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What's the Difference Between a Bifocal and a Varifocal?

Man in Bifocal Glasses

If you are under 40 these words may mean nothing to you and if you are over 40 may be words you have heard people (especially us optician types!) using – but what are they?

A bifocal is simply a lens that has 2 (bi) focusing distances (focal). The distances are usually made up as long distance and reading distance although there are many variations. This allows the wearer to see for far away tasks such as driving, television or for some people just essential for getting around. This will be the top part of the lens. The bottom part, called a segment, will allow the wearer to see to read, write, sew etc. because it is a different power.

Bifocals are not always for distance and near. An office wearer may want the top part for their computer and the bottom part for reading, for example. Your dispensing optician will discuss your visual requirements with you and will work closely with your optometrist to make sure you have the correct prescriptions for your needs.

A varifocal also offers clear vison at more than one distance and more than two distances! In fact, varifocals can give you vision at any distance! These lenses offer clear vision for distance, computer and reading as well as other areas in between - all in one pair of glasses. This is because the prescription gradually changes from the top to bottom. They have been carefully designed to work with your natural body positions for different tasks. If you think of your reading position, it is very likely you are looking down – this is where the reading part of a varifocal lens will be.

Which do I need?

Communication between you, your optometrist and dispensing optician is key when making this decision. They will be able to guide you by telling you about the pros and cons of each lens type taking into consideration your lifestyle.

The modern solution is usually varifocals as wearers benefit greatly from having the middle distance to use when working with screens and busy life styles. We are also much more cosmetically aware of our glasses and varifocals don’t have the ageing visible line of the bifocal.

Do they cost the same?

Varifocals cost more than bifocals as they are much more advanced, requiring more manufacturing time and development. Varifocal lenses start at approximately £50 more than bifocals. There are many different types of varifocals with varying price tags. Our dispensing opticians will offer their recommendation based on our needs but of course, making sure you are comfortable with the price of the lens being ordered.

What if I don’t get on with my lenses?

There are very few people that don’t get on with their bifocals or varifocals although some may take a little longer – just chat to one of our staff in practice. They all have different experiences of settling into their new lenses. It is important to remain in close contact with us during any adaptation period so we can ask you to come into practice for a further consultation if necessary.

If you decide you would rather have separate pairs, we will credit any spend on your original lenses towards new pairs.

When deciding which lens is right for you, we advise using the expertise and experience of our qualified dispensing opticians. They are there to make sure you have the best performing glasses for YOU.


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