Look Sharp with the Gift of a Follow Focus System

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Shallow depth of field, large-format sensors, longer lenses, moving subject and camera positions—all these factors present a challenge when keeping your video shot in focus. “But my camcorder, DSLR, or mirrorless camera now has touch focus and autofocus,” you say? While such systems continue to improve, they do not provide the fine-tuned, immediate control that you get using a dedicated follow focus system. Consider that, when touch focusing, you probably grasp your camera with only one hand to free the other for touching the screen and you’ll see how your image stability is jeopardized. And while some cameras offer a choice of focusing speeds, it’s quicker and easier to adjust on the fly to a subject’s sudden change in speed and/or distance with a mechanical focus control.

Hands-On Follow Focus
Hands-On Follow Focus

Using a follow focus system can also help you get smoother, more precise focus, whether you’re working alone or can hand off that exacting task to your 1st A.C. (actually called the “focus puller” in Brit-speak). Follow focus systems come in two styles: hands-on systems with a knob-driven gear and wireless systems that use a handheld controller, enabling you to pull focus from a distance. Both styles use a gear to mesh with your lens gear; .08 mod gears are standard for the majority of cine-style lenses. If you’re using still photo or other non cine-style lenses, some systems can be used with add-on gear “belts” like the Wide Open Camera Universal Lens Gear and the Zacuto ZipGear.

Wireless Follow Focus
Wireless Follow Focus

Both hands-on and wireless systems require rod support as part of your camera rig—dual rods for hands-on and a single rod for wireless motor units. For hands-on systems, look for a unit that matches the rod standard you already have: 15mm LWS (lightweight system), 19mm studio, or the less common 15mm studio standard. For wireless systems you only need to match to the rod size you may already have, not the dual rod standard. Note that some 19mm rod-based motor brackets can be adapted for 15mm use with a bushing. Single-knob hands-on units are perfect for operators who pull their own focus while dual-sided systems offer a detachable second knob for use by an A.C.

Listed in “Yeah, I can get one of those now!” to “I just got booked for a six-month series and this will be a great tax write-off!” order (within each type), here are some popular follow focus choices.

Hands-On

The Cavision RFD15BM Basic Follow Focus is a lightweight, basic 15mm LWS rod-based unit with a movable witness mark and a textured knob grip. The 15mm LWS Tilta FF-T03 15mm Follow Focus with Hard Stops features adjustable tension control and 0.8, 0.6 and 0.5, 0.6 MOD gears to accommodate a variety of lenses. Its two adjustable hard stops help to prevent overshooting a focus mark and enable quick resets for repeated takes.

Cavision RFD15BM Follow Focus
Tilta FF-T03 15mm Follow Focus

Designed for single operators, the Zacuto Z-Drive curves away from your lens to provide comfortable, shoulder-mounted use. This lightweight unit is designed without internal gears so it won’t develop play, can be used on either side of your rig, and mounts on a single 15mm rod.

Zacuto Z-Drive (with additional equipment)

The petite Redrock Micro microFollowFocus Black features backlash and drag adjustment for precise control, a contoured marking disc that’s easy to see from off-angles, adjustable hard stops, a gearbox that flips for use on either side of your camera, and an optional 2nd knob for dual-sided use. Made in the USA, the microFollowFocus Black is constructed of aluminum with a rubber handgrip.

Built to last, the durable yet lightweight ARRI Mini Follow Focus MFF-2 Cine Set is specifically designed for cine-style lenses with a 2:1 knob-to-gear ratio that’s perfect for use with large-barrel cine lenses. This modular MFF-2 set comes with standard and hard-stop knobs and can be used with optional 2-speed knob for maximum focus control. The included 43-tooth, 0.8 MOD gear is just one of more than 10 gears available to suit almost all lenses on the pro market. The MFF-2 also features direction reversing to maintain the normal focusing direction when using still lenses from Nikon and Leica.

Redrock Micro microFollowFocus Black
ARRI Mini MFF-2 Cine/Hard Stop

Wireless

Elfin, wee, petite—however you phrase it, the Tilta Nucleus-Nano Wireless Focus Control’s small size is perfect for use with gimbals or handheld rigs, especially when paired with a mirrorless or DSLR camera. This single15mm rod-based system has up to a 300' range and features a comfy rosewood grip on the controller, selectable A and B hard stops, auto-calibration, up to six hours of run time, and a motor powered via a micro-USB cable linked to your camera.

Tilta Nucleus-Nano

Also appearing in the featherweight category is ikan’s PDMOVIE Live Air Compact Wireless Lens Control. This battery-powered system mounts on a 15mm rod and offers lens calibration, a 33' range, up to six hours use, and a variable thumbwheel controller.

ikan PD MOVIE Live Air

While maintaining a small form, the Redrock Micro microRemote Wireless Focus uses a Basestation to receive signals from the controller and to provide enough torque power to drive almost any lens. This 15mm rod-based system features assignable hard stops, up to 270° of lens rotation, lens calibration, a tethered mode for locations where wireless use isn’t possible, and run/stop control for select cameras using an optional cable.

Choose the Teradek RT Single-Axis Super-Speed Wireless Control for quiet, lightning-fast operation in a range up to 5,000' with the option to later expand to a three-axis FIZ system (Focus, Iris, Zoom). This set includes one super-speed brushless motor, one controller with an OLED display, the Latitude MDR-M receivers, five lens-mapping disks plus a blank disk, an LP-E6 type battery and charger, cables, and more. It currently offers wireless run/stop for most cine-style cameras and provides control for RED cameras with additional cameras to be added in a future update. Its standard 0.8 MOD gear can be swapped out with optional gears, it mounts on either a 15 or 19mm rod, and uses daisy-chaining between motors to streamline your cable setup.

Redrock Micro microRemote
Teradek RT Single-Axis Super-Speed

Confidently dial-in your focus with the ARRI cforce Set for ALEXA Mini with the option to add iris and/or zoom control plus select ARRI camera controls. Designed to work directly with the ARRI ALEXA Mini or with other ARRI or third-party cameras with the separately available AMC-1 cforce Motor Controller, the cforce set uses a backlit focus knob and vibrating markers to help you focus under almost any lighting conditions. It includes one motor, one 0.8 MOD gear, a combo 15/19mm rod bracket, three batteries, five marked and one blank focus disks, a monitor bracket, and a hard-shell case. This pro favorite can be linked to two additional motors for complete FIZ (focus, iris, zoom) control.

ARRI cforce Set for ALEXA Mini

Look for additional follow focus options on the B&H Photo website or grab your favorite 1st A.C. or head into the B&H SuperStore in New York to check out an array of pro video gear in person.

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