As made clear since the start of this report, a follow focus has the job of making focusing easier and more precise. In the traditional field of cinematography, focus tracking is the responsibility of the focus puller, who is often the first assistant. Five years after the HDSLR revolution and the production of new, large sensor cameras with interchangeable lenses, everything is starting to move in a new direction, with a new, growing generation of independent cameramen who often work on their own. The manual follow focus has thus stood the test of time as a tool of reference for focus tracking but has had to evolve to respond to the new demands of cameramen relative to the new models of camera.
1. Traditional focus tracking
To use a follow focus in the traditional manner by performing a simple focus tracking on a person who moves towards the camera, a certain methodology must be followed to guarantee the precision of the focus tracking.
First of all, let’s imagine that the person moves over a distance of 14 m, moving from 15 to 1 m from the optical axis (camera point 0). If you are filming with a wide aperture, such as 2.8, you will have to be careful with the focus tracking because the depth of field will be weak, and just a few centimetres will be enough to give the image a hazy, instead of clean, effect.
For successful focus tracking using this method, I recommend two possibilities:
– The film must be shot live and you either can’t or don’t have the time to repeat and mark out the scene.
Turn the Follow Focus handwheel in the infinity direction towards macro with the aid of the peaking option (electronic focusing aid) activated on the camera viewfinder or LCD to guarantee optimum tracking and clarity of image of your subject during movement.
– You have the time to repeat and mark out your scene and take several shots.
First of all, use a tape measure to mark out different distances on the subject’s path of motion. Stretch out the tape starting from the cameral optical axis (0m) as far as the eye of your subject (15m), then use the marking disc attached to the handwheel to set these focal points of reference (start and end) and mark out another two distances on the subject path (5m and 10m, for example) that, of course, you will identify in association with something in particular that can be seen in the scenery.
Once you are ready to film, start by rotating the handwheel in the infinity direction towards macro, starting from the 15m point of reference, then check that your reference points at 5m and 10m correspond correctly to the movement of your subject past the visual markings in the scenery and, finally, make sure that, at the end of the subject path of motion, the index button coincides correctly with the 1m mark set on the marking disc as your end point of reference.
In both cases, leave the slider button in free mode (pushed out) to avoid being stopped by memorised hard stops.
2. Adjustable focus range
This is what most won me over during my different field tests. As well as the clamp system and the double drive option with guarantees precision, this follow focus is equipped with stop markings that allow you to adjust and memorise a focal range between two particular points.
To use this feature effectively, the method is as follows:
– First of all, focus on the two subjects or objects that interest you.
– Mark these two points precisely on the marking disc as explained earlier.
– Press the slider button in to memory mode.
– Position the first disk mark in line with the index/mark button.
– Move the stop button of the second limit to the second mark. 10
Your focal range is now memorised and, if your subjects stay in position, you can repeat it as many times as you want.
This possibility of precisely adjusting the focal range between two distinct marks leads to several advantages, the best of which are:
– The EF type ranges of photographic lenses aren’t meant for manual focus because their characteristic automatic focus is, today, close to perfection. Their manual focusing rings are, therefore, not designed to deal with manual focus tracking and, even more annoyingly, there is no stop at the extreme macro and infinity ends, which means that the ring turns endlessly in both directions. The option of memorising manually a precise focal range between two isolated points is therefore of real benefit.
The drive gear connects perfectly to the notched focusing ring of this cine lens.
– Whatever the type of production, it is very common during filming to have to repeat the same sequence or scene multiple times until you get the best result. If during filming this scene of sequence, you have to manage a variation in focus between two subjects or points, it is much more preferable for the whole team that the reason for redoing a take is based on a lack of satisfaction with the mise en scène, as opposed to a technical problem tied to questionable focal variation, for example. The advantage of being able to memorise precisely the stops of your variation in focus will ensure that you can make multiple shots without ever having to worry about the focal precision.
To summarise and conclude this report, I am very satisfied overall with the quality of this follow focus, which has definitely earned its place on the current film industry market. The price reflects this quality but is affordable for this type of equipment (around €600).
The Manfrotto follow focus MVA511FF satisfies the most important demands of all cameramen and especially those of the new generation of filmmakers who mostly use lenses that do not offer a focusing ring designed for precise tracking. Here are the advantages and benefits of using it for professional productions:
– An effective clamping system that allows no play between the lens and follow focus system.
– A double drive system that makes it ultra-versatile because the friction ring and drive gear allow you to attach it to nearly all lenses used in the audio-visual and cinema industries.
– The stop marks for adjusting and memorising precise focus ranges, a feature that is never available on lower range follow focus systems and which, unfortunately, deprives cameramen using affordable lenses of what they need the most.
The only notable downside to this system is that is only designed for a certain type of shots where the cameraman has to stay in contact with the camera. In the case of Gimbal / Slider / Mini jib / Steadycam type kits being chosen for the shot, you will have to go for electronic follow focus models, which allow remote focus adjustment using HF or USB systems.