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Pulling Focus is as Easy as Riding a Bike with the SnapFocus Follow Focus

06.19.12 @ 11:00AM Tags : , , ,

We all remember that feeling — learning how to ride a bike for the first time. Most people can get right back on a bike and start riding again even if it’s been years. That sort of muscle memory is the idea behind the SnapFocus Follow Focus System from MidasMount. Take an item many are familiar with (bicycle handles in this case), and apply it to filmmaking to get the most intuitive follow focus ever designed. The Kickstarter project has already been backed by people like J.J. Abrams and director Jimmy Hayward, and the price-point for the entire rig is well within the reach of independent filmmakers.

Below is the Kickstarter video:

I’ve see plenty of interesting DIY gear, and I’ve made some of it myself, but using bicycle handles is an ingenious idea. Not only is putting your hands on a bicycle second nature to most people, but it finally allows you to pull focus and shoot ENG style shooting with a DSLR. There are options that currently exist at a much higher price range, but if you’re looking for a DIY project and how your gear looks is the last thing on your list, this is an interesting item.

Here’s a video which was shot with the SnapFocus system:

The project has already reach their goal with nine days left, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get in on the action. The SnapFocus starts at $400 and will only be available through Kickstarter for the foreseeable future. If you want the shoulder mount as well, it will cost you a little extra. The Midas Mount Hitchhiker Shoulder Support plus the SnapFocus will run you $800. That may seem a little steep, but keep in mind that this isn’t plastic or flimsy construction — this is a follow focus made from metal parts and it’s going to be able to take a beating.

What do you guys think?

Disclosure: MidasMount is a NoFilmSchool advertiser.


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Description image 38 COMMENTS

  • They dont seem to be pulling focus much in that video, was that the point? they are pulling focus and we dont even notice?

    • Yeah, I was puzzled too. Turns out the video isn’t meant to showcase the product, it’s showcasing the machinist who’s actually building the rigs. Joe, you possibly want to mention that or swap it for a video showing what the follow focus can do.

    • Probably – the idea was that they were using the whole handheld Midas rig to shoot that video. I thought that was pretty clear from what I wrote.

      • Regardless I was completely wrong, my mistake. The above video has been replaced by one that was actually shot using the SnapFocus.

  • Rev. Benjamin on 06.19.12 @ 11:27AM

    I have to agree, ingenious idea. I’d love to see it in practice/real life. Godspeed to them.

  • It seems to be fine for low-budget documentaries. However, as far as fiction/drama is concerned, I’m not sure how you’d mark the different focus points of a sequence for proper focus pulling.
    Agree the video doesn’t add much info.

  • painful to watch but good idea. hardly explains the product but im being hit on the head by people telling me how great it is.

  • I am a huge fan of this design.

    The speed and accuracy (although w/o markers, perhaps not so repeatable) at which you can pull focus, imo, puts this ahead of any other mechanical follow focus, or certainly at least in this price range.

    I would imagine it also adds to the stability of a one man shoulder rig b/c the camera operator is able to keep both hands on both handles throughout without having to switch back and forth between handle and focus knob.

    Finally, I really love the Midas Mount story: this guy with great DIY ideas and experience teamed up with an all-american badass to machine everything properly and in the USA without an absurd MSRP (at least on kickstarter)

    Not to sound like a paid-spokesman, I just really love what I’ve seen of this so far.
    ….Just wish I could afford one before the 28th :)

  • Nice new design for DSLR filmmakers. Should be interesting to see it first hand. I’m interested to see how the handles work more with this rig. Do you have to squeeze the trigger more than once? That could cause problems with some telephoto lenses. This seems like it just covered more of a snap focus, I just wanted to see a bit more with a smoother, rack focus.

  • The racks I saw in the vids were pretty impressive, and I’m headed down to meet with them later on. Gonna try it out on my RED and (later) my Blackmagic. Soon as I’m not on this shoot (so Julyish).

  • This is pretty damn awesome! To be picky though, I do wonder how much fatigue you would end up with in the fingers that you are using to hold focus on the brakes, assuming that if you need to release your grip you lose your focus? That said, if you are a one man show then this would probably be an improvement to your current options. As “Cee” says, would be better if we knew more about how it works. Hopefully we’ll see soon enough :) Good luck to them!

  • I want one. Time to go rob a bank, or dig into my piggy bank.

  • This is really calling out to me…but.

    Do you *hold* the ‘brakes’ to pull focus to where you want it and stay holding? Or do you squeeze it once to get it where you want and then let go?

    (How) does it work in conjunction with a tripod/monopod/slider?

    Does it rack or just snap?

    How do you know/feel when you’re at the focus ring’s limit? I imagine a lot of pressure would be applied through those cables, so how do you keep from grinding the rings right off?

    I’ve been in the market for a follow focus AND a shoulder rig and this is really screaming my name…but there are some unknowns that make it tough to buy site-unseen. Really, REALLY wish I lived in LA and could at least hold it.

  • I have doubts about this.
    - It appears that the levers are spring loaded, just like a brake lever, which means once you get to your focus point you have to hold it there otherwise it will spring out. Both hands in precise position throughout your shot? That’s a lot of fatigue.

    - Both hands now for focus pulls? How do you turn the camera on, a trigger, more gear. How do you adjust iris and ISO on the fly? Maybe its just for controlled studio settings.

    - That’s a lot of extra kit just to pull focus. The actual focus mechanism is quite large.

    - With all the extra kit I don’t see it working well with other accessories.

    - It’s not that cheap. For about the same cost you could pick up a simple follow focus set up. A streamlined proven design.

    Don’t get me wrong I have a huge amount of respect for DIY’ers, I have a shop myself and have made some simple accessories, but this misses the mark for me.

    • It’s not spring loaded. When you let go of the handles your focus stays put. If you pull the left handle, the focus ring goes left, if you pull the right, it goes to the right. If you lightly squeeze both then it produces resistance which allows you pull focus very slowly with precision. I actually tried it out over at EVS in Los Angeles where they have both the first and second prototypes on display (the first prototype only has one handle). To be honest, I was skeptical about the unit too, but once I picked it up, I could tell this was going to be a game changer. It’s unbelievably organic and easy to use. Just this week I purchased a skate dolly from the guy that invented it (Brandon) and he said he’s going to be putting hard stops in the unit as well. I can’t wait for the public to get their hands on this and see just how cool this device is. It’s not a gimmick at all. It’s a really brilliant invention and I wish the best of luck to him and his company. I think this device is going to really take off once people try it out.

  • As you can read on his Kickstarter page the system works as following:

    You have 2 bicycle brakes, which are connected to each other with 1 single wire. So it is impossible to ‘brake’ with two hands at the same time. That wire is somehow connected to a gear.

    So you ‘brake’ for example left to go to infinite. Then you can let go… everything will stay exactly as is. When you want to focus close you ‘brake’ on the other (right) side until the right focus is achieved.

    He is also working on a single-handed spring-loaded version.

  • Paul Stephen Edwards on 06.20.12 @ 5:51PM

    I just got back from checking out the prototypes at EVS in LA. Here are my observations:

    1- The Hitchhiker rig is extremely rugged and very comfortable. It’s also lighter than it looks to be.
    2- Snap Focus makes pulling focus feel like surfing. It’s completely intuitive and I found that it was very easy to pull focus from one subject to another repeatedly with a surprising degree of accuracy.
    3- It was leagues easier for me to use than a standard follow focus. The ergonomics are spot on.
    4- They’re serious about customer feedback & support. Brandon actually answered an e-mail while I was checking out the rig.

    I’m sold. I ordered one.

  • I think the control should be in one of the hand grips. Twisting it like the throttle on a motorcycle seems like it would be easier and more controllable. Probably could have stops on it, too.

    • While it’s a little more expensive that’s exactly the way the Zacuto Tornado works.

      • That’s based on a camera-model. This seems to be based on the human eye.

        • I’m not quite sure what that means – being based on the human eye. The Zacuto Tornado follow focus would work on any camera and lens combination – it’s just a manual follow focus.

          • Are you selling the Zacuto thing here? I’d love to do a head-to-head comparison of our rig and the Zacuto and hold them up side by side on a value for dollar basis. I thought this was your article on our SnapFocus but you seem to be steering everyone toward this Zacuto thing….

            • I don’t believe I’m steering anyone anywhere. A suggestion was mentioned that matched a completely different product thought I know of and have used before – what I said isn’t even a recommendation that people should use it – just that the exact product that was mentioned already exists. There’s no question your rig is a lot cheaper – and I think the design is ingenious, or I wouldn’t have written it. Zacuto is an advertiser just like you, but there’s no preferential treatment going on – we write what we think and we do our best to evaluate all options as equally as possible.

        • Ummm, yea, can you explain… what that means?

  • If you guys have questions just hit me up through the Kickstarter project or sales at A lot of the assumptions about how it works here or off the mark. I could remake the video a million times and there would still be questions about how it works. It’s not a traditional follow focus nor does it want to be. It’s a whole new way of shooting. A ton of accomplished filmmakers from YouTube stars to Hollywood studio directors to ASC cinematographers have tried it and they are all in love with it and keep bugging me about getting theirs. If you are in LA go out there and kick the tires on it and see for yourself. I’ll get other protos circulating over the summer.

    A lot of nit-picking about the way it looks – I get it. I’ve got the R&D team of a military contractor working on the design of the product that will ship. You’ll have to wait and see.

    We tried the throttle concept. Terrible. You have to keep spinning and spinning the throttle to get a smooth focus causing a shaky composition. Or we would gear the throttle to spin the focus in one twist and you couldn’t ride focus smoothly.

    There’s a music video on the Kickstarter page that we shot in one take – more of just a live performance but it’s a good example of racking focus.

    Here was a response to a question via kickstarter that may answer some things. Above all though, we are a filmmakers brand. We put this on Kickstarter to get exactly the kind of feedback that’s being written here so that we would have an opportunity to make necessary adjustments before it ships.

    It’s a free-floating mechanical system so the lens moves when you actuate a lever. There’s no tension causing you to squeeze or hold if you want to leave the focus where its at. One hand plays a sort of tug-of-war with the other, dialing in the focus or riding it as you and your subject move. So the left hand creates resistance so that the right hand doesn’t spin the focal ring too far too fast. It’s totally intuitive.

    You can both rack smoothy or snap quickly (a lot of that has to do with the viscosity on your lens – cinema lenses do both really well while other lenses may drag or jerk a bit)

    On tripods you can mount the levers to the tripod legs or use the accessory we are working that we refer to as a “mechanical remote” – 6-foot long cables and a handlebar with two levers that will mount on 15mm rods, screw to 1/4-20 or 3/8-16 thread and other standard film-set connectors. This should allow filmmakers to use the SnapFocus in most applications: jibs, car mounts, tripods, etc.

    The hard stop feature these ship with should prevent the mechanically and mentally challenged from breaking lens rings off. Although I’m sure some idiot will still manage to do it. I’ll toss that idea to my R&D guys though and see if it an issue in the first place and if so, do they have a solution. I’ve only managed to get the gears to disengage by pulling too hard.

    • Thanks so much for the speedy reply on Kickstarter Brandon. I’ve never owned a rig or a follow focus (I use a gorilla pod as a makeshift rig and just focus by hand) but I’m blown away by the idea of the SF. I want one – and the more I read about it the more I NEED one! Way to innovate!

  • And the video on this blog post “Shot with the SnapFocus system” wasn’t shot with the snapfocus system. It was the video from our Kickstarter page in the “About Us” section. It’s just a profile on our machinist and should be relabeled or replaced with the music video that was shot with the SnapFocus.

  • I tried this out at Cine Gear – awesome concept! I havent seen any other piece of gear quite like this….although it looks a little stange, it really had an intuitive feel. I def want one.

  • I have just used the snap focus rig and I’m impressed. It’s really like no other follow focus technology I am familiar with. Often, I will “float” a lens in order to pull focus incredibly fast- to rack from one thing to another and back much more rapidly than one could do with a speed-crank. But Snap Focus is the first device I have discovered which allows the instinctive precision and response time that I am often chasing when wanting to pull focus in the way that only the human eye can. The actual parts which these engineers have used are simple and clever to the point of absurdity- and that is emblematic of this machine’s brilliance! It really seems to be quite outside-the-box. Don’t get me wrong, nothing can replace the collaboration between a great focus puller and a cinematographer… but snap focus introduces a new horizon for film makers who want to shoot with a small crew and make the lens follow their vision.

  • I love the new wave of DSLR’s for film making. BUT, they have serios limitations. The biggest is trying to focus smoothly, while maintaining a steady shot. The ‘Snap Focus system solves this problem. It gives the operator a steady platform to shoot and focus from. By yourself….. There are no perfect solutions. Other then using a video camera with auto focus. Like the ones on consumer cameras. I have used this system extensively, and can tell you all that it works!.

  • Bill Winters on 06.21.12 @ 4:17PM

    I was in LA last week and got to use the prototye myself. I absolutely loved it. Whenever I shoot DSLR it is usually handheld in a doc style setting. I have tried all the handheld rigs out there and like some more than others, but I always find myself with my right arm supporting the weight of the rig/camera and my left arm on the focus knob. My right arm gets tired pretty quickly and the shots aren’t as steady as having both hands on the rig so I end up stripping the camera off and shooting “naked” without the hand held rig. This product solves that problem and is actually a lot of fun to use. It is a totally new experience and unlike anything I have ever tried before. Sure you still have to take your hand off the handle for a brief moment to adjust the iris or zoom, but it is not a continuous position like having one hand on the focus knob and the other supporting the weight of the camera. Like Christopher said, there is no subsutitue for the traditional AC/DP relationship with focus marks, etc.. but this product isn’t designed to replace that. It is designed for DIY filmmakers and guys with a skeleton crew who are doing everything themselves. I think it is perfect in those scenarios and can’t wait to get mine. The guys who buit it are also totally open to suggestions so certainly give them your feedback and they will take it very seriously.

  • Sounds like a great product… although the music video leaves little to be desired most likely based on the camera guy not focusing correctly at all times. It should’ve looked like autofocus if he was any good. :P

  • Daniel Mimura on 06.24.12 @ 4:13PM

    The lack of being able to repeat it makes me cringe. I know this is for the run and gun one man band…but D-SLR’s have made the focus hunting problems really bad as it is…so adding a new piece of gear that will just exacerbate focusing by eye off of the monitor instead of a mark on a focus disc is a horrible idea! D-SLR’s have already made it hard to mark lenses by distance…so with that more or less thrown out the window…at least you can have a mark and even when you’re doing stuff handheld…you have a point of reference (so you can say, okay, his face is just past that mark I have for the close up if the guitar strings…etc…)…so now it’s just more hunting because you look at a mark. Focus peaking helps, but this is still a substitute for a mark. I get the motor memory thing, and it’s way better for your hand positions with the brake cables to keep the camera steady…but it’s sacrificing a major component of focus pulling…marks. If there was some sort of witness marks or little gauge (like on a slide scale at the doctor’s office, or on one of the two major types of torque wrenches…). That way you are not focusing solely off the monitor.

  • im interested. how much would it cost if you guys ship it to Philippines? thanks!

  • That thing is totaly awesome. Where can I buy it?