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Varifocal Lenses Explained

Learn all about varifocal lenses

If you’ve been considering trying varifocals (or are just curious), this article is for you. Here we explain everything about varifocal lenses, including how they were first developed, the different types, and the pros of cons to using this lens.

Definition & Origins

Varifocal lenses provide continuous vision for all distances in a single lens, and correct presbyopia.

The first patent for varifocal lenses (which are technically called Progressive Power Lenses - or PPL) was created in the early-20th century. However, it wasn’t until 1955 that they were made commercially available by Irving Ripps at Younger Optical, who developed the ‘Younger Seamless Bifocal’. As the name suggests, they were based on a bifocal lens and had a basic design.

A pair of varifocal glasses with the sections for different distances highlighted
A pair of varifocal glasses with the sections for different distances highlighted

Modern varifocals can be described as having three ‘portions’ of vision within a single lens:

  • Long distance at the top
  • Reading at the bottom
  • Intermediate in the middle

As a result, they have an element of peripheral distortion, which is completely normal due to their design. Higher-quality varifocals manage the distortion better by moving it towards the edge of the lens and providing a greater field of vision and ease of use for wearers.

Basic varifocal designs are often described as ‘one size fits all’ as they are made under the assumption that a prescription is only spherical. This means that it can be difficult for people with stronger prescriptions to adapt to basic varifocals, especially those with high astigmatism. However, modern ‘freeform’ lens designs offer a much better, more ‘tailored’ experience thanks to a computer-aided design and digital manufacturing process.

As there are numerous lens design options out there, choosing the best varifocal lens can be a difficult decision. We currently offer 3 types:

Varifocal Advanced

View of a motorway from the driver's seat through a varifocal advanced lens

Our Advanced varifocal lenses are made with a modern Freeform lens design and provide a good field of vision at all distances when compared to basic lens designs.

Elite HD

View of a motorway from the driver's seat through a varifocal elite HD lens

Elite HD features multi-aspheric, Freeform lens technology including a special aberration filter to greatly reduce distortion at the edge of the lens.

Binocular balancing calculations are made to create the smoothest power transitions throughout the lens. Elite HD offers a 30% improvement in field of vision compared to a conventional lens.

Supreme HD

View of a motorway from the driver's seat through a varifocal supreme HD lens

In Supreme HD varifocal lenses, Digital Ray Path technology takes account of the specific frame, prescription, and optical centres, producing a lens that greatly reduces unwanted aberrations, improving field of vision at all distances.

Excellent for desk, tablet, and reading distances where they offer a 20% wider field of view than Elite HD, Supreme HD are our recommended lenses for all wearers.

Varifocal lenses: Pros & Cons

The main advantage of varifocal lenses is that they allow the wearer to see at all distances with the same pair of glasses. For the majority of people they are the most convenient way to resolve the problem of needing different corrections for long distance, intermediate, and near. Once the glasses are on there’s no need to take them off, carry more than one pair of glasses around or swap between pairs.

However, for some people the blurring of images in the periphery of the lens, the limited field of vision for middle and near distances, and the head movements that they have to make to see through the correct parts of the lens for different distances are difficult. Adapting to varifocal lenses can take a little while for many new wearers, but most adapt to them after several days.

Older woman with glasses looking at a tablet

If you are getting varifocal lenses for the first time

If this is your first time with varifocal lenses, it will take a bit of time to get used to them. Generally, it can be anywhere between a couple of days and a couple of weeks - maybe even longer for some. If you are still struggling to adjust to your new varifocal lenses, we offer a 120-day tolerance guarantee to give you more time to get used to them. You have until the end of these 120 days to return them if you aren’t satisfied with your varifocal lenses.

Here are some things to be aware of when wearing varifocals for the first time:

  • To use the distance portion at the top of the lens for activities like driving or watching television, look straight ahead with a natural head position. To look left and right, you will need to turn your head.
  • To use the intermediate portion near the middle of the lens for activities like looking at a computer or car dashboard, slightly lift your chin whilst keeping your eyes fixed on what you are looking at.
  • To use the reading portion at the bottom of the lens for activities like reading a book or newspaper, look downwards and slightly lift your chin.
  • All varifocals have a narrower field of vision for the intermediate and close portions when compared to the long-distance portion, although this improves based on the lens quality.
  • You will need to adjust your head and eye position when you want to see objects at different distances.
  • Due to the magnified reading portion around the bottom, be cautious around stairs, kerbs and anything around your feet, as they will appear blurry. We suggest tucking your chin into your chest so that you’re looking through the less magnified top part of the lens.
  • Make sure that you’re comfortable with your head movements and centring your lens in the direction in which you want to look before you drive wearing varifocals.
A smiling man with glasses driving a car

If you have worn varifocal lenses before

If you have worn varifocal lenses before, you should know what to expect and how to use the lenses. However, there are many suppliers of varifocal lenses and the exact design we use may differ a little from what you currently wear. As a result, there may be a settling-in period as you adjust to your new lenses. If your prescription has changed, this may also take some time to adjust to.

Be careful of stairs, kerbs, and other objects at your feet while you adjust to your new varifocals, and make sure you are comfortable wearing them indoors before you drive in them.

If you have any questions, our dispensing opticians will be happy to answer them.

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