Tuesday, July 10, 2007

High Def Specs

My optometrist rocks. I've always been particular (ok, I'm fussy and picky) about my eyesight. Years ago another optometrist told me "you just want better than perfect vision". He was right, though he mainly was trying to get me to settle for the best that he could do. Not that he wasn't competent, but the technology at that time wasn't able to give me what I wanted.

When I moved to the city where I currently live, I crossed that threshold where my arms were continually shrinking whenever I held a book or newspaper. Eventually I concluded that age is "just a number", and succumbed to progressive focal length (aka "no-line bifocal") lenses. I got them at a "doc-in-a-box" chain, and I was pretty happy. The technicians warned me that it might take me some time to get used to them, and to be especially careful negotiating stairs until I was comfortable with them. Well, that took about 15 seconds, so I was a happy camper.

For awhile. The problem was, I was used to wearing contact lenses (rigid gas permeable or RGP), which gave me better acuity than spectacles. Plus, focusing a camera is more difficult with glasses for most people. I did the best I could until one of the temple pieces of my specs broke for the second time and couldn't be replaced. (Frame manufacturers build to the planned obsolescence/product churn model.) At this point I wanted to get rid of reading glasses when I wore my single-vision contacts.

So I went to a different eyedoc-in-the-box chain to see about progressive contact lenses. The assembly-line optometrist supplied me with single-vision soft contacts after stating that I wouldn't like multi-focal contacts. I believe he backed this up by quoting a statistic that only 20% of people can wear them or get on with them. Huh. Wonder where he got that statistic and by the way, 20% of what? If it's 20% of people who tried them and the only people who try them are brave souls who ignore an optometrist's opinions, then well ...

So those soft contacts didn't really do much for me. They were not as good as RGPs with a good script, and I decided I didn't like be pushed around by a snot-nose optometrist of a faceless corporate Eye-Mart. (No, it wasn't Wal-Mart, but it was the same mentality.) So I went back and demanded to get a trial pair of progressive contacts, which he grudgingly supplied.

Those are not "monocular" lenses wherein one lens is corrected for distance, the other for close focus. Each lens is truly progressive additive just like eyeglasses. Once they arrived and I tried them I knew this could work for me. The script wasn't quite right (thank you very much, Mr. + with-a-tailwind-optometry-graduate), and once again the resolution wasn't up to my standards because these were soft, not RGP. But now I knew I was on to something. So, I got a new pair of spectacles dispensed from another optometrist. I wasn't giving the dork any more of my money, and I chose a decent titanium frame.

So this is a really long way of leading up to my long-overdue visit to Tina Reeves, who runs a small optometry shop, and had come highly recommended. It was a recommendation I had ignored for a long time, figuring I couldn't afford her. But by now I wanted someone who really knew there stuff, someone who had a chance of getting me close to perfection.

First of all, did I say "my optometrist rocks"? Oh yeah, I did. Well, she does. First off, she got me a good script. I mean really, really good. I got some progressive RGP contacts and I was knocked out by how well they worked. People who say they don't work, or who say "I can't wear those" are wrong on the first count, and maybe wrong on the second. Some people can't wear RGPs, but for the life of me I can't understand it. Apparently there is something about tear production and/or the shape of the cornea ... I don't know. But I'm willing to be that a huge portion of people who think they can't wear them have never had a good fitting. While my insurance covered a good portion of my expense and my flexible spending benefit covered the rest, it was worth every penny, insurance or not.

Now I had confidence, and the next year when my script changed a bit, I got new contact lenses and my spectacles upgraded to the new script. But having kept up in her field, Tina could now source new RGP lens material that was easier to keep clean and wore longer without "gunking up". So reason #2 to stick with someone who really knows her shit, er stuff. (I kept the old pai of contacts for backup, which came in handy.)

The following year I upgraded to some really stylish Calvin Klein "frameless" frames (huh?), which make me look oh so suave... with good anti-reflective coating. These are the lightest most comfortable frames I've had, and they improve my looks, which is pretty easy. (Actually, I think it's pretty hard, in the sense that I think only a total redo of my face could actually do the job.)

Earlier this year, but well before my annual exam was due, Tina sent me an email about iZon lenses. The prospect of "high definition" vision drove me nuts, primarily because it was months before my insurance would kick in for the next exam and dispensing coverage. Aaargh! In the meantime, I figured out what these folks are doing. Their machine uses lasers to map the surface of each eye. It is the same wavefront technology that is used to guide Lasik and PRK keratometry, aka "laser surgery", to permanently correct ones vision. Only instead of reshaping your cornea with surgery, a custom lens is created for each eye that goes beyond the traditional script that corrects for power, astigmatism, etc. A thin-film polymer "lens" is created that is sandwiched between two layers of the lens material. Or at least, this is what I could deduce from my reading and Googling.

For months I anticipated the day, June 15 to be exact! that I could visit Tina and stick my face into the machine and have my eyes mapped with laser precision. Not that I needed an iPrint to create the excitement of a visit to Tina. Hell, Tina is such a joy to visit that I'd get an exam every day if I could. Who could want more than a rockin' rally car driver who loves her patients and exercises the highest degree of craft and knowledge to satisfy their vision care needs?

When I got my iPrint, it showed my right eye had a high degree of spherical, coma and trefoil aberration. The left eye had more moderate levels. This explained that while my old script was quite good (correction for 20/15 vision and excellent correction for astigmatism and presbyopia), my wife could still read street and highway signs yards before I could. Which, of course, made me seethe with optical jealousy. No matter how good the "normal" correction, those other nasty aberrations were not corrected with the precision of fine Leica or Zeiss glass ... even though one pair of my spectacles actually does have Zeiss material for the lenses.

Naturally, I ordered the iZon lenses for my Calvin Klein frames ... progressive additive power and multi-coating are included for the extra $100. But the big problem was THE WAIT. "Four to six weeks", the optician stated. The lenses are ground by a lab in San Diego, so my frames had to be shipped there, the lenses ground, returned etc.

Yet it is less than one month and as of today I now wear these new lenses. I have to admit, my first reaction was a bit of a let-down. Somehow the nose pads had been adjusted way too narrow, so they didn't sit right. The optician adjusted that, but once I got home, I decided the specs sit to high, so I need to go back.

More than that, I didn't see a shocking difference right away. For the first time in days, I had worn my contacts, and by the time I hit the optometrist at about 4:15, my eyeballs had adjusted to those, and it takes time for them to adjust back.

But after a few hours, and some fiddling with positioning, I began to see the difference. Sitting in the back yard and reading, I occasionally looked up to see what the world looks like. And gradually, I could see the difference. Yes, everything seems sharper. Colours are cleaner and purer, but not in an over-the-top rendering that is the bane of much of digital imaging. And as the natural light waned and the LED patio lights became more prominent ... even after a couple of gin-and-tonics I could really see the difference. It is not just the resolution, not just the absence of halos, smearing and flare. What struck me was the smooth tonal gradation that was just ... well, so natural. Some of the party lights we have are small LEDs that are surrounded by a paper-lantern type of shade. Looking at these lights carefully, there is no flare or smearing from the LED itself, and the gradation of the light transmitted through the shade material is just what it is... it is easy to visually define with the iZon lenses. I find it difficult to describe it in words. I can only compare it to a finely crafted b&w photograph, say Agfa APX100 film, 120 format, negatives carefully processed in Rodinal 1:100 so that micro-tonality is preserved throughout the entire brightness range. It's funny that I have seen this in good prints, but I don't think I've really seen it "live".

So, it's off to Tina to have the specs readjusted to sit properly on my face. Then off to Eastman House to see the Ansel Adams exhibit again. I saw it last weekend and was really thrilled. But now I'm really going to see it.

Oh, and I'm going to take more pictures. I have a feeling my prints and final files for display may change a bit. At least I hope so.

No comments: