What is ChromaPop?

Color Confusion

“Color confusion,” which Smith mentions in their description of ChromaPop, seems to refer to when different types of cone cells are stimulated at the same or nearly the same level.

When this happens, your brain is unable to interpret the simultaneous, equal input from multiple cone types accurately. As a result, grayish, homogenized, “composite” colors are perceived, and the overall contrast in a scene is decreased.

The graph below (borrowed from Smith), represents the points at which different types of cones are equally sensitive to blue and green, and red and green light.

What is Smith Optic's ChromaPop? by Blister Gear Review

ChromaPop as a Solution to Color Confusion

Smith’s ChromaPop technology aims to tackle the problem of color confusion by filtering out the wavelengths of light which S and M cones are equally sensitive to (~470 nm), as well as those that M and L cones are equally sensitive to (~580 nm).

What is Smith Optic's ChromaPop? by Blister Gear Review

So if ChromaPop works, colors should be more clearly defined throughout a scene than they are when viewed through ordinary lenses, because your cone cells are exposed only to wavelengths of light that your brain can more accurately analyze, thus eliminating the cause of color confusion.

In other words, ChromaPop seems to ensure that two different types of cone cells are never stimulated at a similar level, so your brain only receives signals from multiple cones in distinct, unequal (in terms of intensity) ratios that it can interpret accurately. As a result, the colors you see should be more vivid, or rather, their vividness isn’t reduced as it normally would be.

Real-World Findings

ChromaPop lenses are available in eight men’s and three women’s frames, and I’ve worn Smith’s Lowdown frames with the ChromaPop Polarized Brown lenses for six months.

What is Smith Optic's ChromaPop? by Blister Gear Review
The Smith Lowdown, with ChromaPop Polarized Brown lens.


Smith’s description of the ChromaPop Polarized Brown lens:

“The ChromaPop Polarized Brown lens experience is one of crisp optical clarity with enhanced contrast and amplified colorations. Perfect for the beach at sea level, or along the shores of an alpine lake. Anti-Reflective (A/R) mirror coating eliminates back glare. Hydroleophobic coating repels water, dirt, and grease. Provides 100% protection from harmful UVA/B/C rays.”

Upon hearing about ChromaPop, I wondered whether or not correcting color confusion would be noticeable in the first place, and if so, would it make scenes viewed through the lenses seem overly saturated or artificial? After all, color confusion is natural and something we’re all used to.

I first wore the Lowdowns for a day hiking in the Wasatch in order to find out.

Compared to Smith’s normal Polarized Brown lens, scenes do look noticeably different when viewed through the ChromaPop Polarized Brown Lens. The difference was most apparent when I first put the sunglasses on, but it wasn’t so dramatic as to seem alien. The ChromaPop Polarized Brown lenses made scenes seem warmer than the normal Polarized Brown lens, and overall provided a very pleasant visual experience.

Upon trading sunglasses with me on a hike, a friend even remarked: “This is weird… I feel like I’m in heaven.”

The overall tint of the lens is pretty much the same as the normal Polarized Brown lens; Smith lists the VLT (visual light transmission) of the ChromaPop Polarized Brown lens at 14% while the Polarized Brown lens is listed at 15%, but I can’t tell any difference in how dark the two lenses are.

My eyes adjusted to ChromaPop quickly, and the lack of eye fatigue was noticeable over the course of a day. I used the Lowdown frames with ChromaPop lenses for long drives and while hiking on both dirt and snow.

All in all, ChromaPop lenses are solid for everyday use, but they really shined on a 3-day flyfishing trip to a small creek near Torrey, Utah. I’ve used polarized sunglasses while fishing in the past, but spotting fish was noticeably easier through the ChromaPop lenses, especially the red coloration on cutthroat trout.

A Note on the Price

A pair of Smith frames with ChromaPop lenses usually cost $90 more than the same frames with a regular polarized lens. It’s impossible to say definitively whether or not the difference in visual experience justifies the price difference—that’ll ultimately depend on your own experience with the lenses. But for what it’s worth, I’ve found it tough to go back to normal polarized lenses after using ChromaPop lenses. I wear some other sunglasses occasionally (if I happen to want something with a cooler tint, for example), but I choose the shades with the brown ChromaPop lens most often.

Bottom Line

In my experience so far, ChromaPop lenses seem to do what Smith says they do: make colors more vibrant and increase clarity over ordinary polarized lenses. I’d recommend them to anyone, but especially those who deal with eye fatigue or have trouble with contrast.


Soon, we’ll be rolling out a lens guide for Smith’s sunglasses lenses in the spring (which will look much like our Guide for Smith’s Goggle Lenses). The guide will include more direct comparisons between ChromaPop lenses and their regular polarized versions, as well as Smith’s non-polarized lens options.

13 comments on “What is ChromaPop?”

  1. Wow so it makes colors even more accurate than reality itself. Amazing. uh.. or maybe not. Sure it will make colors more popped, but less nuanced too. reality has tings that are in-between red and green. So we’ll just mute those since they don’t fit with our color pop world? It’s like a cartoon filter.

  2. Now that these lenses are coming out in goggle form, would be great to have an update on how chromapop works in the snow and various weather conditions. Very interested in chromapop storm versus blue/yellow sensor for low visibility days.

    Also worthy is a mythbusting debate on polarized versus non-polarized lenses for snow/ice begin. I’ve bought into the theory that you want to see the glare from various snow textures/ice. Urban legend perhaps?

  3. So, you debugged Chromo-Pop? Not quite. How do they filter out the intermediate colors? Without discussing the technology it’s just Marketing, similar to Oakley Prizm. We just waved a wand over the lens and poof!

    • Dave,

      Absorptive (using conjugated inorganic of organic compounds that absorb specific wavelengths) and dichroic (using multiple layers of materials with different refractive indices) optical filtration are both well-established technologies in optics that accomplish what Chromapop does, selectively filtering specific wavelengths. Smith (or Oakley, as far as I know) doesn’t go into the details of which one they use, so I can’t comment on their particular method.


  4. I used the CP Storm and the Blue Sensor in two following days at the Stubaier gacier in Austria with similar conditions: clowdy, partly foggy, no real witheout though
    In the end I cannot tell, that the one is appreciably better than the other.
    The CP Storm gives a more red-dish impression, till eyes and brain get adjusted.

    I also have the dark CP Sun (or how is it called), but I didn try it out yet.

  5. I agree with the guesses here at what ChromaPop really is, but it’s a little unfortunate Smith couldn’t weigh in on the actual science behind these lenses. There’s not much that will turn me off of a product faster than a bunch of marketing nonsense followed by no meaningful explanation what it *actually* does.

  6. Question-Answer asked-answered by customer- Smith rep on the official Smith website:
    Q: Is the chromapop photochromic rose flash lens polarized?
    A: Hi Aleks! Thanks for your question – the ChromaPop Photochromic Rose Flash Lens is not a polarized lens, it instead is combing ChromaPop and Photochromic Technology. The ChromaPop lenses are optically
    tuned for visual comfort, while Photochromic technology brings a light-adjusting inner layer to automatically change with your lighting. Hope this helps!

  7. Hi Roberta,
    While I recently purchased Smith goggles with ChromaPop I haven’t tried them out ‘live’ on the slopes just yet [can’t wait!] But my first impressions from trying them on is [that] the lens has an effect similar to polarized lenses, but clearer due to the lens having a lower vlt index than typical polarized sun glasses. Plus, it has a bit of a rose/yellow tint, which is easier on the eyes. It should be noted: these goggles are not polarized, contrary to some descriptions falsely claiming the chromapop being a form of polarization – it is an entirely different technology. Please see an official response from Smith representative to this effect posted above. Some glasses made by Smith do come with both, chromapop and polarized options, but I have not seen both technologies applied at the same time in a ski goggles form factor. This may be due to how polarization affects light braking by smoothing out the curves, which can be counterproductive on the slopes. I am however counting on the transitioning effect of the lens to make my life easier, it is hard sometimes to quickly adjust to changing light conditions such as sun/shadow and maintain the same speed and composure.

  8. Thanks for the review. This is helpful. I’m not certain this will apply to me as I have a deuteranopia or red/green color deficiency. My issue is detecting ski slope variation in “gray” lighting such as on a cloudy day or when skiing in a snow squall. The light is flat and doesn’t provide a true contrast as when it is naturally lit with sun. The slope will appear flat when in fact there are bumps and falls present. I plan to try a pair anyway.

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