Gini Follow Focus Video Test

O.K., so no matter how well constructed or functional something looks on paper, the proof is always in how well that thing works in the field. I have been using the Gini iFocus for a few weeks now, but I can't really show you what I have been working on for another week or so.

In the mean time, I shot this little unscientific test clip to show the kind of results that are possible with this unit.

I will qualify the results with the following:

I was using a Zacuto bridge plate and aluminum rails for this setup, along with a Gini cage mounted on a Manfrotto 504, all resting on top of some Varizoom aluminum sticks. This is not quite the ideal setup for closeup work, you will see a little movement in the shot, but that is more due to the flex in the rig and the slight breathing of the lens than the lash in the focus.

I was also testing a somewhat crummy rubber focus gear, again not the smoothest for closeup work, but you get the point.

I will have more to show you next week. -J.H.

Gini 'iFocus' Follow Focus


(UPDATE) I purchased this unit with a rig system for $750. The price fluctuates a lot on all of Gini's products, as he is constantly updating his designs. You can think of this as buying a product that is in constant Beta testing. Often you will find identically labeled products that have different color bolts, different connectors, and slightly different machining. This isn't do to sloppy quality control, just the constant refinement of his designs.

One the the most useful, yet under used pieces of kit in the digital shooter's bag is the follow focus. A few years ago this was something that was pretty much only used in high end commercial and cinema applications, most of the units available were in the $1000+ price range, with some of them costing much more. Those shooting prosumer cameras relied on auto focus systems and the depth of field afforded by the small sensor size to keep things in focus.

With the start of the "dSLR Revolution" there came a bunch of new companies building "affordable" rigs, mounts, matte boxes, and the like to try and overcome the ergonomic shortfalls of these adapted stills cameras. Part of the appeal of these large chip cameras is their shallow depth of field and the ability to use a variety of fast, sharp lenses. The "shortfall" of these new cameras is that most of them don't autofocus while recording, and those that do, don't focus smoothly nor accurately enough to use for most applications. It is possible to focus manually using the focus ring on your lens, but in order to achieve smooth, controlled results, using a follow focus is the way to go.

There are a few standards by which follow focus units are rated. Probably the most important is the amount of lash in the gearbox. Lash is basically how much play exists in the mechanical system, and as a result how much you will have to turn the knob on the FF before it begins to turn the focus ring on the lens. A FF with too much lash makes it difficult to repeat focus movements, especially when you are moving back and forth between two or more marks.  After lash, build quality, durability and ergonomics all factor in to the effectiveness of the unit. In this respect, you will probably get what you pay for. A higher end unit will almost certainly last longer and maintain it's performance better then a cheaper one. Certainly you budget will dictate how expensive a unit you can buy, but this is one of those situations where you should probably buy the best you can afford. A good quality unit will last a career if you take care of it properly.

The Gini iFocus is a very well constructed focus unit. It is made completely out of machined aluminum. The "machining" part is not an important, except that it has a different look then cast units, it does indicate that this is a limited run product though. The iFocus uses a single clamp design, initially I was worried about there being too much flex in a single 15mm rod to hold the FF rigidly to the lens. In practice, however, this has not been an issue. Overall the finish of the unit is very good, Gini went with a gloss anodizing that is a little on the thin side. I would have preferred a matte finish with a longer ano time, but both of these options would have added cost and time, so I guess I can't complain too much.

The single clamping arm holds a custom gear box that has only the slightest hint of lash. It's there if you want to find it, but is not noticeable at all while using the unit to pull focus. The gearbox is mounted to the arm with a pair of circular clamps, allowing you to level the unit on the fly, or set the knob at an angle if you want. This feature combined with the single arm design makes changing lenses with different diameters really fast and intuitive. Loosening a single clamp allows the unit to swing out of the way while you swap lenses and return to working position in just a few seconds.

One of the few criticisms that I have of the design is the non-movable marking indicator. There is an additional mounting point for the indicator on the underside of the gearbox so you can run the unit on the dumb side of the camera or with a reversed focus throw if you want, but there is no option to run the marker in a horizontal position so you can set marks with your eye to the viewfinder. I don't do this very often, but it sure would be nice to have that option.

I know that is isn't a complete review, nor a "how to" guide on this follow focus, but  I was really just hoping to answer some of the questions that I had before I bought it, so others can make a more informed purchase. I also realized that I ramble a bit with this sort of thing, so if it is annoying to you, leave a comment. If you have further questions that I failed to answer, leave a comment and I will update the post with the answer if I can.

Much more to come, check back soon.

DIY Sync Cables

I will admit, sync cables are not the sexiest piece of kit and is perhaps one of the least contemplated gear purchases one can make. In most cases the cables that came with your triggers are probably all you need and there is not really a reason to give the subject more thought until  you inevitably replace them as the junctions with the connectors break. There are plenty of options on the market, Pocket Wizard and Paramount both make a large selection of suitable cables to suit nearly every configuration possible. Most of these cables are pretty reliable, but also cost about $15-20 a pop. Another option would be to use the cheaper, standard 3.5mm patch audio patch cords commonly used to connect music players to their various accessories. If you choose this option, make sure you buy at least a few spares because the cheaper cables don't seam to last very long.  The third option, and the one that I chose, was to make my own cables using ultra high quality, but very affordable components. There are a few reasons why I chose to make my own cables. After reading this you may decide that it's just not worth the effort to make your own, but that is up to you to decide.   O.K. The biggest reason that I decided to build my own sync cords is illustrated above. On the left is my home made cable and on the right is a PW branded cable that cost around $15. Obviously the left cable is a little more durable in design, but it's best feature is that is cost less than half of what the commercial cable did. The conductors in each wire are about the same gauge, but the jacket on my cable is much thicker and of a bit softer material. Basically, you are getting a much longer wearing cable that costs less and can be repaired if necessary. You can also see how I re-enforced the plugs with an extra layer of shrink wrap. There is a layer that covers the solder points under the housing and a layer that goes over the housing to reduce the chance of kinking and breaking of the wires.Under normal circumstances, this would probably be a little overkill but I found last winter that in the cold it doesn't take that much strain on the joint to crack the stiffened outer jacket and once it is cracked the cable is soon broken. To fix this problem I ended up using a pro audio cable with a more flexible jacket that was more resistant to cold weather.So, a cable that is both cheaper and more durable then a standard cable, win-win right? well, there are a few little rubs. One is that because of the increased size of the connector there may be some compatibility issues with some models of triggers. As shown above, you cannot use both the pass-through and output on the Phottix Atlas at the same time (Pocket Wizards don't have this problem). The other issue is that because the cable is now beefed up, the weak link is now the probably the connector on the radio trigger. Breaking a $175 trigger will negate any money that you saved with these cables, just sayin. There is the potential for more leverage to be applied to the jack do to the increased size of the plug, just be careful. I would say that the biggest advantage to these cables is their durability in cold weather. If you don't often work in the cold, then I would think hard about whether these are something that you need. If you rarely break cables then I would advise against DIY cables simply because of the increased risk of damaging a flash or trigger. If it ain't broke, don't fix it -or whatever. That being said, I can never seem to have enough on hand, so I build a dozen or so at once, and swap them out if they become damaged. The connectors are reusable so repairing a damaged cable only costs as much as a new piece of cable.

I'm talking about the ugly stuff

One of the most under rated, but very active discussions in the creative community is about the cost and effectiveness of the so called "support" equipment that is vital in any professionals kit. The gear hounds love to talk about the latest glass/camera bodies/lighting gear, and people seam all too happy to hand over gobs of cash to have the latest and greatest stuff but somewhere along the line folks seam to have forgotten about the importance (and expense) of support gear. For me, the largest expense that I didn't consider when I was first starting out, were the cost of bags and cases to house all of the expensive and fragile gear that I was acquiring. I added up that I have spend over $2000 in protective gear in the last two years. Now, if you are a casual photographer, you will probably be just fine with asingle high quality back or pack, but if you intend to use additional lighting gear, be prepared to at least double, but most likely triple the amount of gear that you will lug around.

Other things that you will eventually realize that you need: expensive software, hard drives, card readers, clamps, stands, mounts, cords, adapters, soft boxes, sand bags, booms, and tons of other stuff.

I guess I really started thinking about this after reading an article on Ken rockwell's site about shooting RAW vs. Jpegs. His argument was that you should only shoot jpegs because of the increased need for storage and specialized software needed to process and store the large proprietary files. All the points that Ken makes are valid, but in my opinion he is missing the point. The camera and lens are not the complete system used for making digital images, but only part of it.

I was happy to see that has recently posted some short videos describing and explaining how to use various pieces of grip gear. Hopefully this will help folks understand better the value of such gear.

- Posted from my iPad