Oakley sunglasses are great, but they can send you back a pretty penny. The new Oakley Flak 2.0 XLs with a ‘standard’ lens retails for about $200 but you can spent $400 on a Jawbreaker with a Prism lens and up to $600 for the Radarlock with two lenses (Pitch Prism). Most Oakley sunnies come with one lens (set) and if you discover that you want a second lens or heaven-forbid, you scratch the lenses, it is then time to open up your wallet again… wide open.
Original Oakley lenses cost between $65 and $190, depending on the model and technology. But do you really need genuine lenses? What if you have older sunnies and are struggling to get replacement lenses or a new tint?
Replacement lenses on older Oakley sunnies are harder to acquire
In this review we discuss Oakley specifically and compare genuine lenses against (non-prescription) replacement lenses from a 3rd-party retailer though many of the fundamentals are accurate for other premiums eyewear brands.
First things first
There are some good reasons to have multiple lenses, clear lenses for night time riding and tinted ones for the bright sun. Some tints work better in certain conditions, and some colours and tints simply look better with your helmet and kit. While you shouldn’t be scratching your lenses, sometimes a stone chip or even brushing your hand across dusty lenses can introduce some scratching.
On the market you will find a number of suppliers of replacement lenses for your sunglasses and the first thing you need to do is to check and then double-check your sunglasses model. For common models you find a few different series and even within these series you may stumble across ‘Asian Fit’ versions. Because of the amount of variation, this is where you can easily make mistakes.
Non-original lens, but still fit for purposes
The next thing to consider is the level of quality which is acceptable to you. For example, you are unlikely to get the same lens colour tuning which the Oakley Prism technology delivers, but will you get distortion free lenses with perfect clarity? This is where the uncertainty lies so introduces the risk of disappointment, whereas with the original brand replacement, quality is guaranteed.
Are Non-Genuine lenses a genuine alternative?
When buying non-genuine Oakley compatible lenses you can expect to pay between $19 – $60 depending on the retailer, the model and features. Photochromatic lenses are usually always priced higher than basic tinted lenses.
The Spanish based online retailer Sunglass Restorer reached out to me to test some of their replacement lenses. Three different lenses were provided for two older model Oakley sunglasses.
Original Oakley clear lenses (top), Sunglass Restorer Clear (middle) and Brown (bottom)
For the Oakley RadarLock Path (Vented) a clear lens ($USD 32) was sent and for Racing Jacket Vented, clear lenses (USD $32) were also provide along with Brown lenses (USD $29). Converted, the price is ca. 40 – 45 Australian dollars (shipping included). In comparison, the original RadarLock Path vented lenses start at $99 and there are currently no Racing Jacket replacement lenses available in the Australian Oakley website, so a non-genuine lens is the only option.
On price alone, you are ahead, even after adding an applicable import duty and tax.
I can see clearly now
The lenses from Sunglass Restorer were neatly packaged inside pouches, nothing fancy, just practical. Each lens was well polished and at a glance, they delivered a good first impression.
The most obvious difference to original Oakley lenses is the edges. The Oakleys have a cleanly edge which is also rounded so feels perfectly smooth. The lenses from Sunglass Restorer were not rounded and in some places you could see and feel the cut marks. Though this is hardly visible while wearing the sunglasses, it does have an impact on fitting lenses.
Sunglass Restorer lens (left) and Oakley lens (right) with rounded edges
Oakley have some really good systems for replacing lenses in their frame, much better than most other brands on the market and you an usually swap over lenses in less the 10 seconds.
The non-genuine lenses needed a lot more prodding and poking to seat them properly. On the RadarLock Path I could see that the curvature of the lens was slightly different and the end result is that the frame is put under more stress than when using an original lens. It is possible that the increase in stress may cause an issue, but it is also possible that this could introduce fatigue into the frames and mean that they fail or break earlier than they should.
Original Oakley (left) and replacement lens right with a slightly different curvature
It was on the Racing Jacket frame with the replacement ‘clear’ lenses where I couldn’t simply close the latch to secure it. This needed slight twisting and turning of the frame to seat the lens properly before the latch could be closed. In comparison, the brown colours lenses have a better fit although as the edges were rougher, I still took care setting these in the frame.
I was able to quickly reach a verdict and will discuss the suitability and value of the replacement lenses from Sunglasses Restorer below. But firstly, as you may have already guessed, the original Oakley lenses are superior and there are three reasons for this.
The inside of the Oakley lens has less reflection. On more expensive sunglasses and lenses, I have experience that the level of reflection on the inside of the lens usually is eliminated or much lower. In other words, the inside of the lens reduces the reflection of your face or the frame. The amount of ‘mirroring’ depends on the lighting conditions and in some darker environments, the reflection of the sunglasses frame or the side of your nose throws distracting splashes of colour across your vision.
Clarity is where Oakley will always market their superiority. If you really concentrate, particularly with the clear lenses, you can establish that the non-genuine lens has slightly more noise. This is not to do with tinting as the Oakley clear lenses are photochromatic and slightly darker that the clear lenses from Sunglass Restorer.
To be honest, it is extremely marginal and I did a lot of ‘looking’ to pick up differences. For most riders, this will be a non-issue as it typically won’t impact your riding at all but for the point of comparison, the genuine lenses are clearer.
Distortion can manifest itself within the curve of the lens, uneven magnification across the lens or even irregular wavy distortion. Consistency is key and cheap sports sunnies tend to struggle in reducing distortion which is an issue of you are judging a trail while mountain biking or potholes on the road ahead. Although the human brand can do a marvellous job correct the visual information for processing, the distorted vision can increase eye fatigue.
The Sunglasses Restorer lenses were fairly good in this respect with virtually no magnification. Both clear lenses were comparable with the Oakleys’ and but the brown lenses did have some irregularities with the effect of wavy lines. This sounds quite dramatic though I had to move the glasses up and down in front of my eyes to spot this. Usually the eyes retain a constant distance to the lenses however as you look up / down / left / right you are looking through other parts of the lens.
In context, this is very minor although my evaluation time with the brown lenses was too short to determine if there is any impact such as eye strain. Unless you are specifically looking for this, you will unlikely notice it and it may not influence your cycling at all.
You may know a cyclist or two who will vouch for the $5 Bunnings safety glasses. They are great if you tend to loose your sunnies every few weeks but $5 doesn’t buy you clarity, distortion free vision and comfort.
In comparison, the tested lenses from Sunglass Restorer cost a little less than half the price of the Oakley originals but the clarity and distortion free vision is not just ‘half a good’, rather they come close to the Oakley lenses. And in comparison to the alternative of budget sunglasses, being able to keep the same comfortable frame and just swap the lenses is a big plus.
There are a lot of suppliers of replacement lenses and the quality and value for money between them can differ significantly.
The lenses I tested didn’t beat or match the Oakley lenses however when price is a limiting factor, the replacement lenses from Sunglasses Restorer have proven to be a good alternative. You can view the range of replacement lenses available on: sunglassesrestorer.com