Jim Frazier: Frazier Lens Origin

From American Cinematographer, Seeing is Believing by Christopher Probst (February 1999)

"When I started shooting wildlife documentaries for the BBC," relates Frazier, "I didn't realize that I had immersed myself in a field that was so difficult. Not only was macro and micro photography a difficult area of cinematography, but my subjects were often completely unpredictable, which made it difficult to even keep them in focus! The photographic techniques used on those films often required a lot of special optical equipment, so I spent a lot of time devising equipment and unique apparatus...

...I have found myself lying on the ground for most of my career. I was always looking for unusual angles. But in filming those low angles, I wanted to move the camera away from my subjects. I wasn't content to look down at their world; I really wanted to see that world from their point of view. Toward that end, my first foray into optics literally involved gluing a mirror onto the end of a stick that was taped to a lens. Of course, the problem with that technique was that the insect would then go one way, and I'd pan the other!

To me, optics were absolutely essential to get me where I wanted to go. I literally pulled hundreds of lenses to pieces to get the elements out, and began playing with different combinations. My initial system of lens design consisted of a board with some modeling clay on it that I would stick the various lenses in while looking through with a viewfinder. I spent many months and countless thousands of hours knee-deep in optics.

By trial and error, I eventually came upon the system of optics that ultimately produced the Frazier lens. I'll never forget it the moment I came upon that [optical configuration]. I was doing what I normally did — swapping optics around — and then I suddenly saw what I was looking for. That was it! I literally did somersaults and had to look again. At that point, I knew that I was close to what I had envisioned."

- Jim Frazier, ACS

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