We all know skateboarders are resistant to change, and that’s perhaps most easily seen by our camera choices. Most skate videographers still live and breathe by the HPX170, a camera released in 2008, and are left to fight over a lens that is so scarce they regularly go for upwards of $10,000 online.
That lens is the Century Optics Xtreme Fisheye, the favorite fisheye of HPX users, i.e. the Strobeck setup. Unless you are sitting on an extra car downpayment or backed by rich parents, this lens is unobtainable. If, and we stress IF, you can afford a lens, it’s still heavily prone to dings, scratches, and cracks, potentially sending that briefcase of cash down the drain.
This leads us to Trevor Dare, a filmmaker whose recent endeavor is rebuffing, refurbishing, and saving scratched Xtreme lenses. While the process is somewhat secret, we wanted to pick the brain of this fisheye doctor and try to figure out the future of this popular lens.
For those who don’t know, could you start by telling people what an Xtreme Fisheye is?
It’s like a ginormous target for skateboards to hit. [laughs]
[Laughs] OK, and the technical version?
It’s just a fisheye that is fitted for 16:9 video.
Who is responsible for making the lens popular in your opinion?
I would say the likes of Bill Strobeck and Greg Hunt.
What makes the fisheye so good or coveted?
I think this fisheye worked perfectly for the HD aspect ratio 16×9 that everything was switching to at the time. I don’t think it was coveted at first – it took someone that had the credibility to make something great before it started being coveted by others. At some point a switch will happen again. Just waiting on the right person to lead it.
Who do you think is the best fisheye filmer today?
Sirus Gahan. Easy.
How did it become so expensive, like $10,000 expensive?
I remember when I was first looking into them the price was around $2700-$3200 and this was in 2010. I actually found my original receipt from when I first bought mine in 2011. Purchased for $2699 lol it’s crazy to think about. Then once they announced the discontinuing of the lens, is when you saw a price spike. At first it wasn’t too crazy as you see in today’s prices. I’d see them between $4000-6000. Now you see people trying to sell for $10,000 plus.
It became expensive because people got greedy once they stopped the production of the lens. I think partially that was due to COVID, but yeah, it’s gotten kind of crazy.
I own two Xtremes, but I wouldn’t use that type of money to buy one now. You can get cheaper ones that have flaws.
How many mint Xtreme fisheyes do you think are out there?
There are probably less than 50 mint ones out there. Maybe like 30? I feel like there are so many filmmakers out there who have them, but they may not be mint or they’re scratched, and people think that they’re not usable anymore because of that.
How did you figure out how to start refurbishing the lenses?
It all came to fruition from my friend Spud. I had a lens that was already scratched sitting on my desk. I was using it like an ashtray or incense burner. Spud thought it was possible to get the scratch out, so I gave him the one that was sitting there. He tried some stuff but it didn’t really work.
I asked for it back and thought, “Well, I’m just going to give it a shot.” It was already completely fucked. I was like, “If anything happens, whatever, it’s been sitting on my desk since 2015.”
What goes into the process?
I would say it’s kind of a secret. It’s one of the things I don’t want to give away too much because I don’t want to be responsible for people messing up their own lenses. There was definitely a learning curve, like the first two were learning curves.
“Yeah, definitely don’t try it at home unless you are doing your own research.”
Yeah, so you’re mitigating risk. You’re giving me the, “Don’t try this at home, kids?”
Yeah, definitely don’t try it at home unless you are doing your own research.
How much time can a single lens take to refurbish?
It depends because glass is a very delicate thing. You can’t really heat up the glass too much in one sitting. Maybe like, eight to ten hours, but I’ve finished a lens within a day. It’s all hands-on. The only part that I don’t have to be present for is when it’s cooling down.
I don’t know if you saw Ryan Lee’s clips in the Spitfire edit, but one of the lenses that I was working on was similar to that. It’s taken me maybe a week, not straight, but like a week in total. I’ll work for like four to eight hours per day.
How much do you charge for something like this?
I found this recoating place and got it down to what they are charging for their recoating process and repainting process. That’s kind of what I’m basing it on because it’s pretty similar, but I feel like my job is definitely a big stressor, like I have more of a stressful time doing the polishing of it.
Do you ever give a homie discount or are you pretty cutthroat about your price?
I’ve given one discount, but it’s because they had given me two other lenses to do, so I was like, okay, I’ll give you a discount on this one.
What does your setup look like?
I have this cabinet that keeps everything organized, like people’s lenses and stuff. At the moment I’ve been working on my kitchen counter next to the sink.
Do you make eggs in the morning with Xtreme lenses on the side?
[Laughs] I do the eggs before the Xtremes.
Is there ever a lens that was so scratched or damaged that you turned the job down?
If the lens is chipped or pitted in a certain way that I feel like it would have the potential to crack, then I will turn it down. There’s only been one so far and a truck bolt had hit the lens so it was a deeper hole. I didn’t want to take the risk of messing up their lens.
Does your refurbishing process affect image quality at all?
I have not seen any sort of image quality go down or any sort of weird distortion or anything like that. Everything looks normal.
I once heard a rumor that some dude replicated a limited number of Xtreme fisheyes, and he sold them to all the big shoe companies. Have you ever gotten an Xtreme that didn’t look like the other ones?
I’ve seen different paintings on the back, either darker or lighter. I don’t know if it’s from Century, like if they used a different paint at the time or if it’s from a different year that they made them. I have no clue, but that’s the only thing that I’ve seen different.
“I have not seen any sort of image quality go down or any sort of weird distortion or anything like that.”
Do you think there’s any truth or possibility of Century Optics ever reissuing this lens?
I’ve heard in the past, like people coming together and getting money together to get them to produce it again. I don’t know where they are in the process, but I think there will be a point where they do reissue a limited amount of these lenses.
Would you buy one?
Would I? Depends on the price. I would like another backup, but I also feel like I can buy a scratched one for cheap and just fix it myself.
You’re trying to keep the future of the Xtreme alive for as long as possible, but through your journey as a filmmaker would you ever move on to a new camera or fisheye?
I feel like there will be a point where it will shift, but until that happens I’m going to continue to use the Xtreme and the HPX. I do think that this setup will be around for a while longer.
Why do you think it’s important for you to do what you do?
It helps the people out who have a scratched lens and can’t afford a new mint one.
If you did go public with your company, what would you name it?
I don’t know, let me think on that one. The Fishy Fixer.
What would be the tagline of your business if you drove around in a van? You know how there’s always a quote? For example, “John’s Window Inc., if we leave a streak, we’ll be back next week.”
You know Tadashi? [plastic lens protector] Those things are great, but I was thinking, “Tadashi who? Let me polish it brand new!”
I got one for you.
Let’s hear it.
“If your lens has wear, better call Dare!”
Damn, that one’s pretty good.
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