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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04.What to look for

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”.



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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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