with no problems. A progressive lens needs to be fit and adjusted properly for it to work properly.
I’ve had this discussion with my fellow Opticians numerous times. The problem is that when people buy a progressive on-line, or even go to a store and get the cheapest possible lens they can find they are often unable to use that progressive. Now they have it in their mind that progressives are bad and they proceed to tell all of their friends that progressives are bad. Had they gotten a decent quality progressive fit by a qualified professional they probably would have had a different experience all together. The problem there is you rarely hear people talk about how well their progressives work because they tend to keep that to themselves. What I’m trying to say is that just because your aunt Martha tried progressives and hated them, does not mean that they do not work. If you buy a good quality lens from a professional, you will most likely have a positive experience. I have been fitting and dispensing prescription eyeglasses for over 25 years. I would say that out of those people who purchased the progressive lenses which I recommended, maybe 0.5% were not able to adapt. That’s 1 out of every 200 customers who couldn’t use a progressive lens and even then I was usually able to fix the problem.. I don’t know about you but I think those are pretty good odds.
So, where does this all leave you, the consumer? I would suggest finding a qualified Optician you are comfortable in dealing with. They should be asking you the right questions and together you can both decide on what lenses are best suited to fulfill your needs. The most expensive isn’t always the best, and the cheapest isn’t always the worst, it depends on your situation and your needs. Just remember you will most likely be wearing these glasses on your face every day for the next year or more.