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Best and worst opticians stores

Choosing varifocals

By Anna Studman

Article 5 of 6

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We tell you which stores are the best for buying varifocals - and explain how much you should really be paying for them.

To help you buy the best varifocals, and avoid the worst, we surveyed over four thousand Which? members who wear varifocals to find out about their experiences. 

Choosing varifocals can be complicated. That's why it's important that you buy your varifocal glasses from somewhere that will explain the difference between lenses, fit them properly and deal with any problems that arise. 

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 if you've become presbyopic - which means you can't focus on nearby objects but also need glasses for distance vision. 

Keep reading to find out more about the best and worst places to buy varifocals, and to find out how much you should expect to pay.

In this article:

Best and worst places to buy varifocals

In the table below, we reveal the best and worst-rated brands for buying varifocal glasses, based on how well different options for price and type were explained, how well the lenses fit, and the assistance you get on adjusting to wearing varifocals.

We have results for high street brands including Boots, Scrivens, Specsavers and Vision Express. We also have results for Asda, CostCo and Leightons.

Which? members can log in to find out how these brands compare and to reveal our expert analysis. Not yet a Which? member? Join Which? to get instant access to our survey results and all of our reviews.

High street varifocals compared
Brand Fit of the lenses Explaining any limitations of varifocals e.g. lens distortions Explaining differences between price point and varifocal type Customer score
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 87%
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 81%
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 78%
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 73%
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 71%
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 71%
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 70%
Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content Subscriber only content 61%
Table last updated June 2019
1 Based on a survey of 4,459 Which? members in July 2018
2 Customer score based on satisfaction with the store on last visit and likelihood of recommending to a friend.
3 Sample sizes: Asda (147), Boots (794), CostCo (53), Leightons (62), Local/independents (1613), Scrivens (50), Specsavers (1,409), Vision Express (331)

Choosing from varifocal brands

There are hundreds of varifocal lens designs available and it can be difficult to compare quality. Most brands include a variety of ranges, from entry-level to bespoke.

Some stores sell own-brands – Specsavers, for instance, has its Pentax brand. Some also stock brands such as Essilor and Zeiss, so you can potentially compare prices for the same brand at different retailers. 

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. 

Varifocal prices

With so much variation in varifocal prices it can be hard to know what you really need to pay. There are many good-quality budget varifocals on the market but it depends on what your specific needs are. For example, if you're using various digital devices and multiple screens in the workplace, it might be worth forking out for a more expensive design. 

Below, we go through different types of varifocals and their price points, to help you decide how much you should pay. 

Budget varifocals - what you need to know

Expect to pay: £50 to £80

  • Budget or entry-level varifocal lenses are often based on an older lens design. 
  • They 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. 

Budget varifocals can be a good option if you’re cash-strapped, don't do much reading, or will consider using 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)

Expect to pay: £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. 

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

Bespoke varifocals (latest generation) 

Expect to pay: £160 to £500

  • Bespoke verifocals 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).

You should also consider bespoke lenses if you've 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 

Driving lenses

Expect to pay: around £250

  • Driving varifocals are designed specifically for driving.  
  • These designs usually have a wider intermediate area to enable you to have a clearer view of the dashboard, but sometimes with a compromise on the near-vision area (that is, the part towards the bottom of the lens used mostly for reading).

This type of varifocals are becoming increasingly popular. The lenses usually come with an anti-reflective coating that has been designed to specifically help reduce the dazzle and glare from modern xenon headlights.

Examples: Boots Drive Safe, Essilor Varilux Road Pilot

Enhanced computer/reading varifocals

Expect to pay: £50 to £200

  • These are designed for office use. They can be ideal if you use a computer for long periods, or use a large screen.
  • They are often not offered as an option, but can prove invaluable as a second pair. This is because traditional varifocals may require you to lift your chin to view a computer screen, contributing to neck aches, headaches and eyestrain.

The lenses enable two distances to be viewed – typically your computer screen at around 65cm, and your desk and phone at around 30cm. You also get a really wide field of vision, while still keeping a good head posture. 

However, computer/reading varifocals offer little or no distance vision. So you may need to swap to another pair of glasses for driving.

Examples: Essilor Interview/Varilux computer 2V or 3V/Digitime range, Hoya Tact Trueform, Boots Occupational Essilor/Zeiss 

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. You could even consider additional glasses, such as computer glasses.

Find out the best optician stores overall, as rated by Which? members, and read our five steps to the right prescription glasses for essential tips on lens types, coatings, and saving money on your glasses.

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