[Update 10/18/2014. My Adlens CustomFocuss order process has begun!! This will probably be the last update on this post. To follow the story specific to Adlens / Lenscrafters CustomFocuss, click this link.]
[Update 10/3/2014. Adlens Focuss via Lenscrafters is here! See comments starting at #30.]
[Update 5/18/2014. For best current information on Adlens Focuss via Lenscrafters, see comments #18 and #25.]
[Update 4/30/2014. No real news here at this point, but it seems clear from user reports that SuperFocus is gone for good. If you came here looking for hope for Superfocus, you should probably start considering the long promised (but not yet available) Focuss glasses from Adlens. Supposedly they will begin rolling out in the US via Lenscrafters sometime in the next couple of months. They have a similar technology to Superfocus, perhaps even better, and thankfully have a more conventional rectangular shape. I rather like the funky round Superfocus glasses but would prefer a more conventional look as I think it has more market appeal and thus would make the product more viable commercially.]
[Update 3/10/2014. Good news! SuperFocus still has signs of life. I received the following email today: “Superfocus is transitioning to a different business model. As a result, the office is closed, production has been halted and no new orders are being accepted. Product shipped to the company is being returned to the sender. We plan to keep you advised as events unfold.” Stay tuned for more, and read the comments section to learn experiences and alternatives of other Superfocus customers as this drama continues to unfold.]
[Update 2/27/2014. Those seeking information on SuperFocus glasses should take note of the following. At the present time it appears that Superfocus has ceased operation, or at least has paused operation while it “takes stock” in itself. I have absolutely no information about what is happening, however as of 2/24 Superfocus has declined to answer any phone calls or emails, and while their web site is still up, the “Shop” portion is inoperative. Multiple customers have stated that they had shipped their glasses to Superfocus for service and now are unable to get them back. It is my sincere hope that Superfocus will emerge from their current crisis in better, stronger condition, because their product is too good and game changing to be allowed to fail without a fight.]
[If you want to read the review below, go ahead. But if you are interested in the ongoing discussion about the demise of SuperFocus, skip down to the comments section, beginning at comment #10.]
This topic is not computer related, at least not directly, but it is about an intriguing bit of technology. If you wear glasses, you will find this interesting. In this article, I’ll give an unbiased and hopefully thorough review of a remarkable product, Superfocus eyeglasses. If you haven’t heard of these before, please read on. If you have come here by way of internet search, you are probably doing what I did: spending a lot of time researching these glasses and trying to decide whether or not to pull the trigger. This article may help you in that process.
A couple of years ago, I became aware of a new type of eyeglasses called Superfocus. An advertising campaign featuring Penn Jillette got my attention. As we know, whether or not we might agree with Jillette, he definitely tells it like it is and is not prone to… well… slinging bull.
I was fascinated by these glasses because of what they purport to offer: perfect vision at all distances. This is also the idea behind progressive lenses, but anyone who uses progressives understands their limitations: your field of view is small and distorted. You may be able to focus well at a wide range of distances, but you have to find the “sweet spot” for each distance. Close-up viewing, such as working at a computer, can be a literal pain in the neck as you spend the day with your head tilted up.
Of course, not everyone has this problem. Some people have perfect vision at all distances. Others are far-sighted and need only a pair of single-vision reading glasses. Others are near-sighted and need only a pair of single-vision distance glasses. There are others with vision so bad that nothing really helps.
I fit in a different category. My vision is not too bad, probably typical for my age. I also have moderate astigmatism in each lens, again a typical situation. The result is a difficulty in focusing both eyes at the same time and same distance. Any optometrist can provide an effective prescription to resolve vision like mine, correcting for the astigmatism and providing focus support at various distances. In my case, the result is a bewildering array of glasses: one pair for reading distance; one pair for computer distance; one pair for long distance; one pair of progressive lenses that allow viewing, more or less, at all distances. I also have a specialty pair for doing up-close computer repair work, and a pair of prescription sunglasses.
That’s a lot of glasses, and a lot of money, well over $1000 worth. Apart from the financial aspect, having all of those glasses greatly increases the risk of losing a set, or having them scuffed and scratched and smudged as you are constantly swapping one pair for another all day long.
What if all of those glasses could be replaced by a single pair that does everything?
Enter Superfocus. The Superfocus concept is simple enough: take a single vision prescription and marry it to a multi-focusing mechanism. The prescription corrects your vision, while the focusing mechanism allows you to focus that prescription at all distances. The technology behind this is described in detail on the company website, so I won’t repeat that here. Rather, we’ll focus (ahem) on what matters: do they deliver on the promise?
The short answer is: Yes, they do deliver. At a more detailed level, there are some good things and some not so good things.
Here is my grade of the product.
- Optics: A+ [Update: A-]
- Practicality: B+
- Aesthetics: C / incomplete
- Cost: B
- Quality: A / incomplete
- Presales Customer Service: B+
- Postsales Customer Service: C
Because I consider the most important factors to be optics and practicality, overall I’ll give the product an A-. If you consider other aspects to be more important, your overall grade might differ from mine.
I hesitated for a couple of years before making my purchase. For one thing, at the time they were very expensive, and in my opinion, very strange looking. Also, I had recently purchased a whole set of new specs so I was not feeling an urge to spend more money at the time. It’s good that I waited, because in the interim a new design was introduced that not only seems to be better technically, but also looks better (again in my opinion), and is less expensive. When I came due for a prescription update, I felt the timing was right to jump in and test Superfocus.
I sent in my order on Tuesday and was emailed notice of shipment the following Monday, which was much faster than I expected and very much comparable to ordering a pair of progressives. If you buy progressive glasses even from Lenscrafters, you are going to wait one to two weeks for delivery. Lenscrafters is the home of one-hour glasses, but in reality the one hour service only applies to limited situations: simple prescriptions and frames with single vision and without most upgrade features. As such, the delivery time for Superfocus is perfectly acceptable at about one week excluding shipping time.
My glasses were delivered yesterday and I’ve been wearing them since that time. Superfocus provides a certificate for obtaining a local fitting, but my fit was good enough that I did not need an immediate adjustment. I’ve now been wearing the glasses more or less continuously for a day and a half.
Let’s discuss each aspect of the product individually.
Optics. What can I say? These things are fantastic. To be fair, the quality of the image is mostly dependent on the quality of the prescription, so I really should give credit to the optometrist I used at the local Lenscrafters for doing an excellent job updating my prescription. But coupling that prescription with a quality set of lenses and the Superfocus focusing mechanism is the stuff of which dreams are made. At the touch of a finger, Superfocus provides flawless, undistorted visual clarity at any distance from approximately one foot to optical infinity.
The prescription lens component, without the focusing mechanism attached, provides outstanding long distance vision – the best I have ever had. (Unfortunately, there is no way to use this component by itself – see below under Practicality). There is no noticeable downgrade of the image with the focusing mechanism attached, except a slight ghosting of bright lights that I noticed while driving at night – I believe this is a reflection caused by the double lensing strategy. (Not a big deal, but worth mentioning.)
Optically, Superfocus dialed at a given distance is on a par with any good single vision pair of glasses, but the real test is the comparison against progressives. In my opinion, Superfocus absolutely crushes progressives, completely eliminating distortions and limitations of field of vision inherent in the concept of progressives. This is a critical selling point because if you still feel the need to buy progressives to supplement Superfocus, the economics of using Superfocus is difficult to justify.
I had been concerned that I might still prefer progressives for driving, but this is not the case. It’s easy to dial up a compromise focus position with Superfocus that allows crisp, high quality focus at intermediate distance (e.g., traffic and street signs), with near-perfect long distance (horizon), and perfectly acceptable near distance (dashboard).
Overall, the optics are as close to perfect as I could want, so I give an A+.
[Update: I’ve downgraded optics a bit, to A-. See update comments at the end of this post.]
Practicality. For the most part, I would award an A for practicality. Being able to go through an entire day without ever having to flip one pair of glasses for another is just great, and not having to deal with the distortions of progressives is a real bonus. I downgrade practicality only slightly for the following reasons.
- Weight. Superfocus are by no means heavy, but they are slightly heavier than ordinary glasses. People who are hypersensitive on this issue might have a problem. To me, they feel quite comfortable.
- Manual focusing. It’s the nature of Superfocus that you have to manually focus the glasses (with a slider or dial). Honestly, it’s a trivial thing to have to do, but I’m trying to be thorough here. I have found it to be a non-issue for me personally.
- Nose bud location. I have the Leonardo glasses which have a front prescription frame and a rear focusing mechanism. For some reason, the design decision was made to mount the nose buds on the focusing mechanism rather than the frame. I find this a puzzling choice because it makes the frames useless without having the focusing mechanism attached. I can imagine situations where you’d want to use the front frames without the focusing mechanism. For example, suppose the focusing mechanism is damaged and needs to be replaced. While waiting for the replacement, you might want to continue to use the frames for distance viewing. Or, suppose you are on a long distance driving trip and you’d like to relieve yourself of the added weight of the focusing mechanism while driving for a couple of hours, while leaving the distance vision intact. Also, it would seem to me that having the nose buds attached to the focusing mechanism must add additional tension and torque to that mechanically critical unit. By contrast, placing the nose buds on the prescription frame would relieve that burden from the focusing mechanism.
So, overall, a B+ for practicality.
Aesthetics. This is a tricky area because aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, as it were. I am of the opinion that the original Icon collection (Corbu and Bauhaus designs) are a little bit on the weird side. I read the comment of another person who said that they had the look of medical devices, a description I find apt. I do think they would look distinctive and good on the right person. As others have mentioned, Harry Potter or John Lennon come to mind.
I purchased the Leonardo model, dark tortoise color. I am going to be completely honest here. The Leonardo still looks a little… different. Even so, I find it more appealing than the pricier Icon collection. If the Icon looks like a medical device, the Leonardo looks like something out of Jules Verne or HG Wells. It has a bit of the feel of the “steampunk” artistic style. As a matter of styling, they give an appearance of being slightly less adamantly round than the Icons.
As you can see in the photo to the right, they can look very nice, at least if you are fortunate enough to look like Richard Gere. I think they are somewhat less appealing on my more ordinary features, a reflection of the aesthetic limitations of the model rather than the glasses themselves. On the other hand, I’m more interested in quality vision than vanity. Lucky thing for me.
The first thing I noticed about Superfocus is that they have a bit of a “coke bottle” look compared to ordinary glasses, the result of having a double lens. This effect is probably magnified (heh) by the fact that the lenses are not only circular, but somewhat small. This effect might give the impression that your eyesight is more problematic than it really is and that you have a very strong prescription even if you don’t.
A second aesthetic factor is that the lenses are somewhat small, as mentioned above. I’m not sure why they made the design decision to go with smaller lenses, but my guess is they are striving to contain costs by having a one-size-fits-all approach so that they only need a single focusing module in their inventory. To put it bluntly, if you have a fat head, Superfocus is likely to look a bit odd on you. Perhaps if the company grows large enough, they will be able to offer at least a couple of different sizes.
A third aesthetic factor is that these glasses project further out from the face than ordinary glasses, although you’d never know it looking at that “Richard Gere” photo. Room has to be made behind the frames for the focusing module, so having the frames stand further out is probably unavoidable. On the positive side, I suspect the lenses will stay cleaner longer because of this.
A fourth aesthetic factor is that the nose bridge that comes with the glasses is very noticeable, and not in a good way. It sits in a full arch around the nose and gives the glasses almost the look of goggles. Again, this is absolutely not visible on “Mr. Gere”, which makes me suspect some hanky panky from the marketing department. Happily, Superfocus provides an alternative set of nose buds that can replace the pre-installed arch bridge. These have a more conventional look. I don’t know why they chose the arch bridge as a default, but it seems a poor choice that will not be popular.
Overall, I award a C for aesthetics. In some ways they look very good and even trendy, but beauty is a matter of opinion. They don’t offer enough variety of options to qualify for a better grade, so I also give them an Incomplete.
Cost. Superfocus glasses are not cheap, but this must be weighed in a larger context. The Leonardo design is priced at $525, which is comparable to a pair of high end designer frames with progressive lenses. On the other hand, if you’re vain enough to spend that kind of money just for style, you are not the target audience for Superfocus. A more modest pair of progressives in nice, but not crazy, frames might cost $300 – $400, making Leonardos only a little bit more expensive. If you are also eliminating your reading glasses, computer glasses, and perhaps more, then going with Leonardo is saving you money.
The Icon collection is more expensive and can easily approach $1000 with options. My guess is that design eventually will be phased out not only for being too expensive but also because the design appears to lend itself to some quality control problems that hopefully will not plague the Leonardos. (See below).
Overall, I award a C for pricing. I think the current price point of the Leonardo line is viable, but I would like to see it coupled with a better warranty, perhaps two years on the prescription frames and five years on the focusing mechanism.
[Update: after some thought, I’ve changed the pricing grade to B. Although $525 is quite expensive for a pair of glasses, I’ve already mentioned that for many people this is less expensive than the glasses Superfocus can replace when added together. However, there is another factor that hadn’t occurred to me before. When it comes time to get a new prescription, it is not necessary to replace the focusing module. At $375, the focusing module is the most expensive component, and if you take good care of it, it might last through several prescription updates. Thus, when it comes time for an update, you need only pay the relatively modest price of $150 for the prescription component.]
Quality. This is hard to judge, especially in the first day or two. I have read some complaints from people who find the glasses to be flimsy. I disagree. They are clearly a finely crafted instrument and I get no impression of flimsiness at all. The prescription frames feel solid and the focusing mechanism clicks into place and works perfectly. The focusing wheel is very easy to turn, with about 20 positions that hold into place once selected.
Based on other discussions, it seems the primary quality concern is with leakage at the focusing mechanism. All of the complaints I have seen relate to the Icon collection. A message from the company seems to suggest that the problematic inventory has been eliminated. In any case, the design of the Leonardo line is different and hopefully more immune to such problems.
So far, I award Leonardo an A, but reserve the right to change my grade over time if the product should fail or degrade.
Presales Customer Service. I decided to separate out presales from postsales because a lot of people rave about the initial experience without having had the long term experience to fairly grade long term service. The presales experience was very easy. Ordering was quick, response from the company was quick, and delivery was reasonable. No complaints. My only suggestion is that the FAQ should provide more detail about what is needed to complete the transaction. In particular, the optometrist needs to provide the PD value (Pupilary Distance) as part of the prescription. In my experience, they never provide this on the prescription unless you ask for it. Since Superfocus requires it, they should tell you that right up front, or even provide a PDF with instructions for the optometrist, so the customer can print it and bring it with them to their exam. This will avoid a return trip. Due to this oversight, I award a B+.
Postsales Customer Service. C, for reasons described in the third update below.
To summarize, Superfocus is a great product that fills a real void and in many ways is a game changer. I hope it catches on, allowing the company to grow and provide more and more options. I do not want to have to go back to the old way of multiple frames and progressives.
After one month of use, my opinions are pretty much unchanged. I’ve been wearing the glasses for close to 100% of waking hours. I will backtrack my comments on the optics a little bit. There is a very small impact on the optics with the focus module attached versus looking straight through the prescription lenses without the focus module. The impact is very minimal, but it’s enough to make we wish I could use the glasses without the focus module attached – essentially as simple long distance glasses, such as while watching a movie or on a long drive, or during a night drive where the multi-lens “ghosting” effect is noticable. It seems like a marketing / design error that the nose support is placed on the focus module rather than on the prescription frame where it belongs, making it impossible to use the prescription frames without the focus module attached.
Nearing two months, I’m still happy with Superfocus. However, I am downgrading the optics to an A- grade. This is for two reasons: one reason is described in the update above. The second reason is that I’ve noted a significantly less satisfying result with the glasses dialed to long distance focus. What I’ve noticed is that the image appears to diverge unless viewing through the very top area of the lens, requiring a bit of cross-eyed adjustment that can become tiring. If I look through the prescription component without the focusing module attached, the issue is much less noticeable, therefore I have to conclude some negative optical impact from the focusing module. In practice this is really only an issue under certain situations, such as lengthy driving, and again I must reiterate that the decision to place the nose buds on the focusing module – thus making the prescription component unusable by itself – is a poor design decision. For example, if I am driving for a few hours, I’d really rather just remove the focusing module for a lighter weight and less visually fatiguing experience.
Interestingly, the “cross-eyed” effect is not a problem for other distances. As I type this text, I get essentially perfect vision of the computer screen unless I tilt my head all the way up and look just above my nose, which of course is not a natural reading position. This is the normal reading position for progressive glasses which explains why they are such a pain in the neck. So although Superfocus are less than ideal for long distance viewing, they are truly delightful for close-up work.
[Update 2/5/2014] I’m now able to provide some feedback on postsales support. Unfortunately it’s not great. I found that I needed to order a new focusing module. Somehow I managed to scratch the soft side of that module. It’s a tiny scratch, but because it is positioned directly over the pupil, the effect is pretty annoying. While I don’t blame the company for the scratch, I’m disappointed in the way the reorder is being handled. I placed an order on Friday and got an email shortly thereafter informing me that the fulfillment would take 2-4 weeks. I assumed this was just a boilerplate response. After all, this should be a “stock” item. However, as of the following Wednesday I still did not receive the focusing module nor a notice of shipment or tracking number. When I contacted Superfocus, the service representative was quite unhelpful, only repeating the 2-4 week timeframe and telling me this is because orders are “custom made” for me. I patiently explained that the focusing module is not custom made for each order, but is the same for all Leonardo glasses. Indeed, that’s why they only offer one size and style, so they don’t have to custom design this module for each order. The best answer I could get was that the order would “probably” take closer to two weeks than four weeks. It’s disappointing that I have to explain to the customer service rep the way their own product works, and disappointing that they don’t have a better handle on basic inventory management and order fulfillment. Therefore I have downgraded them accordingly.