While in Mexico, I had the chance to try out Smith’s new Chromapop line of sunglass lenses in a flats-fishing environment. I’m already very familiar with Costa’s 580 technology. Optics is a high tech industry and the technology which goes into high end polarized sunglasses is often closely guarded by patent. Both Smith and Costa are applying patented, proprietary filters to their highest-end sunglasses, very similar to the kinds of filters which go on the optical elements of high end camera lenses. “580” is so named because it represents a filter on the lens which blocks transmission of light at the 580 nanometers wavelength of the visible spectrum (which corresponds to yellow light).
Similarly, Chromapop works by filtering light at certain wavelengths on the visual spectrum. According to Smith’s advertising materials (which may or may not accurately reflect what the technology is actually doing), Chromapop filters a section of the spectrum where green and blue and then secondarily where red and green wavelengths overlap. This theoretically eliminates “color confusion,” leaving only pure wavelengths of red, green, and blue light hitting the eye.
Think of it this way: Imagine a painter’s palette with red, green and blue paint in a line. Now mix the edges of the red and green, then separately of the red and blue paint daubs. This messy color blend is how the unfiltered world is seen by our eyes (at least in this part of the spectrum). Chromapop theoretically restores order by deleting the mixed up sections of paint. Much like with 580 technology and it’s yellow-spectrum deletion, this results in a greater degree of clarity and contrast between colors: the world is literally being Photoshopped before your eyes.
In practice, both Chromapop and 580 technology really do make the world appear to be in sharper definition. They seem to clarify the air, delete some of the blur or fuzz, if you will. They are certainly an improvement over ordinary sunglasses.
Pricewise both Costa and Smith only apply their respective filters to their highest end sunglasses. Costa offers the 580 tech on both glass (“580G”) and CR-39 plastic lenses (“580P”). Meanwhile Smith offers ChromaPop only on their plastic lenses.
It’s worth noting that even in its marketing materials, Smith admits that (plastic) “ChromaPop lenses [have] a visual acuity approaching glass.” In other words, this is a tacit admission that no plastic lens will ever have the optical clarity of glass. That’s been entirely consistent with my own experience. I’ve used various high end sunglasses over many thousands of hours on the water in the last decade. Costa is the only company currently offering the kind of light-spectrum-deletion filter technology represented by “580” or “Chromapop” labels on an actual glass lens. In my experience, the Costa 580G lenses are the clearest, most optically efficient and, put simply, “best” lenses currently available.
Of course you pay for this technology. Costa 580G sunglasses cost north of $220 in most cases. Meanwhile Costa’s 580P and Smith’s Chromapop lenses are a close second in performance at a significant price savings (~$150 on average), with the added benefit of being lighter on the face. Trailing behind those technologies are the next-level base layer of Oakley, Kaenon, Costa “400” series, and ordinary Smith plastic sunglasses. Most sunglasses on the market today are equivalents in this base-layer $129 price range (or thereabouts). In this market sector, as in any other area, you get what you pay for.