This week's column by Ctein
It was a month back that I wrote about my presbyopia and SuperFocus glasses.
My apologies for the delay on this test report. One of my prescription lenses was slightly off. That's not uncommon and had nothing to do with the SuperFocus frames, but I didn't want to report back until I was wearing exactly the right prescription.
I decided within hours that SuperFocus glasses worked for me. Whether they will work for you depends on your tolerances for various "solutions" to presbyopia. Like other eyeglasses, SuperFocus glasses don't make your presbyopia disappear, they're just another way of dealing with it. See my previous column for my feelings about dealing with multiple pairs of glasses, bifocals, and progressives. No need to rehash that. (I did check out the new progressives and they are still not for me, for reasons I previously discussed).
SuperFocus glasses are like having a whole bunch of glasses on my head at the same time and being able to switch back and forth between them in a few seconds with the touch of a finger. I can now get sharp vision at any distance, over my entire field of view. I do not get sharp focus at more than one distances at a time, as I would with bifocals. In my life, this is not a problem. The one place where I thought it might matter was driving, but with the glasses set to infinity the dashboard is still sharp enough for me.
The glasses are much smaller than I'm used to, as you can see from these first two illustrations, but I'm easily adjusting to the narrower field of view. I thought this would bother me more.The weight's also fine; at 31g, they're 2g less than my old glasses.
By pure good luck, the range of focus is almost exactly right for my prescription (approximately –4 spherical, –.5 cylindrical). The +2.7 diopter adjustment range of the glasses puts my near focus limit at about 12 inches. When I'm not wearing any glasses, my eyes focus at 10 inches. A minor bonus is that if I pop the prescription lenses off, the frames become adjustable magnifying spectacles with a focus range from 10 inches down to 6 inches.
Two activities—darkroom work and shopping—are lots easier. I have a spacious darkroom and it's nice to be able to quickly switch from close working distance to a couple of meters. Shopping was hard because of having to constantly switch between far, near, and really close vision. My bifocals just didn't cut it; there's a dead zone at the typical shelf distance where my focus is lousy. SuperFocus glasses totally solve that problem for me.
When I was photographing the Flying Karamazov Brothers fortieth anniversary show last weekend, I needed to make some "Hail Mary" photographs (above). That's something that's been difficult in the past; arms-length is also in the "dead zone" for my bifocals, so when I'd be holding the camera over my head I couldn't see the screen on the back clearly. No problem with the SuperFocus glasses. Just a nudge of the slider on the bridge.
One unexpected positive: Apparently these glasses look really good on me. Mind you, they could be the stupidest-looking glasses in the world and if they did the job I would wear them. I chose the palladium grey frames, as they kind of matched my hair and beard. (At the moment, my hair is getting darker again. What's with that?!)
I don't care about being a fashion plate, never have. I dress neatly, but I've never looked to receive sartorial compliments, and the universe has responded accordingly. Three days after getting the glasses, I was at a florist's picking up a bouquet and some middle-aged guy walks back behind the counter, stops, looks at me and says, "Do you mind if I make an observation?"
"Those glasses fit your face better than any glasses I have ever seen before."
Over the next two weeks, four more strangers went out of their way to stop me and tell me how wonderful the glasses looked on me. I'll be damned.
Okay, so much for the pluses. What are the downsides, potential or otherwise?
The big unknown is durability. Online complaints won't give you any idea of the frequency of a problem, but you can get a sense of dominant failure modes—a lens that starts leaking or a bridge slider that gets cranky. I'm not sure how real slider complaints are. It may have to do with people's expectations for a mechanical device. A leaky lens, though, is a pretty objective complaint.
My optometrist said they've had one leaking lens in the last year and no slider problems. The glasses have a one-year warranty on materials and workmanship. On something this expensive, I'd like more than a year.
I mentioned last column that I bought the loss/damage replacement policy. Well, don't. It's even more of a ripoff than most. When the written policy came with the glasses, I discovered that what I was getting for my 15%-of-cost premium was the right to purchase one replacement pair at 50% of my original cost. In other words, I'd still be out two thirds the cost of a pair of glasses. Given the normal markups and profit margins on manufacturing, this doesn't cost SuperFocus a red cent, even if they had to do this for every single policyholder.
I brought this up with my optometrist. They agreed this wasn't a good deal, and they offered to either refund the cost of the policy or else, should I need to exercise it, they would eat the cost of new glasses (I took the refund). Going to a high-end optometrist like this, I spent about 30% more than I would have buying the glasses online. I figured that it was worth paying for the extra service and support on a new-to-me technology. I feel I got my money's worth. For those who asked, I got my glasses at For Your Eyes Only Optometry on Castro Street in San Francisco. My doctor was Kathleen Kennedy, and I'm very happy with her and the rest of the staff. She handled my fussiness over the prescription well, and even let me rig up my own light in the exam room to run some visual tests to help me home in on the optimal prescription.
What most worries me is how scratch-resistant the lenses will prove to be. I am being very, very careful cleaning them, maybe more so than I need to be. I'm really afraid of scratching the hard prescription lenses or, worse, the flexible liquid-filled lenses in the frame. These lenses are much smaller than what I'm used to, which means a scratch is more likely to intrude into my field of view if I screw up. There are twice as many surfaces to clean. I have no idea how resistant the flexible lenses are. Scratch resistance and flexibility are different material characteristics. The flexible membranes might be more or less scratch-resistant than the hard lenses. I am not inclined to run the tests on my own dime to determine this.
The hard lenses clean pretty much the same way any plastic lens does. The membranes are more difficult. The thickness of the frames and their proximity means it's easy to smear grease from the frame onto the lens. The membrane material is more prone to picking up the grease and fingerprints. I have what have been called "magic fingers." My fingertips are so oil-free that I can wipe fingerprints off of lenses with them. These membranes pick up smudges from my fingers readily. Plan on keeping plenty of lens wipes and microfiber cloths around if you're as picky about optical clarity as I am.
How well will the lenses hold up? Ask me in a year. I may end up buying a second set of the prescription lenses (they only run $100) just in case.
I haven't settled the matter of sunglasses. As I wrote previously, I am fussy about color rendition. Sunglasses need to be extremely neutral or I won't wear them. The ones I've been happy with are slip-ons that Walgreens sells.
I buy them ten at a time. They're cheap enough that when one gets scratched up or I lose it, I just grab another one.
Prescription sunglass lenses are available from SuperFocus. Problem: They didn't provide my optometrist with a sample set, and I don't know if their "slate gray" is truly neutral (transition lenses aren't anywhere close). I'm going to need to find an optometrist who has a sample, or I'll be gambling $100.
I cut some slots in the bridge of the Walgreens slip-ons with hobby knife so that it would fit over my new spectacles. It works. The slip-on covers up the focus slider, but outdoors I rarely fiddle with that. It does, though, look a little bit...ummm...odd.
I figure it's a temporary solution. Hopefully, not the way the 28-year-old black-plastic-sheeting walls in my darkroom were "temporary."
I've still got a week to go on SuperFocus' 30-day trial period. If I decide I am unsatisfied with the glasses for any reason, I can return them for a full refund.
That is so not going to happen. I am sold.
I ain't shilling, but
One last matter, that I'm of two minds bringing up. I don't want anyone to get the impression I'm shilling for a product. I figure that all of you are smart enough to know that I wouldn't risk a 30-year reputation for integrity in this business for 50 bucks or so.
(If you want to buy my integrity, you'll have to offer me good money.)
SuperFocus has a promotional deal. If a new purchaser provides them with the serial number for my glasses, they'll get an immediate 10% discount on their order and I'll get sent a check for 10% as a rebate on mine. They gave me about a half dozen of these coupons to use. If you decide to buy SuperFocus glasses, drop me an e-mail (email@example.com) before you do. I'll give you the serial number if I have coupons left, and both of us can save a little money.
Text and photographs ©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
TOP sets its slider to focus on Ctein every Wednesday morning.
UPDATE May, 2014: SuperFocus has closed its doors. Ctein can't get new prescription lenses for his glasses, which means at some point he will "age out" of the current prescription. He is quite unhappy about that. LensCrafters is supposed to introduce a line of adjustable focus glasses this year. Ctein doesn't know anything more about them than is what can be found on public websites, but he's keeping his fingers crossed.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Dave in NM: "I'm reminded of that famous picture by W. Eugene Smith...
"This is a photo blog, after all. ;-) "
Joe: "One thing you didn't talk about is that little dial—isn't it a bother to be constantly reaching up and rolling the dial to change your lenses' distance? What do you do if you're looking back and forth, over and over, between two distances? Do you find you're lazy and don't bother reaching up, so you're sometimes not seeing ideal sharpness? Do you have to roll the little dial back and forth for a second to find the exact right setting for a particular distance?
"(Also, I'll chime in as a stranger with an opinion on your new frames: it's true, they do look really terrific. Not many faces are right for round frames, but even if you were to go back to traditional lenses, those are the frames I'd recommend.)"
Ctein replies: I addressed most of your questions in the article. (If I don't describe something as a problem for me, then it isn't one. Your mileage may differ, of course.) You did bring up the matter of the "dial," though. I have the glasses with the bridge slider. This relates to an important point: the different models of SuperFocus glasses have different engineering designs, and the differences are not trivial. That's one of the reasons for the wide range of prices. People should read the descriptions of each model very carefully before choosing one—don't do it just based on superficial appearance.