Should targets always be viewed through rose-tinted specs? Or should you take a darker view? James Simon brings a little transparency to the obscure world of shooting eyewear in this Clay Shooting feature.
I’m sure most of us side think at some point if there is more to choosing shooting eyewear than making sure the lens colour co-ordinates perfectly with your new skeet vest and shoes. So is there?
“Yes!” says Denzil Lee, managing director at Evolution Eyewear and its sister company Sunglasses for Sport. “There are three considerations. The number one reason is to protect your eyes from shards of clay.
“Secondly, shooters are outside for long periods, invariably spending much of that time scanning the sky for clay targets,” says Denzil. “If you don’t protect your eyes from UV radiation you run the risk of developing cataracts and other eyesight issues.”
Does that matter in the British winter when the sun is AWOL for weeks?
“Even in cloud cover your eyes will be subjected to 80 per cent of the UV that they would experience in bright sun,” says Denzil. “So, it’s important to wear UV protection whatever the time of year. A common misconception is that it’s the tint that protects you but it’s actually a UV filter that’s been applied to the lens. So, you can have a clear lens and it can still be rated CE UV400, which is the standard to look for.”
The third reason for wearing shooting eyewear is that it can enhance your vision. Wear good quality lenses that are appropriate for the conditions and you’ll acquire targets faster with less eye fatigue. But, on the surface, choosing the right lens for the job isn’t for the faint hearted.
Take a look at Pilla’s website. This leading eyewear brand’s vast portfolio is a veritable candy store packed with scores of brightly coloured lenses with delicious but ambiguous names such as watermelon, raspberry, lemon and lime. It’s a mouth-watering selection but how do you even begin to choose the right lens without succumbing to the temptation of just picking the coolest one?
“Don’t worry,” says Denzil. “It becomes quite straightforward when you break the colours down into groups and then tint density. Colours fall into two basic categories—those that deal with weather conditions and those that help you to pick out clays of a certain colour.
“Greys and browns are designed for strong sun. Yellow is for dull, overcast weather, shade or shooting at the end of the day when light availability is poor. It’s a light-enhancing colour that adds loads of contrast.
“For clay colours, there are three hues: orange, red/rose and purple. Orange is a high definition colour. People who put on an orange lens for the first time are often amazed at the sharpness it provides. It’s great for picking out an orange clay against the sky.
“Red, aka rose, picks out an orange or pink clay best against a dark background such as a green bank, or a treeline.
“Purple is a soothing colour to wear, and is very easy on the eye for hours at a time. It works as a neutraliser by dulling green and brown backgrounds. This enables you to see any moving object better against the scenery we typically encounter when shooting.”
Shining a light on density
After choosing the most appropriate lens colour, the next thing for shooters to consider is the
tint density. This is how light or dark the lens appears to the wearer, which reveals how much light it transmits.
“The term we use is ‘Visible Light Transmission’ or VLT,” says Tom Starkey, managing director at Starkey Outdoor, formerly known as Starkey Headsets. The growth in eyewear sales for Tom’s company—now the largest Pilla dealer in Europe —has been the catalyst for a recent re-brand.
Which colour when?
Grey – Reduces all light equally (dulls light) and does not increase contrast. Best used in bright sun / bright light conditions and when shooting directly into the sun.
Amber, Vermilion, Brown & Light Brown – Good all round colours for most light including variable conditions, they increase contrast and make the field of vision appear sharper.
Yellow – A very popular clay and game shooting colour, it greatly improves contrast and is especially suited to poor light, low visibility, dark and cloudy conditions.
Clear – For protecting eyes from clay impact, dust, dirt or abrasion. Good for shooting in woods. Popular with practical shotgun enthusiasts and pistol shooters.
Red, Rose and Orange – High contrast, high definition lens colours ideally suited to overcast conditions. These colours filter out blue light which is the hazy end of the light spectrum – it means everything in the field of vision will appear “sharper”. Popular shooting colours because they emphasise orange and pink clays.
Purple – A great all-round colour for most light conditions. Also called ‘the background neutraliser’ as it dulls or “kills” a green / brown background and enables the shooter to see a black clay better and especially an orange, white or pink clay against a dark background.
“Fortunately, Pilla’s naming convention tells us the VLT value,” says Tom. “A 24CMX in Pilla language is a dark orange lens that lets through 24 per cent of the available light. 44CMX is a medium light orange lens that lets through 44 per cent of the available light and 64CMX is a light orange lens that lets through 64 per cent of the available light. So the lower the available light the higher lens number you need.”
It’s more complicated than ‘I fancy an orange lens’. You need to consider the shooting conditions, which will dictate the colour and how much light needs to let in.
“It can get nuanced,” says Tom. “Which is why the vast majority of shooters choose a set of frames with interchangeable coloured lenses. Our most popular product is a three-lens set that includes a brown lens for bright sun, orange for medium light and green or yellow for low light.”
Denzil sells similar sets through Sunglasses for Sport. His own Evolution brand features models, like the recently introduced Edge, that can be specified with a five interchangeable lens set for maximum versatility. But he’s also a Pilla main dealer and carries brands such as Oakley and Bollé too.
“My advice is to buy a reputable brand from a reputable retailer. That way you know you’re not going to be ripped off with counterfeit eyewear and you can take advantage of the expert advice that only a good dealer can offer,” says Denzil.
Olympian and multiple European Double Trap Champion
On the Olympic circuit I’m constantly looking for an advantage. I believe enhanced vision can give me that edge, so I’ve built an excellent relationship with Denzil at Sunglasses for Sport.
For competition use, I wear Pilla because their Zeiss lenses are simply outstanding. I favour their purple lenses because the Olympic disciplines usually feature green backgrounds and blue skies. For my eyes, purple works perfectly in these conditions.
For everything else I use Evolution, which is a fantastic brand at an incredible price point. I rate Pilla at 100 per cent for lens quality, but Evolution isn’t far behind at 85 – 90 per cent.
I’ll commonly wear a 22N, a 44N or a 66N lens, which in Pilla-speak is basically the same colour purple but in different strengths. The 66 is for cloudy conditions, the 44 is good for medium to strong light and the 22 is best for extremely bright conditions that you find in Middle-Eastern countries like the UAE.
Eyewear for every pocket
Another conundrum when choosing shooting eyewear is cost. A four lens set from Evolution will cost from £59.99, while a three lens set from Pilla will set you back almost ten times that amount. What gives?
“It’s down to personal choice,” says Denzil, who sells eyewear at both ends of the cost spectrum. “If you’re a club shooter who enters the odd competition there are perfectly good products out there that will provide all the protection and colours you need without breaking the bank. But if you’re a serious competitive shooter looking for an edge, or simply enjoy using the best, then buy Pilla.”
Tom believes the eyewear market is, ahem, polarised. “Many people simply cannot afford to spend hundreds on eyewear,” he says. “And I totally respect that. It’s not cheap to invest in Pilla, but there’s not much of a middle market for those looking to purchase some professional-level lenses. If you’re going to spend beyond entry-level models then most shooters tend to stretch to Pilla.
“To buy a three-lens set that’s suitable for all-year-round shooting in the UK will cost £590, but shooters will be blown away by the quality and sight picture they are getting. Pilla glasses use the finest Zeiss lenses because they are optically perfect.”
Pilla’s fruitful relationship with Zeiss is continuously spawning brand new technological breakthroughs, such as its Chromashift anti-glare coatings and its ‘Progressive’ lenses that are darker at the top and lighter at the bottom. These let more light into the eye, forcing the iris to contract, which improves focus. Most recently, it has also launched a polarised lens that cuts glare but doesn’t suffer from distortion.
“It’s a real breakthrough for us,” says Tom. “Budget on spending an extra £100 on Progressive lenses or another £200 on polarised.”
“Then there’s prescription lenses,” says Denzil, “that can add a modest or sizeable amount to the final bill depending on which tech you choose.”
Size, shape and fashion
Shooters favour rimless, frameless styles that give an uninterrupted field of sight.
“Ideally you really don’t want a frame unless it sits very high on the face because it will interfere with your peripheral vision,” says Denzil.
“Look for a frameless style that fits your face properly,” agrees Tom. “Most of the time you’ll be looking skywards so that requires big lenses. Pilla Outlaw X6 and X7 are our most popular models for people with medium to large faces.
The Panther X7 is far more suitable for those with smaller faces. Pilla has recently introduced adjustable arms that effectively tilt the lens forwards or backwards a few millimetres to ensure full customisation. This can really help people with broken noses, high cheekbones or other unique facial attributes.”
Does fashion matter? “Blokes are far more colour sensitive then the women,” laughs Tom. “The number of calls I get from hardcore male shooters asking ‘will that colour complement my blue Krieghoff vest?’…”
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