DSLR Follow Focus: Do You Need One?

As a filmmaker using  DSLR’s such as the Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 7D or Nikon D90, you need to seriously consider purchasing or making a DIY “follow focus” system for your video camera.

A follow focus system is important because DSLR cameras do not have auto focus capabilities. In fact, even if they did, auto-focus is rarely used in the world of professional filmmaking. Auto focus systems use  their ‘best guess”, and limit creative control of the filmmaker (not to mention most auto focus systems don’t perform as well in low light environments and often suffer from focus lag).

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Message by:  Lights Film School
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Why you need a follow focus system?

Simply put, the ergonomics and mathematics of focus are delicate and complex. Using your hand to make adjustments on the body of your camera while filming is a dangerous habit to get into, and one that will undoubtebly lead to the lowering of your video’s perceived production value. This is because these camera’s are so lightweight in the first place that they wouldn’t be able to absorb the shock of your subtle movements. The result will be jumpy footage, soft focus and jarring focus transitions (and likely a combination of all three).

Similarly, since you can’t use the focus assist feature on the camera while filming, your ability to “eye” the focus of each shot will likely be slightly off. This may be okay if you’re shooting a documentary film because audiences are a little more forgiving of such technical errors. However, for filmmakers interested in short films, music videos, commercials and feature length films you need to measure out each scene and use a focus puller to ensure each shot is as crisp and in focus as possible.

Nothing ruins a video quicker than soft focus and it’s the job of the follow focus device to help you achieve the best technical results possible.

There are many follow focus product options available to independent filmmakers. We will list some of the brands and their prices below. I hope this helps. I also hope to hear comments and feedback from filmmakers who have used these products in the past.

Redrock – $495 – $722

Zacuto – $1300 – $1675

Indiefocus – $99 – $299

D focus – $134

Cinevate – $1195

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