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by James Huang
December 21, 2017
Photography by James Huang
Smith Optics has often played second-fiddle in the past to Oakley: not quite as progressive or edgy in its styling, a half-step behind with its lens technology, perceived as more affordable and less premium. But with its new Attack Max, Smith Optics has not only closed the gap in many ways, but perhaps even surpassed its market nemesis.
One could be forgiven for thinking the Smith Optics Attack Max and Oakley EVZero Range were penned by the same designer. Although they’ve obviously not identical, both use a frameless design and a large-format lens with a raised center for maximum coverage. And just as Oakley does with its Prizm lens technology, Smith Optics claims its ChromaPop lens tints provide better color clarity and detail definition than a more conventional lens.
The Oakley EVZero Range (left) and Smith Optics Attack Max (right) have much in common, but also several key differences.
Oakley offers the EVZero in five different lens shapes, but in the case of the largest EVZero Range variant, even the lens and temple dimensions are within a few millimeters of each other: 125mm-wide, 53mm-tall, and 120mm-long for the Attack Max; 138mm x 55mm x 125mm for the EVZero Range.
On the bike, both provide similarly expansive fields of view, along with superb protection from flying debris, wind, and rain. I could barely see the edges of the lens on either set, and even at 80km/h, my eyes didn’t water from wind irritation. Both sunglasses are fantastically lightweight — 32g for the Attack Max, the EVZero Range even lighter at just 23g — and combined with the similarly gentle fit on my relatively narrow head, it doesn’t take long to forget that you’re wearing them at all.
Which of the two appeals to you more will likely come down to style, but that’s not the only thing you should consider.
Many riders considering either of these will likely make their choice based on aesthetics alone, and that’s something I can’t judge for you. But after using both, there are still some functional differences to consider.
I’ve stated before that I’m a big fan of Oakley’s Prizm lens technology. Nothing else I’ve used offers the same levels of heightened contrast, or makes the world look as sharply defined. As is usually the case with Oakley eyewear, clarity and distortion are also second to none.
But there’s no getting around the fact that Oakley only offers the road cycling-specific Prizm lens in a single version, and as good as it is most of the time, the 20% light transmission rating isn’t going to work all the time. Here in the high-altitude sunshine of the Colorado Rockies, for example, Prizm sometimes just isn’t as dark as I’d like. There’s still the same awesome level of contrast, but almost too much of it — sort of like a top-shelf sound system that’s turned up a little too loud.
Oakley has never been afraid to push the envelope in terms of aesthetics, and the EVZero Range is no different. While the raised center section looks rather odd, what you’ll notice more when you’re wearing them is the way it expands your field of view.
On the flip side, that same 20% transmission rating is a bit too dark for heavily overcast days.
But why make such a big deal of a single lens tint when the Oakley has 25 different lenses from which to choose?
Oakley may offer the EVZero in versions to suit nearly any lighting condition (and don’t forget those five different lens shapes), but the lenses can’t be swapped after the fact since the temples are permanently fixed in place. The Attack Max, on the other hand, has a clever magnetic clasp setup that still allows for a frameless design, but also the ability to change lenses at will. The standard ChromaPop Sun Red Mirror lens of my test set is noticeably better in bright sunlight with its darker 15% transmission rating, and Smith Optics further hammers the point home by also including a ChromaPop Contrast Rose lens with a much lighter 48% tint that works well in lower-light conditions.
The Smith Optics Attack Max offer a similarly expansive field of view as the Oakley EVZero Range, but with a more conventional-looking design.
Granted, that flexibility literally comes at a cost since the Attack Max is significantly more expensive the EVZero, but it’s still cheaper than buying two sets of Oakleys.
That said, while both the Attack Max and EVZero deliver comparably impressive levels of clarity and similarly non-existent amounts of distortion, ChromaPop still just doesn’t provide as much, well, visual “pop” as Prizm. Colors aren’t quite as vibrant, details aren’t quite as sharp, and the world around you just doesn’t seem quite as amplified.
The etched lines on the Oakley EVZero’s shield-type lens are wholly unnecessary from a functional point of view, and aren’t noticeable while riding. They do help add some visual definition to what is otherwise a featureless piece of plastic, though.
Other differences are more nuanced.
If you sweat heavily, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Smith Optics treats both sides of the lens with a hydrophobic coating that’s easier to keep clear; Oakley only treats the outside. In addition, whereas Oakley provides a second, thicker nosepiece with the EVZero to raise the lens higher on your face (or if you’ve got a less prominent nose and just need to give your glasses a little boost), the Attack Max’s nosepiece simply clicks into one of two positions: no swapping required. The Oakley nosepiece feels flimsier, too, and is much more prone to tearing (or loss) than the stouter construction of the Smith Optics piece.
Smith Optics uses a frameless design for the Attack Max, but whereas the Oakley EVZero Range has permanently attached earpieces, these are easily removed and reattached if you want to change lens tints.
Finally, riders who have difficulty finding sunglasses that don’t interfere with helmet retention systems may prefer the 5mm-shorter arms of the Attack Max, although that advantage is somewhat tempered by the fact that they’re mounted higher up on the lens than the EVZero. Pick your poison.
So with so many similarities between the two, which one would I recommend to buy?
Style preferences aside, the choice will likely come down to how well the individual lens options suit your particular conditions.
If you prefer the simplicity of having just one lens, the Prizm Road lens of the Oakley EVZero Range is the easy pick. While it doesn’t work for everything, it’s outstanding for most daytime conditions and offers visual acuity that truly has to be experienced to be believed. Oakley may be a brand surrounded by hype, but at least in this case, it’s believable.
However, if you prefer to have the more appropriate lens tint no matter what — and don’t feel like buying a second set of EVZeros — the Smith Optics Attack Max is the way to go. They’re more expensive, but there’s almost no daytime condition that one of the two lenses doesn’t suit well.
Price: US$249 / AU$369 / £N/A / €N/A (Smith Optics Attack Max); US$173 / AU$225 / £140 / €162 (Oakley EVZero Range)
Weight: 32g (Smith Optics Attack Max); 23g (Oakley EVZero Range)
The earpieces on the Oakley EVZero Range are delicate and slender, but yet still hold reasonably firm on your face. They’re permanently attached to the lens, however, so there’s no way to swap tints.
Riders with less prominent noses will likely want to use the optional “Asian fit” nosepiece, which has thicker pads to raise the lens up on your face. The rubber is grippy and comfortable, but arguably too soft as the nosepiece is occasionally prone to falling off of the bridge.
Oakley’s ace-in-the-hole is the outstanding Prizm lens technology, which enhances contrast in a more activity-specific and striking way than anything else on the market.
Smith Optics’ magnetic earpiece attachment system is quite nifty, and also looks clean.
The nosepiece on the Smith Optics Attack Max can be adjusted for width in two positions, just by pivoting the pads in and out. Either setting stays put, and the nosepiece feels much sturdier than what Oakley uses on the EVZero Range.
The Smith Optics Attack Max is expensive, but at least two lenses are included: one for bright sunlight, and a lighter one for lower-light conditions. Both offer excellent clarity and virtually zero distortion, but the ChromaPop tint technology can’t quite match Oakley’s Prizm for contrast.
Oakley offers the EVZero in five different lens shapes. The Range variant shown here is the most unusual-looking, but also provides the biggest field of view and the most protection.
Smith Optics’ Attack Max glasses are the safer choice for riders who aren’t as interested in pushing the style envelope.
Oakley’s custom program lets you configure virtually every detail on the EVZero Range, but there’s no getting around that goofy lens shape.
Smith Optics has no custom program for the Attack Max, and the range of color choices is quite limited.