Two very different follow focus systems for HD-DSLRs

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A follow focus is one of those bits of gear that a lot of people want but can’t afford. I use a Zacuto one for my DSLRs and my 35mm adaptor and it works superbly, but it’s not within the price range of the keen amateur, hobbyist, student or broke professional! So what do you do? Well you can always focus off the barrel of the lens. This is fine for a lot of handheld work and actuality but for narrative work and controlled focus pulls there is nothing better than a follow focus because you really want to take the hand off of the lens otherwise you introduce vibration into it and your focus pulls aren’t as steady or rarely as smooth. Both of these products were supplied to me as review samples.

First off is the incredibly cheap D-Focus V2, made by David Aldrich and distributed by Jag35. I first my Dave when I did the Joshua Tree short film on the GH1. He and the Jehu Garcia came along to hang out and I saw his V1 of the D-Focus. This V2 is a lot better than that one! Really nice guy and one of the new breed of entrepreneurs out there making really cheap accessories for this affordable cameras.

The key thing about this follow focus rather than the other one I am reviewing in this article is it’s use of industry standard parts. 15mm rods, standard 32 pitch gears…so it will work with your other gear. Generally follow focuses need to be mounted to the camera using a rod system. I still recommend rods as they are the easiest way to mount a follow focus and can be used for a matte box and other stuff but Dave has come up with a budget DSLR plate for $50. So couple that with the price of the $120 follow focus and you really have a budget set up here…and it works.

Unfortunately that’s not all you need, with a gear based system you need…lens gears…until now Dave was using Redrock ones, but he and Jag35 have come up with their own lens gears and they are again dirt cheap! Way cheaper than the old Redrock ones they used to recommend. Redrock ones are $160 for 3 lens gears. The Jag35/ D-Focus ones are $30 dollars each. The great thing about these gears is that they are adjustable for difference lens barrel diameters. When buying a Redrock one you buy one for the size of the lens. What Jag35 and D-Focus have cleverly done using screws is made the diameters adjustable with 4 different size screws that attach to the inner part of the lens gear changing the size of the lens gear. Theoretically these gears should be usable with other follow focuses. You can just buy one and switch between lenses but it’s not worth the hassle. At this price buy one for each lens. Taking it off and changing size is not super fast so best to leave them on…also even if you aren’t using a follow focus having the gears on help you focus manual easier too.

There are 4 different size screws, here are 3 of them!

Bare gear before screws are added

Gear with screws on
Lens gear with screws on

The DSLR plate

The DSLR plate works fine. It’s nowhere near as good as a proper rail system but it’s a lot lighter and a lot cheaper. When you want to move the D-Focus into a different position for a different lens using rods you just slide it along, with the plate it’s a little bit more fiddly, undoing a bolt, moving part of it, lining it up and then tighten down. As I said, not as good as rails but a great cheap alternative.

Underside of plate

The design of the follow focus wheel is nice and chunky, it has the optional (but essential) marking disc on it above. It also takes standard follow focus cranks and whips, am sure these guys will be bringing out their own one soon too.

It’s a really affordable piece of kit, way cheaper than anything else out there and the huge advantage of it using standard sized gear means you can use it with other gears, other follow focus etc…

It works pretty good. It’s not perfect and I wouldn’t expect it to be for the price. The follow focus system I use is close to about 8 times the price but has taken a lot of beating from me day in, day out and is utterly smooth with zero play. I found this one to have a little bit of play in it and not as silky smooth as I would like and as everything is exposed I would treat it gently. I wouldn’t call it a pro piece of gear as I don’t think it could take the daily punishment pro gear is put through.

So of course it’s going to have downsides but if you want a follow focus and are on a budget there is nothing that comes close to the D-Focus V2.

I am going to give it the following marks out of 10.

Build quality: 6.5 Compromises have be made to keep the price point low

Ease of use: 7 A bit fiddly with the DSLR plate

Value for money: 10 Nothing else out there that come close to this

Overall: 8 People say you get what you pay for, well I think you are getting a lot more than you pay for with this. It’s an absolute bargain. Will I switch from my expensive follow focus for this? No. But For anyone starting out this is a terrific way to get into the great habit of using a follow focus the professional way. Oh, one more thing. There is nothing stopping you using this with a depth of field adaptor like the Letus or Jag35.

Here a couple of helpful set up videos from David.

Next up is the IDC run and gun kit from IDC photography

I saw someone with this when I was down in Venice Beach and it really intrigued me, then I saw that Rick McCallum from Lucasfilm has one so I had a play with it and liked it. I contacted IDC and they kindly supplied a review sample of the 7D and 5DmkII version (there are slight differences so make sure you order the right one).

First off this is not a traditional follow focus by any means. It doesn’t use gears…it uses a modified skateboard wheel!

Again using a plate similar to the D-Focus DSLR plate it attaches to the bottom of you camera and the wheel pushes hard into the lens focus and you simply turn the wheel to focus. That’s it really! It works really well with my Canon lenses which have loose focus barrels, I did try it on the same 50mm old Nikon lens I used for the D-Focus above and it struggled as the focus is a bit stiff. It relies entirely on friction to work and if there is too much resistance from the lens it will struggle.

The Run & Gun kit comes with a modified Hoodman Hoodloupe. Now I have reviewed to Hoodman before and said it was OK. Just OK as it had no proper way of mounting onto the camera other than bands and there was no magnification. I find it essential for any loupe to magnify the 5d/ 7d screen to get focus. The Z-Finder magnifies 3x to give you 100x screen in your eye. Yes it’s blowing up pixels but it makes focusing a hell of a lot easier. This Hoodman does not do that. No magnification, just a macro lens. So yes it works but I don’t recommend it. What IDC have very cleverly done is modify the Hoodman so it attaches to the plate and is held in place against the LCD screen firmly.

How the Hoodman is held on

It’s a peculiar beast that I dismissed upon first viewing, but after using it am surprised at just how usable it is. It makes focusing a lot easier than off the barrel as it takes vibration away from the barrel of the lens just like any follow focus. It doesn’t use gears so you save money on that and doesn’t use rods. It’s basically a follow focus device for people who have no desire for a pro follow focus device but want to be able to focus better and this does that superbly.

The Run & Gun kit costs $488 but I don’t recommend that, as I really am not a fan of that hoodloupe…although it is better than nothing, You need a loupe that magnifies, like the LCDVF or the Z-Finder V2. Buying the follow focus without the viewfinder costs $358 so the Hoodloupe is costing you $130. If you don’t have one as I said it’s better than nothing but I do recommend looking at alternatives. The Follow focus itself is pretty good and works a hell of a lot better than it should!

I am going to give it the following marks out of 10.

Build quality: 7.5 No complaints, seems pretty good, but without any long term testing it’s hard to mark this one.

Ease of use: 7.5 Piece of cake..no gears means less fiddly but not as accurate as a proper follow focus.

Value for money: 7.5 For what you get it’s pretty good, whether you go for the viewfinder option or not.

Overall: 7.5 It’s not a proper follow focus so if you are looking to get into proper pro gear this is not it. Look at the D-Focus. But, if you just want to be able to have the ability to focus nice and easily this is very good and gets the job done. The skateboard wheel is very soft so I can’t see who it can damage the lens in any way by pushing against it all the time.

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Comments

  1. WoW. i´ve searched for a cheaper solution of a follow focus system. and now you show one ! best thanks philip for this post !!

    greez
    maik

  2. Great post but I have a few questions regarding the lenses used with a follow focus. I’ve gotten the impression that some Canon lenses don’t actually zoom the same way a video lens does – in other words – a video camera lens will zoom smoothly from wide to close up while some still lenses are more “chunky” – they operate more like setting an f-stop with specific built-in “stops” along the focus range.

    Is this correct? If so I assume a follow-focus wouldn’t do much good to help you getting a smooth zoom in/out or rack focus, am I right? Can you clarify?

    1. Never seen a lens like that Steve. Every lens I have ever used is smooth. The aperture’s of still lenses are clunky. I would never do a zoom in with a still lens but rack focus is piece of cake with this

      1. Yes thank you very much, I realized hours after posting that I was confusing the zoom and the focus functions but it’s great to hear that neither has the problem I was fearing….I actually went to a camera shop this afternoon to find out first hand…but again, thank you VERY much for a very informative post and for offering an alternative to the Zacuto gear which is great but of course much more expensive.

        1. You are welcome Steve. I am trying to review as much budget gear as I can get my hands on as I know there are many people who can’t afford top end stuff. I am constantly searching out affordable stuff and trying to get review samples. Hoping to get affordable skater dolly to review soon.

          1. Thanks a ton for all the informative reviews Philip. You’re really making a difference for all the young aspiring film-makers out there. I’m real interested in seeing a review on a skater dolly, did you have any currently in mind for reviewing?

  3. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the reviews on these items. Will the IDC version work with all lenses? Its design would make me think that if the lens is longer (70-200mm f/2.8L) it wouldn’t reach the focus ring.

    Thanks again,

    Ron

  4. Thank You for the review Philip! I have been in the market for a FF system, and the D-Focus was the one that caught my eye big time, I may just go ahead and buy it!

  5. Great review! Totally helped me decide on the D|focus.Am I missing something or would it be difficult to mount the camera to a tripod with that on there though? I’d like to be able to use the follow focus for more than just handheld.

  6. Great review. The follow focus is pretty interesting, however I’m planning on getting a RedRockMicro follow focus in a bit. Hope someone checks out if these gears work with RedRockMicro follow focus… Finally some cheap gears!

  7. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this review Philip!

    One thing – I should mention that I do not build the DLSR mount, it comes from a guy in Finland named Hannu and the parts are part of his very configurable modular system. hangrip.com is his web site. The baseplate was designed for video cameras and not DSLRs but it seems to work good enough. I am working with Hannu to develop some more systems with his parts.

  8. Wow, that D-focus looks pretty swanky, and for that price I think I’ll buy it. Do you run any risk of scratching your lenses focus ring with those screws, are they rubber tipped or something?

    1. It seems to me from watching the second video that the simplest thing to avoid scratching the lens, and at the same time enable the use of (quick and easy) rubber band to tighten the gear, rather than the more complicated screw setup, would be too put a (second) nice wide rubber band around the focus ring before installing the gear. If any one tries it let us know if it works out.
      Tony

  9. Another option is the indifocus pro 20.

    It was originally designed for the Canon HV range and therefore you need standard 15mm rods, but I think using a rod system is a good idea anyway because it allows you to use many other things like matte boxes etc…

    I picked one up second hand for $100 with two flexible lens gears. It has a little bit of play but is very usable.

  10. Yikes, thanks for the review Philip but I’ll be staying away from these…

    Will be buying an Arri MFF-1 and a Chrosziel LWS baseplate/rails system this week. With an extensive background as a 1st AC I know how important pulling focus is, especially with lenses that are not designed for it (still camera lenses). For me it’s worth the investment, but I know a lot of people are on a budget.

    Cheers.

    1. Absolutely Adam. Neither are things I would use professionally. I love my Zacuto one and it’s silky smooth with the best gear system around but it costs more than many people afford and a cheap follow focus is better than none! Good thing about the D-Focus is you can use it as a stepping stone…

    1. I would love to have tested it out but the problem is it would require me to buy it and the only stuff I buy to test is stuff I need myself. I emailed indifocus twice and never had a reply which is a shame as their product looks good and I like their little cheap slider which i bought.

    2. Kevin – I believe you also need a set of rails with the indifocus, putting a working package well over $150.

  11. thanks for this, Philip! Finally, someone coming out with reasonable priced follow focus accessories, looking at all the other stuff out there, I just can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on a few aluminum sticks and plastic parts.

  12. Would the D Focus work with the Zacuto Tactical Philip? We just purchased a Tactical and I would love a follow focus but Zacutos is too expensive. We are looking at the Redrock Eyespy as well because it has the follow focus and while designed for shoulder mounting it can also go onto sticks.

    WOuld love your thoughts.

    Mike

  13. Phil: any chance you can check out the iDC FF outside after a couple of hours in winter temperatures, will the cold affect the friction between the lens barrel and skateboard wheel?

  14. I’d have to say your reviews are spot on with both of these products. I especially have loved my D|focus unit. I tracked it done after you had mentioned it in GH1 post earlier last year. In fact I’ve become unable function with it and was even frustrated recently when working with a second camera with no follow focus and so decided to purchase another D|focus unit. Was super excited to see V2 finally here!

    Another great thing with the D|focus is at the cost and the modularity of the thing its easy to play around with making your own accessories. I made my own base plate for simple rods-free shooting and recently made a remote controlled servo with an extra gear I purchased from Dave that attaches to the D|focus’ mount in place of the gearbox so that an assistant can focus remotely when I’m doing steadicam work.

    As a former machinist I was thinking of making this gear myself a year or so ago, then I found the D|focus and at its price couldn’t justify the time investment.

  15. Awesome review Phillip! Since you seem to have a knack for finding great budget gear, is there anything else out there as a cheapter alternative to the Zactuo Gorilla kits? (rapid fire, quick draw,etc.) Z-Finder is worth its weight in gold but still need more stabilization.

    Can you point me (us) in any direction?

    Cheers mate

  16. Great review, and thanks for doing such an effort for the community! Big fan of your works as well! 😀 Keep up the good work 🙂

  17. Call me “a stick in the mud” if you like but the whole contraption
    looks very Heath Robinson to me. I thought the whole beauty of HDSLR cameras was in their simplicity of use

    1. They really aren’t simple to use, that’s why so many companies are making accessories for them to make them more like video cameras in operation

  18. Great review Philip,
    Since purchasing my 7D, I’ve been slowly acquiring accessories to make it a great camera to use for HD Video. So far I have purchased the Z-Finder V2 and I am loving the improvement in focusing, but was still searching for a decently priced follow focus. After seeing this review I think the D-focus V2 tops my list. Thanks again.
    BTW are you planning to do one of your meetups/masterclasses in Miami this year? If so I would love to attend.
    Kudos again for being such a great advocate for HDSLRs!

  19. Do these follow focus units work with the cheaper lenses such as the Canon 50mm F 1.8, where there is not much of a focus ring to work with except that little tiny sliver on the end?

  20. is it possible to use the skateboard wheel follow focus together with the new Zacuto z finder pro instead than the hoodman loupe?

    cheers,

    Walter

  21. Philip, Thanks so much for putting together such a great site. I just picked up a T2i and have the Hoodman. In Live View on the T2i you can use the magnify button to enlarge the live view either 5x or 10x. Using the Hoodman would allow for sharper focusing with either 5x or 10x selected. Pressing the button a third time will toggle back to normal view.

    Cheers

    Joe Pitz

  22. Philip, Thanks for the information. I just order the V3, gears and a base plate from Jag35. Now I’m just praying they can have the overwhelming demand met and I get my equipment in time for my shoot in Oct. Fingers crossed. I do have a question about what your recommendation is for viewing. I have a 7D and of course the LCD goes out if I output using HDMI. I’m on the fence about whether it would be better to go through the expense of buying the HDMI splitter, two montiors, rig them and use a 1st AC; OR, I buy a z-finder and pull focus myself. Do you have any recommendations on this? Being the camera operator is new to me but there is a learning curve to this camera, so needs must when the devil drives. Thanks for all your help! You deserve a drink on us all!

  23. Philip, do the Jag35/DFocus gears do any damage to the lens with those screws digging into the lens? I use primarily Zeiss lenses if that makes a difference. Thanks.

  24. I’d recommend taking a look at the Follow Focus Units sold at http://www.fastforwardtime.co.uk. They have a great range of Follow Focus Parts including gears, speed cranks and whips plus they’re cheapest Follow Focus starts at just £80 and I love it!