GBO Lenses: From Here to Infinity
CONSIDERED an optical impossibility when first released, the now well-proven Infinity lens technology optimised for CCTV applications is available in Australia from Pacific Communications. It’s a fitting conclusion to a development that began way back in the 1970s when Academy Award winning local cameraman Jim Frazier started fiddling with lens designs to improve wildlife films he was shooting with legendary presenter, David Attenborough. The issue for Frazier was depth of field. Traditional lens technology was inadequate and gave such a restricted depth of field that focusing on objects in the foreground rendered the background a blur. A born tinkerer, Frazier dreamed of a lens that could keep the entire scene in focus, regardless of the depth of field. And he wanted focus all the way to the edges of a scene. “Wildlife is very unforgiving,” explained Frazier. “There is no time to set up the camera and position the shot the way you want it. As well, with small subjects, such as insects and spiders, it’s very difficult to get both the subject and background in focus. I wanted it all in focus and I needed a versatile lens which would allow me to rapidly get the shots I wanted.”In the late ‘70s I consulted a CSIRO physicist who said that what I wanted was impossible. So I began tinkering myself and started getting the results I’d envisioned.”Over the next 10 years I kept rebuilding the lens and, with much trial and effort, formulated a lens with deep focus and a single swivel on the end. The optics to do this are very complex but I began to get positive results.”As well as talking to the CSIRO, Frazier also approached the Australian Export Market Development Grant board. He was refused funding. But Frazier said later, “I thought ‘there’s got to be a way – so I’ll just go home and tinker’.” The result was Infinity, a lens that offered set-and-forget focus and incorporated a swivel tip and built-in image rotator. “When you combine these features it opens up a whole new way of shooting,” Frazier explained. “That’s what got people excited.”Since the 1990s, Frazier’s Infinity Lens has gained massive recognition in cinematography for its depth of field with a huge number of films and commercials now shot using his technology. Early box office successes included films like Heat, Titanic and Jurassic Park.But it goes without saying, there are only so many movie cameras in the world, and Frazier and his subsequent business partners quickly saw there were major opportunities for Infinity in the video surveillance market where, same as in wildlife documentaries, CCTV apps demand full frame focus at varying depths of field. Even though I’d already heard of the Infinity lens it wasn’t until the Security 2010 exhibition in Sydney that I actually saw the new Global Bionics Optics Ltd. Infinity lens technology in the flesh. It took me by surprise. Lenses are constructed of metal and glass components and the better lenses employ more of both. Not Infinity. These lenses are amazingly compact.
“Over the next 10 years I kept rebuilding the lens and, with much trial and effort, formulated a lens with deep focus and a single swivel on the end. The optics to do this are very complex but I began to get positive results.”
There’s a good reason for the compact design. Hard work – lots of it. Serious R&D on CCTV versions of the technology kicked off about 5 years ago and the product was commercialised last September through the GBO brand. During the R&D process, Frazier’s original technology was redesigned by Gilles Mathieu, a French-based engineer, mathematician and optical designer who is in charge of development at GBO. Mathieu’s expertise in optical design was instrumental in the development of compact the company’s Infinity lenses. I had a chat with GBO’s president and CEO, Russell Bandy at Security 2010 and he explained that the new GBO Infinity lenses significantly improve the performance of any video surveillance camera – analogue or megapixel. “Our product is a major enhancement of a simple but critical component of any video surveillance solution,” explains Bandy. “The development of cameras over the past several years has been staggering and so have performance expectations. But people haven’t seen the results they were expecting from their new cameras because when planning their systems they don’t think of all the components. “People choose megapixel cameras because they have HD TVs, then they look at high quality recorders, they think about compression and they look at servers and workstations and the VMS components of the system,” he says. “But they spend a nanosecond thinking about the lenses they are going to be installing on their expensive and high tech new cameras and the result is that their systems does not give them the performance they were expecting because the system components are not given the information they need by the cameras. According to Bandy, the GBO Infinity lens simply provides more useful information to the system through an innovative way of using traditional glass elements inside a steel barrel. “There are no electronics, there’s no software – it’s purely an optical solution yet it defies conventional wisdom that depth of field is a mathematical equation – a function of the focal length of the lens and the opening of the aperture that decrees potential depth of field regardless of who makes the lens. “This was believed for years and years. The think was that there was no way to change that formula so why bother even trying? But Infinity lens inventor Jim Frazier didn’t want to be constrained by the status quo so he kept on trying different ways of aligning the glass elements until he came up with something that worked. There are a number of key benefits to be gained from using an Infinity lens. As Bandy explains, every traditional lens has a sweet spot. “You can focus a lens, here, or here or there – but when you choose an area as your sweet spot you are going to get a picture that has significant parts that are not crisp enough to be useful – you won’t see faces or license plates or details,” he says. “But with the GBO lens as you progress through the image from front to back the detail is clear all the way to the back of the scene as well as to the edges of the image. Most lenses do better in the centre of the image than at the edges but with Infinity the images are sharp all the way across.” As Bandy discusses the technology I look closer, comparing the 2 camera views – one with a traditional lens and one with an Infinity lens and yes, the Infinity lens is sharper all the way to the edges. The rendition of colour seems to be better with the Infinity lens, too. “What Infinity is offering is a solution that provides more useful information and that makes the system perform better and provides more justification for the security spend because users can do more with the higher quality of images they get from Infinity,” Bandy says. “All our lenses are megapixel rated so they can work with conventional analogue and give a better result but as people go into megapixel cameras they offer great enhancements to performance from 1 to 10 or more MP. You need good lens performance with MP to justify the spend. “There’s a complete GBO range – from a 3.5mm wide angle to an 86mm telephoto lens with multiple stops, and an auto iris version as well – all offering a massive depth of field and great image quality for C and CS mount cameras.” Throughout the demo I am continually impressed with the tiny size of these lenses. According to Bandy, the driver of their small size was recognition of the need to squeeze them into ubiquitous mini-domes. To get Infinity into mini domes meant miniaturising lenses. “Our first lenses were larger than ordinary lenses but after listening to the feedback from customers we realised we needed to get the form factor down below standard to increase our application potential. Local distributionInfinity lenses were at ASIAL a year or so ago as a pre-production model and Bandy says in the interim Pacific Communications saw the potential of the technology and signed on to carry the entire GBO product range. It’s a coup for Pacific Communications, with its big range of Arecont megapixel cameras, Panasonic SD5s and SmartHD cameras, as well as DVTel and Axis Communications cameras. Taken as a whole, Pacific Communications’ camera range is unprecedented and GBO Infinity enhances it all. “Pacific Communications’ enthusiasm makes them a great partner to work with, a partner with complete coverage in Australia and NZ,” says Bandy. “Importantly, Pacific Communication carries the components to make a complete system and they are experts in this area so it is a really solid fit for us – Pacific Communications give us great support. It’s nice to have a foothold in our own backyard.”“Around the world we are partnering with resellers and technology partners, with license plate and face recognition developers being especially interested. Analytics people want the highest quality images they can get their hands on. Our lens gives these people a great starting point. Bandy says GBO wants Infinity lenses to become a standard and its capabilities suggest that’s not an unrealistic hope. “The fact is that end users want to know what’s going on in scenes and our lens covers near, mid-range and background,” says Bandy. “Consider a distribution centre or a warehouse. A camera with a standard lens might be focused on a location where there are high value goods but if these are moved, or if an incident takes place elsewhere in a scene – where do you focus the camera? “End users don’t reposition cameras to take into account changing target areas – in the event of an incident they will wonder why images are worse in the back left corner than they are front and centre.” Bandy sees a big future for GBO in mobile applications thanks to their infinitely variable field of view and huge depth of field. “You never know what will be happening in a scene viewed by a mobile camera so how do you set up a standard lens? There must be comprises. In comparison, the GBO lens takes care of near and far elements of a scene thanks to superior depth of field.” The capabilities of the lens are impressive. With the wide angle lenses you can get your face right in the way of the lens and still be in clear focus. Bandy says that with the telephoto lenses you need to be 4-5 metres away but that is excellent performance for any telephoto unit. Meanwhile, Bandy says the cost of the GBO lenses is comparable to other quality megapixel lenses. “We are going to rapid growth in the business and we think we could charge more. The industry consensus is that our lenses perform as well as lenses that cost twice as much and we compare favourably to brand name lenses that cost much more.” “The product has a rich history and its success is based on its unique functionality,” says Bandy. “Our team was able to optimise the original design. Edge to edge quality takes great design. “We are now looking at 3D CCTV lenses, and industrial and defence applications with the same core technology but with different designs – including superior lenses for PDA-based cameras. “Jim Frazier is a visionary and his vision has been improved by Gilles Mathieu and our engineering team. GBO now has a very well received technology that is capable of significantly increasing the capability of video surveillance solutions. “Combine this with an excellent distributor in Pacific Communications and we are very confident in GBO Infinity’s success in the Australian market.”