October 13, 2013

Zacuto Revamps the Follow Focus with the Z-Drive

Attaching a follow focus to your camera can save you the headache (and difficulty) of using your focus ring to make your images crisp. Especially if you're a one-man/woman band, you need a tool with ergonomics that help alleviate the strain on your body, let you focus with ease, and give you the balance needed to keep your camera steady. Sometimes, the solution isn't found in popular follow focus controls, but maybe Zacuto's newly released Z-Drive follow focus, in conjunction with their Tornado grip, will give you more stability and allow you to focus less on focusing. Continue on for the details.

Zacuto's Z-Drive addresses a couple of issues experienced by some follow focus users, and one of them is placement. The more gear that is added to a rig, the more crowded it gets. Also, the positioning of most follow focuses may not agree with the way a user's hand wants to move. The Z-Drive offers a different hand motion that may be more comfortable.

An article in cinema5D puts it this way:

The 60 degree angle in which the Z-Drive protrudes from the camera enables you to operate the focus whilst keeping your hand in a more natural position, which would help with reducing fatigue caused with traditional setups.

Check out this video to learn more about the Z-Drive:

The second issue Zacuto addresses is stability. Again, if you're the sole camera operator, oftentimes focusing means giving up a little stability. Zacuto tries to remedy that with their Tornado grip, which attaches to the Z-Drive, and allows you to control focus without taking your hand off of the support handle (that is, if you're using a shoulder mount.) To operate the Tornado grip, you "ratchet" your wrist back and grab the scalloped wheel to pull focus -- think of how an actual ratchet works -- same deal.

The Z-Mount currently goes for $522.50 and the Tornado grip goes for $261.25 -- both at B&H.

Do you experience ergonomic/stability issues in relation to your follow focus? Does the Z-Mount look like a good solution? Let us know in the comments.

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Your Comment

56 Comments

this guy looks like an idiot with all this rigging on a dslr

October 13, 2013 at 9:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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idaho

lol!!!! Awe man...I would actually rock a rig like this. Looks comfortable and effective.

October 13, 2013 at 10:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Would look better with a GH3. :-)

October 14, 2013 at 1:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

we're in the year 2013.. and still turning knobs for focus. create a digital follow focus, that tracks the talent. improve autofocus to track movement of a subject. c'mon.. all these followfocus wheels are cavemen

October 13, 2013 at 9:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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idaho

And yet, in this day and age, we still use manual controls on exposure over something like auto iris. I wonder why.
(spoilers: Because this is what professionals do)

October 13, 2013 at 10:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Hubert

I'd say that doing something just because someone else does has no logic. That's not an advantage at all.

October 13, 2013 at 10:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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maghoxfr

It's really because you can't trust a computer to make the exact artistic adjustments you want to make.

October 13, 2013 at 10:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Sam

+1

October 14, 2013 at 7:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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manual exposure can be an artform. but focus is a technical procedure, go to any set the 1st A/C gets treated like a robot plebe. create an algo to get it sharp or slightly sharp, automate it. this is the year 2013.

all you union focus pullers, this is happening to the rest of humanity. get used to it!

October 14, 2013 at 9:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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idaho

Wow. You're completely lost. Union 1sts are the absolute best people I most prefer to look after my gear, not that there aren't many non-union firsts who do stellar jobs--/I'm just saying the absolute best 3 AC's I've ever wrked with are all union.

Focus pulling is not merely technical, it takes an incredible amount of finesse. You can't teach computers how to adapt to differences in the timings of the talent from take to take. (Or to a director who, on the fly, tells you to favor one over the other). And since I do a lot of Steadicam work, where I am landing is just as different as actors... You can always blame an actor for missing a mark, or blame an operator for missing his mark, but with a good 1st, there is hardly a reason to---b/c by having the mark, they know how to deviate from it as the need arises. Try using some sort of computerized follow focus system and figure out for me how to get it to adapt to those type of things. It would take a full time position getting someone to re-plot out the timing for focus queues, for key framing the length of the moves...for adapting to changes when an actor falls short of the mark or the operator goes over it...etc...basically, you'd need someone else doing what a 1st AC already does better.

When I'm operating

October 25, 2013 at 7:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Daniel Mimura

Hi. manual exposure can be an artform. but focus is a technical procedure, go to any set the 1st A/C gets treated like a robot plebe. create an algo to get it sharp or slightly sharp, automate it. this is the year 2013.

all you union focus pullers, this is happening to the rest of humanity. get used to it!

October 14, 2013 at 9:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Wako

I don't mean to be disrespectful but you can't use auto-focus, how would it know what to focus on with shallow DOF. Do you want my eye in focus, the person I'm talking to, the background, foreground and it can all be in motion? Sure if you have an focus puller and the scene is all figured out and rehearsed 10 times, that is no problem but this is designed for a one man band--shoulder mounted--which means if everyone hits their marks and you waver a bit the focus will need minor adjustments. This is the most inexpensive way to have extremely precise focus whilst having the camera directly on your shoulder with the lens partially being behind you and also give you the stability of holding a grip at the same time. After a day of use you can hold the shot as stable as a tripod. I can and I'm 51 ;-)

October 15, 2013 at 10:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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That's easy. Maybe I don't want to track the talent. Maybe I want to choose for myself what I focus on, or what I want to rack to, when, and how fast.

Could I program focus points into some electronic follow focus? Sure. But that takes time i don't want to waste when my own hand and own brain are capable of all these adjustments on the fly in real time.

THAT is why professionals do it manually and so we aren't doing it simply because "that's what others do" but because it is the best way to do it.

October 13, 2013 at 11:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Damon

Yes!

October 16, 2013 at 1:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jahwar

yea well said. I understand the manual is professional argument but it is 2013 there should be professional electronic controls and a movement toward cinema lenses with electronic mounts where aperture and focus can be controlled should be made so it can be controlled digitally and the rigs/parts made much easier.

I'm sure this will be awhile off though.

October 14, 2013 at 12:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jon apple

Hello Magic Lantern....!

October 14, 2013 at 10:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I agree, Magic Lantern has done a great job with this. For instance, I just shot a film with Magic Lantern installed on a 5DmkIII and the Canon cinema CN-E EF mount lenses. I rarely needed to use my AC for focus pulling because the focus peaking marks on the display were really accurate and the ML display showed me what focal distance the lens was set to. That way I could pull my own focus by reading the focal distance display when I was pulling.

October 14, 2013 at 1:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Damon

Hey, my iPhone auto focuses, auto irises, and even auto color balances on the fly! Why do we need these expensive movie cameras to do these things that an be done for $199 and a phone service contract?

Because in 2013 and for many foreseeable years, the AC's/DP's/operators need to be in control of these things!

October 25, 2013 at 7:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Daniel Mimura

Such a system exists, it's just not budget-friendly: http://moviecam-easyfocus.com/

October 14, 2013 at 1:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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true

October 14, 2013 at 2:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Arif Lalani

Does it come with its own exoskeleton?
.
PS. @idaho - the new prosumer level camera should have a pretty decent phase-detect AF system with focus peaking, etc. but the automatics will still hunt a little.

October 13, 2013 at 10:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Still looking for the 2013 Zacuto Shootout that is supposed to come out this fall.

October 13, 2013 at 10:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Edelkrone solved this problem a while ago with pulling focus near the handle of the rig instead of by the lens. In my opinion, the Zacuto seems usable, but I prefer the build of Edelkrone's FocusPLUS over this.

October 13, 2013 at 11:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tim

There's a big difference, our system is a handgrip which means you can hold the camera with two hands while focusing. the other unit you mention, one hand is on a grip and other is holding a focus wheel. That's really no different then holding a FF on the lens. The trick here was to devise a system of not having to release any of your hands which causes rocking motions.

October 15, 2013 at 10:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I'm intrigued by this follow focus system, but I really don't buy the whole "recoil" thing. Yeah, getting the camera on your shoulder helps balance it, but it also presents an ergonomic nightmare if you're shooting with DSLR. How do you change shutter speed, white balance, ISO, etc? What do you do if your evf runs out of juice? How do you handle audio, beyond a hotshoe mounted mic and monitoring levels?

October 14, 2013 at 12:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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You can buy an external controller for it and attach it to the handle

October 14, 2013 at 7:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gareth

You can? Where?

October 14, 2013 at 10:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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October 14, 2013 at 3:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gareth

I know Zacuto showcases the recoil with a DSLR mounted on it quite often (probably to sell their new half-cage), but I agree it's not the best for lightweight camera systems like DSLRs or systems that were built to have all their settings optimized at your fingertips.

Where I have been really enjoying the 'recoil' concept is for much heavier camera systems. Being able to lose the counter weights really goes a long way for my shoulders and arms after shooting all day.

October 14, 2013 at 6:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Li

The camera controls are dealt with on the OKii box in the right hand, start, stop, menu's, etc. Ask anyone who uses the Zacuto EVF, it lasts all day on one battery. But it uses the canon 5D battery so you probably have a few of those in your bag. The problem with every system out there, including our older systems until the recoil is that they were all front heavy, or had a counter balance of dead weight and were extremely long. You can't have a system where the camera and lens is in front of you. That's all of the weight in the system. So you really need like 10-12 pounds in the back for a truly balanced system that is not front heavy and that was making us nuts. You really need to try one of these systems to get it and I'll be happy to send some out if people want to review them. This concept keeps the rig light, short and with only the essentials needed. You can monitor sound in the EVF and you can set levels with your thumb in the OKii box. I'm trying to take essentially any camera out there and turn it in to what we are accustomed to shooting with, an ENG camera (which we now call a recoil). The moment you get it on your shoulder you will say wow, this feels like nothing. I can hold this all day.

October 15, 2013 at 10:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ridiculous

October 14, 2013 at 12:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Peter Kelly

A shoulder mounted rig is often quite high up, especially for tall people like myself, but mounting the camera even high up on the shoulder like this one is? No way, is too high! Especially for many shots which are required to be shot from below the eye level.

October 14, 2013 at 3:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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You know what problem this solves? The one created by incorrect use of a follow focus to begin with. The truth is that follow focuses were designed for two person camera operation, then became a DSLR fashion accessory. Shoulder mounted ENG camera ops have always pulled focus from the lens....because it works.

October 14, 2013 at 4:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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While I prefer using follow focus rigs with an AC, most follow focus units have that 45° bevel so that it can be seen from many angles...particularly the operator's. Most ENG focus is easy because you're not shooting super-35 or larger sensors. One man banding with a FF unit with focus marks on the disc is *way* easier than guessing blindly based on where your hand is on the lens.

October 25, 2013 at 8:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Daniel Mimura

The Zacuto shoulder pad has too much junk between the camera and the pad making it too top heavy. Traditional ENG cams may have had the lens at a similar height but they had weight at the base of the camera right on the shoulder to balance it out.

This getup reminds me of what Matt Damon was wearing in his last movie.... I'm becoming more cynical with every rig I see. There is nothing wrong with a camera, an eyepiece and your hand on the lens (assuming your lens has a decent focus throw and hard stops).

October 14, 2013 at 8:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Even without a long throw and hard stops... it's super possible. I've been racking my brain trying to figure out what I'm missing out on by not having a follow focus on my rig when I shoot solo. So far, I've come up with just about zilch.

EVFs can be helpful and all... but frankly, unless I'm shooting on sticks, I still prefer a loupe on the viewfinder for added stability and keeping light out.

This kind of rig, I've just about decided, really isn't for me. I shoot "run and gun" most of the time, and in that scenario a lightweight tripod or monopod with audio setup and a lcd loupe win out for me. I have a rig I use that incorporates a 4" evf and a small rig sometimes... but more often, the smaller rig wins out for me.

October 14, 2013 at 10:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I agree and work much the same. I love DSLRs but lately I'm thinking of reverting to an ENG style camera, hate to say it but part of the decision is that I'm tired of hearing clients say "oh, I've got one of those at home..." but mostly I want high frame rates and pro audio that is just easy, less stuffing about with external recorders etc. still use DSLR as my B camera tho.

October 14, 2013 at 10:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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The lens height is just below the eye which is standard for all ENG cameras,

October 15, 2013 at 10:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Yes that's what I said.

October 18, 2013 at 9:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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looks like a droopy willy

October 14, 2013 at 8:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

Crackup!!!

October 14, 2013 at 9:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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How expensive is that EasyFocus? Their video looks pretty nice.

October 14, 2013 at 10:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Z-Drive is a brilliant design though!

October 14, 2013 at 10:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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NormRasner

$10 bucks gets you a lens strap, Nofilmschool gone mad promoting this so called pro stuff.
http://pspro.us/LensStraps-1Rod-2-Straps-Black-Anodized-1B2SA.htm

October 14, 2013 at 12:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

Cool, thanks, actually just ordered one of those. :) I have a good follow focus but never use it, prefer to just use the focus ring on the lens, but maybe this will help me out a bit.

October 14, 2013 at 5:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I like how Zacuto does the exact opposite of Arri quality. They pray on film students and people who generally don't know any better.

October 14, 2013 at 4:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Lee

Arri makes some great stuff, but having owned and used Zacuto rigs professionally for five years, I wouldn't go as far to say it's the opposite of Arri, but I guess I'm one of those people who don't know any better to you. Zacuto gear comes at a premium, but they're well built and can offer small but useful efficiency boosts if that's worth the money to you.

I don't know of any, but if a film student can afford Zacuto, more power to them!

October 14, 2013 at 6:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Li

They pray to film students? Is there any animal sacrifice involved? Burning incense?

Zacuto preys on film students? Really? Silly kid.

October 14, 2013 at 6:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

I don't think any film students can afford Zacuto gear. It's really expensive. To me, it seems like too much gear on that DSLR. For my FS700, I have an ultra-minimal rig that is super light and simple. Guess what? I shoot way better with it because the more weight your rig is, the more conservative you shoot.

October 14, 2013 at 10:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene Sung

You're just talking nonsense. We don't target film students. We design our gear for working professionals who need equipment to last, that's why we have a lifetime unconditional warranty--so working professionals know it will last them a lifetime.

October 15, 2013 at 10:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Waste of money. They've created gear to solve a non existent problem.

October 14, 2013 at 4:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Exactly......

October 14, 2013 at 7:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Lee

Many companies have attempted to create a more stable single shooter follow-focus solution. Some shooters enjoy focusing directly on the lens and for them, a gun-stock or simple shoulder rigs would work just fine. And I think if you never have to take your hands off the lens when doing this, it works very well for run and gun.

But there are also situations where having a dedicated follow focus on a hand-held rig is more efficient or preferable. In those situations, I find horizontal follow focus drives can work pretty badly, as it's very difficult to maintain stability when you have to use horizontal force. Several companies have tried to solve this. Eldekrone has a analog remote ff (their FocusPLUS), redrock has the finger wheel extension to their motorized ff and I'm happy to see Zacuto attempt an angled ff.

One situation I've had to and will continue to use the RedRock micro finger wheel + motorized motor is when steadicam-ing with no 1st AC available. It's one area where you just can't touch the lens with your hands. And while I wouldn't advise flying + pulling simultaneously, jobs do come up when it's needed and it at least gives me you a fighting chance of getting focus.

From the looks of it, I'm not sure if the Z-Drive + Tornado combo will actually offer extra stability when focusing handheld. I tested it at NAB and it felt pretty smooth, it might take a lot of practice or skilled hands to rotate your wrists without affecting the vertical movement. If it does, then I'd rather use it on handheld rigs instead of a motorized ff (less battery/noise). And if it doesn't, then off to the return pile it goes.

I would be VERY interested if they could develop an analog vertical finger wheel to go with the Z-Drive though. Maybe a smaller tipped whip might work?

October 15, 2013 at 12:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Li

I wish, Li. The problem is that lots of lenses have a serious amount of torque that a finger wheel without a motor can't turn. But the Z-drive/Tornado combo it's easy using muscle strength. This was a low cost, low weight, low tech solution. sure we could have gone motors but it's a lot more weight and you need multiple Anton type batteries, charger, cables, etc. It's a plus, plus, plus thing with motors and then the noise. And too and from sticks takes time. Two many moving parts for this type of one man, quick all days shooter rig. This is great for reality shooting, news, corporate, indie, where you need to be handheld for long periods of time and having it rock solid stable and not have to worry about batteries. The idea is that when you go on the pod you still have a mechanical FF and when on the shoulder you have an incredible stable focusing system. Simple. Want me to send you one and you can review it?

October 15, 2013 at 11:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gosh,

How much do you spend on all this tube and clips, crimps, extenders and whatever to turn a DSLR into a video camera ?

October 17, 2013 at 6:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ken

Check out our Universal Focus Grip. If you are in Los Angeles you can schedule a time to test it. We are currently testing our design and would love to have some user feedback. Also ours doesn't look so suggestive! Happy filming.

November 14, 2013 at 1:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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