In the course of reviewing what is generally seen as a specialist item, I became aware that many of the needs I had for eyewear were common with other academics (a lot of us need corrective lenses... due to all that reading/writing and staring at our screens?). I also realized that key factors in my search for adequate and reasonably priced eyewear connected with my experiences as a field researcher. That got me thinking about essential field gear for anthropologists and how I never considered putting glasses on the list. I begin this review by addressing this common oversight (no pun intended).
Whatever the vision needs, including contact lenses or non-Rx sunglasses, eyewear and eye care should be factored into the anthropologist's field preparation. For ethnographers working in less-than-ideal conditions far away from eye care professionals, or in my case, on a tight budget with no insurance, glasses are an essential, yet easily overlooked component of the field kit. What if your lenses break and there is no local optician to replace them? The first good advice is to have a couple of spare pairs, which is something my how-to on buying discounted eyewear online can help you with. (If you can afford several spare pairs of high index glasses without bargain hunting online, might I direct you to my coffee donation button at the top of the page?) As it happens, when I was in the field, I did not have spares and I could not afford the optician's prices while I was there. Having always purchased glasses from opticians, I wasn't even aware at the time that I could order glasses online and probably could have saved myself a lot of money and eyestrain had this been an option.
Up to now, my reviews of the online buying process for high index glasses have been about mitigating the prohibitive costs of designer eyewear/lenses and better informing consumers on the facts and risks of internet glasses shopping. However, wearing glasses or contact lenses in general brings up a broad range of problems and concerns for field researchers well beyond cost alone. These include visual acuity in inclement weather, wet, or dusty conditions; light sensitivity in sunny or high-glare environments; lens care without access to water/lens solution; excessive wear and tear caused by harsh conditions; and overall inconvenience of wearing corrective lenses during certain activities.
Anthropologists often find themselves in pretty arduous terrain. Wet conditions can be a nightmare for glasses-wearers. Sure, we tend gravitate towards sunnier climes... it's one of the perks, right? But if you're photo-sensitive like me, harsh sunlight is painful and distracting, causing headaches and limiting how and where you can travel and for how long. Strong sunlight and intense night glare while driving are both especially problematic for high index glasses. To compound this further, I study digital technologies and am an avid photographer. That means that on a daily basis I spend a lot of time looking at LCD screens in the sun; yet another thing to consider.
Sunglasses sound like the simplest solution for counteracting photo-sensitivity in direct sunlight and high-glare conditions. However, prescription sunglasses are even more expensive than regular single vision glasses. My last pair of high index sunglasses from a retail chain in the US cost nearly $700. I think I wore them twice on a short trip to Spain, but by the time I returned to the field, my prescription had changed. Now they sit unused in a case somewhere. I've tried custom sunglass clips, but they are invariably more trouble than they are worth and only fit that one pair of glasses that they came with. The cheap clips available at drugstores are cheap for a reason.
Luckily, my one pair of glasses just about held out for my duration in the field, which I admit does not, at first glance, appear to be the most taxing environment (the Mediterranean coast). That said, after enduring 16 months of punishing 50 mph winds at the foothills of the Catalan Pyrenees, with the dust, sand, sun and heat, by the time I left, the lenses and my eyes had taken a real beating. Dusty winds and salt-dense air virtually stripped the anti-reflective coating off of my expensive prescription lenses, effectively intensifying the glare from the sun which beat down on all but a handful of days. Here's a picture of what my lenses looked like when I got back from the field:
|Harsh weather took a toll on my lenses.|
I never gave a second thought to my glasses before I got to the field. As it turned out, with my sensitivity to sunlight and the damaging effects of windy weather, however prepared I thought I was with my regular glasses and flimsy, cumbersome tinted clip-ons, I learned the hard way that I was not.
Even in the most mundane conditions, it doesn't take long to realize that a field gear kit needs to include much more than just rugged clothes, a backpack and some notebooks. Looking at a return to outdoor field research in my near future, I am now urgently seeking a solution to the problems of sun, glare and harsh weather on fieldwork and photography. What follows kicks off what will become a new series on essential fieldwork gear for ethnographers, photographers and field researchers.
The Product: Cocoons Photochromic OveRx sunwear by Live Eyewear
I heard about Cocoons OveRx eyewear and instantly thought that they would make a perfect solution for fieldwork, hiking, photography and other outdoor activities that require or could greatly benefit from both protective and tinted lenses. Unlike regular sunglasses or clip-ons, Cocoons OveRx are designed to be worn over prescription eyewear. They come in a variety of lens tints and frame colors/finishes, but all are equipped with polarized UV400 Polaré lenses. The "flex2fit" frame technology and side shields ensure 360-degree coverage from the sun and elements. From the Cocoons' website:
Designed to fit comfortably and securely over 99.5% of all prescription eyewear frames, the patented OveRx designs are engineered to deliver unparalleled protection from damaging UV light and harsh glare. Integrated brow and underside protection eliminate reflected light from the peripheral, from above and below. Injected polycarbonate side shields block peripheral light without compromising the wearer's range of vision. The result is a collection of frame styles that delivers 40% more protection than conventional sunglasses.
After explaining my specialist needs as an ethnographer and photographer, Dave over at Live Eyewear offered to send me a pair of Cocoons' new photochromic OverRxs for the purposes of this review. Here's a description of the photochromic or color-changing lenses:
Cocoons Photochromic sunglasses feature Polaré® polarized lenses designed to adapt to varying light conditions, providing optimal light transmission while eliminating glare from dawn until dusk. Polaré polarized photochromic lenses are UV activated, meaning that as UV levels increase, the lens tint becomes darker to maintain a comfortable level of light transmission. When UV levels decrease, the lenses become lighter, allowing additional visible light to reach the eyes, while continuing to eliminate blinding glare that can be present even under low light conditions.
The photochromic lenses sounded perfect for all day wear, especially as I take a lot of photos in the evening and am bothered by glare at night. Another benefit is that since they fit over my prescription glasses, I wouldn't have to take them off and on like I would if I were switching between regular glasses and prescription sunglasses. That's good for me because I don't like to fumble with stuff when I'm busy. In addition to protecting my eyes from harsh glare, I liked the idea that OveRx fit-overs could protect my new prescription glasses and lenses from the kind of damage my old glasses suffered from all the wind, dust and salt erosion in the field. The added bonus is that I wouldn't need to upgrade them every time my prescription changes.
My review of Cocoons OveRx photochromic eyewear
As soon as I received the trial pair from Dave, I got to work reviewing the Cocoons. I tried them in a variety of conditions: dull days, sunny afternoons, on beaches, while hiking, for snow photography and during windy storms.
Read on to find out if Cocoons OveRx are an essential addition to your field bag.
|The package I received from Live Eyewear|
The build quality of the Cocoon OveRx glasses is excellent. The frames are flexible, yet sturdy. They arrived well-packed with a complimentary neoprene case and microfiber cleaning cloth. Initial impressions are enhanced by the soft-touch finish, flexible arms and attention to detail. The polarized lenses are also high quality and seem durable. The glasses are lightweight and easy to carry or tuck into a backpack without worrying about breakage. The case also comes with a clip on it so you can hook it onto your gear if you prefer.
As mentioned above, the 360-degree fit-over style with coverage provided by the side lenses and brow guard make these a much more effective option than sunglass clips. The flexible arms – just pinch the ends up, down, in or out to adjust – enable an adequate amount of sizing and secure fit to the head. Beyond that, to get the best fit, you select the right size Cocoons at the time of purchase, ranging from streamline (small) to aviator (extra-large).
I own three pairs of everyday glasses in slightly different sizes, and I kept that in mind when choosing the Cocoons that would fit over the largest of the three (and thus the other two pairs as well). The fit in terms of dimensions according to the size chart on the website seemed adequate. I highly recommend downloading the sizing chart or, better yet, finding a retailer nearby where you can try them on. The pair I received was true to size and they do fit over my glasses, but not without some minor issues:
I used to wear basic wire frames, but now I predominately wear acetate glasses that are relatively thick at the front and stems (accounting for the thickness of the lenses). In this regard, what I have noticed is that the "depth" of the Cocoons does not seem ideal for vintage-inspired plastic frames. They don't seem to go "all the way on" when I have plastic frames underneath. As a result, there are some gaps at the temples and along the top that prevent 100% coverage in the rain/wind/high sun. I caught myself putting a hat with a visor on to counteract this, which kind of defeats the purpose.
Directly related to this is that the Cocoons nosepiece does not sit the same way with plastic glasses as it does with metal frames that have traditional nose pads. With plastic frames, it rests against the bridge of the glasses, putting extra weight on the nose, instead of making a snug and comfortable fit directly onto the bridge of the nose. If one has petite features like mine, that is a lot of bulk on the nose. It feels like the bridge of my glasses underneath takes all the weight; and this may be compounded by the fact that thicker "arms" on the plastic frames also prevent the flex fit Cocoons from fully adjusting to the head.
Final points on fit: when I try to take my Cocoons off while leaving my glasses on (the whole time-saving benefit of fit-overs), they pull my glasses off, too. When I want to put them on, I have to take my glasses off, lay them in the frame and then put the double pair of overlaid glasses on at the same time, otherwise it is too difficult to get them to sit correctly.
I don't want to overstate the size issues. Rather, I recommend trying a pair first to be sure. I find it odd that at least two of my three pairs of glasses fall within the .5% that Cocoons cites for poor fit. I believe it is much to do with my being petite and wearing larger profile glasses, since slimmer glasses are less problematic underneath Cocoons. But this is still worth keeping in mind if you are sporting the trendy vintage-style, over-sized glasses that are making a strong comeback.
Anyone who has worn Transitions brand knows the benefits of photochromic lenses that go from light to dark depending on the ambient light conditions. The Cocoons photochromic lenses worked just as promised. I could leave them on much of the day in the sun, and even when the sky gets dull, there is no urgent need to remove them to be able to see. They get dark enough in the sun, but not too dark to see important stuff like, for instance, a notebook with notes during an interview. The polarized lenses really cut the glare outdoors, increasing visible detail and definition, and I actually found them very beneficial while in the car. Worth nothing is that it is also possible at some angles of the sun and indoors to see the reflection of your eye in the lens of the Cocoons, indicating that this bothersome problem apparently plagues fit-over glasses the same as it does with clip-ons.
There is one very major downside to polarized lenses which is not unique to Cocoons, of course, but is absolutely essential to mention here. The light from LCD screens is polarized, meaning that while wearing polarized sunglasses, the screens on devices like cameras, tablets, computers and mobile phones "black out" at certain angles where the polarizations cross. For me, this means that I can't see the screen on my digital camera screen when I tilt it 90 degrees to take a portrait shot. I would have to tilt my head in the opposite direction to compensate for the competing polarizations in order to align them and make the screen visible again. So while the lens quality is fantastic, they are rendered somewhat useless for photography, among other LCD-dependent tasks. There's no industry standard for polarizing LCD screens, so your mileage may vary.
|Illustration of the "black out" when viewing an iPad|
through polarized sunglasses (via macrumors.com)
I tried the Cocoon OveRx glasses in all weather and light conditions over the past few weeks. They performed excellently in terms of protection from the sun, wind, sand, salt, dirt and other environmental issues. In addition to the sun protection mentioned above, a fantastic benefit of OveRx glasses is that they not only protect your eyes, they protect your expensive eyewear as well. The rugged, sturdy construction of the Cocoon frame and lens and their reasonable price point compared with a new pair of glasses means that they can take the environmental beating, leaving your glasses unscathed underneath. You can take splashes of saltwater or gusts of wind and sand without worrying about scratching up or eroding your coated optical lenses. The Cocoons rinse clean easily. Oh, and they come with a lifetime warranty.
Other performance-related notes: Due to the fit issues I mentioned above (not a flush fit at the front), there are some gaps at the temples with the top guard over the eyes not being "deep" enough to contain the glasses. Rain and wind may still get in at this gap in the harshest conditions and some sun leakage happens, too, probably contributing to the reflection issue mentioned above. Note that these minor complaints are not nearly as pronounced as they would be with a normal pair of sunglasses! The Cocoons are definitely a superior product for this reason. Of course, if you wear contact lenses or if your vision is fine, they make an ideal pair of full-coverage sunglasses with nothing underneath.
Summary and final recommendation
Cocoons OveRx are definitely a more worthy option for high index sun protection in harsh environmental conditions than clip-ons or standard polarized sunglasses. Their advanced side and top protection, glare minimization and photochromic lenses (optional) are standout features. Even accounting for the unfortunate (and unavoidable) lens polarization issues with regard to LCD screens, for the majority of conditions, Cocoons are ideal for fieldwork. And, despite some fit issues, my Cocoons are now an indispensable addition to my field bag.
Final rating: 3/5 stars for digital photography; 5/5 stars for the field kit.