I’ve been using the Smith ChromaPop Caravan since December 2019. Here are some mid-term thoughts

In short

  • Exceptional detail and contrast pop from the ChromaPop lens
  • Lens-change mechanism is fuss free and can be done on the water
  • Fit is snug and comfortable
  • Frame styling means you can wear off the water too

Some background

Coming from a cycling eyewear background I have been an Oakley advocate for many years and this always trickled down to fishing. When Oakley released their Prizm Shallow Water polarised I immediately pulled the trigger on a pair (one of very few on SA shores at the time) and was so impressed I thought I would never need another fishing lens. Those were re-ownered to a legend in the game (after I left them in his bakkie) and it left me at a loose end.

I bounced through a few ‘value’ pairs for nearly a year unwilling to commit to anything else and unable to source Oakleys. I went as far as fishing the Zambezi with a R400 pair. I paid for that, but the experience taught me a lot about my eye condition, contrast, light and what true lens quality means.

Early mornings were particularly difficult walking through the Mopane forest as my eyes wouldn’t focus properly. I was bumbling down the trail to the Sioma Falls definitely the weakest link in the walking party, but safe in the fact that a leopard might not see me as breakfast and rather pick Ewan Naude as juicier meal.

Through my eyes
I’m near-sighted (meaning distant objects are out-of-focus) which means I have to wear prescription specs or contact lenses (at -1.50) when fishing, surfing, driving and the like. My optometrist tells me that the degeneration is a stress disorder and if I had to take six months off work – i.e away from my computer – it would improve significantly. Okay doc… Nearsightedness/myopia causes light rays to focus at a point in front of the retina rather than directly on its surface. I’m probably butchering the medical science here, but contrast and focus is compromised.

I digress. For fishing (and other outdoor activities) I favour contact lenses over prescription sunglasses as it opens up more variety and, well, is lighter on the wallet.

As mentioned, the cheap ‘polarized’ lenses I fished on the Zambezi played havoc with contrast until the light was at a certain angle (something I had never experienced with Prizm’s). And, when I got the Smith Caravans everything changed again. It was the proverbial ‘eye-opener’ …  I’ve been using them since December 2019 on the local estuaries and at sea. I’ve driven long distance in them, checked the surf and cruised the beach with my family. Being behind those lenses is a great place to be…

Smith eyewear review
Notice how the drop-off and footprints ‘pop’

The proprietary ‘ChromaPop’ polarized lens technology has lived up to its claims of boosting ‘detail and colour beyond normal capabilities’ – but then that (along with cutting glare) is what you would expect from all high end polarized lenses.

What has stood out most for me about the ChromaPop (with my eyes the way they are) is how definition and contrast are vastly improved.According to the lab coats at Smith, ‘the eye’s retina has trouble distinguishing between blue and green, and red and green light perception,’ and ChromaPop was designed to filter those two specific wavelengths of light.  You can read more about the science behind that, here.

Smith Caravan polarized sunglasses

Lens colour and prevailing light conditions obviously both play a role in how this is translated. I have been using the  Polarized Bronze Mirror in tandem with the ChromaPop Ignitor. More on both later. But in short, on our tan-to-muddy estuaries with dirtyish water the bronze is a perfect flats grunter-targetting lens. I have no experience of the bronze on white-washed cobalt blue tropical flats yet, but therein lies the beauty of the interchangeable lenses. I would supplement the Bronze with Blue Mirror if I had a trip coming up.

Change it up
The interchangeable lens technology is not a new innovation. In the past I have used various models from other brands (mostly for cycling) some systems were better than others (usually Oakley). A few downright finicky. So far I have found the proprietary ‘MAG’ technology (for ‘magnetic’) easy to use, and, perhaps more importantly – quite robust.

You’re not going to break the system with tired hands by swapping out your lenses for the evening low light at the end of a full day of casting. The magnet is potent and I doubt will lose efficacy in the lifetime of the frame (which, has a lifetime warranty, see below).

Mostly I having been trying to change lenses only in semi-clean and semi-controlled environments. As controlled as the tailgate of my bakkie with a gusting Southeaster could be (as in the images). However, if you were nimble of hand and confident of mind, you would easily be able to change while on the water, with the use of a slingpack as a ‘desk’ or, at a push, in your stripping basket to rest the extra lenses.

Choices. Choices

The lenses
ChromaPop Polarized Bronze Mirror
This is a high contrast brown base lens which features the ChromaPop colour enhancement technology. The lens is built on Smith’s carbonic platform which provides 100% protection from harmful UVA/B/C rays. I found it ideal for the estuaries and would recommend it to anyone travelling to African salt or freshwater destinations (Gabon, Zambia etc). It is excellent in full sun conditions and still performs very well in partly-cloudy conditions. In low light, I have had the privilege of swapping to the back-up lens.

ChromaPop Ignitor
This lens tint is billed to be designed to reduce eye fatigue while enhancing contrast and depth perception in all conditions. It is not polarized but in low light conditions that is not necessarily a draw back. These lenses also work really well when driving a boat or car where you constantly need to be referring to GPS and digital devices as the Polarized Bronze Mirror blanks out the screen on certain angles.

The fit
The frames and fit tend to often be neglected in eyewear reviews nowaday. Since I wear glasses whenever I am away from my computer I am highly critical of fit (styling less so). These are comfortable to the point where you could play beach bats with the wife without them shifting on your nose (and I have a wonky-shaped melon). This is thanks to the hydrophilic megol temples and nose pads for a secure fit. The same wife has also okay’d the Caravan (in brown turtle shell, something I’ve never been able to pull off) style-wise, which, trust me, is no mean feat, so they tick the fashionable box too.

What’s in the box

  • Two sets of ChromaPop lenses (I have Bronze Mirror and Ignitor lens)
  • Hard case
  • Microfiber cloth bag for eyewear
  • Microfiber soft bag for lenses
  • Illustrated instruction card for swapping lenses

Warranty info:
“If you experience a manufacturing defect in materials or workmanship Smith Optics warrants your sunglasses, goggles and helmets for the lifetime of the product, and we will repair or replace the product at no charge.” Full info on their site, here.

Last word
Long term review to come, but right now if you had to offer me Oakley Prizm or Smith Caravan, I would go with the Smith without blinking…


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