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Why You Should Buy Premium Sunglasses

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

In this Article:

Introduction: The Importance of Trying on Sunglasses with Advanced Lenses

This post is called "Why You Should Buy Premium Sunglasses" but really the goal is to get you to properly try on a pair of shades that have advanced lenses. Once you do that in the right setting I am confident you, like the dozens of people in my life who have done this, will be convinced. I hope this article gets you to that point.

I also want to be clear this post is not about expensive sunglasses per se, as many of the most expensive brands are primarily selling their name or style. This is about sunglasses with advanced optics.

Reasons to Spend More on Premium Sunglasses

First off, let me be straight with you. For eye protection you can find many inexpensive options at your local drug store or gas station, just make sure they say UV400 protective. You shouldn't spend more than $25 if that is your only concern.

But that would be a huge shame.

There are many reasons to spend more on premium sunglasses, but by far the most important one is that you are buying a more beautiful world, which is a huge return on investment. Let me explain.

Say you are planning a long overdue vacation to a beautiful destination. You might spend money on flights, good food, fun activities, shopping, and anything else that might enhance your well-earned time off. The money you use is going directly to making your time more enjoyable.

A huge chunk of that enjoyment is what you see. The spectacular views, the bright landscapes, the rare events, the local architecture and the ecology. After all, you purposely went to your destination.

Premium sunglasses can enhance the color, contrast, clarity, and comfort of your visual experience to effectively make the location you are in twice as good. If you had spent $2000 on your vacation, with a $300 pair of shades (that you can keep and use for decades) you can make that $2000 feel like a $5000 splurge. That's a great return on investment.

Enhancing Your Visual Experience with Premium Sunglasses

Vacation is just the beginning. When I'm wearing the right sunglasses for the conditions around me I feel like the world has been upgraded in a way only the richest people can buy. The trees, cars, sky, flowers, etc. all stand out with rich color and clarity, and I can't stop looking at the natural beauty of the world in wonder on my walk or drive to work every day. It isn't just about not squinting and glare reduction. It's about enhancing your view to the highest degree possible.

There's a good reason certain shades can provide this experience while the cheap ones you can buy at the gas station do not. Basic sunglasses add a tint to the lenses that create a visual effect that is not too dark, not too light, and are reasonable for producing lenses that suit the basic need of sunglasses-reducing the amount of light reaching the eye-but do not allow for the higher performance and protection that is now possible with technical advances.

How Premium Lenses Maximize Performance and Protection

By knowing the science and properties of light, optical engineers and scientists can design sun lenses that maximize performance, enhance vision for specific activities, and protect our eyes from damaging radiation. For example, High-energy violet (HEV) light, often referred to as high-energy blue light, is the highest energy visible light that reaches the retina. Short-wave high-energy blue light creates scatter and haze, making objects appear somewhat blurry. In the last few years a number of products have entered the market advertising HEV-blocking properties, which reduce haze and blur, provided greater clarity of vision, enhanced color definition.

Here's an example of what removing short wave high-energy blue light can do. This is from Oakley:

Source: Oakley

The colors are affected by the tint and Oakley Prizm technology (LINK) but take a look at the sky and the green hill at the top left. Without the Prizm filter there is a haze and blur and mixing of colors. Once the filter is added the clarity and color are dramatically enhanced. And this is with a simulation. No picture or video online will be able to fully replicate the real experience, since our brains can focus and adjust to a much greater degree then a camera or computer. If you think this is impressive, you should try it on yourself to really see.

Reducing HEV light is actually only one of the technologies being used in premium lenses. Many brands have their own proprietary technology but the principles in how they manipulate light are all roughly the same, though the implementation and methods are different (and some brands do it better than others). They involve manipulating the light spectrum.

Here is the difference between a pair of regular Ray Ban lenses with no color enhancing technology and Maui Jim, one of the best in the business. This is the spectral transmission profile of each one, essentially showing how much light of each wavelength and color is getting through the lens.


You can see the Maui Jim lens uses different filters to allow or restrict the wavelengths of light to reduce or boost colors. I won't get into the weeds here but the goal of these filters is to reduce certain blue and yellow light, and boost certain green and red light. The reasons for that I discuss here (LINK coming), but for now the takeaway is that premium lenses provide a much richer visual experience than a basic lens.

Like this:

Source: Maui Jim

Lens Materials and Construction: The Advantage of Glass

The lens technology is only one aspect of what premium sunglasses provide. There is also the lens materials and construction.

Cheap lenses are made with polycarbonate lenses, which are easy to mass produce at a low cost. Polycarbonate is essentially plastic.

Polycarbonate lenses are not bad, and I do not want to give that impression. Many premium brands use polycarbonate exclusively or have a poly line. Polycarbonate is used in most of the prescription lenses people use and it is extremely shatter resistant and very lightweight.

However, when it comes to optics, polycarbonate lenses just can't do what glass, or glass alternatives, can do. For most people the difference is significant.

First off, glass has less chromatic aberration at peripheral points. Chromatic aberration, also known as color fringing, is a color distortion that creates an outline of unwanted color along the edges of objects in a photograph or lens. It is when white light is broken up into component colors. In a lens, it won't be noticed as color fringing, but rather blurriness and peripheral distortion.

Here's an example from Wikipedia:

This is a photographic example showing high quality lens (top) compared to lower quality model exhibiting transverse chromatic aberration (seen as a blur and a rainbow edge in areas of contrast).

Chromatic aberration is measured in lenses as an ABBE value. Crown glass has the highest ABBE number (least aberration) of any lens material and polycarbonate has the lowest ABBE number (most aberration).

Source: SportRX

Keep in mind that most of us see just as well with a low ABBE value lens as compared to a high ABBE value lens. Human eyes can not detect the chromatic aberration if the Abbe number is above 40. But polycarbonate has a 30 value and cheap lenses will have some distortion at the edges of the lens especially if the lens has a notable curve to it. This can lead some people to get a bit annoyed and even get a headache after long exposure.

But glass has another more important advantage. Glass has a noticeable optical advantage in color sharpness. With glass, everything is a little crisper & more defined, making a much better "resolution". Some plastics get nearly as clear as glass (like Kaenon), but to me, glass renders colors better that plastic with the same tint. This is all from comparing the exact same manufacturer tints in glass & plastic (like Maui Jim superthin glass vs Maui Pure or Maui Brilliant). Glass takes pigments differently when they are smelted down.

There are no cheap glass options. Even BSUS, which you can get on Amazon, is over $60. If you see a glass sunglass, there is a 99% chance it is real. For any polycarbonate lens, especially from brands like Ray Ban, Oakley, or Costa Del Mar, you better make sure you are getting the real deal from a reputable seller, because the fakes are remarkably good and common, which says something about the lenses too.

Lens Coatings and Features in Premium Sunglasses

Polycarbonate lenses can still be fairly elite however, and have features that make them significantly better than cheap gas station shades. Some of those features are lens coatings. An optical coating is composed of a combination of thin layers of materials such as oxides, metals, or rare earth materials, and can be applied in several ways, some better than others in terms of longevity and effectiveness.

Without getting into the weeds here, there are many coatings that can be applied to lenses.

These include:

- Scratch-resistant coating

- Premium front and backside anti-reflective coating

- Advanced hydrophobic (repels water)/oleophobic coatings (repels oil and grease)

- 100% UV protection

Cheap lenses do not have these, with the exception of UV coatings, which they need to have by law.

How Much Is Reasonable to Spend on a Premium Pair of Sunglasses?

Here's where it is important to know the individual brands and different lenses, and why we have so many in-depth reviews on this website. The price of a good pair of lenses is not correlated with the quality you might get.

This is similar to nearly every product. There are always the cheap options that will work in a subpar manner for a time, and need to be replaced relatively sooner, and can often end up costing more than if you paid for higher quality in the first place (hence the expression "I'm too poor to be cheap").

Then there are the products that cost more, but give you the quality, durability, and features you would expect to get if you wanted all your needs for this product met.

Then there are the highest-priced variants, which add on extras that have no real value like brand names, useless features, and vanity editions to target the people who think spending more means better quality, or that a higher price says something about who they are as people, or they just like spending more money.

But the highest-priced items often are even worse than their lower-priced alternatives in terms of quality. This is because the reasons to pay much more have nothing to do with extra quality, so they know their customers are not primarily concerned with that and they take advantage.

I've found that the chart below is roughly accurate. I get into details on each brand and lens in their own posts, but you should expect to pay $250-$450 to get the best quality lenses. Below and above that you will end up with something that may be cheaper or has a fancier name, but you will miss out on the quality and optics that make the most positive difference.


Lastly (for this post, but I can go on), the durability of a premium lens (and the frames, don't forget about those!) is much better than a cheap one. This is due to the coatings, the better manufacturing process, and in the case of glass lenses, the superior scratch resistance.

If I haven't convinced you yet to give a premium pair of shades a real try on, in sunny conditions in a nice setting, take one last look at this picture from Maui Jim and ask yourself what you want out of your sunglasses: to look the best or to see the best, and if you really want to compromise on either.


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