The Top 3 Differences between Bifocal and Varifocal Lenses

The varifocals vs. bifocals debate is not new. It has been going on for decades, and still, we do not have a concrete answer. Even in 2023, eyeglass wearers do not seem to be able to decide which lenses to choose. But, having basic knowledge about the difference between bifocal and varifocal lenses can help. In this post, we will delve into the nitty-gritty of the bifocal vs. varifocal debate, so that you can make the right choice!

Varifocals vs. Bifocals: A Crisp Overview

Bifocal and Varifocals: Definition and Characteristics

  • Bifocal Lenses

In simple words, bifocal lenses can be defined as glasses containing two lens powers to help individuals objects at both near and far distances. When people lose the ability to naturally change the focus of their eyes because of ageing – a condition known as presbyopia – bifocals become important. Usually, bifocals are prescribed to people over the age of 40 to compensate for the natural degradation of vision. 

All bifocal glasses have a small portion in the lower part of the lens to correct near vision. The rest of the lens is typically for distance vision. The lens segment meant to correct near-vision can have multiple shapes, such as –

  • A Half-moon, which is also called a flat-top or D-segment
  • A round segment
  • A narrow rectangular section is known as a ribbon segment
  • The entire bottom half of a bifocal lens, known as Franklin, Executive or E-style

When wearing bifocal lenses, a person has to look up and through the distance section of the lenses when focusing on points far away, and look down and through the lower or bifocal segment of the lens. 

Varifocal Lenses

In simple words, we can understand varifocals (also known as progressives) as lenses that provide a seamless and continuous vision for all distances via a single lens and help correct presbyopia. The first patent for varifocal lenses was devised in the early 20th century, and they were made commercially available from 1955 onwards. 

Contemporary varifocals have three sections within a single lens –

  • Long or distance vision at the top
  • Reading at the bottom
  • Intermediate in the middle

Because of a combination of three different segments, varifocals have peripheral distortion. But, premium-quality varifocals minimise the distortion to a considerable extent by shifting it towards the edge of the lens and ensuring a greater field of vision and ease of use for wearers. 

Now that we have touched upon the definition of varifocal and bifocal lenses, let us check out their differences in further detail.

Varifocal vs. Bifocals: Top 3 Differences

  1. The Transition

To begin with, bifocals have two separate zones for distance and near vision prescription. The two zones are separated by a distinguishing line, which is starkly visible and prominent. The top section of the bifocal lenses is for distant vision and the lower portion is for near vision. 

Many people are turned off by the differentiating line on bifocal lenses, as they not only look unpleasant but also cannot shift from near to distant vision without getting disturbed by its presence. On the other hand, progressive lenses offer a seamless and inconspicuous transition from near to intermediate and distant vision. 

  1. Bifocal Glasses are easily distinguishable but Varifocals are Inconspicuous

When an individual wears bifocal lenses, it becomes very evident that they have presbyopia as the glasses reveal that the person is wearing reading glasses. Thus, bifocals put on full display a person’s age. 

On the contrary, varifocals are seamless and do not inform the onlooker that you are wearing reading glasses. Thus, varifocals do not reveal your age or the fact that you have presbyopia. 

  1. Cost

The third major difference between bifocals and varifocals pertains to cost. As it is understood, bifocals are more affordable than varifocals. Usually, the price of varifocals may range from £49 to £59, and a high-end seller could charge even more. 

But, the prices of varifocals are higher than that of bifocals on average, as they offer three-pronged vision correction and a seamless transition. Usually, the cost of varifocal or progressive lenses averages £200 for the mid-range variants, and the price can spike up to £530 and more. But, you can find premium-quality varifocals for trusted brands at a lower price.

Concluding Thoughts

So, there we have it, a crisp overview of the differences between varifocals and bifocal lenses. The main benefits of bifocals include affordability and easier adaptability. The primary advantages of varifocal lenses include seamless transition and improved comfort. So, the ball is in your court when it comes to deciding between varifocals and bifocals!


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