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Progressive bifocal glasses and DSLR camera focus

Steve T. , Dec 17, 2010; 09:07 a.m.

At age 42 (in 3 weeks), I've been wearing glasses for 30 years. Finally, with the pair that arrived new to my face earlier this week I'm using bifocal lenses. (Yep, it's true, you hit 40 and things start falling apart.) Not for any particular reason, I went with a progressive bifocal lens. Yes, I'm only on day #4 of living with them, and I will "give them time...", but in the short time I've had them I can't say I'd do them again. The best way for me to describe them is that there is a sweet spot on the lens for each type of viewing, and I have to find that sweet spot by moving my head no matter where I need to look. It seems that peripherally, I can't help but wonder why they even bothered polishing the lens- nothing but minor distortion until I turn my head far enough to find the sweet spot. I'm giving them another week or so before I head back to the optical shop (not a quicky chain shop, either) and tell them to try again, likely with a standard lined bifocal.

But, if I find that the progressives start working for me, what can I expect for manual focusing performance with the DSLR camera? What if I'm focusing manually on something in a macro fashion and I'm not looking through the right sweet spot of my glasses lens and I end up focusing on the wrong detail? I'll only know this once I download to the computer. Yeah, there's the focus assist light in the viewfinder (I only use the center focus point), but macro typically demands manual focus and if auto focus was so accurate then I'd use it and the corresponding focus point. I mention macro as my example because if I'm going to focus manually, this is usually when I'm doing it.

Has anyone that went with progressive lenses gone away from them after finding problems focusing your camera? If so, did you go to standard (lined) bifocals? Any other thoughts or ideas- good, bad, or indifferent? Thanks much for your help with my newly aging eyes.


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William Kahn , Dec 17, 2010; 09:21 a.m.

I haven't used progressive-lens glasses, but I found that the standard bifocals were no help at all with this problem. My solution was to go to contact lenses for distance vision and use the viewfinder diopter correction for "fine tuning". Of course, I need one pair of reading glasses for reading, and another pair for computer work, but the trade-off is worth it. The problem I'm facing now is developing cataracts, another dilemma altogether...

Stephen Lewis , Dec 17, 2010; 09:40 a.m.

Been there, done that, with slr's & rangefinders. Tried bifocals, contacts, diopter inserts in the cameras, progressive lenses. Even moved to AF lenses because I was too frustrated with manual focus results. Finally got a great set of progressives, found the sweet spot and have been enjoying it ever since. The one thing you really need to do, according to my doctor, is to make sure your prescription takes into account the actual diopter in the viewfinder, if you don't have a built in variable one. My eye doctor, being a photographer, understood exactly what I meant and did a great job.

Edward Ingold , Dec 17, 2010; 09:41 a.m.

It's really hard to use bifocals with a camera, and progressive lenses would seriously complicate the matter. The apparent distance of the screen is approximately one meter, which is on the far side for reading glasses and the short side for distance prescriptions. The key is to have a single value in the center of your vision.

If I use the distance portion of my glasses, I can adjust the diopter setting on the camera to accommodate my eyes with a couple of clicks to the positive side. The reading portions are fairly small and sharply defined (not progressive). I have a second pair with only the reading prescription for use with a computer (and music). I can use them with the camera if I adjust a click or two to the negative.

Hector Javkin , Dec 17, 2010; 09:44 a.m.

I couldn't stand progressive bifocals, but lined bifocals were a huge help in my photography. The viewfinder diopter adjustment of my cameras are set to work with my distance prescription, and I look in the viewfinder with the distance portion of the eyeglasses. When I take my eyes off the viewfinder, that same prescription lets me see what I am photographing. The lower part of my eyeglasses, which have the close distance prescription, let me read the top and rear panels of the camera.

It is conceivable that changing your viewfinder's diopter adjustment might help, even with the progressives.

Harry Joseph , Dec 17, 2010; 09:54 a.m.

"Has anyone that went with progressive lenses gone away from them after finding problems focusing your camera?"
Welcome to the over 40 crowd. I have been using Progressive Lenses for the past five years with no problems other than having to replace/adjust the little plastic nose-protectors very often from squeezing the camera up against my glasses.
My progressives are split into 2 camps. The top 2/3 is for near sidedness and the lower 1/3 for reading. I just stick to the top 2/3 when taking pictures. The diopter(-/+) that comes with Canon DSLRs helps allot, without that I would be totally blind.

Tom Harvey , Dec 17, 2010; 10:08 a.m.

I feel your pain. Things go downhill at 40! But now at almost 59, my vision has stabilized and the Rx has been repeatable for about 8 years. Then CSCR (central serious retinopathy) became an issue...gray occlusion in the center of my field of view.

Fortunately the standard eyepiece of the Canon 5D Mark II can be dialed in to a diopter measurement just beyond +1.75, which is what I need. But I still need to play the glasses on/off/on/off/on/off with the GW670, Pentax 67II and the Rollei 3.5F.

Sigh. But I'll have to live with it. Autofocus sure is a cool thing, eh?

John Kelly , Dec 17, 2010; 10:15 a.m.

I stopped using progressives when I found them dangerous...they are corrected only in an hourglass sort of area, narrowing peripheral vision tremendously vs traditional bifocals. Unsafe when driving. This is also a problem bow-hunting, when progressive-lens-required excessive head movement (side to side to correct for lack of periphal vision) is obvious to animals.

My walking-around/photo bifocals (as opposed to my desk bifocals) are cut so the lower, close-up area, is lower than standard...your optometrist can make your lenses that way if you ask. Mine are about 3mm lower than standard. My correction is very heavy but appropriate lower positioning of the reading correction means I don't need to use camera diopter adjustments.

Mukul Dube , Dec 17, 2010; 12:38 p.m.

Since having cataract surgery and lens implants four and a half years ago, I no longer need glasses when my eye is at a view-finder. My two digital SLRs are adjusted to provide the necessary correction and my film Leica has a corrective lens fitted. When I use the Leica, though, I wear a pair of glasses on a cord so that I can read the small lettering on body and lenses and on my hand-held exposure meter.

Dieter Schaefer , Dec 17, 2010; 01:00 p.m.

Well, I got my first set of progressives earlier this year - and to me they are a success. I could no longer manually focus my DSLRs with the old glasses, and now with the progressive ones, I have no problem at all. It took awhile to train the eye/brain to find the sweet spot for each viewing distance - but after at most a month, I got used to them. I agree though that peripheral vision has deteriorated due to the hour-glass shape of the viewing area. I need to add that I had the intermediate range enlarged as much as possible - with particularly photography in mind. So I wouldn't call them bifocals - they are actually trifocal. I had to return the first set because an error was made in positioning the centers - the pupil-to-pupil distance was off by about 2mm.

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