Lens Swap: Sunglasses with switchable optics put to test

Interchangeable lens sunglasses provide versatility in a small package, usually at a better price than multiple pairs of glasses. With varying systems of lens interchange and quality optics, a single frame can provide protection from debris, glare and sunshine in a vast range of light.

We compared three systems for their quality, ease of interchange, and overall usefulness.

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Switch Vision claims to be the first sunglass company to use magnets for a lens interchange system, and with its Switch Axo model the brand got the process right. The Axo is a full-frame sunglass that is great for high-speed sports like downhill skiing and casual wear with a stylish design and great optics.

In testing, the lenses proved to be among the best we have used. I was impressed with their scratch resistance, durability, and overall excellent quality.

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Switch Axo

The Axo comes with two high-impact, oil- and water-resistant polycarbonate lenses, one wonderfully dark gray polarized lens, and one low-light amber lens. Frames are made from Grilamid, a tough polymer material used in high-end ski boots.

Lens changes are lightning fast — just pop a lens out with one hand, drop the other in place, and you’re ready to go.

The Axo retails for $139 to $149 and will be available in stores this month (April 2013).

At a retail price of $59.95, the Tifosi DEA are women’s frames that offer a lot of bang for your buck. They give moderate coverage and are well suited to running, Nordic skiing or biking as well as a casual look for everyday wear.

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Tifosi DEA

Polycarbonate lenses provide a crisp, high-contrast view of the world and shatter-proof protection. Grilimid frames are durable in any temperature.

The Tifosi lenses are not quite on the same level optically as more expensive glasses I tested but are still quite good, especially at the given price. The DEA ships with three lenses: amber, clear and smoke. I would like to see the darkest lens be a little darker for sunlight on snow.

The lens change system, which is basically a pop-in, pop-out design, made me a bit nervous thinking I might break the frames as they take a lot of pressure (I didn’t). Regardless, Tifosi offers a good product at an amazing price.

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Smith Pivloc V2 Max

Last on my test docket, the Smith Pivloc V2 Max have an athletic and protective design that is best suited for high-speed sports like bike racing, trail running or triathlon.

Large face coverage, water- and oil-resistant lenses, and an adjustable nose pad are standard. The rim-less lenses can be changed out easily by rotating the frame arms upward and popping out the nose piece. You then snap the three pieces — bow arms and nose piece — onto a different lens shield.

In testing, the Smith sunglasses maintained an excellent fit and performed flawlessly during the brutal Vail Winter Games Ultimate Mountain Challenge event, where they stood up to high winds, variable temperatures, and heavy snow without fogging.

Lens clarity and color was good on the included dark gray, photochromic ignitor, and clear lenses I tested. The Smith Pivloc V2 Max retail for $159 to $239 depending on included lens type.

In the end, each of these systems has a place at the table. Tifosi offers versatility at a great price. At more than $100 less than some of the competition, I have no trouble saying “go for it” with Tifosi.

Smith’s design gives excellent protection and performance for high-speed athletics like running and skiing. They have proven to excel in some of the worst conditions I have faced.

The magnet-equipped Switch glasses, my favorite here for all-around use, provide superb, fast-changing lenses and casual styling. They have wonderfully crisp optics and an understated style that goes well with both casual clothing and technical gear.

—Sean McCoy is a contributing editor.

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