What Are Polarized Sunglasses?
Often there is a lot of confusion around exactly what are polarized sunglasses and what benefits they offer to the wearer. Polarized lenses offer a significantly different experience to the wearer compared to standard sun glass lenses. Edwin H. Land was responsible for the first developments in polarized sunglasses when he first started experimenting with his Polaroid filter in 1936.
The major benefit of polarized sunglasses is that the lenses are able to significantly cut down the amount of glare reflected from non-metallic shiny surfaces. Examples include the glare reflected from the surface of water (lakes, rivers, the sea) or from the shiny surface of a wet road. Because of these properties, polarized sunglasses are extremely popular with anglers because they allow the fishermen to see through the surface of the water where normally only silvery glare would be seen with regular sunglasses. The ability to cut this glare from reflected surfaces only works when the reflection is coming from certain angles though (see Brewster’s Angle for how this works).
As well as fishermen, these glasses are now popular with almost anyone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors or is exposed to direct sunlight including skiers, golfers, joggers, cyclists and anyone else who may enjoy a significantly clearer view as well as the reduction in glare and eye fatigue.
Not only do polarized sunglasses cut down glare and reflection from flat surfaces, they also create a much higher contrast meaning textures and shapes appear more vivid and the sky often a much deeper and richer blue. A great example of this is the ability of polarized lenses to make clouds appear much more detailed and clearer. The glare from wet roads is immediately cut and even that annoying reflection of your dash up into your windshield which makes it hard to see the road!
How Do Polarized Sunglasses Work?
First let’s look at the properties of light. When light’s reflected off of a smooth or flat medium or surface, rather than being scattered and dispersed in multiple directions, the light is reflected mainly in the horizontal plane (in other words, the light is polarized). Polarized sunglasses have the lenses coated with a special substance that blocks the passing through of this horizontally polarized light and only allows vertically polarized light to pass through. You can experiment with this phenomena by either tipping your head over to its side or rotating your polarized sunglasses 90 degrees and noticing how reflections start to reappear and disappear again as you the light blocking properties re-orientate to horizontally polarized light.
Who Makes Polarized Sunglasses?
Now we’ve asked the question “what are polarized sunglasses?” let’s look at which brands manufacture them and where you can buy at the best prices.
Most major manufacturers of sunglasses have polarized models with polarized lenses throughout their ranges, however if you are specifically searching for polarized sunglasses it pays to ensure that’s what you’re getting before paying as even some of the most expensive models do not have these properties. Some brands which definitely do produce polarized lenses are Oakley, Bolle, Ray Ban, Dolce and Gabanna, DKNY, Prada, Ralph Lauren and more. If you are buying sunglasses from these major brands be prepared to pay premium prices, but receive a good quality product.
If you need your sunglasses for sport or fishing and they’re likely to get lost or damaged, you may wish to purchase a cheap pair. There are numerous Chinese made products which start out at $15 to $20 each and you won’t be cursing if they go missing or get wrecked. The downside to buying cheap polarized sunglasses is you are almost sure to sacrifice optical quality. The lenses are cheaply made and are likely to have some distortions in them which is not ideal and takes a while to get used to if you’re accustomed to high quality optics. Read this article for more information on glare reducing glasses.