I take a deep breath. Eye my target. Anticipate the movement. Hold steady. Ready my hand. And pull…. focus.
I’ll admit, some days are better than others. Documentary filmmaking can be unpredictable at the best of times. Surviving the 20 hour shoot days is enough of a struggle, worrying about how steady your hand is after seven cups of coffee should be the least of your worries. I have often found myself sitting in front of the Mac in the evening going over the day’s footage and cursing at every jitter the image made as my hand had touched the lens. There’s a reason why cinematography is an art form – and why I could never be a sharpshooter.
Even for the experienced it takes a delicate hand to pull or push focus without disturbing the image. Sure, I seemingly do it with ease when operating a 24mm lens but when I bump up to the 200mm I’m cooked. To continue to grow as a filmmaker – and improve the overall quality of my work – I had to invest in a follow focus system. It was the best way to exterminate the jitterbug from dancing on my lens.
I’m not going to try and hide it. I’ve shown favour towards Cinevate products in the past. The Atlas 10 Slider has been one of my favourite pieces of equipment for some time. I appreciated the rugged design combined with smooth action. Evidently, it’s trademark of more than just their mini dolly.
Constructed almost entirely from CNC’d aluminum, the Durus Follow Focus system has some meat to it. The Cinevate team from Thunder Bay, Ontario, started from scratch when creating their system, choosing to design and machine everything from the internal gears and bearings on up. The design is so tough that in an instructional video the demonstrator lifted their whole rig – camera, lens and all – from the follow focus system, spinning the unit to both alarm the audience and prove that even under undue stress the focus system won’t budge.
Size really is everything, at least in this case. The size of the adjustment wheel (if that’s what you want to call it) measured slightly bigger than others offered at a comparable price. I learned my lesson long ago when first studying gear ratios; the larger the gear (or in this case the adjustment wheel) the finer the adjustment it is able to make.
The marking ring isn’t exactly breakthrough technology, but I appreciate the magnetic mounts when snapping the ring off to clean and clear previous markers before returning it to its place. The marking mechanism can also be rotated 360 degrees to allow you to set your points at a spot that’s easy to see regardless of how you have the follow focus mounted, or the angle in which you’re viewing it from.
For those who are a lefty like me, the Durus system is thankfully fully adjustable and reversible – meaning you can still keep a gear-forward setup even if you want to switch it from the right to left side. This avoids any interference with your rig’s handles or matte box.
When I first purchased my shoulder rig and follow focus unit, I did it with a single shot in mind – as many of us do. I was a week from starting to shoot Unfinished Business and I knew I wanted to follow the players from the dressing room out and down the tunnel towards the ice. I would be working with subjects at three separate distances, not to mention the adjustment needed when trying to follow step for step with a moving subject. Although run-and-gunning by hand is always an option, I wanted to this shot to be perfectly executed. It was in a way my piece de resistance… alright, that might be stretching it.
Although I don’t have the scene isolated, you can see from the opening segment (at approximately the 5 minute mark onward) the shot turned out near perfectly. There’s not a whole lot of time to get overly giddy over the success while on site, but looking back now I feel a certain amount of satisfaction seeing how the plan came together.
Making the Cinevate Durus Follow Focus that much more desirable is the lifetime warranty. I don’t foresee there to be a need to repair the system, but if the time comes I’m comforted by Cinevate’s promise to back their product. Knowing that I will only need to purchase a single follow focus system even further justifies the modest MSRP of $1,254.98 (the way they come up with some of these numbers, I will never know – why not just make it 1,249.99?).
So if you find yourself over the next week or two cursing every time you see camera shake, perhaps it’s time you pick up a follow focus. And if you haven’t come to this point yet, just trust me on this one.