Unless you’re a full time filmmaker, you’re only video gear is probably a humble DSLR and a tripod. Technically, this is all you need and there are many excellent examples of bare-bones filmmakers with groundbreaking work. There are obstacles with this approach, however. With DSLR filmmaking, you are hampered with an inability to use AF while filming in most circumstances. Manually focusing is a challenge when you’re working with moving subjects and an extremely shallow depth-of-field at the same time. There are two key pieces of equipment you can rent without breaking your budget that will give your DSLR film a polished look and make manual focusing and tracking much easier.
Shoulder-Mounted Follow Focus Systems
To overcome the DSLR focus challenge, a system like the Redrock DSLR Field Cinema Deluxe Bundle will help. With this bundle, your camera and lens are mounted to a set of carbon fiber rails which all sits on top of a shoulder pad with two large handles and a counterweight to comfortably balance the rig on your shoulder.
Instead of having to keep your hands on your lens to adjust focus, the focus ring of your lens is controlled by a toothed connecting ring that is wrapped around the lens which is connected to a large dial that sits out to the right or left side of your lens. For more information on which size rings go with which size lenses, see this guide.
This dial allows you to smoothly “rack” the focus back and forth between your desired points. The dial also has adjustable stops which can be set according to the points of critical focus for your shot. Simply focus far, move the stop, and then rack the focus back to your near point, and move the other stop. You can then rack the focus precisely back and forth between each position without going past either. Such precise focus racking with a DSLR is all but impossible to pull off without a follow focus rig like this.
Note that when using the RedRock follow focus rig, it will be challenging to see your camera’s LCD screen (unless it folds out), so consider adding an external HDMI monitor such as the excellent Marshall 7” HDMI monitor. The Redrock DSLR Field Cinema Deluxe Bundle includes a mount for the monitor arm to attach directly to the rig.
Lenses for Cinema Use
Having the toothed rings that come with the RedRock Bundle are convenient because it turns just about any standard lens into one suitable for video shooting. You can also skip having to use the rings by instead using a set of Rokinon Prime DS Cinema lenses, which are designed for full frame DSLR filmmaking. These cine lenses have smooth, “unclicked” aperture rings for precise control over the diaphragm diameter as well as built-in follow focus rings.
On cine lenses, both the aperture opening and focus of the lens are operated by toothed rings that are integrated in the lens barrel. These mate perfectly with a follow focus control dial, allowing you to smoothly and quietly dial the aperture up/down, or the focus far/near. If you want to control both the focus and aperture at once, you can add a second “rack dial” and position one on each side of the rig (here is a separate follow focus unit you can add to this rig). For more information on how to set up proper gear alignment, see this guide.
The Rokinon DS set covers nearly every focal range a DSLR filmmaker might want, short of needing a telephoto (which can be rented separately). The lenses included are the 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. All lenses are extremely sharp, fast, and bright, with max apertures of f/1.5 and min of f/22. Having the same settings across the entire set makes it easy to swap lenses and adjust focal lengths without having to change camera settings.
The Rokinon lenses’ bokeh is excellent and the shallow depth-of-field rivals even the Canon L series lenses. The “clickless” aperture is fantastic for adjusting aperture on the fly; for example, if you are shooting a follow shot that tracks a character from a street into a dimly lit building, you can rack open the aperture as you go from the bright outside to the dark inside without having to cut. Another benefit of the “clickless” manual aperture is a complete lack of flicker in time-lapse shooting.
These lenses offer incredible features that will show in your footage and come at a great rental value. Note that you can also rent the Rokinon Prime Cinema Lens Kit, which is different from the DS set. The older collection of Rokinon lenses may require follow focus adjustments when swapping out for different focal lengths because the gearing and aperture rings are not as uniform as they are with the DS lens. Also, the older Rokinon cine lenses are not color-matched with as much precision as the Rokinon DS lenses.
Assembly and Use
I shoot with the Canon 5D Mark III and Mark II DSLR cameras and when I have clients approach me about shooting video, I also rent the Rokinon Prime DS Cinema Lens Set, the Redrock DSLR Field Cinema Deluxe Bundle, and the Marshall 7” HDMI monitor. The combination of the three is a killer setup that will undoubtedly unleash some serious creativity. Here are some tips for assembly and use.
The RedRock arrives in a hard, purpose-built Pelican case, which is fantastic for transporting the disassembled rig. This is what will greet you when you open it up: You will need to build the rig. Straight out of the box, the rig comes with the shoulder pad assembly on the base rails, as it is designed for a “run-and-gun” style of filmmaking. If you want to set up for a static shot, such as an interview where the rig will be tripod mounted, remove the shoulder pad and counterweight, and attach your tripod plate to the bottom of the camera body base plate. The two blue handles attach at the ends of the single carbon fiber rail that mounts perpendicular to the main rails at the front of the rig, and the single blue handle with the dual rail attachments go in the back and allow you to carry the rig comfortably between shooting locations. For more information on how to assemble this rig, see this guide.
The kit includes one control dial, which you can mount either to the left or the right side, whichever feels more comfortable to you for racking the follow focus. Don’t finalize the fore/aft location of this controls’ rail until you have your lens or a cine lens attached to your camera and mounted on the rig, as you will need to fine-tune its location to ensure the teeth mate properly and the dial smoothly operates the lens’ controls without pushing the lens/camera to one side.
If you plan on using your own lenses and not renting the Rokinon set, then you simply need to attach one of the three provided blue toothed rings to the focus ring on your lens and adjust the focus dial location to match the toothed ring on your lens. Once assembled, the rig should look as below. If you want added stability, place the counterweights at the back of the rig, followed by the top carrying handle.
The Rokinon lenses arrive packed in foam and wrapped individually in plastic bags for water damage protection during shipping. The set consists of four lenses: the 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. Their EF mount makes them ready to attach directly to your Canon DSLR.
DSLR filmmaking is definitely one of those creative pursuits where having more gear with efficient support systems can help you create better work and also helps you stand out from your peers. A great place to start is with the Rokinon Prime DS Cinema Lens Set and the Redrock DSLR Field Cinema Deluxe Bundle. These will help lay the path to taking your creative DSLR filmmaking to the next level, assure you’re using the best DSLR camera for video and have clients coming back for more.
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