If you’re working in a studio environment or on a camera head, the ultraCage | blue DSLR Studio Bundle is a great solution because you can add a rear chassis cage that can hold longer rails to attach a powerPack accessory, Anton Bauer battery plate, or support for an external recorder.
The ultraCage DSLR Event Handheld Rig, which includes the ultraCage, retails for $1,175. The ultraCage by itself runs $595.
High-end manufacturer of professional camera accessories, Chrosziel (www.chrosziel.com) has released two camera kits designed for the Nikon D800. The starter kit StudioRig Plus Kit Nikon D800 contains the 206-60S Studio Rig Plus that comes with gearwheel mod. 0.8, a flexible gear ring 206-30 for lenses with 60-90mm diameter, LWS lightweight support 401-421. The SR Plus + MB Kit Nikon D800 contains everything in the StudioRig Plus Kit and also contains Chrosziel’s Mattebox 450-R20 with 410-80P Insertring Ø 110:80 mm (24mm tube), and DSLR handgrip 3300. Although Chrosziel gear is typically in a higher price bracket (pricing for the D800 kits TBD), high-quality German design and engineering is what you’ll be rewarded with.
Achieving critical focus on a DSLR is possibly the hardest skill set to master. In working with the D800 and 5D Mark III’s full-frame sensor, unless you’re a professional focus puller, staying tack sharp on a moving subject on a long lens at an ƒ-stop lower than an ƒ/4 is extremely difficult (impossible if you’re a novice filmmaker).
One of my favorite companies to come out of the DSLR revolution has been iDC Photo (www.idcphotovideo.com). Their follow-focus system is a smartly designed support system to assist filmmakers working either by themselves or with a small crew. Their gear is also easy and intuitive to assemble/operate and priced in line with the DSLR’s low cost. With my 5D Mark III, I recently got the opportunity to try out the new SYSTEM ZERO Follow Focus system, which contains a follow-focus and a dedicated 5D Mark III camera plate. The iDC system isn’t your typical follow-focus with gears and rails, but instead the follow-focus wheel slips into individual slots on the camera plate, and then the rubber edge of the wheel touches snugly against the rubber focus dial of the lens barrel. The advantage is that the setup is extremely fast, especially when changing lenses. The other advantage (and it’s a big one) is cost. The SYSTEM ZERO Follow Focus Standard has a base cost of $399, which pales in comparison to most follow-focus systems, which can run in the thousands. (For me, it doesn’t make sense to pay twice as much for camera accessories than the cost of your DSLR.) The disadvantage of the iDC compared to a rod or rail system is that although the iDC will work with most lenses, because it only has a limited number of slots (on the SYSTEM ZERO, it has seven), it might not work on every lens as a rod system does where you can perform more adjustments. To monitor your footage more critically, iDC offers a Hoodman optical viewfinder that can mount to a separate camera plate. Although the viewfinder does not have magnification like the Zacuto Z-Finder, it’ll still do the job. For the baseplate, you can also add a few mounting accessories such as brackets, quick-release clamps and dovetails that will enable you to attach microphones, lights, recorders, etc. The SYSTEM ZERO Follow Focus Standard Combo Kit Canon 5D Mark III that I tested includes the standard follow-focus, an Accessory Mounting Bracket Kit B, the Follow Focus Spacer and the 5D Mark III camera plate and retails for $720. It’s well designed for the indie filmmaker and well worth your hard-earned bucks.
For focusing with Canon lenses, Zacuto is distributing a follow-focus device created by Okii Systems (www.okii.net) that will enable you to adjust focus remotely. By using Canon’s USB protocol with a standard mini-B-to-A USB cable, the FC1 USB Focus Controller uses Canon’s autofocus motor in lenses to control focus in the Live View mode. The focus knob of the FC1 has a number of buttons around its circumference that control other functions of the camera, including start/stop recording, digital zoom, saving focus points, and other camera adjustments. One really cool feature with the FC1 is the ability to set focus marks on two separate planes for quick rack focus moves. Once your marks are set, to perform a rack focus, you only need to alternate between two buttons. One drawback is that because of the autofocus mechanism within EF lenses, you might encounter some bumpy stair stepping, which isn’t the most natural-looking focus pull. One button on the controller gives you three different settings of focus control. I found the second setting to be smooth, but if you need critical focus control within inches, the lowest or third step will give you the most control, almost as if you’re pulling focus on a cinema-style lens with its large focus barrel. One thing to remember is that the autofocus motor noise will be heard during focus changes so it’s best to use an external microphone and recorder while using the FC1.