SmallRig F60 Modular Follow Focus and Why Manual Focus Is Your Friend

SmallRig F60 Modular Follow Focus and Why Manual Focus Is Your Friend

Sooner or later, every filmmaker starts to understand the magic of manual focus. The SmallRig F60 Modular Follow Focus is a tool to help you keep things sharp.

While every review of a new camera will understandably go to great lengths to assess its prowess when it comes to autofocus, professional film production remains largely the domain of manual focus. Why is that? Well, simple, cinematic storytelling isn’t a matter of slapping “cinematic” LUTs onto your footage. Cinematic storytelling is about storytelling. It’s about taking a viewer through a story and purposefully directing their attention to the points of the story they need to know in order to arrive at the desired emotional result.

Autofocus has come a long way. And it is great in a number of circumstances. Most modern autofocus systems can keep faces in focus from miles away (well, not literally miles), can track the fastest moving subjects, and rarely drift off course. But autofocus is, by definition, auto. It can keep things in focus. But it can’t decide what should be in focus. That’s why manual focus is so important. Sometimes, you want that actress to be sharp in the frame. Sometimes, it’s more important that the audience be looking at something in the background. Oftentimes, you want focus to travel between subjects in the same frame. Sometimes, you want that rack to be fast. Sometimes, you want that rack to be slow. But you always want to be in control.

That is where a follow focus comes in. A follow focus is a device that connects to the barrel of your lens and rotates the focus ring through a series of gears. Using this, as opposed to just keeping one hand on the barrel, has a number of advantages. One, it allows better access for a First AC to pull focus for you. On a film set, it’s likely that it will be the First AC’s responsibility to pull focus rather than the operator. And having a side access point to the focus ring is simply a necessity.

Two, if you are pulling your own focus, being able to turn a simple knob parallel to the camera lens as opposed to having to reach for the lens barrel itself can lead to a more comfortable and stable hold, especially if your system is shoulder-mounted.

There are also wireless versions of follow focus systems, which allow a First AC to pull focus remotely. Sometimes, they don’t even need to be in the same room. So, if you are doing a particularly elaborate camera move where it’s not practical to have your First AC at your side, you can still operate freely while knowing everything will be sharp.

Follow focus systems, like cameras, come in all shapes and sizes. But SmallRig has released a new system, the F60 Modular Follow Focus, that is designed for the mirrorless/DSLR user to work best with smaller systems.

The F60 comes in a neat little pouch kit which fits easily into a small bag. Inside the pouch, you’ll get the F60 Modular Follow Focus itself, a 15mm rod along with a rod clamp and NATO rail. You get all the tools necessary to mount the system to a mirrorless camera cage and adapt it to both cinema and photo lenses.

One of the less convenient parts of using a follow focus with a small mirrorless camera is that most cinema lenses are built to accept follow focus gears. Whereas, most photo lenses are built to be small and don’t include the same teeth on the barrel. These teeth on cinema cameras are what locks into the gears of a follow focus system and allow you to turn the barrel. You can get around this by wrapping a collar around your photo lens which gives it teeth on which the follow focus can lock.  

SmallRig has included the collar in the kit. But, it also offers another little cool tool, a silicone gear ring that can go over the teeth of the follow focus. This little nifty tool essentially transforms your follow focus ring into a finger with traction which can be pressed against the barrel of a photo lens to adjust focus. Lots of cool little tools in a small and affordable package.

The F60 retails for $159 and can be picked up here. Let me know if you have one and what your experiences have been with the system in the comments.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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