The Limitations of Varifocals

We love Varifocals but there are limits to what they can do


This article will explain some of the limitations that varifocal lenses have. I myself wear my varifocals all day, every day. I absolutely love my varifocals. I'm not going to admit here how many pairs of varifocals I actually have, but let's just say I could probably get through nearly two weeks wearing a different pair of glasses every day. I think that could be classed as some kind of problem, for some people it’s shoes or trainers, for me it’s glasses. Anyway, limitations in varifocals. Now, as I say, varifocals are great. I recommend them to my clients every day, wear them myself, I think they're brilliant. There's some amazing lenses out there now, amazing technology to help people to go and wear them successfully. But there are limitations.

Some of these limits sound obvious, but they're limits non the less. The first one is you can only see close up through the bottom of the lens. Sounds obvious, it's a varifocal, the power starts at the top for your distance, gradually changes through to the reading power at the bottom. So you can only see close through the bottom. So it's focused about 30 to 40 centimeters, probably closest point is probably about 30 centimeters away from you. So it's ideal for reading. And then as you move your focus away, further up the lens, you get into computer areas, arms-length, and then further away into the distance. Now, as I say, that sounds obvious. But the problem with that is, for example, if you're walking up some steps and you naturally look down to look where you are putting your feet, you are looking through the bottom of the lens (the reading area) so the floor's blurred. This is because the focal point of this part of the lens is 30 centimeters away from you, for reading. So that is something to consider.

So some people have a problem with that, because obviously if you're trying to get up the stairs or walk down a curb or something like that, and you look through the very bottom of the lens the “floor distance” away from you is blurred. So you need to be aware of that. The easy way around that is to tuck your chin in so you can look through the top of the lens, which is the distance part. So that's the first limitation, you only see close through the bottom. So you can't see the floor if you look through the bottom.

Second is the opposite of that, which is you can only see far away through the top. And again, that sounds obvious. So the top bit is your distance vision. It's great for driving, watching television, walking around, things like that. But if you were trying to put a screw in the wall that's above your head height, and you're stuck in a cupboard or something like that... We get a lot of the trades guys come in and this is the problem they have. They'll be under the stairs in a cupboard and they're trying to screw something up above head height. You can only see distance, which is focused from about 1m away from you, through the top of the lens. So you can't see that screw head that's 35 centimeters away from you, because you can only see through the top. So you tend to find people are leaning backwards trying to look through the bottom of the lens, or lifting up their varifocal trying to get the right power to look through to screw it in.

In these circumstances that is a limitation of the lens. So that is an issue. If there are things you need to see that are going to be eye level or above eye level, up close, a varifocal isn’t going to be any good, you're going to be tilting your neck right back and it can get really uncomfortable trying to find the power to see at that close 35-45cm distance. A lot of the time we, for this limitation, we would recommend a secondary pair of just close glasses for specific tasks like that. And that solves that problem, it really does.

The other limitation that I wanted to mention is the way the distortion is at the sides of the lens, it can give you a corridor, what we call a corridor of clear vision down the middle. So the sides could be blurred and the middle has clear vision. Now again, your brain gets used to that, and everything works. The more you wear them the less you see the distortion, you kind of don't see that it's distorted anymore. It's a weird thing, but your brain fills it in for you. But if you're on a computer setup, say you've got a massive wide screen or two screens side by side, and you've got a very strong prescription or strong reading power, you're going to have more distortion in those varifocals, even with a very good varifocal, you might find that the width of clear vision you've got for that middle bit, which is going to be the narrowest width of clear vision in the whole lens, might not be enough to get all your computer screens in.

You may have to move your head round (side to side) to see what’s on the screen. The best solution to this is to get some computer (office lenses) glasses done, which works really, really well. So you might end up with another pair of glasses just for your screen.

A lot of opticians will tell you that varifocals are great, and you can do everything in them. That you’ll only need one pair of glasses for everything. Well they are great and as I’ve mentioned, I wear mine all day, but I actually have a pair of glasses that are just set for my close, which I sometimes use on my computer. If I've had a long day and I'm on the laptop on a night, I'll actually put those on sometimes, because if my eyes are tied it makes it just more comfortable and easy to see, because the whole lens is focused at that one distance rather than just having that one bit in the middle of the lens.

So yes, varifocals are great, they work wonderfully, they are highly recommended, I (and half of our team) wear them all day, every day. But there are these limits. And I hope that helps you to understand a bit more, because if you do understand a bit more about the limitations then you're more likely to get on with yours.


If you want to read more about Varifocals then download our Varifocal Buying Guide here.


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