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.

Granite Peak Park Nights

Finally got a chance to go back to Granite Peak and shoot some park features at night this past weekend. It took the better part of the day to get the plans finalized, but pretty much the whole Teamlab managed to make the trip up to Wausau for the second week in a row. For me it was actually the forth trip to Wausau in half as many weeks. Heavy driving schedule this time of year for sure. I stopped counting time in the car last week after adding up nearly 30 hours in 5 days. Makes me a little sick.

granite peak parks wallride at night lit with speedlights

Of course, the travel is to be expected. It has been a downright crappy winter here in the Midwest so it's been a mad rush when the conditions are good, and a waiting game when it is bad. Years like this make you appreciate the the good ones in the past.

I haven't exactly shot a lot of park stuff this year. Normally, I would be out at Nordic Mountain several times a week, but I haven't been able to shoot there much this year. I have had a few chances to shoot in the Granite Peak Parks, and I must say that I am thoroughly impressed with the level of the features, riding, and the friendly staff.

The Teamlab crew at Granite Peak Parks, lit with a speedlight

You can see a few shots of the lights I have been using above. I have been using a few different brackets to mount multiple lights on a single stand this year. Last year I used some Lumedyne DC flash packs, but this year it is small strobes only. I was pretty optimistic about this setup in the beginning, but it has caused numerous headaches with reliability  and triggering in the cold. You can see here that I am using two pocket wizards, one for each light so at least one of the lights will trigger most of the time.

The other light that you can't see is an old Vivitar 285 with a custom SLA battery pack. This is something that I have been working on for quite a while, and I think I have finally got it working the way I want it to. It's just a 6v external battery system, but it cuts the recharge time of the flash by about half when compared to AAs. I will write up a post about this flash battery soon, I have a few more features to add before I share it.

forum snowboards rider Jory prather at granite peak parks. wallride, lit with a speedlight

But enough of that stuff, check out the photos. A few "almosts" and a few o.k. shots here, I sorted though like 400 shots to find these few. We spent a lot of time on the "shark fin" feature and then moved on to the wall ride later on. All of the guys hiked non-stop to make it happen and keep the shutter clicking. It was a pretty significant hike for each drop, but it was way quicker to hike than to ride the high speed 6 to the top after each run.

jason Contreras launching off of the shark fin at granite peak parks. lit with a speedlight

Jason Contreras: Shark Fin to BS360

Forum snowboards rider Jory Prather riding the shark fin at granite peak parks.

Jory Prather: Shark Fin BS Shifty

jory prather, forum snowboards, granite peak parks

Jory also did a bunch surf slashes on the fin during the session. It's sort of difficult to appreciate this trick just by looking at the photo. Jory actually floated a few of these above the front binding, it's a stupid hard  coping-to-the-face fall if you go over the edge on this. Just sayin.

More to come, check back soon. -J.H.


Jeez, just over a week-anda-half overdo with my new years post. I will forgo the traditional "Year in Review" type list, if you're interested in that type of thing, let me know in the comments and I can point you to a dozen or so blogs that did this really well in 2011. It's not that I have been too busy write or that nothing interesting to write about, I have had plenty of both, I've just taken a bit of a break from posting over the holidays.

Normally, I would be super busy this time of year documenting the Midwest  snowboard scene, but we have had an absolutely horrible winter this year. No snow, temps in the 40s and 50s.

That's not to say that I have been twiddling my thumbs, I'm actually feeling pretty productive over the last month.

I helped work out a new look for THETEAMLAB.COM. The season has been rough, and it feels good to freshen up the look of the site, even if it's pretty young.

I unloaded a bunch of gear that has just been setting around. The stress of constant travel and perpetually moving around this year has meant downsizing considerably. I just packed up and shipped off a bunch of stuff this week and I have another set of listings ready to go in a few days. Most of the big ticket items are gone, but check my listings HERE. Lots of odds and ends, books, random photo, video, audio and production gear.

That reminds me, I finally got around to finishing the gear section on JOSEPHHORVATH.COM. Lots of links and reviews in the que, set to launch next week. Check it out HERE.

While we're still talking about gear, I've managed to fit a few new pieces into the budget. I'm building up a Nikon based HDSLR rig, shooting lots of tests and even a couple jobs with it. God, it is good to get away from shooting HDV, I've shot 10x as much stuff in the last month than I did all last year. I promise there will be a series of posts describing my rig in sickening detail. Yay.

Of course, Nikon has insisted on castrating there dslr's video functionality. If only there was a Stu Maschwitz who shoots on Nikon, wielding enough influence to give us proper exposure control and whatnot. Oh wait, Nikon Just released THIS, maybe Nikon is on the right path.

I've also picked up another copy of the SIGMA EX 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5, I swore I wouldn't touch SIGMA again, but it was a really good deal and has turned out to be a wonderfully sharp lens (this copy on my bodies, click HERE if you don't understand what I'm talking about). Lens tests are pretty much meaningless but I will probably post one anyway in the future.


Other than that, I have about 100 other partially finished projects, design tantrums, etc. to talk about in the future. No promises, but hopefully I will have something to show soon.



Toolbox: BRNO Dri + Caps

One of the topics that I really enjoy writing about is gear. I mean, at some level every photographer lusts after gear. In the beginning you can't get enough, you read every catalog, memorize every spec, and make crazy lists of stuff that you want. What eventually happens is either you grow tired of photography and move on to the next phase, or you become too busy hunting for that next killer shot to care anymore and you lose a little of that gear lust. For me, it was the latter. I became busy enough with trying to turn photography into a way to support myself to spend much time thumbing catalogs or searching the web for the latest and greatest. If I do buy something new, I am rarely what you would call an early adopter and the folks who get paid to write reviews or blog about such interesting things have probably written said bauble to death. That is why I was pleased on several levels to find the BRNO Dri+Cap. Those of you who shoot in the extreme cold or in humid climates are probably familiar with the effects that all the moisture exposure can have on your expensive gear. Bring your stuff in to a warm humid base lodge from a cold day on the hill and watch the fog appear.

This is enough to scare some people away from using their camera in the cold altogether, but guys like me don't really have a choice in the matter. Camera manufactures have helped by making cameras and lenses more weatherproof with seals and gaskets but that sort of protection only goes so far. Making your gear "splash proof" does not protect against to slow creep of moisture from long term exposure.

The best defense here is to make sure you store your gear in a dry place, that way the air can absorb that pesky moisture and keep things from growing inside your lenses. The problem here is that, if your like me, your gear spends most of it's like in a bag or case in the trunk of a car either heading to or from a shoot. And those non-shooting days tend to be filled with other important things, I would guess that my gear spends the better part of the winter in some sort of wet conditions whether it be snow or a damp camera bag.

Let me be clear here, I try my damndest to take care of my stuff, I'm not trying to give the impression that put my gear in a wet bag and leave it, we're talking about the 95%+ humidity condition, where there is too much moisture in the air to allow your stuff to dry out after use.

Anyway, I have been using these rechargeable desiccant bricks for a few years now. They work pretty well. I have two sets for every kit that I own and dry one set out in the oven while the other set is being used. They offer piece of mind because you know that your gear is dry until the indicator tells you that the brick is saturated and needs to be swapped out for a dry one.

The problem is that the sometimes need to be changed every day or more often when used in wet conditions. During these times its tough to keep up with recharging them, especially when traveling.

This it where the Dri+Cap comes into play. Not only does it add an another layer of moisture absorbancy, they actually seal the rear of your lens, or the inside of your camera against moisture, basically closing up the most susceptible part of you gear.  This also means that your lens gets dry faster and stays dry even if your bag does not.

The Dri+Cap is a two piece plastic affair with the main body of the cap having a small chamber where the desiccant packet lives. That chamber is sealed with an o ring and another smaller cap and the surface that seats against the lens has an o ring as well. The whole system is only slightly larger then the standard Nikon caps and arguably cooler looking (though, that is a matter of taste). The only real downside is that they currently cost like $20 a pop. Not cheap. But when you consider the cost of having to replace or rebuild a 70-200 or 24-70 then it starts to look like cheap insurance. If you don't think you can afford to outfit all your lenses with these at once, get a few for your most expenive glass now, and skip a few coffees until you can afford the rest. Besides that, you only have to buy the caps once and they can be reloaded indefinitely. The build quality is pretty good and they definitely should last for the life of a pro lens.


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.

DIY Century Stand (Nearly Finished Version)

It's been a little while since I have written a DIY post for this site, so today I have a pretty easy and useful one. In the interest of full disclosure, this is a slight adaption of an existing design that can be found on several sites and forums. I was really excited to find the original articles but there were a few features lacking from those designs that kept me from building one of these stands until just recently. I will  give a rundown of the specific changes that I made a little further down the page. Those who have spend any time with me know that I tend to look for a DIY solution for something before a turn to a commercial option. Over the last few years I have built up a nice little collection of tools that has made many of these projects cost effective and efficient. Very often these projects fall into two distinct categories: advanced designs created by an engineer who has a photography hobby and access to tools and knowledge that most folks don't, and so called "duct tape DIY's", projects that sort of get the job done, but are ugly or unreliable or both.

For me, it is only useful to build something if it will perform as well as a commercially available product and have a cost savings that justifies the time spent building it. I have actually built a lot of gear that you will never hear about on this site, either because I don't feel that it is worthwhile for you to build, or because I greedily want to keep it for my self. If you do want to see some of this other stuff, give me a call and I'd be happy to give you a look in person.

Ok, to the project. Since I am not completely done with this, there is no parts list yet, I will update this post as soon as I feel comfortable with the finished product. As for tools, I used the following:

Suitably sized pipe wrench: (maybe $10, you can get the cheapest you can find here) Drill press OR hand drill and vice: I used a hand drill on some of the holes just to try it and it works pretty well if you take your time. Decent bit set: If you plan on doing DIYs with any sort of frequency, get a set with fractions, numbered and lettered bits, you will need all three for taping threaded holes. Menards used to have a set for about $40, they were cheap, but worked well if you keep them sharp. Cheap bits kept sharp will last longer and cut faster then an expensive bit that is left dull. Also, if you drill into stainless with any regularity, you will break bits, even the expensive ones. Tap Set: Here is where you will want quality, you don't have to buy a whole set, you will probably only use a handful of sizes. Buy a handle and add taps as you need them. Hack saw, sawzall, cutoff saw, etc.: Technically you don't need to cut any metal for this project, however I plan on cutting the threads on the first extension off, and you will need some sort of saw that can cut metal for that, just sayin'.

Ok, like I said, the goal here was to create a stand that was both cost effective and useful. I spent around $80 on the parts. Before you get upset, I realize that you can buy a commercial c stand for under $100, but the fact is those stands suck. They are probably less stable than the $40 aluminum ebay light stands, so if you want to go cheap, please go that route rather than the bottom level c stands. Another factor is that those cheap stands only go to 6.5/7 feet. This stand goes to 8ft currently (2 sections) and could go to 11ft (3 sections) with almost no added cost. Above you can see the leg assembly, the legs are made of standard 3/4" pipe, you can find all of the parts at your local home building center. The only tool you will need here is a pipe wrench to turn the pieces together. As you can see in the photo, the second segment in the middle leg is a little too long, causing the feet to bump into each other, this doesn't matter when the stand is in use, and I plan on replacing the too-long segment with a shorter piece soon. The legs connect to the base of the stand with a standard "T", I taped a hole in each T to allow for a set screw and knob to be added. Since the T's fit over a 1/2" pipe and there is some play, the set screw can be tightened to keep the legs in the proper position while moving the stand during use. The stand is still functional without them, just a little tricky to move.

You can see how the leg sections fit over the base in the picture above, there is about an inch of extra space on the base column, the next shorter size of pipe is to short. This is really not an issue and could be fixed with a clamp collar.

The other weak point in the original design was the clamp and extension portion of the stand. The second segment was made of EMT conduit and the clamp was simply a set screw taped into the first segment. EMT conduit is not a terribly stiff tubing and actually has quite a bit flex to it. Unfortunately there are not a lot of commonly available substitutes for it. I used a 4' section of 1" galv. pipe for the first segment. All pipe is measured by its inner diameter (i.d.) where as tubing is measure by it's outer diameter (o.d.). Basically, I needed a section of pipe for the first segment and a length of tubing for the second segment. Some home stores sell a small selection of metal tubing, but it is mostly overpriced and of mediocre quality. Fastenal is the place you want to go for this, unless you have access to a cheaper source at least, there is likely a Fastenal within a 30min drive from where you live.

The rest is just a matter of turning the pieces together.

Next: 5/8" stud and the parts list.