With very aggressive pricing in a well-understood form factor, CAME-TV’s Wireless Follow Focus Controller can do the trick – within limits.
For the very first time, I need a wireless follow focus controller. If you need one too – at a price that makes sense for one-man bands and guerilla filmmakers — read on.
As I write this, I’m working with a solid DP on the shot list for a zero budget teaser I’m producing (yeah, OK, I wrote it and am directing it, too – isn’t that what guerilla filmmaking is all about?). The opening scene will not be easy. It involves a motorcycle, a chase car, and a dual operator 3-axis gimbal.
It’s what I like to call “stupid ambitious” for a first-time director/producer like me.
Just the way I like it!
But it’s also a perfect use case for CAME-TV’s Wireless Follow Focus Controller, which at $880 is the most aggressively priced, classic form factor wireless focus controller I’ve seen – and it does the business, within limits. For the rest of this piece, let’s just refer to it as the CTV WFFC.
Frank over at CAME-TV sent me one to review, but I confess it sat unopened for quite a while. As a one-man band I had other fish to fry – and the wrong equipment to wring it out.
CAME TV Wireless Follow Focus REVIEW
Once my schedule cleared, a quick call to Cole over at Veydra secured a Veydra Mini Prime 25mm T/2.2 Sony E-mount (one of my new favorites) for the test, and once again the guys at B&H were fantastic, making the new Sony FS5 available as part of an extended evaluation (more on this in a future article).
So while I can’t tell you how the WFFC does under intense shooting pressure, demonstrate it with real actors – a shame, really, as racking focus is a lovely technique to support a two person scene — nor tell you how it operates in a crowded signal area over longer distances, I can certainly tell you how it works in a much more controlled, static environment.
The CTV WFFC does the business, which at this price is a fraction of what the big boys charge (see for example, Redrock Micro’s microRemote Wireless Focus Bundle with flexCables at $2,720 or VariZoom’s VZTOC-F1 Wireless Follow Focus System at $4,795.
But it does come at a cost – like everything else.
First, the pros.
- Price: at $880 the CTV WFFC also includes a Pelican-style hard case, multiple gears, multiple marker rings, charger for the controller, and P-tap cable for the remote.
- Sound: it is surprisingly quiet.
- Auto calibrate: the auto-calibrate function makes it a snap to find and lock in maximum and minimum focus distances for any cine-geared lens
- Function: the CTV WFFC worked consistently and reliably for me
The cons are really all about ergonomics, but this is no small thing. Then again, if you’re a guerilla filmmaker like me, you’re likely to be happy to make these trade-offs.
- Rail mounting: the locking lever on the clamp which attaches the remote motor to your rail system lines up on the inside of the rail. If you’ve got big fingers or poor fine motor skills, this is a pain. Also, the remote motor unit clamp comes with a spacer to fit 15mm rods, but the clamp is spec’d for 18mm, adding one level of complexity when you want to get the whole thing on or off.
- Magnetic marker ring: this is held in place by a rather clever three magnet system, but there is only one way the magnets align properly. If you don’t get it right, the marker ring will move around on the controller ring. Get it right (takes a couple of seconds), and you’re good to go.
- Hard stop screws: they work, but again they’re best for people with excellent fine motor skills and small fingers. I’d prefer a better system.
- Lens mating: with only one pivot point (the rail mount itself), positioning the CTV WFFC is not always possible. While it worked fine with the Veydra on the FS5 with my cheapie rail setup, it didn’t work with the vastly more robust and sophisticated combo of the Sony FS7.
- Smoothness: this may be my limitation, but I wasn’t able to get the CTV WFFC to roll on and roll off as smoothly as I wanted (though frankly, I didn’t notice the difference in my test footage).
- One channel only: the CTV WFFC doesn’t handle aperture or zoom.
- Power: the CTV WFFC motor unit requires access to a battery with a P-Tap accessory port like the $270 Anton Bauer Digital 90 V-Mount. This is clever and easy if your rig already has a battery – but if you’re trying to keep small by using say, a Sony a7S II on something like the MoVI M5 or perhaps a hexacopter like the DJI S900 with Zenmuse Z15 gimbal this limits your options.
- Non-traditional competitors: if you don’t have geared cine lenses but still want remote wireless follow focus and are transitioning from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras like the Sony a7R II or Panasonic GH4 [B&H|Amazon], Aputure’s sub-$400 DEC Wireless Focus & Aperture Controller [B&H|Amazon] is a very novel and even less expensive approach which has the added benefit of focus AND aperture control. On the other hand, Redrock Micro is now shipping its $2,199 ultraCage Scout HX — which, while three times the price of the CTV WFFC, may be small enough with its built-in battery to change your sense of what trade-offs you’re willing to make. In between those two – and if you DO have geared cine lenses, DJI will hook you up via their $1,999 Wireless Follow Focus System, a pretty neat package for Ronin and Ronin-M operators.
CAME-TV’s Wireless Follow Focus Controller is a stellar value in traditional, single channel wireless follow focus devices, especially if you have a dedicated video camera set up with V-mount battery. If it does what you need and you can live with the ergonomic trade-offs and its single channel limit, it’s a pretty compelling piece of kit. If you’ve moved to the mirrorless world or are a gimbal-centric kind of guy, its price will still be attractive – but a new class of competitors with different trade-offs are worth a look, too.
(cover photo credit: snap from video)
And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
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