follow focus

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It seem like every time I post a video stabilizer review, I often receive the same question - 'How can you adjust focus?'. Typically i'll just answer this question by replying with a text comment, but i'm sure it's still not very clear. Hopefully this article can help visualize a few ways focus can be achieved when a camera is balanced on a stabilizer, thrown on a video crane, or other device where adjusting the lens would be cumbersome or impossible.

One option to adjust focus (without physically touching the lens) can be by use of an electronic follow focus system. In the video below, Vimeo member Nicholas D shares how he's setup his camera on a SteddiePod Stabilizer with a Cinematics USB follow focus [Thanks Nick]. The USB systems will be limited, as they will only work with certain cameras (mostly Canon) and only with compatible auto focus lenses - not manual lenses.

Barber Tech SteddiePod
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Barber Tech SteddiePod
Cinematics USB Follow Focus
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Cinematics USB Follow Focus

An alternative could be to use dedicated Wired or Wireless electronic follow focus systems attached to the outside lens gear. The benefits to these systems is that they can be used with pretty much any lens that supports manual focus. The throw can be remapped for shorter or longer focus movements at the dial, and higher end systems allow to you store focus points. The full wireless systems are helpful when you need another person to manage focus so that the camera operator can move about freely.

If you plan to work with a Wireless Follow Focus, Camera Motion Research has announced the new Radian Pro kits that will send a Wireless HD Video stream via HDMI to a remote monitor. There are ways to achieve this through a DIY solution, but the Radian Pro claims to use a more commercial version transmitter / receiver that can transmit through a broader range of channels for longer distance, low latency, and clearer image. The Radian Pro is available in both a Unicast or MultiCast version (multiple video streams).

For myself, I may not use a WFF for every project, but I do use Wireless Video when operating on longer cranes/jibs or even just to share a feed for others to view (so they aren't hanging over your shoulder). Add a remote Pan/Tilt head to this combination, and you'll be able to man a camera from a distance away while focusing and zooming. Great when you have to leave a camera somewhere you can't be seen like on stage, or perhaps even at a church during a wedding, or in the middle of a racetrack.

Sorry for the lack of great examples, but hopefully this article is somewhat helpful and gives you ideas of what you can do with such tools. Remember that these are not limited to just these types of Stabilizers (a.k.a Steadicam). These are the same tools that can be used on those amazing Brushless Motor Camera Gimbal Stabilizers everyone has been recently obsessed about.

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find-price-button Camera Motion Research Radian Pro Wireless HD Video Kit via HDMI

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Here's a video from YouTube member Kicapiproduction showcasing one of Wondlan's new Wireless Follow Focus System products. The new WFF is designed into a single unit that contains an 5" 1200x800 resolution HDMI monitor [thanks Kicap].

According to the details of the video, the wireless focus system is rated to have wireless range of up to 100 meters, but the the wireless monitor is only rated for a 30-60 meter range. I'm not sure what's going on with the use of an external HDMI cable to the monitor. It seems like they just threw an HDMI monitor inside of a case along with one of their existing Wondlan Memonic Wireless Follow Focus system (found here).

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find-price-button Wondlan Memonic Wireless Follow Focus system

With more refinement i'm sure they can shrink the entire package down, keep all the circuitry internally, and actually make it one single unit. Looks like a cool system, but might be a bit early on the design right now. The unit isn't posted on their website yet, but i'll keep an eye open to how this new product develops.

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These little Blue Hand Held Video Stabilizers have been available for quite some time, but tracking down reviews on the item are still scarce. I often get questions about these particular stabilizers, but it's not something i've had the chance to play with in person, so there's not much information I can offer.

Cheap Blue Hand Held Video Stabilizer NanoMini Blue Cheap Stabilizer nano

This stabilizer collapses down to less than 10", with an adjustable X/Y top stage, and what appears to be a quick release plate, it looks pretty decent for a price less than $140 (includes free shipping). If anyone has any experience on these i'm sure other readers would like to know your feedback in the comments section. These are constantly rebranded, but you can find them via eBay (click here).

Blue Mini Nano StabilizerMini Blue Hand Held Stabilizer
find-price-button Blue Mini Nano Hand Held Video Stabilizer

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Years ago Intuit released a belt driven remote follow focus system (seen in video above). The product looked like an excellent idea, but the retail price listed for $3,999 US (seen here). Needless to say it didn't exactly fly off the shelves.

FFR900_GEARSOpteka FFR900 Motorized Follow Focus Remote
find-price-button Opteka FFR-900 DSLR Remote Motorized Follow Focus Zoom Control System

Opteka has revised this basic idea and now offers an FFR-900 Motorized Belt Driven Follow Focus System. The FFR-900 doesn't just offer one, but two motors that clamp to 15mm rails to control both focus and zoom on your DSLR lens. Rocker switches to control the motors are mounted to 15mm hand grips, and sensitivity (i'm guessing speed) of the system can be adjusted in a rear controller. The motorized FF is powered through standard Canon LP-E6 batteries (batteries and charger included).

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Opteka FFR-900 Rocker Switch Handles & Main Controller

From what I can tell, the motors can be controlled by the main controller, and the rocker switched handles don't need to be plugged in. This could be a handy solution for Steadicam work, but keep in mind that it's basic forward and reverse DC motors. This will work if you're moving around and your focus points continuously change, but unlike a real motorized follow focus system, you can't program multiple focus points in and jump back and forth which is ideal for stationary tripod shots.

While the Intuit version is sold for $3,999 the Opteka FFR-900 is sold for just $399 and is bundled with a modified CXS-300 shoulder support rig. What do you guys think? Is this a Hit or Miss? For additional information, the Opteka FFR-900 Remote Follow Focus system can be found via eBay (click here).
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find-price-button Opteka FFR-900 DSLR Remote Motorized Follow Focus Zoom Control System

For USA residents, the FFR-900 is also available via Amazon (found here).

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Here's a clever way to take advantage of the GB-R 15mm Rail kit that is typically used for the P&C GearBox. Carl Pendle modified this by adding a small quick release adapter to mount to his camera directly. It's an inexpensive way to add rails for supporting 15mm accessories with a minimal footprint. [Thanks Carl]

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find-price-button P&C GB-R 15mm Dual Rail Kit

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PhotographyandCinema.com has just added a pair of 8" Industry Standard 15mm Extension rails (rods) for $28.99 + Free shipping (domestic USA). The rails have both Male and Female threads so that they can be assembled to virtually any length for supporting additional accessories, longer lenses, or if you need the extra room for Matte boxes. These will match up perfectly to your Gearbox GB-2 or Prime Shoulder Rig.

15mm extension rails rods PNC rig

There are plenty of options for rails on the market, and I advise you to shop around, but for a pair of 8" 15mm rails with both Male and Female threads these prices are pretty darn good. Check it out at PhotographyandCinema.com (click here).

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find-price-button P&C 15mm Extension Rails with Male / Female Threads

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Out of the box Lainol commented about how much play there was to his new Kamerar Follow Focus. The amount of play he mentioned seemed too excessive, so I asked him to check the small allen bolt that holds the knob in place to make sure it was tightened down. After tightening up the screw, this solved his problem and Lainol generously created a video reference on how this procedure is done for us [Thanks Lainol].

Once you remove the marking disc on the FF, you can find a small hole that leads to a #1 allen screw. Tighten the sucker down, and you should be good to go. If you come across what might feel like play on the Kamerar Follow Focus, check to make sure it isn't just the knob sitting loose.

Kamerar Follow Focus FF-3
find-price-button Kamerar Follow Focus FF-3

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Wondlan released a new Wireless follow focus system for DSLR Video. Here you can find more photos and specific specs about the WFF for under $1600 dollars via eBay (click here). Yeah I know that's pretty expensive, but is it really a Wondlan Product? There's other sellers who offer the same unit for much cheaper.

Follow Focus Wondlan Wireless

The receiver looks quite beastly, but they state it has a range of 300 meters. The remote can start / stop video via Infrared (required for some Canon cameras) and you can also program up to 4 focus points. Asking price from the cheaper sellers still too expensive starts around $950 dollars but there isn't very many other options at this price point for video wireless follow focus systems. Find the new WFF through the eBay product page (click here).

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find-price-button Wondlan Wireless DSLR Video Follow Focus System

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If you have a tough time getting a follow focus setup on the GH2 with small prime lenses, here's a trick that Vimeo member Johnny Gadget Films uses [thanks John]. He uses silicone wrist bands (sometimes stacked) to increase the diameter of the focus lens.