This paper describes a unique experimental set-up constructed for studies of lubricant behaviour in an operating rolling element bearing including in-situ quantitative measurements of film thickness in and around the element-raceway contact. The set-up is based on a deep groove ball bearing in which the outer race is made of sapphire to allow full optical access to the zone in which the rolling elements are loaded against it. This allows direct imaging of lubricant films under both steady-state and transient conditions and at contact pressures and rotational speeds representative of those present in real rolling element bearings. Optical interferometry is used to measure thin EHL films inside the ball-raceway contacts while a specific laser induced fluorescence approach, referred to as ratiometric fluorescence, is implemented to observe the lubricant distribution and quantify its thickness ahead of the ball-raceway contact. Results are presented to validate the accuracy of the method and to investigate the influence of bulk lubricant viscosity and bearing speed on contact film thickness, inlet starvation and lubricant distribution around the ball-raceway contact. To the best of our knowledge, the work described here is the first to directly measure lubricant distribution and EHL film thickness in a ball-raceway contact in an operating radial rolling bearing.