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Selecting Shooting Glasses – Is more expensive really better?

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Selecting Shooting Glasses – Is more expensive really better?

If you can’t see the target, you can’t hit the target. Among all the other equipment and accessories that we equip and adorn ourselves with on the sporting clays course, our shooting glasses may very well be the most important. The better we see the target, the more likely it is that we will break it. The higher the quality of the lens, the less visual disruption the shooter you will experience. Translation? The clearer the lens, the sharper the shooter will see the target and the less fatigue or distortion the shooter will experience. Technology in optics and shooting lenses does not come cheap, however. Like most things, you get what you pay for. For the purposes of this discussion, we will address only the visual quality and color of lenses. Obviously, the resilience of one brand of lens compared to another is a most important consideration but most shooting glasses have an acceptable level of protection as far a physically protecting the shooter’s eye from flying debris.

The ability of a shooter to achieve the highest possible visual resolution through the shooting glasses is a direct result of three factors – the quality of the lens material used (substrate quality), coating technology, and filtration science. The shooter’s ability to see the dimples and edges of the target is directly related to all three elements of a great lens. Clarity of a lens or piece of glass can be measured. The Abbe Scale (pronounced ˈa-bē) runs from 0 to 60 and is a generally accepted measurement of lens clarity. A rating of 0 (zero) would be complete occlusion (visual blocking). A lens with a quality rating of 60 would be equivalent to looking through mineral glass. The clarity of mineral glass is unrivaled, but it’s brittle and not a very good choice from a ballistic protection standpoint.

Most of the commonly known brands of shooting glasses on the market use a material called polycarbonate to make their lenses. This material is easier to work with, faster to manufacture and less expensive from a production standpoint. Because of the properties of polycarbonate lenses, however, the maximum clarity a manufacturer can yield is 27-28 on the Abbe Scale even under the most stringent of manufacturing processes. In order to offer a higher quality lens, some companies use other proprietary technologies.

Now, for my disclaimer. I do have a bias. I wear and sell Pilla’s VIVX/Zeiss lenses because I like their visual technology and not because their prices are lower (they are not). I also do not wear them because they pay me money to do so (they don’t). Pilla uses Zeiss’ proprietary VIVX lens technology that uses a monomer substrate. In the manufacturing processes, Zeiss subjects the lenses to less stress than most other manufacturers of shooting glasses. As a result, Pilla VIVX/Zeiss lenses achieve clarity ratings in the 52-54 range, double that of most other shooting glasses.

Lens coating is another factor that differentiates lenses. When purchasing shooting glasses, ask the seller if the lenses are coated and what coatings are used, if they know. In a lens without an anti-reflective coating, light will reflect and create “noise” or a splintering of visual light. This distraction reduces the visual clarity of targets seen through the lens. Coatings are expensive, and many products on the market do not use high performance coatings because of this cost. Zeiss also applies a combination of high-quality lens coatings during the manufacturing process of the Pilla VIVX lenses. So, to answer the question posed in the title of this article…Yes, based on my homework, I have to say that expensive glasses are better.

Quick reference for Lens Color Color: Purple Properties: Deadens/suppresses green background. Use when: Shooting targets against a lush green background. Caution: Many polycarbonate purples, while deadening green, actually decrease depth of field. Color: Yellow Properties: Magnifies the amount of perceived light and increases contrast. Use when: In low light/overcast shooting situations. Color: Orange Properties: Targets a very specific spectral range that increases contrast and a shooter’s ability to pick up visual orange. Use when: Shooting orange targets against a blue sky. Caution: Less balanced color filtration may lead to an “over-saturation” of orange, reducing the visual sharpness.

Color: Amber (high definition) Properties: Optimizes a broader range of the visual spectrum. Use when: General purpose, high definition across a broader spectrum.

All-Purpose Shooting Glasses In a recent version of “Ask the Instructor”, I was asked the following: “If you were to recommend a single all-purpose color for shooting glasses, what would your choice be? I know that different background colors and different skies can dictate the best color, but I am looking for a general-purpose lens tint for prescription glasses.” I am an advocate for changing the tint of your shooting classes to compensate for changing backgrounds and ambient light conditions: purple for shooting against green (foliage), orange lenses for orange targets against blue sky, and yellow for lower light and diffused light conditions such as overcast skies. Choosing NOT to change the tint of your glasses when the shooting conditions change would be equivalent to keeping your Modified Choke in your gun when faced with a 15-yard rabbit. It will work, but why not avail yourself of every possible advantage? I will actually make a change to my lens color before I will change chokes because I believe the shooter’s visual connection with the target is of greatest importance. That said, if I were forced to choose one lens or set of lenses, I would choose a broad spectrum lens type such as Pilla’s Enhanced Definition or ED lens assortment consisting of 26ED, 44ED and 76ED. These lenses are bronze to gold in color. If I had to use only one, I would choose Pilla’s 44ED, as it is a mid-density lens designed for daylight conditions, as well as being a broad spectrum lens for more diverse background conditions. While the more expensive lenses may not be within every shooter’s budget, my advice is to buy the most expensive and highest quality shooting glasses that you can afford even if you have to scrimp on the lens assortment. If you are faced with the choice of buying one very expensive pair of glasses with only one color of lens or a lesser quality lens with many lens colors, I would suggest the former because you can always add lenses later.

Good shooting!

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