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Best and worst opticians stores

Choosing varifocals

By Joanna Pearl

Article 6 of 7

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Choosing varifocals

Varifocals can cost from £50 to £500. Which? experts give you the know-how on what you’re getting, and when you really need to splash out.

Generally, the more you pay for varifocals, the better the optical design and quality (fewer distortions around the edges). But most people are unlikely to benefit significantly from the very priciest bespoke lenses.

The ideal varifocal lenses (also known as progressive lenses) allow you to see in the distance (the top of the lens), as well as intermediate (middle) and near vision (bottom of the lens). 

This gives you distance and close-up vision in one pair of glasses. They're ideal for people who have become presbyopic, ie can't focus on nearby objects but also need glasses for distance vision.

Find out the best and worst optician stores, as rated by Which? members, and five steps to the right prescription glasses.

Choosing from varifocal brands

There are hundreds of varifocal lens designs available and it can be difficult to compare quality. Some stores sell own-brands – such as Specsavers’ Pentax brand –  while some also stock brands such as Essilor and Zeiss for which you can potentially compare prices. Most brands include a variety of ranges, from entry-level to bespoke.

If you like the brand you’ve already got, stick with it, as different brands and designs suit different people. 

Some opticians use technology to get accurate measurements. For this, a computerised camera takes images of your posture, head tilt and frame position to provide fitting measurements and lens customisation. This makes the process more objective, although some opticians argue that it isn't necessarily better. 

Budget varifocals

£50 to £80
Budget or entry-level varifocal lenses are often based on an older lens design, offer a restricted area of near and intermediate vision, more (possibly annoying) peripheral distortions at the lens edges, and may take longer to get used to. 

But they can be a good option if you’re cash-strapped, don't do much reading, or will consider using an additional reading glasses. Some retailers do both standard and standard-plus versions.

Examples: Boots Silver, Specsavers Standard or Premium, Vision Express Traditional or Everyday

Optimised freeform design (some bespoke features)

£110 to £300
These lenses should be the best choice for most people. They use clever designs and manufacturing methods to maximise the width of the reading and intermediate areas, while being comfortable to use. 

But there is still a variety of designs and quality (so they overlap in price with bespoke varifocals), and choice often comes down to personal preference.

Examples: Boots Gold, Specsavers Elite, Vision Express Performance

Only certain people will really benefit from the most expensive bespoke varifocals

Joanna Pearl,
Principal Health Researcher

Bespoke (latest generation) varifocals

£160 to £500
These are configured using your specific measurements. They can cost significantly more, but are likely to offer only marginal visual benefit to many people. Consider them if you have: more than 1.50DC of astigmatism, a particularly large or small distance between pupils (greater than 70mm or less than 55mm), frames very close or far from your eye (for example, if you have a prominent nose), had previous problems with varifocals, or specific near and intermediate vision requirements such as using multiple computer screens.

Examples: Boots Platinum, Specsavers Tailor-made, Vision Express Advanced

Enhanced computer/reading varifocals

£50 to £200
These are designed for office use. They are often not offered as an option, but can prove invaluable as a second pair (traditional varifocals may require you to lift your chin to view a computer screen, contributing to neck aches, headaches and eyestrain).

These lenses enable two distances to be viewed – typically your computer screen at around 65cm, and your desk and phone at around 30cm – with a really wide field of vision and while still keeping a good head posture.  They can be ideal for those who use a computer for long periods, or those who use a large screen.

However, they offer little or no distance vision, so you may need to swap to another pair of glasses for driving.

Your rights when buying varifocals

Most high-street opticians will supply varifocals with at least a 30-day exchange period. In most cases, two weeks is long enough to adapt to your new lenses and know whether they are right for you.

If you are not happy with the width of the reading or intermediate areas, or find the lens uncomfortable, ask to try a different lens design, or even additional glasses such as computer glasses.

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