Varifocals? Your questions answered.

Varifocals can be confusing, it can be difficult to understand what they are and what they do. That’s why we’ve put together this little guide to try to help you understand more about them, how they work and if they could be the right type of lenses for you. 

Why do I need a Varifocal?

When you are over 40 you start to lose your near focus. Under 40 and you have enough of your own focus to see distance and near so if you do need glasses you'll only need what we call single vision lenses. But when you can no longer focus onto things up close (reading, your phone etc) you need reading glasses to help. The only problem with reading glasses is that you can ONLY see up close with them – you can’t see across the room with them on, and if you need distance glasses too you end up swapping between glasses all the time.

Historically, the solution for people who needed both distance and reading glasses was the bifocal. In a bifocal you've got two areas of vision. You've got distance vision, and then the line across, this is your little segment which has the close vision, but as you've only got 2 focuses (hence bi - focal) you've got a missing focus at around arm's length. They call it the jeweller's window effect, where if you wanted to see the price of something in a jeweller's window but it's at the back of the display and you try to look through the bottom of your bifocal but the focus too close to see that far away but then you can't see it with the top of the lens because it's too close to see with the top part - the varifocal fills that gap, as it were. A varifocal lens lets you see things in the far distance, things up close and every distance in-between.


How do they work? 

A varifocal gradually changes power from the top, all the way down to the very bottom of the lens. The closest focus of the lens is at the bottom, usually for reading up close. That means you've got the correct power there for every distance away from you. You've got your close reading, middle distances for computers, laptops, (looking in a jeweller's window) and all the way out to the far distance. 

All of this is great, but there are a few issues with varifocals that you need to be aware of.

To change the focus from distance to near in the lens, we've got to change the curves on the lens to create those different powers. Spectacle lens powers are a function of the material that's used to make the lens and the curves on that lens. As we must change the curves down the lens to create different powers - the laws of physics don't like us changing the curves - it just creates a lot of blur and distortion. This distortion in a varifocal lens is pushed out to the sides. How that's done is the design of the lens and it's the most important thing about the varifocal, so, what have they done to that lens to improve the areas of clear vision and reduce the distorted areas? 

The better the design of the lens, the less the distortions at the sides and better clearer areas of vision. 



Why are there so many to choose from? 

Some people who already wear varifocals will probably know there's not just “a varifocal. If there was one perfect varifocal, that would be wonderful. 

There are hundreds of varifocals available on the market, probably thousands, because as research and technology advance, the lenses improve. 

Not all varifocals are equal, unfortunately, and not all varifocals between each optician are the same. You find that some lens manufacturers will only supply lenses to independent opticians (the same with the high-end frame manufacturers), so this means it’s difficult to compare like for like. All opticians should be able to tell you about the lenses they offer – who makes them? And why are they good? 

When you're talking about varifocals, you want to know the design. What have they done to minimize the distortions in that? How good is that design? When was it released? Is it a new design? Are we looking at a design that's 10 or 20 years old? Or are we looking at something that's up to date technology?

An analogy would be - you wouldn't expect a mobile phone shop to sell you a 20 year old handset.

Which is the best one for me? 

There could be a specific reason why a particular lens design is going to suit you due to your prescription, or certain lifestyle requirements. This should be advised by your optometrist or dispenser after a conversation, finding out a bit more about you and what you are doing with your eyes every day. 

A very good rule of thumb with varifocals is to choose the best design that you are comfortable paying for.

We understand that not everyone is going to want to pay for a £600 pair of lenses even though we know that they will be the easiest to wear and give much better vision and less distortion. 

Will they work for everything? 

Nearly! A little bug bear of mine is when opticians tell people that a pair of varifocal glasses will do everything, and they’ll only ever need the one pair. For some people that may be true. 

For most people, there will always be certain tasks that they do, where a varifocal isn't the best visual solution. 

For example, many varifocal wearers manage their computer very well, but some prefer to have a separate pair of computer glasses because they can see their computer so much better (I’m wearing my computer lenses right now as I’m tapping away on my laptop). All lenses have their limitations and varifocals are no exception


What problems could I have with varifocals? 

Unfortunately, many opticians won’t mention the problems that people can have with varifocals until they come back with a problem to be told it’s normal. This is one thing that at Village Optician we don't shy away from. Sometimes varifocals can be difficult to get used to. Our job is to tell people that it can be difficult and help them out as much as possible so they can wear varifocals, get on with them and enjoy the benefits of wearing them. 

Even the best varifocal lens will still have distortion. The amount of distortion depends on your prescription. A lens with a higher power will have more distortion than a lens with a lower power.

When people struggle with varifocals, it’s usually because of what we call the swim and sway effect.

This is the bit of your vision down the sides of the lenses - just below your eye line to the bottom of the lens. That's the most distorted part of your vision in a varifocal. As you move, you can get an effect where the sides of your vision sway as you move. There's no way of knowing who's going to have a problem with this because it's all down to how your brain interprets it.

There are some good varifocal designs that minimize this kind of swim and sway effect and the distorted areas. The better the varifocal design you go for, the less chance you have of this happening.



If anyone is having issues with varifocals, my best advice is to come and sit down and talk to the team. We’ll go through it all and see if there's anything we can do to help. We can coach you about how to use the varifocal, where to look through it, things like that, and make any changes that might need to be made in the design or position of the lens. 


My own Varifocals

I love my varifocals. I'm occasionally given new lenses to trial and I'll admit it, I do have favourite lenses.

These are the lenses that I wear myself (that I will happily pay for), so I know I can recommend them to my clients knowing how good they are.

I will say that all of my top 3 lenses are all excellent designs. They are all different designs and some will suit certain types of prescription more than others.




  •  ARC Steady from Caledonian Optical. Caledonian Optical are up in Aberdeen and the ARC Steady 2.0 (to give it it's full name) is their flagship varifocal. When the ARC 1.0 was released in 2018 it won an industry award for lens product of the year. It uses IOT technology, IOT is a research and development company that spends millions of Euros designing lenses every year. This technology (and lens design) is then licenced out to manufacturers. Caledonian Optical then use their bit of magic to produce a brilliant, very high quality lens which is exceptional value for money. It takes me a few hours to get used to a new pair of ARCs, there is only a little distortion and swim effect to the outer edges of the lenses. 


  • Be 4Ty+ S-Fusion Easy from OptiSwiss, and yes, you guessed it, they are made in Switzerland. These lenses are what I would place as our middle tier, the vision in these lenses is worth every penny. OptiSwiss are the real powerhouse of lens designing in Europe. My OptiSwiss lenses are amazing, what is really great about them is their S-Fusion technology helps to minimise distortion from my astigmatism. I find hardly any swim effect at all and the clarity of vision is brilliant.


  • Tokai Resonas X (Bespoke). These are true premium lenses and my absolute favourite lenses. They are Japanese, and they specialise in reducing distortion in high powered lenses, which means that lower powered Tokai lenses have very little distortion or blur or swim effect. My personal opinion is that Tokai are making the best varifocals in the world right now. They are producing lenses based on neuroscience - they will read brain waves and electrical impulses to work out how to make the lenses even better. I can put on a new pair of Tokai and it doesn't take any time to adapt - there is no swim effect and the field of vision is exceptional.


So to recap, the ARC Steady is very good, the OptiSwiss Be 4Ty+ S-Fusion Easy is even better and then the Tokai Resonas X (Bespoke) is better still. I have to say that these improvements are reflected in the prices of each. Here is our price guide, which includes my top 3 varifocals.


I hope that this has helped anyone who is thinking about varifocals to make their mind up - there is some amazing lens design and technology out there. Your optician should be able to recommend you what is best for your needs and if your budget matches some of the more premium designs then believe me, they are worth the extra. 

If you want to understand even more about varifocals you can download our buyers guide here. 

So, if you feel you are ready for new (or your first) varifocals let us help you. Whether you need an up to date eye examination or just need to choose glasses then book an appointment by clicking Book Now below. Or give us a call if you prefer, the phone numbers are below in the footer. 


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