I’ve written a few reviews in the past on my Julbo sunglasses that have proven to be quite popular. Lately, I’ve seen an uptick in questions and search terms involving the specific lens offerings from Julbo. I’ve covered the individual lens offerings in the aforementioned reviews, but wanted to do a side by side comparison for those torn between which lens to select for their specific outdoor pursuits.
Below you’ll find a comparison and analysis of the Julbo Explorer with Spectron 4 lenses, Julbo Camel with Camel Photochromic lenses, Julbo Dust with Zebra photochromic Lenses, and the Julbo Sherpa with Spectron 3 lenses. I’ve also included a video so you can see what the lenses look like in person.
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Before I begin to compare the lens offering from Julbo, I’ll first do a quick overview of the lens terminology:
- Polarized: Reduces glare and reflections. Light only enters the eye on one axis.
- Photochromic: Lens darkness changes based on available light
- Flash Finish: Reflective finish to block sunlight and glare
- Protection Index:The darkness of a lens based on a scale of 0 to 4, with 4 being the darkest.
- Category 0 is 80-100%
- Category 1 is 43-80%
- Category 2 is 18-43%
- Category 3 is 8-18%
- Category 4 is 3-8%
- Light Transmission: The amount of light allowed to pass through a lens
- NTS: Not temperature sensitive for photochromic lenses. This means lenses will change darkness regardless of the temperature.
Now that we’ve covered a few of the definitions of terms used to describe the lenses of these sunglasses, take a look at the chart below to see all of Julbo’s offerings. For this review, I’ll just be covering Julbo’s popular Spectron 4, Zebra, Camel, and Spectron 3.
All Julbo lenses protect your eyes from UVA, UVB, and UVC light. UVB light is what causes burning and the most problems with vision. Unlike the NXT compisite Camel and Zebra lenses, the Spectron 4 is Spectron Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is made via injection and has a refractive index of 1.59, close to the NXT at 1.53 which is made via a cast. Polycarbonate lenses are light and multipurpose. The NXT lenses are better in that transparency and stability are improved with very low temperature casting. The NXT lenses are also unbreakable and solvent resistant. Just one more thing to consider when comparing the polycarbonate Spectron 3 and 4 vs the Camel and Zebra.
Julbo Explorer With Spectron 4:
The Julbo Spectron 4 lens is a static category 4 lens that allows 5% light transmission. This lens is most commonly compared to the Camel, as they both reach Category 4 for extreme light conditions. The Spectron 4 is the only lens in this review to have the beautiful chrome flash finish for reflection. On the Julbo website, the flash finish is described as improving “visible light filtering with mirror effect lenses. It reflects the rays of light and increases the filter effect. It eliminates the radiation reflected by the outer mirrored surface of the lens.”
The inside of the lens has an anti-fog and anti-reflective coating. The anti-fog works well in most conditions, with the exception being cold alpine environments when I’m sweating hard. I have to make sure to allow for extra venting and not wear a hat with a bill. I think this is more an issue with the Explorer frame though, and not the Spectron 4 lens. The anti-reflective coating works really well, as I hardly notice the reflection of my own eye, where I tend to on other freshly cleaned lenses. The anti-reflective coating also improves visual comfort by eliminating stray reflections according to Julbo. The Zebra and Camel do not have the anti-reflective coating, and to be honest, I don’t notice it. From the inside, the Spectron 4 lenses render the world in an amber hue which offers great contrast and visual clarity.
I’ve worn the Explorer with Spectron 4 lenses in a number of different conditions, and they excel at just about everything. Julbo recommends that you don’t use these for driving, but I wear them from my house to the trailhead in the car, and don’t find them to be too dark during the daytime. When I’m starting my hikes just before daybreak, the 5% transmission is a bit too dark, and I leave the frames hanging from my neck until the landscape lights up. To me, this is one of the biggest advantages the photochromic Camel and Zebra have over the Spectron 4, as they can be worn from sunrise to sunset. The Specron 4s are at their best on really bright days with lots of snow and ice. These are my sunglasses of choice on hikes above 10,000 ft, hikes with snow and ice, or any hikes with lots of sun bleached granite.
Takeaways: The Spectron 4 is Category 4 with 5% transmission and a flash finish, they do not have photochromic abilities or polarization. These lenses are great for activities with lots of bright light, snow, and ice. The Spectron 4 is a lens that is best in it’s class, but not the most versatile. I think it’s best used and best suited for high alpine environments.
Julbo Bivouak With Camel Photochromic Lenses:
Julbo states, “Photochromic and polarizing, the Camel lens offers evolving protection, darkens and lightens according to the intensity of the light, provides anti-dazzle protection and high definition vision. The anti-fog coating is ideal for active sports…developed for the Mountain and Performance ranges, and is designed for use in mountain and desert environments.” Let me just say, that text isn’t just marketing talk. These Camel lenses are the real deal.
The Camel lens starts out at Category 2 with 20% light transmission when you’re in low light (As seen in the image above). As the sunlight intensity increases, the lenses darken to category 3, and max out at Category 4 with 5% light transmission (As seen in the image below). In practice, I found the Camel lens to transition very well and offer incredible protection against the sun’s harsh rays. I’ve worn these lenses nonstop this year and they have yet to fail me. The did an incredible job on all 225 miles of the John Muir Trail this summer. The anti-fog coating and lens vents did their job very well and the lenses have always remained free of humidity. The Category 4 lenses with the protective side shields makes for a pretty powerful, and versatile, combination.
You can see in the first photo of the Camel lens that they have a brown tint. This does a great job of accentuating relief. The polarized option was a huge selling point for me when selecting the Camel lenses. I’ve hiked with Category 4 lenses before that didn’t have polarized lenses, and my eyes still felt the fatigue of glare. Glare is at it’s worst with snow and ice, but with all the scree, talus, and granite slabs in the mountains I frequent, glare can be a real problem in the summer too. I don’t have any hard science on this, but my anecdotal observations have lead me to believe polarized lenses reduce the strain and fatigue on my eyes by a great deal. Even after long 12 hour summer days in the High Sierra, my eyes felt comfortable and rested. This is something I cannot say for the Zebra and Spectron 4. They are both great options, but nothing like the Camel for those environments.
The final feature of the Camel lens I’d like to address is the NTS technology. This is also on the photochromic Zebra. NTS makes it so the lens gets darker or lighter regardless of the temperature. I’ve tested this out in single digit (F) temperatures, and I can confidently say it works. This is key for alpine environments where temperatures can swing wildly under a beaming sun. It’s nice to know that my eyes will be protected in all of these conditions.
Takeaways: The Camel is the best lens in my opinion for mountain and desert conditions. It’s 5-20% transmission make it very versatile in all conditions from sunrise to sunset. The polarization is what puts this above the Spectron 4 for me. The added darkness is what puts this above the Zebra. If you’re torn between the Camel and the Zebra, think about the lighting conditions you’ll be facing. If you’re in the moutain or desert for very long days, go with the Camel. If you’re a trail runner or mountain biker that quickly enters and exits changing light conditions, go with the Zebra.
Julbo Dust With Zebra Lenses:
The Julbo Dust was my daily driver for well over a year before I discovered the Camel lens. What makes the Zebra such a fantastic option is it’s versatility. The Camel only covers 5-20%, and the Spectron 4 is stuck at 5%…the Zebra has a range of 7%-42%! It’s incredible to have this kind of range when hiking, biking, or running through wooded areas. It’s also great to have this flexible protection on overcast days when the direct sunlight isn’t enough to warrant a dark lens. You can see in the image below what the Zebra lens looks like at dusk, and in the second photo of this section, you can see what it looks like with direct sunlight.
The Zebra seems to transition a little faster than the Camel lens, which is why I recommend it for trail runners and mountain bikers. A full transition is listed by Julbo to take 28 seconds. My tests and anecdotal experience would support that number.
The only downside of the Zebra in my opinion is that they are not polarized. I don’t find this to be a problem for shorter days on the mountain, but for longer days, my eyes feel a little more fatigued. Still, on overcast or shaded, I reach for my Dust with Zebra lenses every time.
Takeaways: A very versatile lens with lots of range. Perfect for trail running and mountain biking. Also great for shaded trails and overcast days. The lens changes very quickly and adapts to all environments.
Julbo Sherpa With Spectron 3 Lenses:
This addition is more a bonus selection for those looking to pick up an affordable pair of Julbos. The last I checked on Amazon, these can be purchased for $30 (use the link on this post). This was my first pair of mountain sunglasses, so they have a lot of sentimental value to me. They’re not the same quality as the others I mentioned, but they’re still going strong after 6 years. I’m not sure if it’s the circular lens shape or the cool blue tint, but I love the way these look. I still get a ton of use out of them for casual wear.
I’ll list the MSRP of the sunglasses I own below. This is not the price I paid for them though. Deals can be found online, especially through Amazon. I’ll keep the links in this post updated for the best deals I find on Amazon (disclaimer: I also receive a portion of the purchase).
- Explorer With Spectron 4 -$125
- Bivouak With Camel – $200
- Dust With Zebra – $170
- Sherpa With Spectron 3 – $50
The Spectron 4, Camel, and Zebra lenses are all great options for outdoor enthusiast. What it really comes down to is how you’re going to be using them. Get a lens that best fits your activities. If you’re like me, and take on a lot, you might need to grab more than one option. The great thing about Julbo, is that they make these lenses available in many different frames. You can get the Explorer with Camel or Spectron 4. You can get the Bivouak with Zebra, Camel, and Spectron 4. There are also frames I did not review that Julbo offers.
I hope you’ve found this review useful. Make sure to leave me a comment, and if you liked this post, share it!
Support Trail to Peak by purchasing any of these sunglasses at the links below: