Cinematography Mailing List - CML

The Frazier Lens

Hi, anyone used this - I had a look at it at Panavision Woodland Hills recently, and although the maximum aperture is slow (7.1) it looks like an interesting piece of kit. Basically a periscope type lens with the business end orientable in two axes, built in rotation(manual or motorised) of the image, and supplied with various perspective control/shift lenses from different manufacturers (Nikon, Tokina etc).

Any observations?

Chris Plevin

The optical and mechanical concept of this lens system was previously conceived and fabricated by Bob Netmann, now with Mathews Electronics. He had nothing to do with the manufacture of the Frazier System. He was a partner in Continental Camera at the time. He now works with Mathews. He in an inventor that created the Continental Camera helicopter mount, the Mathews CamRemote, and both the Astrovision and Vectorvision aerial camera systems that shoot from Lear Jets.

Bob's version is called the "Pitching Lens System" It predates the Fraiser Lens System by more than 15 years. It has a relay lens tube, and an articulating front lens mount that can tilt through 180 degrees. The front lens mount can accept a wide variety of both still lenses and motion picture lenses. The image can be rolled through 360 degrees.

They have been available for rent, first through Continental Camera, and now through Mathews Electronics, 2021 Lincoln Street, Burbank, CA 91504, (818) 843-0969.

I'm sure Bob has been watching all this and wonders, "What's all the fuss?"

Bill Bennett

I'm using one at the moment on an Intel commercial. For the first time we actually did notice an increase in depth of field, besides that gained by the fact that the taking lens is effectively widened - 17mm = 12mm. I was checking out the system with the 50mm and realized that the door way I was looking through was very sharp, along with the background, which was very close to infinity on the focus scale. And that was wide open - 7.1 <g>. It does seem to defy physics. Someone pointed out that Oxford Scientific has had such a set up for quite awhile, although Panavision has some patents pending apparently.

We're using it to get a dogs POV, plus some interesting and quick funny/odd angles.


When something is repackaged and heralded as the latest thing with a fanfare of trumpets, people who don't know of it's previous incarnations sit up. Although the Continental system has been here for some time, it has tended to remain in the special fx/commercials domain, and also comes under the headings of expensive and time consuming. The PV system comes out in one box and is a little more user friendly. I don't know about the economics. Still anything that expands the repertoire, or widens access to a particular technique isn't a bad thing; apart of course for the fact that everyone tends to jump on the bandwagon at once, as per some previous conversations here and elsewhere!

Chris Plevin

The Frazier lens is suppose to have the added benefit of extended depth of field.

On my Intel commercial last week we "suddenly" saw this extended depth. Seems to defy physics.

OTH, someone mentioned that that part of the Frazier lens system might have been already in use in some form my Oxford Scientific?

I wish Panavision would step up and comment on this ...


I wonder about the supposedly magical depth of field on the Frazier lens system. I've worked with it on a wide-angle-comedy commercial (kind of a specialty of mine) and while it was impressive, as we used it it seemed pretty much what I'd expect from a 14 or 16mm lens at T8--a territory I am very familiar with. Perhaps what is different about it is being able to put the lens right up close to things so easily--so you see very close foreground objects which are pretty sharp. I see the same thing when I rack my CF 16 Zeiss up way close....sorry if you're tired of hearing about that. Also, the system requirement of T7 may cause people to light to a deeper stop than they're used to on interiors, so they see more d.o.f. than they expect.

On the job where I used it I quizzed a Panavision rep and he said that there was nothing magical going on with the depth of field, for what that's worth. Their literature does seem to promise some special quality, but they also say it really starts to happen at T11 or 16. Well, OBVIOUSLY things are going to be pretty sharp there.

I think the great thing about the Frazier is the malleability of the lens position: you can get it right in there, far away from the camera body, then rotate the image however you want to level or dutch it. It is WAY head and shoulders above any other periscope or wand system with these features...and yes, this is an advantage over my CF Zeisses, too...dammit. OTOH for executing moves it is not so good. With that long tube you are WAY off the camera's nodal point. When you tilt, you have a mini 'crane move'--but it's as if the crane operator does the move and the camera operator's tilt is locked. Same thing applies to panning...there is no backpanning, so you can approach and go past things, but can't approach and go past them and hold them in frame. For some moves this will be fine, for others not. In theory you could still do a boom or dolly move, then pan or tilt on your head to compensate, but being that far off the nodal point I think the whiplash would kill you.

The Kenworthy snorkel does not have this limitation...but we are talking probably an order of magnitude in terms of budget, which is itself kind of a conversation-stopper.

One other small caveat about the Frazier system is that while the adapted Nikon, Canon, and Tokina (!) lenses seem optically okay (for TV anyway), they are not entirely innocent of flare and some have pretty big front elements.

So while you've got your lens hidden in some neat spot right up close IN the scene, better allow room for your grip brothers to cut the light off that lens front or you may be living with a flare or a milked-out shot.

Alan Thatcher

I felt the same way about the Frazier on the first couple of shoots that I used it on (as the AC). But on this last job I discovered while prepping that when I put the 50mm on and looked through a doorway a few feet away, everything was pretty darn sharp from the doorway all the way across the prep room a Panavision Hollywood. Wide open - yah I know - T7. It actually seemed more impressive with the longer lenses then the wide ones?

If the depth of field thing is true, Panavision needs to do a crash course with its employees. It does seem most of them are tired of the depth of field questions and don't believe it themselves. <s>


Here are some answers and comments from the inventor of the Frazier lens.

1. First and foremost I refer to the comment from Bill Bennett. Let's put to rest once and for all any false claim that THIS lens system was 'conceived and fabricated' by anyone else. Its design is nothing like the design of the Netman (Kenworth snorkel) . The Frazier system's built in motorised image rotator is not offered in the Netman system. The two-axis swivel at the front of the lens is not offered in the Netman system. The Frazier system does not require a specialist operator and 300lb of rig to operate it. It's a fraction of the cost and very cameraman friendly. The lens can be swiveled in mere seconds ready for a different shot ; you can literally go from a horizontal to a vertical shot in less than a minute, and an underslung shot to an overhead shot in mere seconds. It is not a snorkel as such, but quickly converts to a snorkel if so desired, by swiveling the tip.

2. Regarding the extended depth of focus, Mako's comment on this page ("seems to defy physics") reflects what was told to me by a physicist when I was doing my first research on the Frazier lens fifteen years ago. He said that the extended depth of field I sought was an "optical impossibility " . Not being an optics specialist, I went ahead and apparently achieved the impossible. In science there are only temporary answers. We devise 'laws of nature' to comfort our egos, and they need constant revision.

3. Still on depth of field, as with any lens if you want depth you must stop down. But this lens achieves greater depth at any given stop. Let us assume that, using the widest possible lens, the desired magnification of the foreground object has been established, and, using a suitable f-stop, you have achieved sharp focus from that object to infinity. But - you are unhappy with the wide angle perspective. By maintaining the close-up object magnification with any other of the lenses in the kit, you will achieve exactly the same sharp focus from close-up to infinity.

4. As a bonus, in this system the distortion usually associated with wide angle lenses is almost zero, thus allowing new and unusual close-up perspectives. And it takes over where other lenses leave off, as it now includes that lost area from minimum focus to the front element of the lens.

5. By the way, motorised versions are on the drawing board, with both swivel axes being linked to the image rotator to maintain a level horizon.

6. My demonstration video is available from Panavision, but I shall be happy to answer any specific queries on this page.

Jim Frazier Sydney, Australia

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