Redrock Micro: Focus, people, Focus!

Ahh that shiny new HD DSLR is warming up in your hands, and you know you’ll be able to shoot some killer video.
What could be so hard?
You know how to pick up a camera, suss the right exposure ( or go auto), and then let the auto focus do it’s magic and Voila!
Pulitzer prize here you come. Or Flickr.
Not so fast in the old video dept.
That twee little DSLR in your hands has some incredible capabilities, but you’ll have to learn some of the limitations also.

Hmmmm…where shall we start……….

OK, lets go easy for right now, and talk about getting a nice, sharp image. Whenever you want it.
You see, all of these magical cameras really don’t auto focus when you are in the HD movie modes.
It’ll all be on you.
Perhaps not such a daunting request when you have your camera at eye level. And you know you’ll be looking at that big ole LCD screen.
So there you are, focusing at a modified arms length, but keeping steady is easy when you are dealing with a fraction of a second.
Motion is another thing entirely.

In all of our video work, we shoot utilizing a number of devices ranging from a DSLR to a P2 Video camera.

Whenever we look at gear purchases, quite honestly, we are looking for some crossover or versatility.

Our first goal was to find a stabilization system that would work for local or travel assignments, and be able to morph a bit.
Sometimes you can bring in a big rig, sometimes just a simpler system works best.

Our company of choice was Redrock micro for a few reasons: quality and price.
We went with the deluxe shoulder mount and a shoulder brace with some extra bits to create a transformer type system.

This combination allowed us to use a DSLR and a small HD video camera on a shoulder brace unit like this,


yes, we use only 1 grip on this set-up, so the other hand can focus.

and both of those cameras, plus the much larger P2 card HD video camera on the deluxe shoulder mount,

But wait…what if your shot is not at eye level, or at a place where you won’t be looking ? You’ll be needing to use an off camera monitor to see what the shot is and and a follow focus system to make sure your are focused where you want to be.
Sorry, jumped ahead there for a second. We’ll get back to the monitor, later.

For now, we’ll assume you are framing and focusing your shoot, looking at the DSLR LCD, or a magnifier attached to it, like a HoodLoupe.

Since all of the HD DSLR’s require manual focus, AND you want a smooth transition for one focus point to another, a Follow Focus system is critical to your shoot.

The relatively small circumference of still camera lenses, as compared to cinema lenses, cause the focus to be a very critical adjustment.
Enter the Gear rings.

These fit around the lens and add gear teeth to connect to the focusing system. They also add a larger circumference to the lens to make the focus a more forgiving length. In other words, you have more of a hand turn to ease into your focus point.

The Follow Focus assembly then attaches very easily to the rod system of the rigs, whether it’s the shoulder brace of full shoulder mount.
It is then a matter of making sure the gears all mesh and the focus wheel is properly placed for your use.
One other item that is used in the DSLR system, is a special mount that raises the camera so the gear from the FF assembly aligns properly with the gear on the lens.
Looks like this:

One thing that we like about the RedRock Micro system is the “3D” feature of the Focus wheel. Instead of being flat, viewed mainly from the side, it has a beveled surface, allowing you to make focus marks visible to the you, the camera operator, from the back or at an angle.

So first you get your focus marks for each subject, then use a dry erase marker or grease pencil on the focus wheel. This way you know where your subject is in focus from one point to another. You can do it all on the fly, and focus as you go, with a lot of practice. That auto focus we’ve all been very used to on still cameras, will not be coming to your aid here.

Yep, it gets pretty involved.

No longer are you just putting you camera up to your eye and shooting.

Using HD video cameras that DO have auto focus, face recognition, and allow you to record good quality audio directly onto the video is a much easier proposition.
No, you don’t get the advantage of the good glass with all of the ranges of your DSLR.
OK, you can but you are adding a bunch of other gear. And that is actually the way it is done professionally.

One of the other things we like about our Redrock system is the ability to attach, or hang, or twist on all of the accoutrements that will make our video shoot a success, using the micromounts.
Things like a digital recorder,mic. receivers, ext. monitor, ext. hard drive, etc..
On the rigs we pictured above you can see a micro mount at one end of the rig near the grip. That is used for our external monitor, a SmallHD, since we love the critical focus on a bigger HD screen. Your LCD is not HD.

And here is a big bonus: on the Redrock microshoulder mount Deluxe Bundle, you can add a tripod plate that will let you work the whole rig on a tripod or easily move it to your shoulder. Excellent for the fast moving project.
Maybe your are doing a well lit interview, then have to move around to capture the subject doing that thing they do.
Like we said, versatility is the key.
Of course you may say ” Hey! What are the downsides? No system is perfect.”
True enough.
So here are things we felt were cons on the system:
* The blue knobs to tighten the hand grips and rod clamps, needed some extreme force to tighten for a full day of work.
* These items are not generally available off the shelf. You may have to wait to get your goods.
* Not a huge fan of bright blue on our rigs but very minor point.

Yes, there are less expensive Follow Focus systems, and waaaay more expensive systems to work with on your stabilization and follow focus.
Some folks like to mix and match within their setups.
Figure it this way, the film business has been around for over 100 years and the tools that have been perfected are varied.
Examine how you will be using the gear to help make your decisions. And then check your wallet.

Are you making an independant dramatic feature? Using an HD DSLR to save dough?
Maybe you are mainly going for photojournalistic media capture. Honestly, that was the originally intended audience for the HD DSLR’s.
Sometimes, renting gear for a weekend, if you can, will help you decide what works best.
Photo and film trade shows are great ways to see what is available, and what may be right for you by actually putting the gear in your hands.
Redrock micro has a great series of videos on their product line up so that is also a good place to look before you leap.
A big point for us was putting the rig on our shoulder, or bracing it against our chest.
The comfort and ease of operation factor was key. And like a well tailored suit, you can usually adjust these rigs pretty specifically to your body.

Overall, we are very happy with Redrock micro and feel completely comfortable recommending it to any one out there. Check the options on their site, to see what could fit you best.
And remember, your mileage may vary. In other words, only you know how best this gear will fit your needs.

Here is a shot of someone trying out the microbrace rig at a trade show:

And at the same show , here is a Canon 5D all geared up and ready to shoot video:

We did say we sometimes shoot with a P2 HD camera so here is that rig. the SmallHD monitor is positioned on the left and on the right is an electronic control for zoom,iris, and yes, focus, although we prefer the geared system.

We hope this has shed some more light on the HD DSLR wave and how you may approach it. Check out this free webinar from Createasphere for some more on good info on the HD DSLR front.

In another article we’ll discuss some of the best ways to capture sound for your HD DSLR video projects, the other 50% or your video project.

Questions? Comments? Additions?

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