Oakley has always been known for its wild lens colors. Even the first set of sunglasses the company ever sold, the Factory Pilot Eyeshades, came in a distinct bright orange color. Today, Oakley offers dozens of different tints, each with its own unique characteristics, each of which is ideal for a different set of lighting conditions. Faced with so much choice, a consumer can often have a hard time picking out a color. Do you just choose by what looks visually appealing to you? Do you just get whatever the store has in stock? How do you know that a tint that's comfortable in a store will be equally comfortable outside in full daylight? Relax, dear reader. We've put in the hours, and done a long term test of five distinct shades of Oakley lenses. A tough job, we know. But someone had to do it.
Different Light, Different Lenses
The most important thing to keep in mind about any lens tint is that it will have a specific set of strengths, suited to a particular set of lighting conditions. For example, when going fishing, you'll encounter a lot of glare coming off the water, and so a polarized lens will be handy. Under moderately bright but overcast skies, you'll want a lens with more light transmission, or barring that, a lens that increases contrast. For all-out bright days under clear skies, perhaps the best lens choice will be a dark, neutral tint that basically just reduces the amount of light getting to your eyes, like turning down the volume on a stereo. But lens choice will also vary based on personal preference. So rather than go on any further with these abstract principles, let's just get to the lenses themselves.
We'll start our shootout with one of Oakley's most popular lenses: the eye-catching and flamboyant Fire lens. The exterior of this lens is hard to miss - the bright orange hue could be seen from a mile away. But the lens isn't just popular for its good looks. You'll see a lot of riders pick Fire not just for the attention it gets, but for its versatility. The light transmission of the lens is very low - somewhere around 16% according to Oakley's figures. But because it is an amber lens, it adds contrast to the image viewed through it, making it more useful in less intense light. In fact, the lens seems much "brighter" than a neutral lens with a similar light transmission. If what you want is simply a dark, dark lens, Fire isn't going to cut it. But if you don't mind the perceived brightness during high-intensity lighting conditions, you will be rewarded by a lens that's both versatile and quite stunning.
Ice is a perfect counterpart to Fire, and not just in name. Both lenses transmit low amounts of light, meaning that they're technically "dark" lenses. But while Fire seems relatively brighter on account of its amber base, Ice has a neutral base, and seems as dark as its transmission number suggests. And in fact, Ice is a little darker in absolute terms, with a transmission index of just 10%. That means it's most useful in situations of intense sunlight, and less useful as the light intensity decreases. At some point, the lens is too dark to be really useful, and would not be our first choice on an overcast day. However, for everday, sunny conditions, it's definitely a winner. We tend to prefer a neutral base anyway, because it's a little easier on the eyes.
Positive Red (a.k.a. +Red)
One of Oakley's staples from very early on, the +Red lens is a joy to wear, and is very versatile. The lens is a neutral, very slightly bluish tint. Oakley calls it a contrast lens, but in reality it behaves more like a neutral lens. It's fairly dark, transmitting 15% of available light. But it's not too dark -- it's still useful in overcast environments. The exterior appearance of the lens is on the safe side of radical. It's largely a dark blue/purple tint, with some dashes of red around the edges. It's a lens that says "I'm fun, but still classy."
This one is the sleeper. It's a wacky lens, which is why we kept it until last. G26 has probably the most wild appearance of any lens in this test. It's bright green, with some blue and even purple hues skirting the edges of the lens. It's incredibly striking. But Oakley bills this as a "shooting only" lens, and recommends that users refrain from using the lens while driving. Why is that? Well, the lens has a base that appears to be neutral when looking through it, but is technically a contrast lens. It effectively mutes green tones, and accents red ones. That makes it ideal for shooting. The lens is also the brightest one in this test, with a transmission index of 26%. That's more than twice as bright as Ice, and nearly double that of +Red. But G26 is, far and away, our favorite lens in the bunch. For whatever reason, it seems like the lens we grab no matter what the lighting condition.
Not everyone will like wearing a lens this bright during intense sunlight, and if that's you, then avoid G26 if you're typically riding in a bright environment. But the tones of the lens are just so pleasing to the eye. It feels like a neutral lens, but more pleasant. Once you've been wearing the lens for a while, taking it off makes the world appear a bit duller. Oakley now makes a similar lens, called Jade, with an exterior almost identical to G26, but whose performance is most like +Red. Jade would be a great option for someone who likes the look of G26, but wants a darker, truly neutral lens.