“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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.