My Experience With Enchroma Cx “Color Blind” Lenses

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Author’s Note: many of the images in this article include a slider that allows you to see the images as people with varying degrees of deuteranomaly, the most common type of color blindness, might see them. Slide left for normal color vision, right for deuteranomaly.

What Is Color Blindness

From right to left: normal color vision, mild deuteranomaly, Deuteranopia, Monochromacy (Achromatopsia)
From right to left: normal color vision, mild deuteranomaly, Deuteranopia, Monochromacy (Achromatopsia)

Color blindness is a general term that encompasses a number of deficiencies in a person’s ability to perceive color. There are three different types of color blindness, and varying degrees and types of each. The Greek prefixes prot-, deut-, and trit- (first, second, third) indicate red, green, or blue cones, respectively, based on their frequency (red is the most common, then green, then blue). The suffixes -anomaly (abnormality) and -anopia (absence of sight) represent either a cone that is not aligned correctly or one that does not function at all. Thus, someone with deuteranomaly would have an abnormality in the function of their green cones.

Trichromacy

Trichromacy is when all three of the color cones in the eye are working correctly. When one type of cone is slightly out of alignment, this is called anomalous trichromacy, and is the most common form of color blindness with approximately 75% of color blind people, including myself, falling into this category. Most anomalous trichromats have what is called deuteranomaly, which is a reduced sensitivity to green light. Protanomaly is the next most common, and is a reduced sensitivity to red light. The most rare form of anomalous trichromacy is called tritanomaly, the reduced sensitivity to blue light.

Dichromacy

When a person has one type of cone that is completely non-functional, they’re considered dichromatic. Dichromats are categorized as protanopes, deuteranopes, or tritanopes, depending on which cone is not functioning. Like with tritanomaly in trichromats, tritanopia is the most rare form of dichromacy. In fact, tritanopia and tritanomaly are about as rare as monochromacy, or true color-blindness.

Monochromacy (achromatopsia)

Monochromacy is the inability to see any color at all, and is extremely rare. Only 1 in every 30,000 or so people suffer from achromatopsia.

My Life with Mild Deuteranomaly

As a child, I didn’t know I was color blind. When a kid squints at the chalkboard or asks that things be repeated, it’s fairly obvious you should check out his vision or his hearing. With color blindness, the signs are not as apparent. In my experience, it mostly consisted of me using a lot of “ish”es and questioning tones when talking about colors, which I still do to this day.

“I think I’ll wear my, um, blueish? shirt today.”

The point is, I don’t feel like I really missed out on anything. I’d occasionally grab blue dress socks, thinking they were black, or a pair of brown pants only to be told later that they were green. As an amateur photographer, I have learned to trust Photoshop’s white balance eyedropper and I make sure to have my wife proof my images before they’re sent to the printer. Still, it’s not like I’m defusing bombs or something. There are worse things in the world than suffering from mild deuteranomaly. The only awkward part was having to correct all the wrong assumptions people made. Being color blind doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t see color, any more than being legally blind means you can’t see, well, anything.

Still, I have sometimes wondered if everyone else was living in an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon while I plodded along in a world directed by Zack Snyder.

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OK, I may have fudged this one a little.

So when Enchroma contacted GeekDad about reviewing their Cx lenses, I jumped at the opportunity. If nothing else, maybe I’d be able to grab the right socks or create a photo where the snow doesn’t end up being blue.

The Test Drive

Frameri glasses with Enchroma lenses
Frameri glasses with Enchroma lenses

To test the lenses, the people at Enchroma recommended a brightly lit, colorful location like a grocery store. This being a review for GeekDad, I wanted to try them out somewhere a little more appropriate to our audience. Plus, I wasn’t going to be some nut job videoing themselves in a grocery store – so, I decided I’d be some nut job videoing himself in a LEGO Store instead. I spoke with the manager and explained who I was and what I was doing, and she was happy to allow us to record the unboxing in their store.

Remember in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy stepped out of her house and into Munchkin Land for the first time? How she stared in awe at the chromatic cornucopia that lay before her?

The first time I put on my new Frameri glasses with Enchroma Cx lenses, that is exactly what I did not experience.

I had watched the emotional unboxing videos where people saw color for the first time, videos of the Indiana boys who all got a pair, the dad who cried looking into his kids’ eyes, the other dad whose family took him to the mountains for his birthday, and I so wanted my experience to be like theirs. I wanted to weep as I reveled in some fantastic new range of the color spectrum with which only people with normal color vision or a history of hallucinogenic drug use were familiar.

The truth is, I didn’t really expect any of that. You see, I had already talked to the people at Enchroma at length regarding the lenses. I understood how they worked and what they were, and were not, capable of doing. And in doing so, I came to the not-exactly-startling realization that there are people on the internet who are not completely honest. Here are a few things to consider when critically analyzing these videos.

Immediate gratification
According to the person at Enchroma, typical response to the glasses takes from 5-15 minutes up to a few hours or even a few days. Everyone responds differently, and while it’s possible that someone could be struck immediately by the difference, this was not my, nor the typical, reaction.
“They cured my color blindness!”
Enchroma Cx lenses are no more a cure for color blindness than regular prescription lenses are a cure for poor eyesight. They are a corrective lens, designed to help the wearer see colors better while they are being worn. While the rep did say they have had reports of people who claim persistence of color vision after removing the glasses, and they’re looking into the claims, there have not been any verifiable instances of uncorrected color vision improvement.
“I’ve seen nothing but gray my whole life, and now I can see color!”
No, just no. Remember the types of color blindness I described above? Wearing a pair of glasses will not miraculously “turn on” the cones in your eyes that aren’t working. Enchroma Cx glasses can not help you if you have Dichromacy or Monochromacy.
Self selection
Very few people are going out publishing videos on YouTube of a pair of glasses not doing anything. According to the Enchroma website, they see about an 80% success rate. To their credit, they do offer a full money-back guarantee if the glasses don’t work for you.

So, what in these videos is true? Here are a few select quotes (well, paraphrases) from some of the more popular videos that accurately describe what wearing the Enchroma Cx lenses is like.

“I can see the difference between the cars (or melons, apples, flowers, and other like-colored items).”
This is the biggest advantage of wearing the lenses, and is the reason why I still wear mine regularly when driving. Not so much so I can see the difference between Ford red and Chevy red, but so that the red stoplight and the red sunset are more clearly differentiated. Driving down the street, I am amazed at how obvious red lights are now. I will admit to having blown through a red light or a stop sign in the past, and when I did, it was usually because I didn’t even see it. Wearing the glasses it is now much more apparent to me the difference between the red of a stoplight and the red of a sunset. Similarly, green lights stand out much more from the blue sky background.
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“I can see the apples in the tree (or flowers in bush, M&Ms in the jar, and other different-colored items)”
Not only can I see the different shades of a single color, I can more easily see an item that is differently colored when it is in front of another object. The apples in the tree is a good example. It’s probably not obvious to people with normal color vision, but you rely quite a bit on color to differentiate items that overlap or are intertwined. Brown pine cones are invisible in an evergreen tree, and spotting a deer in the forest is nearly impossible without some movement. With the Enchroma lenses, things are no longer “invisible.” I more quickly pick up patterns and have more than once uttered, “Huh, I never noticed that before.”
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“…purple…orange…I can’t even.”
Back to my experience in the LEGO store. There’s a reason this article doesn’t include a video. After less than a minute of recording, I realized that it was the most boring Enchroma unboxing video ever created. There was no “a-ha” moment, no great discovery. It was basically me looking around saying, “Hmm. That looks a little different,” or, “I guess that is a bit brighter.”

What it doesn’t show is, just seconds after shutting off the recording, a guy walked into the store with a Denver Broncos orange shirt on, and I couldn’t stop staring at him. I honestly assumed it was some Chinese knock-off shirt where they don’t get the shade quite right because this was the orangest Broncos shirt I had ever seen in my life.

And as we continued walking around the mall (of course, forgetting to start recording again), I was awestruck by the purples and oranges everywhere. In my mind there was day-glo, traffic cone orange, and then there was every other orange. Same with the purple. I remember stopping in front of this cosmetics sign and just looking at it for 30 seconds. It must have had a dozen shades of purple in it. If you have seen the Enchroma video of the guy who now wears purple everywhere, and even colored his hair purple, you’ll have a general idea of how experiencing new colors can change your life.

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Summary

So, are the Enchroma Cx lenses the life-altering experience the videos would lead you to believe? Honestly, they kind of are. No, they don’t magically turn a gray world into a Pixar movie, but coming from someone who only noticed slight changes and was still pretty blown away, I can imagine how a drastic improvement could quite literally change your world view.

You can read more about how the lenses actually work by filtering out the overlap of the cones, as well as take a test to see if Enchroma Cx lenses might be beneficial to you, at the Enchroma website. For more information regarding color blindness in general, check out colourblindawareness.org.

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I was provided a pair of Frameri glasses with Enchroma Cx prescription lenses for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.
Man of Steel copyright Warner Bros. Super Friends copyright Hanna-Barbera.

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Randy Slavey lives near Denver, Colorado with his wife and two boys. When he's not writing code, you can usually find him behind a camera or on a trail in the mountains. Or both.