Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hi-Tech Studio: Top 5 Accessories For Motion

By The Editors Published in Digital SLR Cameras
Redrock Micro microMattebox
Redrock Micro microMattebox

Follow Focus

One of the main differences between still photography lenses and so-called cine lenses is the amount of barrel rotation required for changing focus. Modern still lenses with their high-tech AF systems typically have little and sometimes very little barrel rotation. There are plenty of pro-quality lenses that rotate as little as 90ยบ from infinity to their close-focus point. This is great for super-accurate AF systems that take advantage of the short rotation to lock in fast, but it's not ideal for motion where you often change focus during a take as the subject moves in the frame. In the film industry, there's a dedicated job of focus puller, and the best focus pullers are master craftsmen.

Redrock Micro microFollowFocusBlue

Most DSLRs have limited, if any, AF capability when shooting in their motion modes, and many experienced filmmakers debate how useful AF really is anyway. We won't answer that question here, but we will address the value of a follow-focus control for your rig. One of the reasons why DSLRs have taken off for motion is due to their ability to create the vaunted cinema effect thanks to their large sensors and the ability to have a limited depth of field. Limited depth of field cuts both ways, though, and as you shoot you need fine control to keep the subject in sharp focus. The follow-focus control is mounted on the rail assembly, and it achieves several objectives. It gets focus control to a much more comfortable and ergonomic location, if you have a dedicated focus puller, he or she can operate the focus while the operator takes care of the framing, and the rings on a follow-focus control let you set marks for precise focus changes while you're shooting.

Marshall 7-inch V-LCD70XP

External Monitor

Squinting through a viewfinder is never optimal. For motion work, adding a large monitor to your rig is a great move. Obviously, it gives you a look at a larger image for composition, but it's also a necessity if you have a focus puller. And if you want to shoot from unorthodox vantage points, a monitor is utterly indispensable. There are all sorts of monitors on the market. A solid, 5-inch or 7-inch model will be perfect for most situations. You can attach it to your camera's HDMI out, and although this isn't ideal for critical color evaluation, it will work for 95% of your motion work. If you've ever been a large-format shooter, the monitor will remind you of how nice it was to compose on a large area instead of having to squint into a tiny viewfinder.

Novoflex BlueBird

Camera Stabilizer

Few things make video more unwatchable than an image that's jerky and bouncing ad nauseum. The Blair Witch Project not withstanding, the effect should only be used deliberately and in limited quantities. To keep the camera steady off the tripod, a stabilizer of some kind is a necessity. The handholding, shoulder-mount and chest-bracing rigs from companies like Redrock Micro, Manfrotto, Zacuto, Novoflex and others are cost effective and extremely useful. Actual stabilizers from companies like Steadicam, Glidecam and VariZoom give you a different kind of setup. The former class of steadying devices lets you get the camera off the tripod; the latter is best for situations when you actually need to move the camera with the action.

Steadicam Merlin

This is just a quick overview of our top five accessories for anyone looking to move into motion. Go to to see a full list of resources. You can do a lot with a DSLR, good lenses and a solid vision. Adding these items will make your rig into an even more useful tool.

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