Phil Peel

Film, video, photography, sound and story

New focussing/ zoom lever for HDSLR

Posted by Phil On March - 14 - 2012

There’s an interesting cut price zoom/focus lever come onto the market. But why would you want one?

One of the reasons for shooting with a HDSLR is the cinematic narrow depth of field, which replicates the look of a 35mm film camera. But control of the narrow depth of field on a feature film shoot has been the responsibility of the highly skilled and experienced focus puller, whose full time job is to keep the point of focus precisely on that part of the subject required at that moment of the scene.

A modern HDSLR can give us the narrow depth of field, but that more often than not results in out of focus shots. For example, a close up of face usually requires sharp focus on one eye. The depth of field may be so small, that the other will be likely be out of focus.

I remember going to a Canon 5D MkII workshop at a major International Film Festival. The room was packed as the young enthusiastic speaker demonstrated the camera and then showed us a short film he had made.  He had been hand holding the camera moving around the actress, as she performed her dramatic emotional confrontation in a foreboding ruined castle with the other actor.

The audience seemed duly impressed. But I was in the front row and could see that for 80% of the film,  it was out of focus as the actress was also swaying back and forward. Her shoulder was in focus, then her ear, occasionally an eye, but with no consistency.  I pointed this out, asking why he hadn’t used either a focus puller or a narrower F stop to enable a consistent focus.

“Oh,” he said,  “I didn’t need a focus puller. I had low powered  lighting, so I had to use maximum aperture.  The depth of field is amazing isn’t it!”       Hmm..

So how do we go about  keeping focus? Firstly a follow focus rig is a great help. ..and ideally an experienced follow focus operator with an external monitor to work by.

But this isn’t always possible and if you are working quickly it can be a real fiddle to mount a follow focus, so here is where the focus lever may be of use, or you have a zoom lens you could use the lever on the zoom and the follow focus ring on the focus.

I remember that I had zoom rods on my Bolex cameras.  Anyway I noticed these incredibly cheap strap on focus/zoom rods from the States.

They’re at  and are about $10 or about £8 including postage to the UK (£10 for two)

Apparently their new design which has been just released March 2012 is releasable and reusable.

So I’ve ordered a couple and I’ll let you know how I get on with them