Spectacles buying guide

A price war has broken out in the optical industry. CHOICE’s shadow shop will help you assess your next pair of specs – and save plenty.
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01 .Introduction


As Australia’s biggest specs retailers, OPSM and Specsavers, go head to head in an aggressive price-cutting war, the upside for consumers is an abundance of cheap glasses. At Specsavers for example, you can currently pick up two pairs of single vision glasses for $179, and pay no gap if you’re covered by one of their nominated health funds. OPSM is offering 70% off a selection of complete glasses.

Smaller players such as Optical Superstore and newcomer Big W Vision have also intensified competition. But with such a confusing array of options and extras, how does the average customer cut through the hype to recognise a genuine bargain?   

To see how far your dollar can stretch, we bought five similar-looking standard single vision spectacles from Big W Vision, Budget Eyewear, OPSM, Optical Superstore and Specsavers. Some were designer glasses, others no name brands. Prices varied from $149 to $250. We had them tested and found all lenses were of acceptable quality.

The verdict?  If you’re not a fashionista and your prescription only requires single-vision lenses – which is what most special offers are restricted to – then you can definitely capitalise on the current market to buy some seriously cheap specs. This buying guide will help you work out what extras you do and don’t need.  

Our shadow shop 

An experienced female shadow shopper first visited the School of Optometry at the University of NSW in Sydney for a prescription, and purchased one pair of single-vision spectacles with standard plastic lenses and anti-scratch coating, and with unisex metal frames with flex hinges.

Using the same prescription, she then visited Big W Vision, Budget Eyewear, OPSM, Optical Superstore and Specsavers and purchased similar specs, with prices ranging from $125 to $250. We added the cost for anti-reflective coating for price comparison in the profiles, as this was recommended by all the retailers. Next, she visited five smaller independent specs retailers in and around a suburban shopping centre in Sydney, and got quotes ranging from $159 to $250.

Our shadow shopper told us she found trying to understand the different lens coatings on offer confusing, as store assistants’ explanations of “anti-reflective”, “anti-scratch” and “multi-coat” varied considerably.


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Passed all tests




Brand: R&B
Retailer: Budget Eyewear
$250 ($200 without anti-reflective coating)



RayBan Rayban
Brand: Ray-Ban
Retailer: OPSM
$348 ($249 without anti-reflective coating)




Minor problems

Country Road country road

Brand: Country Road
Retailer: Optical Superstore
$175 ($125 without anti-reflective coating)
Borderline pass result for optical tolerance, but of acceptable quality. 




 specsavers specsavers

Brand: Specsavers Marvin
Retailer: Specsavers
$199.25 ($149.25 without anti-reflective coating) 
Borderline pass result for optical tolerance, but of acceptable quality




Armani emporioarmani

Brand: Emporio Armani 
Retailer: Big W Vision
$218 ($158 without anti-reflective coating) 
One lens failed the minimum lens thickness test, but we rate it as being of acceptable quality as it passed the impact resistance test.


 How we tested

Testing was undertaken by the Optics and Radiometry Laboratory of the University of NSW. The R& B spectacles from Budget Eyewear and the Ray-Ban spectacles from OPSM passed all our tests. Big W Vision (Emporio Armani), Optical Superstore (Country Road) and Specsavers (Specsavers Marvin) showed one small problem each.

Optical tolerance test
Are the lenses made according to the prescription? One lens each from Optical Superstore (Country Road)  and Specsavers (Specsavers Marvin) only rated a borderline pass for this test. To correct the refractive error for our shadow shopper, the left lens should have had a refractive power of -1.50D on one of the meridians, but the left lenses of the Optical Superstore and Specsavers pairs had refractive powers of -1.58D and -1.57D respectively. A variation of up to -1.59D is allowed to pass the test, however the instrument used in testing has an uncertainty of measurement of +/-0.03D. If 0.03 is added to the results, the lenses fail the test; if deducted, they are well within tolerance.
If the refractive power is wrong, this can cause blurriness, headaches or difficulty adapting to the new spectacles. In the case of the two lenses above, the variation is likely to be too small to cause problems, so we rated these lenses as being of acceptable quality.

Thickness of the lens
This test is for impact resistance and security within the frame (if thickness is low, the lens may be less secure in the frame).
Lenses must have a minimum thickness of 2mm. The Big W Vision (Emporia Armani) left lens was only 1.8mm, but the lens passed the impact resistance test so we rate it as being of acceptable quality.

All the specs passed the following tests without any further problems: 

  •  Material and surface quality of lens (including the lens thickness test). 
  •  Bridge strength – a 250g weight determines the resistance of the bridge to bending. 
  •  Corrosion resistance – salt spray is applied and frames are checked for discolouration. 
  •  Low-impact resistance – a 42g weight is dropped on the lens from 1.8m.

Spectacles retailers compared
Extra cost added to single vision lens and frame deals
Retailer (sorted by price paid in our shadow shop) Cheapest offer - single-vision spectacles, scratch-resistant coating Shadow shop price - single-vision spectacles, scratch-resistant Extra cost for anti-reflective coating ($) Extra cost for 1.67 high-index plastic lenses ($) Extra cost for 1.74 high-index plastic lenses ($) Extra cost for progressive (multi-vision) lenses ($, range) Extra cost for most popular progressive lenses
Optical Superstore 451255013027070-170Carl Zeiss Vision Synchrony ($120)
Specsavers5914950180280150-350Pentax Novus 1.5 ($250)
Big W Vision5615860180280100-240Shamir Autograph, free-form tailor-made, high-definition ($180)
Budget Eyewear 5020050200200155-375Panorama Plus ($215)
OPSM 5924999217250156-401Panorama Plus ($231)
Spectacles retailers compared
Retailer (sorted by price paid in
our shadow shop)
Most popular designer - female Most popular designer - male Warranty (months) Number of stores Frames per store
Phone Website
Optical Superstore Country RoadTommy Hilfiger 1264 >12001300 477 327opticalsuperstore.com.au
SpecsaversKaren MillenFCUK24225 >12001300 241 773specsavers.com.au
Big W VisionGuessTommy Hilfiger 1228 6501800 251 311bigwvision.com.au
Budget Eyewear VogueRay-Ban1293 >4001300 303 606budgeteyewear.com.au
OPSM PradaRay-Ban 12-24310 >40013 20 20opsm.com.au

1. Lenses

For single-vision lenses, standard plastic is the most common option. For progressive (multi-focal) lenses, which correct near and farsightedness at the same time, lens technology has advanced and more options are available, ranging from $70 up to $400 on top of the price for single-vision lenses and frames.

Compared with cheaper, older-style progressive lenses, so-called “tailor-made” progressive lenses – the most expensive – allow more natural vision up close and greater accuracy and sharpness, with a wider mid-range field of vision. Your eyes may also adapt faster to tailor-made lenses

Different types of lenses:

  • Standard plastic lenses (CR39, 1.5 index lenses) are the cheapest lenses and used in advertised offers – usually with an anti-scratch coating included. Made from lightweight plastic, which has good optical qualities, they’re suitable for single-vision, small- or medium-strength prescriptions. However, without a coating they’re prone to scratches and usually not suitable for larger refractive errors.
  • Polycarbonate lenses are impact-resistant and used for safety eyewear, kids and sports glasses. The material is identical to “bulletproof” glass, but their visual quality is not as good as other lenses due to “chromatic aberration” (a rainbow effect) in peripheral vision.
  • High-index lenses are made from special plastic that uses less material to correct a prescription, so they’re thinner, lighter and suitable for strong prescriptions. They offer greater impact resistance and UV protection, and are the first choice for rimless or semi-rimless frames to avoid chipping. The higher the index number, the thinner, lighter and more expensive they are. Index lenses range from 1.6-1.74, with the extra cost for 1.74 index lenses ranging from $200 to $280 in major stores.
  • Aspheric lenses are thinner and flatter, which reduces the “large eye” look if you’re far-sighted, or “small eye” if you’re near-sighted.
  • Multi-focal (progressive) lenses correct both near- and long-distance vision, usually in the 40+ age group. In the five stores CHOICE shadow-shopped, prices you’ll pay for the most popular progressive lenses range from $70 up to $400, in addition to the price of single-vision spectacles. The most expensive progressive lenses are referred to as “tailor-made” or “free-form”, “high-definition” or “latest technology lenses”.


2. Extras

After deciding on the type of lens you want, choose the coating:

  • Anti-scratch (known as “hard” or “super-hard coating”) is usually standard. It reduces scratching, although no lenses are entirely scratch-proof.
  • Anti-reflective (known as “ultraclear”) reduces reflection, increasing light passing through and making your eyes more visible and appealing. It also helps night and computer vision by reducing reflections from overhead, street and car lights. The major stores don’t normally include this in offers and charge between $50 and $99 extra.
  • UV eye protection is usually included in a “multi-coat” coating. High-index, progressive and polycarbonate lenses are already UV-resistant. UV protection cannot guard against all harm from sunlight, so always use prescription sunglasses or clip-ons outdoors.

3. Frames

Plastic frames, while fashionable, are less durable than metal and can fade. However, metal frames can cause allergic reactions and may be heavier than plastic. Stainless steel is most widely used, both for its hypoallergenic qualities and because it’s comparatively cheap. The most expensive frames available are titanium, which are lightweight, durable and hypoallergenic, but harder to adjust and repair.

Designer frames

Designer frames dominate stores. Manufacturers license a brand such as Prada, Versace or Dolce & Gabbana, and these licensing fees mean higher prices.

Paying a premium for a designer brand, however, does not guarantee superior quality. Luxottica manufactures many designer frames and applies many of the same quality tests to its no-name products, which means you can get a great-looking pair of glasses without blowing the budget.

We found price differences of $100 for the same pair of Prada frames, so shop around and look for cheap online offers.

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