Transitioning to transistions: Is it worth it?
September 29, 2009 2:33 AM   Subscribe

Glasses wearers: What are the pros and cons of self-darkening "transitions" lenses?

I'm interested in transitions (photochromic) lenses--those that darken in the presence of sunlight. Have you been satisfied with the performance of these lenses? Do they darken and lighten adequately, and in an acceptable amount of time? What are your general likes and dislikes regarding them? Are they worth the expense, and what is your advice to a prospective purchaser?
posted by Gordion Knott to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
they don't work when you are driving. that's my biggest complaint.
posted by edmcbride at 2:36 AM on September 29, 2009 [7 favorites]

No experience personally, but I remember seeing people whose lenses had stopped transitioning at the same speed. They'd be indoors with one lens dark and the other light for a while. Maybe that problem has been fixed or was a symptom of low quality transitions.
posted by msbrauer at 2:45 AM on September 29, 2009

Awful, horrible things. They never get as dark as true sunglasses, and worse, they never completely lighten indoors, especially once they're a year or two old. This leaves you with not-quite-transparent glasses. They also look silly in photos.

Far better to get glasses that have clip-on sunglasses if the style allows, or a second pair of real prescription sunglasses.
posted by rokusan at 2:46 AM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I see people wearing them (especially indoors) my first reaction is usually that they have some problem with their eyes that means they need tinted lenses all the time.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:55 AM on September 29, 2009

they don't work when you are driving.

Current photochromic lenses are darkened by reacting to UV light. This leads to two problems:

When you're behind UV-filtering glass (i.e. most modern car windshields), the lenses will never darken.

At high-altitudes there's too much ambient UV and the lenses are always dark (thus Oakley killing their line of photochromic snowsport goggles).
posted by randomstriker at 3:00 AM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm very light sensitive so I have transitions lenses, and overall I'm happy with them, as they limit my light exposure. My biggest complaint is also that they don't work inside a car, because the windscreen filters out the UV lights. I think the next pair I buy will be non-transitions, so that I have a choice between the two as they aren't appropriate for every day but are still quite handy to have.
posted by ukdanae at 3:11 AM on September 29, 2009

Chiming in to say I wouldn't have bought mine if I'd known they didn't work in the car.
posted by saffry at 3:52 AM on September 29, 2009

I like mine. They work fine. I never noticed them not working in the car, honestly.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:14 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Driving through tunnels can be a real problem as I find that they don't transition quickly enough. Also, where I come from sunglasses are not considered appropriate in some social situations- my uncle was mocked mercilessly after a funeral as the sun had come out at the graveside and his glasses transitioned to make him look like a member of the mafia/ Men in Black etc. (this might not be an issue for you if you live somewhere sunglasses are derigeur).
posted by Gratishades at 4:20 AM on September 29, 2009

They turn yellow after a while. Glasses being expensive, I spent first year university with three year old transition lenses that always looked like a nicotine yellow and would only get a little darker on sunny days. It was not cool. I am not a fan.
posted by molecicco at 4:24 AM on September 29, 2009

I hate bright sunlight and have worn Transitions for years and like them alot. Yea, they don't work in the car but other than that, I don't really even notice them.
posted by octothorpe at 4:56 AM on September 29, 2009

I've only had cheap non-Transition(tm) photochromatic lenses purchased online, and I loved them until I moved to Florida. The ones I have eventually stopped working in hotter weather, then stopped working very much at all. For what it's worth, they now look closer to clear than sunglasses.

I loved them at first, though--I wouldn't even notice I was wearing them most of the time. If you get them, I'd highly recommend buying them online. I was able to get them for around sixty a pair rather than over four hundred a pair.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:01 AM on September 29, 2009

I never noticed mine working. People would often ask me why my glasses were yellow, and they would actually darken, but I'd still end up squinting in bright sunlight.

They also don't change anywhere near as fast as they do on the advert.
posted by Solomon at 5:02 AM on September 29, 2009

Oh, if you get them, definitely get photochromatic gray, rather than brown--it will avoid the yellow look Solomon mentions. I have to say, though, since I discovered buying cheap glasses online, that I do probably prefer to just get prescription sunglasses, though, as long as you don't mind carrying an extra pair.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:06 AM on September 29, 2009

Hi quality clip-ons give far better results. In Switzerland, they will cut blanks to fit your glasses specifically. These expankd with a pair of springs, just enough to get the clips over the outside edge of your glasses (not the usual with the clip on the bridge). Even better, get the kind of glasses that come with magnetic clip-ons.
posted by Goofyy at 5:08 AM on September 29, 2009

In the past all the eyeglasses I bought had Transition-like lenses. Nowadays, online glasses are cheap enough that I buy multiple pairs of glasses. For indoors I use glasses with either plain or Transition lenses. For outdoors I buy tinted glasses. One of my eyes is extremely light sensitive and the Transition lenses don't get dark enough.
posted by rdr at 5:09 AM on September 29, 2009

I had a pair a while back--surely a previous generation, so I can't comment on the current state of the technology. But then, as now, people who wear these transitions lenses look like total dorks (myself included). I don't know whether this is an issue for you, but the never-quite-clear, never-quite-dark look pegs you as a rube.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:11 AM on September 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

>Even better, get the kind of glasses that come with magnetic clip-ons.
I prefer the magnetic clip-ons, too. I found that that removin/replacing the claw/spring clip-ons would bend the glasses out of shape (YMMV).
posted by philfromhavelock at 5:40 AM on September 29, 2009

I accidentally got them a few years ago, because my optometrist screwed up.

I liked having sunglasses for once, but there were a few drawbacks that made me never get them again. On bright days in the summer, they would transition very slowly when you went inside, and it was noticeably annoying to me. You're also basically wearing sunglasses all the time when you're outside, even if you don't need them or it's a cloudy day.

At the moment, I have $40 ones I got from one of the cheap online places. I like them much better, they cost less than the transitions, and I can get them in a much darker tint. The only negative is that they aren't really sunglass-style frames — but neither are the transitions.
posted by smackfu at 5:50 AM on September 29, 2009

I spent a year traveling with just a pair of transitions (and some old glasses as backup). I liked the convenience, but for my "real" life I think I'll go back to carrying scrip sunglasses. The transitions are nice for things like a long run or bike ride, when I don't want to carry two pairs but conditions change.
posted by Mngo at 5:59 AM on September 29, 2009

I always use them in my main glasses, love them.

Mine are always completely transparent indoors. Maybe there are some other varieties that have a slight tint, but not mine.

They take a couple of minutes to darken outdoors. It's not like the ads where it takes a couple of seconds.

When I first got mine, the shop offered three different degrees of darkness in the lenses, but now they only do one. They also offered different tints.


1. The darkening effect fades slowly after a couple of years. They're still transparent indoors, but don't get so dark outside.

2. As others have said, the darkening depends on ultraviolet, so if you're inside a car they don't go dark.

3. When you go into a dark room on a bright day, the tint remains for a minute or two, making it slightly harder to see.

4. On cloudy days there's often enough UV to give the glasses a slight tint outdoors, though they're not completely dark.

5. If the sun goes behind a cloud, you can think you're checking someone out discreetly, but actually the glasses have become nearly transparent and they can totally see exactly where you're looking. Um, theoretically.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:03 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm a rarity here, but I *love* my Transitions. For the longest time, I used glasses with magnetic clip-on sunglasses, and they were nice, but I got really tired of taking the clip-on on-and-off-and-on-and-off as I moved in and out of buildings at school, etc.

So, eventually, I bit the bullet and got them and started kicking myself that I hadn't earlier. Now, it is true that they don't change in the car, say, but I still have the magnetic clip-on and I just leave it in there. It's also true that they don't get as dark as dedicated tinted lenses.

But!, I like them because my eyes are always comfortable. Modern Transitions lenses respond fast enough that I can go outside and I never feel like my eyes are straining due to bright light. As I am mindly photo-sensitive, I like that. It's nice to not have to pull out the clip all the time, or worry about scratching it in my pocket against my keys or pen.

They make my life more comfortable, and as such, they are worth it to me.
posted by Fortran at 6:06 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with most all of what has been said above, not changing quickly enough, looking bad in photos etc etc. My daily wear frames have normal none transition lenses but I have a pair of athletic frames I use when I'm out and about (and in the car) where the lens is DriveWear. That particular lens is relatively new and DOES work while in the car as advertised. The kicker, and I knew this in advance, is that it does not transition to a clear lens, just a slight tint. Great for general use where I can be outside with a nice tint, jump in the car and keep that tint and then stop in a store to run an errand and while they don't transition to clear it's good enough.
posted by firetruckred at 6:08 AM on September 29, 2009

I've had mine for about a year and a half and don't have the problem with them being dark all the time (or even more dark than usual while inside). I pretty much always wear sunglasses (if it's not 100% overcast, which it usually isn't in TX) so I am fine with them always going dark outside.

If they worked in the car they would be the perfect thing for me, sitting in front of a computer 10-12 hours a day. They don't work in the car as others have said (but DO work in older cars for some reason - no UV protection on the windshield?) so I have clip-ons.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:11 AM on September 29, 2009

I have used some form of these for 20 years or so. It's true that years ago they would turn yellow or not get as dark after some time, but my current pair (3 yrs old) have none of these problems.

I keep a cheap pair of prescription sunglasses in the car for long drives on sunny days, otherwise it's not a problem for me that they don't change in the car. And I do use contacts for cycling and skiing.

Generally I love them and would buy them again. The only slight negative is that in cold weather they do take noticeably longer to adjust when it's really cold (i.e. below -20).

I did once try the magnetic clip-ons and managed to break 2 sets of the sunglass parts within 6 months. At the time they didn't have a hard-shell slim case to store them in. Maybe that has changed?
posted by valleys at 6:11 AM on September 29, 2009

I've had the transitioning lenses for close to a year. They've been a real help in the brutal central Texas summer (the light, it burns!) and I haven't noticed them not working in the car. Unlike my old clip-ons, I actually get some use out of them, too. Maybe I look like a dork or a rube, but I love them and when I need new glasses, I'll definitely get transitioning lenses again.
posted by immlass at 6:15 AM on September 29, 2009

I'm with Fortran in that I finally got Transitions and I regret not getting them sooner. Mine change VERY quickly (faster when going transparent to dark than vice versa), although the ambient light in a room can sometimes make them slightly shaded. I don't even notice.

I love not having to worry as much about UV and my eyes. I love not having to have a separate pair of sunglasses (except in the car). They were also very very affordable for me (since my insurance covered the office visit, the lenses, and the frames, I only paid $50 to have them upgraded to transition lenses).

I do NOT love that I look goofy in pictures. I wish they went dark-to-clear faster (as pointed out above, it can be an issue if you're going through a tunnel, but that's also probably my eyes not adjusting very quickly).
posted by specialagentwebb at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2009

I love mine and I've never noticed them not working in the car.
posted by tdismukes at 6:20 AM on September 29, 2009

Don't have them, but my husband does, and he's griped about them not working in the car. He ends up wearing the spring-loaded clip-ons, which both of us like.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:40 AM on September 29, 2009

About 2 months ago, I got my first pair of glasses with transitions lenses. I really haven't noticed them doing anything. I did catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and saw the lenses had darkened, but everything looked the same. I am also one of those people who was greatly disappointed that they don't work in the car. That's really the only reason I would want them, but it's a free feature with my vision insurance, and there hasn't been any downside, so I will probably continue to get them for walking around and such.
posted by katemcd at 7:30 AM on September 29, 2009

When I wore glasses, I wore photograys exclusively (not Transitions—I wore glasses with actual glass lenses). The only negatives I was really aware of was that they'd take longer to switch between light and dark than I'd prefer (walking in and out of movie theaters was always unpleasant), and they never got quite as dark as real sunglasses. They also never got 100% clear, which I know some people found off-putting (but that never bothered me).
posted by adamrice at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2009

I'm on my third pair, purchased from (the transitions option is an extra $88), and I've been very happy with them. Each pair I've had has lasted at least 2 years or more, without performance degradation. I got used to the slow transition back to clear upon going from a sunny day to indoors, and the driving thing doesn't bother me all that much. I have a predisposition to losing or sitting on clip-on sunglasses, so these work great for me.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:49 AM on September 29, 2009

I've had them for years as my only pair of glasses. I love them. My current pair are a couple years old and lighten to clear. As mentioned above, they do lighten more slowly when very cold. I'm very happy to not fuss with a second pair of glasses. The modern version is much better than earlier ones - I don't find that they are tinted indoors and mine are grey not yellow/brownish.
posted by leslies at 7:54 AM on September 29, 2009

Another angle: We got them for our elementary-aged daughter as an experiment. So far it's working just fine. Keeping track of one pair of glasses is enough of a challenge for a kid; prescription sunglasses or clip-ons would be a total waste of money, lost immediately, I'm sure. This way she's got sunglasses when she needs them, and regular glasses when she doesn't. Obviously the issues w.r.t. driving don't come into play.

I have a little bias that these lenses look nerdy and would not have chosen them. Her dad, who's well into the red on the nerd-o-meter, took her to the eye doc that day. But I keep that opinion to myself and am getting used to how they look on her, and so far haven't heard about her getting flack from her peers. The frames are stylin' and she's cute in glasses in general. (It occurs to me that I associate transition lenses with unfashionable frames, also; maybe that's part of the bad P.R.) Maybe my kid will strike a blow for transition lenses as a fashionable choice in the tween set. So far so good.

Chances are good her eyes are still changing, so even if we got the type of lens that does get yellow, it probably won't happen before she needs her next pair of glasses.
posted by Sublimity at 8:31 AM on September 29, 2009

Just adding another data point. Have had mine for maybe five years now. Seem to work just as well as always. I work outside alot and in a barn alot so having to keep swapping glasses all morning would just be silly. I would end up not wearing sunglasses because I don't have the time to fuss with them. Glad to know these are protecting me whether I am thinking about it or not. I wear mine full time and am glad to hear that there are cheaper sources out there than the eye doctor.
posted by stubborn at 9:13 AM on September 29, 2009

after years of having magna-clip sunglasses, I got a pair of Transitions lenses. As many others have stated above, the UV filtering in automobile glass keeps them from darkening while you drive. This is a HUGE pain in the ass, and I find that I hate my otherwise excellent glasses because of this feature. When the lenses become too scratched or are not strong enough anymore, I will be getting regular clip-on lenses. (The Magna-clip feature is great, but impossible to replace if you lose the sunglass part.)
posted by hippybear at 9:33 AM on September 29, 2009

I had them years ago (in the 1980s) and didn't like them. I was just wondering the other day if they'd improved since then and it sounds like the answer is no. I had all the same complaints back then, the number 1 problem being they didn't work in the car, which is generally the only time I wear sunglasses. They also took too long to go clear when you went indoors. If the tinting was free I might get them, but I'm not going to pay extra for them.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:59 AM on September 29, 2009

They stay tinted even indoors. Or at least it seemed like it took forever to lighted up again.

If you are in anyway affected by the lack of sunlight in winter time then stay away, stay far far away from transition lenses.
posted by Neekee at 12:03 PM on September 29, 2009

I love my Transitions. They are super convenient and much more comfortable for those times when you are light-sensitive but not quite enough for full-on sunglasses. The only downside is that they don't darken in the car due to the UV shading.

I had Transitions, didn't get them on my next pair, and missed it so much that I got them again the NEXT time I got glasses. Transitions are awesome.
posted by oblique red at 12:19 PM on September 29, 2009

I just got a pair this summer. I probably won't get them again. I don't care about the car thing much, but I don't like how long they take to lighten when I come in from bright sunlight. I don't like wearing sunglasses indoors (it feels rude) and so I end up taking them off until they lighten, which seems to take a couple of minutes, and then I can't see. Also, they darken (like they're supposed to) even when it's overcast, so the day feels much grayer than it is. (On the other hand, I guess wearing sunglasses in bright light is something you're supposed to do to keep from messing up your eyes...they certainly to make me do that---I just didn't wear sunglasses before these.)

I didn't know about possible issues with the cold, but I've just moved to Fairbanks and it's cold here already, so ask me in a couple of months and I'll be able to give a really good report on how they handle really cold weather.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2009

everyone i know (except me!) likes their sunglasses ALOT! I wear corrective lenses and never want to cut down the light!
posted by bebrave! at 9:16 PM on September 29, 2009

If it's an option for you, getting contacts and a nice pair of sunglasses is vastly superior.
posted by cj_ at 1:52 AM on September 30, 2009

I like my transistion lenses - they don't get as dark as regular prescription sunglasses but I don't live in a very sunny place, so they are fine for being out and about and not wanting to take a separate pair of glasses (and not having to change them every time I go in and out of shops). I didn't pay extra for them - in fact they were cheaper than clear lenses, because the online shop I used didn't charge extra for strong prescriptions if you bought transistions. So they may not cost as much as you think. I like mine but I don't drive and don't mind 30 seconds waiting for a transition when I enter a building.

They are slightly tinted even in the dark, which doesn't bother me, but I notice that the tinting is worse at the edges of my glasses where they are thickest, so I guess it might be more of a problem if you have a strong prescription and don't have thinned lenses.
posted by penguinliz at 9:42 AM on September 30, 2009

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