I received the new manual Manfrotto Follow Focus MVA511FF to test out in a professional filming situation. I had the opportunity of using it in various shoots (outdoors and in the studio) which allowed me to evaluate its different special features.
Here below, you can find a few lines on my opinion of this equipment; well-known to first assistants and designed make focus tracking easier and more precise.
A little reminder for those of you who don’t know what a follow focus is:
A Follow Focus is a mechanical or electronic system, depending on the model, that makes the focus tracking process easier and more precise.
For reasons of clarity, I thought it useful to divide my report into two separate parts
1. Mounting on the kit or camera rig
– The Follow Focus attachment system (lower support rod bridge) is designed for all kits or rigs equipped with 15mm rods with a distance of 60mm. This has become the standard system for the new generation of filmmakers who use modern light, compact cameras.
– Once the rods are inserted into the support and the Follow Focus is fixed in line with the ring of the focus lens, you have to secure the clamp to lock the system in place on the camera.
Compared to many lower range models, which don’t have an adequate clamping system, it must be pointed out that this crucial aspect of locking the system in place on the rods is very effective and well-designed on the Manfrotto model.
– As well as a lower bridge, this Follow Focus also has an upper slide bridge which means it can be adapted to fit many different lens ranges, whatever their diameter.
The revolution of HDSLRs and light, compact cameras, with large sensors and interchangeable lenses, gives today’s cameramen the possibility of using the full range of existing lenses on the market. This means that, in order to be competitive and versatile, the follow focus must adapt to suit all lenses, whatever their dimensions (diameter and length).
In the same way as the lower bridge, the upper slide bridge is also held in place by the clamp once it is in the correct position in relation to the lens.
2. Attaching to the lens
As well as the upper bridge with allows you to use the Follow Focus with the full range of existing lenses, whatever their diameter, the system is also equipped with a double-sided drive (or gear box) that rotates 180°, to which can be mounted a friction wheel or drive gear, either in front or behind, depending on the lens.
The fact that the drive rotates 180° means you can choose the drive rotation direction based on your preferences. Personally, I prefer it when the hand wheel rotates to the right towards infinity, but it’s totally up to you.
This double sided drive can, therefore, connect the system to any lens of any length.
In fact, if you take, for example, the Canon EF range of lenses, much used and loved by the new generation of cameramen for their excellent value for money, you notice immediately that they are all of different diameters and lengths. Furthermore, you also notice that the focusing rings of this EF range are also all different in terms of positioning on the lens as well as material (smooth rubber, notched plastic…), which is why Manfrotto offers the two options (friction wheel or drive gear) so that the system can be adapted to best suit the features of the lens focusing ring.
There is also an additional “flexible adapter ring” accessory provided with the Follow Focus and, combined with the drive gear, enables it to maintain its precision even on lenses which don’t benefit from notches on the focusing ring, by preventing any slipping.
After my various tests on different lens ranges, I can say that I never had to use this accessory because the upper support bridge clamp is secure enough to prevent any play between the lens and the drive gear or friction wheel.
To give you my most honest opinion and to conclude this section, I would recommend the use of the friction wheel more for small EF lenses on light, compact cameras and the drive gear more for use in combination with the adapter wheel for all other professional lenses: you will gain in terms of precision by having a wider focal range.
Furthermore, without going into too much detail, I can add that the number of teeth (50 teeth at 0.8mm intervals) of the drive gear was chosen because these dimensions meet the standards of cine lenses.
In fact, these dimensions influence the degree of rotation of the focusing ring in relation to the rotation of the handwheel.
When a full rotation (360°) of the wheel operated by the cameraman or first assistant / focus puller corresponds to the rotation of the lens focusing ring through its full focal range, from macro to infinity, we call it a 1:1 ratio.
Indeed, one of the advantages of using a follow focus system is that it facilitates movement between focus extremes (from infinity to macro or vice versa).
It is evident that a manual 360° rotation of the focusing ring in a totally smooth manner is impossible without contorting yourself around the lens.
Use of the Speed Handle (not included but there is an attachment socket on the face of the handwheel) is thus recommended to achieve extreme variations in focus.