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General Aviation Safety Council – GASCo Product Review…sponsored by AFE Ltd

Bigatmo pilot sunglasses reviewed by GASCo – General Aviation Safety Council.

Bigatmo was apparently born out of dissatisfaction with current available sunglasses; all had some compromise or other which meant that, for Bigatmo’s founders at least, none could be classified as the perfect aviation or sport sunglasses. So, in the best traditions of these things, they set out to design and manufacture their own.

Bigatmo Iono photochromic pilot sunglasses, Model 0495

Launched in 2011 (perhaps a little too discreetly, we hadn’t heard of them until we came across them at the 2012 AeroExpo) the range consists of five frame styles, Tropo, Strato, Meso, Iono and Exo (yes, they are, er, bigging-up the atmosphere thing), three lens types and various frame finishes.

The makers claim that the existing options all had their specific shortcomings; some were poor optically, some were flimsey, or heavy, or flimsy and heavy, some were uncomfortable for long-duration use. Having sported a fair few pairs of sunglasses in the interest of research over the years, and we recognise these scenarios all too well. We have our favourites, princes among them being Randolph Engineering and Serengeti, both of which do seem to have at least made prorities out of optical quality, glare protection and durability, but we’ve kissed a few frogs along the way too.

It’s fighting talk, really, to claim to have produced a range of sunglasses without compromises, and we were keen to subject this bold claim to searching scrutiny in the harsh light of, er, a Manchester summer. Of course barely two hours after taking delivery of a pair of Stratos with their smart gunmetal coloured titanium frames, and Alutra copper- coloured photochromic lenses, the sun gave way to relentless greyness and rain. So, if you’re wondering who to blame for this summer’s weather, it was probably us in Manchester, having the impertinence to try on some sunglasses. Sorry.

Still it did give us a chance to test out how well they’d perform under a heavy overcast and, to be fair, the sun did come out once or twice, so we’ve given them a decent thrashing and we think, actually, Bigatmo have done a pretty good job, as it happens.

But tackling those bold claims first, we’d have to say that there aren’t no such thing as the ideal product for everybody and one man’s perfection is another’s compromise. The frames are reassuringly tough, but flexible, and the temple bars grip nicely, but their natural springiness does give the earpieces a tendancy to close together somewhat, so putting them on one-handed does risk taking an eye out. Once on, though, they are feather-light, grip firmly but unobtrusively, and wrap around just enough to keep glare out of the sides.

Optically, they are exceptional, with no visible distortions even at the edges of the lenses, superb clarity and evenness of tint, and the photochromic technology works extremely quickly and effectively. The copper tint is similar to, but a little darker than, my regular Serengetis and, while I’ve never noticed any strain or glare while using those, moving over to Bigatmos was noticeably more restful in high-brightness conditions. The photochromic range takes them from what European Standard EN 1836.2005 classes as category 2 (18-43% light transmission, suitable for average sunlight) to category 3 (8-18% light transmission, suitable for strong sunlight). Category 4 is only for very hardh conditions and is not recommended for driving, so cat 3 is probably as much as we aviators would need, unless you’re working for theBritish Antarctic Survey, or maybe a Helsinki operator in the Alps.

Not everybody likes copper lenses, and Bigatmo have a greenish- grey HCNB (high contrast narrow band) option which we haven’t yet tried, but judging by the performance of the copper Alutra lens, we’d be surprised if it disappoints.

It may also be slightly more colour-neutral than the Alutra lens, which lends a pleasant rosy cast to proceedings and makes green tend ever so slightly to the emerald end of the scale. That said the copper lenses do that sort of thing and the colour perception, while slightly skewed, is never compromised – map reading, or interpreting multicoloured displays, is quite simply not a problem.

Cloud definition (particularly under an overcast!) is very good, though perhaps not quite as outstanding as with something like the Randolph Tan3 lenses, and the high-contrast effect does work with you when looking out for conflicting traffic. Head-down, instruments are easy to read and the transition from outside to inside view is easily managed.

So, they are indeed excellent performers, both optically and in terms of brightness protection. They are light, tough (titanium frames and NXT lens material, much stronger than, and optically superior to, polycarbonate) and good looking, and the range has enough variety and options to cover most preferences or eventualities. No compromises? Well, no obvious ones, at least that we’ve found. They aren’t cheap, but thay’re still considerably less than some of the sillier designer fashion brands, for genuinely first-rate performance. It puts them head to head with Serengetis, and they stand up to the comparison rather better than we’d expected. If you’re in the market for a truly superior pair of sunglasses, you need to keep an eye out for Bigatmo; they might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Bigatmo Strato, gunmetal titanium frame, Alutra copper photochromic lens. Available AFE and other specialist outlets.