Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Spectron 4, Zebra Photochromic, and Camel Photochromic

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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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Spectron 4, Zebra Photochromic, and Camel Photochromic

Support Trail to Peak by purchasing any of these sunglasses at the links below:

Amazon: Julbo Explorer | Julbo Dust | Julbo Bivouak | Julbo Sherpa
All Julbo | All Julbo

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses

Read more about Julbo lenses at this link.

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.”

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Spectron 4

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Spectron 4 On The Explorer

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Camel Lens Close to 20%

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Julbo Camel At 5%

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Julbo Zebra

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Darkened Zebra

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.

Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Julbo Sherpa
Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Explorer Spectron 4, Dust Zebra, and Bivouak Camel Sunglasses
Bonus Photo In The Sherpas From 2010!

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

Closing Thoughts:

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:

Julbo Explorer | Julbo Dust | Julbo Bivouak | Julbo Sherpa
All Julbo | All Julbo

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Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Spectron 4, Zebra Photochromic, and Camel Photochromic


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36 thoughts on “Gear Review: Julbo Lens Comparison For The Spectron 4, Zebra Photochromic, and Camel Photochromic”

  1. Great review! thanks. Really helped me to decide on Julbo rather than Oakley. Question for you. You didnt mention the Zebra lite lens. But I’ve read in some other reviews that the when temperatures are cold, the Zebra lens will go dark and stay that way. Whereas the Zebra lite polychromatic works better in low temp ranges. And views on impact of cold temps on these lenses?

    • Hello Ted. I haven’t used the Zebra light lens so I can’t really comment on that one. I’ve used the Zebra in extreme hot conditions and relatively cold. I haven’t found that the Zebra has trouble with cold weather. The transition times are a little slower, but mine haven’t stayed dark. I don’t really train in a lot of cold temps in in California, so that’s something to keep in mind. Just a few days below freezing in the mountains for me. I’m sure others in colder climates would have better input on this point.

  2. Hey thanks for the helpful review! I’ve been debating between Camel and Spectron 4 lenses in the Explorer 2.0 for a tour on the Haute Route and backcountry skiing in general. I was concerned the Camels might not get dark enough for a week of glacier travel but after your review and considering the other benefits of the lens, I’m going to go with the Camels.

    • Thanks for the comment, Matthew! I’ve been looking at the Explorer 2.0s. The new frames on the 2.0 are worth the upgrade from the original Explorer. I’ll be purchasing them with the Camel lens as well. It’s funny, when I first tried on the Camel lens in my house, I thought they were way too light. As soon as I got them outside though, I was amazed at how they were able to darken and protect.

  3. I have been debating for quite awhile about the lenses technical features because I have to get prescription anyway and wanted to be more specific with features to add in addition to my prescription. Bringing the glasses to my optometrist, they claim that the Spectron4 is too light of tint to be 3-8%, with retailers advertising 5%. Not sure who is in the wrong here, but I am told and have read elsewhere that at 5%, you shouldn’t be able to see the eyes which I could when trying a pair with Spectron4 lenses. Have you heard anything otherwise?

  4. Very helpful review. I wore the Explorer w/ Spectron4 on Denali. Great glasses for climbing days, but not useful in the tents or on cloudy down days. Another team member wore the Trek / Camel – he could wear them in the kitchen tent, on cloudy rest days and when we were ascending the mountain on bright days. Your review confirmed my decision to get a pair with Camel tech for my next mountain trip. Thanks!

    • Julbo doesn’t recommend the Camel or Spectron 4 lenses for driving because they are dark with only 5% light transmission. I drive with both lenses and don’t find them to cause trouble. The Explorer and Bivuoak frames have side shields which limits peripheral vision. I remove these from the frames before driving.

  5. I just got and had to return a pair of Julbo Drifts with there “Zebra Light Red” lens. The fit great, and were very inside or at dusk; However in bright sun they would only get a shade darker, not anywhere near like shown on the video i reviewed. So now i a little concerned about ordering Julbo’s May just try the AMO sunglasses which are around the same price. Or did i just get the wrong lens. I want then for trail running where I’m going into thick tree cover and out into bright sun like every quarter mile. I thinking i may just need to break down and get the $300 CTLR One Sunglass (light to dark 0.1 sec).

    • Hello Robert. The Zebra and Zebra Light are two different lenses. The Zebra Light has a transmission of 16-80%. The Zebra has a transmission of 7-42%. If you’re looking for something darker, the Camel lens covers 5-20%.

  6. I just bought a pair of the Zebra Lenses. I find them to be way too light for any real use. My spectron 3s and other sunglasses are all much darker than the Zebras at their darkest. How can Julbo claim Category 4 lenses with 7%VLT? Im hoping the Camels are better but so far I cant believe people like the Zebras for anything.

  7. Hello Drew, if you compare Spectron4 with Camels in darkness mode – is it the same?
    Now I have Spectron4 and on iceberg on sunny days is it perfect, but I am thinking about Camels due to their versatility. I’m just worried they will not be so dark.

    • The darkness is pretty similar. The major differences are that the Camels are polarized and the Spectron 4 have a flash finish. I worried that the Camels wouldn’t be dark enough as well, but they have been perfect.

  8. Drew, Many thanks for your your various sunglasses reviews, particularly this Julbo lens and frames comparison. Extremely helpful. I decided to get the Bivouak with the Camel lens since I will be using them mainly for hiking at high altitude in the mountain west region and also some desert hiking (like the Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend National Park). I am hoping that they will also work for me while driving in sunny conditions, as they have for you. Luckily, I was able to find them on sale. I used your link to buy them in the hopes that you would get some benefit from that. Also, in viewing your video version of this review, I noticed your John Muir trail documentary and decided to check it out. Wow! Really spectacular video and photos, and your dialog was well-written and uplifting. The John Muir trail has definitely moved up on my bucket list. Keep up the great work! Best, Peter

    • Peter, I’m glad you found this review useful. The Bivoak with Camel lenses are my favorite pair of sunglasses. I recently purchased the new Explorer 2.0 with Camels, but the Bivoak fits my face better. I think you’ll love them. I wore them everyday on the John Muir Trail and was able to wear them from 7am to 7pm. Thanks for using my affiliate link! Support from readers like you help me keep this blog alive. Hopefully you can hit the JMT some day!

  9. Hello Drew,

    Thank you for this review. Ended up buying Julbo Vermont Classic with spectron 4 lens, and the information provided of that lens was very helpful!


  10. Thanks for the review. Can you comment on how a sun hat effects the photochromatic lenses? If you are shading your glasses with a large sun hat, do they not get as dark as they are in the ‘shade’ of your hat?

    • I wore a wide brim sun hat on the JMT with my Bivoac Camels and never had an issue. They were just as dark as when not wearing a hat. A lot of light reflects off of water and granite though, so it might be different in a wooded area. I hike at altitude and in the desert, so light reflecting up could influence my anecdotal experience a lot.

  11. Thank you for this excellent article. I just went to a shop here in Singapore to check out what few julbo sunglasses they have and discovered I knew more from reading what you wrote than the salesman.

    I have a question: I wanted to get the bivouac frames (with zebra lenses) based on your review above. However, it seems the bivouac has been discontinued because I can’t find it anywhere online (apart from a few places where it’s at max RRP still).

    Is the Shield model a replacement for the bivouac? I don’t like the Explorer frames and they’re too expensive for me anyway. If I can’t get the bivouac, what would you recommend which is similar?

    (I need the glasses for trekking and I already have a spectron 4 pair for high altitude, hence why I want the Zebra lens)

    • Thank you. I had the same problem when I started researching sunglasses a few years ago. I decided to do as much research as possible and then share it on the blog. I hope to have an updated version soon, since there are so many new Julbo frames to include.

      The Bivouac is discontinued and hard to come by at the moment. If you liked the look of those, I would recommend the Shield or the Montebianco. Both frames work really well for trekking when paired with the Zebra lens.

  12. Many thanks for comparing all the lenses. The Julbo site is not very helpful with this. I was confused weather to buy Zebras or Camels for skitouring, Now my confusion is a bit smaller 😉

  13. Drew, really appreciate the review on the Julbo lenses. I just bought a pair of the Julbo Shields with the Cameleon Lens. Do you know if the Cameleon is that same lens as the Camel, just renamed? Thank you.

  14. Drew …thanks for the excellent review! Your insights were really helpful!

    I’m doing the JMT this summer …with the excessive snow levels this winter expected to carry well into the summer …I’ve been told I should bring Glacier Sunglasses.

    Do you think the Julbo Sherpa 3’s would work well for me …across snow fields etc.

    Many Thanks!

    • Julbo makes some really nice glacier sunglasses. You can’t really go wrong with any of them. With the amount of snow and ice that will be on passes, I would prefer something polarized, just to cut down on the glare.

  15. Great review. I am looking for sunglasses for playing beach volleyball. Any recommendation which lens would be the optimal one for the beach?


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