Generic Mattebox & Follow Focus

16 Jan

Something I think I’m going to do, when I have the time and capital, is continue what I sort-of started with my Steadicam venture, in that I’m going to buy the cheap stuff and review it. I feel like I’m decently qualified–I work with a lot of professional-grade equipment, and am pretty good at analyzing design and features. I’ve also been through a few shows in my limited time, so I can predict how something will act decently well.

I’m also annoyed when I can’t find good reviews of this stuff online, so hopefully this’ll help somebody out in the future.

Anyway, the first two items on my new list are a 4×5.65 swing-away mattebox, and a dual follow focus system from “Lensse,” a manufacturer of which I was unaware, until it appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. These are both cheap–the mattebox was $168 and the FF $199, both with free shipping. The Lensse was on sale at the time–I believe it retails for $349, and I probably wouldn’t have just bought it for no reason if it had been that price.

Lensse Case Closed

The Lensse Dual Follow Focus popped up on my newsfeed sometime before Christmas 2014. I ordered it sometime around New Years, and it showed up January 12th (through TNT, a shipping company I’ve never encountered before, and shipping from Ankara.) I must have missed the picture of the case on the website, but my first impression was “wow, what a neat little case!” Each component has its own slot, which is nice.Lensse Case Open

The first thing I noticed was the heft and weight of the thing. I had read on the website that it was anodized aluminum, but I didn’t realise it would be quite so dense. My comparison is an O’Connor follow focus that I used on A Haunting–same low profile, direct drive, and ability to quick-release from the rails (something I don’t really need, but is neat.) The O’Connor’s weight is listed at 1.23 lbs/0.56 kgs, which is actually the same weight for the Lensse (I weighed it on a postage scale), but the O’Connor just feels a little lighter. Not sure if it’s a lower profile, a longer bridge, or just a different grade of aluminum, but the Lensse just feels a lot heavier.

The Fotga feels nice for someone my size, where the Lensse is just a little on the small size.

The Fotga feels nice for someone my size, where the Lensse is just a little on the small side.

The second thing is the size of the handwheels. I’m coming personally from using my Fotga DP3000 (reviewed here), which is all plastic but still really solid, and I also have big hands naturally. The Lensse handwheels feel relatively tiny, especially coming from an Arri FF-3 (the big follow focus that Regent had) and even the aforementioned O’Connor.

I don't know what that's actually called. You can see the mark doesn't extend over the marking ring, so you'll be a little less precise.

I don’t know what this post actually called.

The third thing is the lack of anything extra on the secondary handwheel–it’s literally just a wheel. The white marking ring will slide on, but there is no post or anything to mark it by, so it’s kinda pointless from an AC’s perspective. On the other hand, from an AC’s perspective, you wouldn’t necessarily need two wheels (unless there were some crazy stupid camera move?) so you could just switch the primary wheel to either side of the unit.

As far as the action goes, it feels very good. The aluminum teeth are quite sharp on all of the areas where they intersect, and the gear wheel is well built. I removed the screws for the hard-stops because I don’t use them, which lets the rings rotate freely–I’ve had this problem on a Fotga DP500II before (also used on A Haunting,) but it’s more of an annoyance than anything. Really, the only issue is with the focus mark post thing–the little metal spike doesn’t actually reach the marking disk. You can see it from the side, but it’s not nearly as helpful as even the Fotga’s arrow mark, and certainly not as nice as any of the [more expensive] FF’s I’ve used. But as with the mattebox below–we’re at that level of budget. $200? Even list price $350, you’re still getting a pretty good deal.

Focus blockA fourth thing (four? wow) is the height of the focus gear. I have yet to reconfigure my rig to get my lens to the proper height, but this is a problem I dealt with on the O’Connor (which was rigged on a C300 using still photo lenses)–the gear barely touches the focus ring of the lens. It’s a very low profile unit, which is fine, but the gearbox must be jammed almost under the lens to interact with the gear. This puts the handwheel very close to the rails, though a workaround would be to flip the unit so the gearbox is on the opposite side of the handwheel. As of mid-January when I asked the company, they are in the process of designing an arm for use with the Lensse, which would eliminate that problem and also open the unit up for use on much larger or smaller lenses.
Handwheel attachment knob Rail attachment knob

One major complaint: the knobs here are a joke. They are small and plastic, and though the screws are solid, it’s very difficult to tighten or loosen some of them. In particular the screw on the “quick-release” portion (which, incidentally, is not a very quick release–it’s not spring loaded, so you have to loosen it all the way in order to get it on or off) is nigh impossible to operate, especially for someone my size with the aforementioned large fingers. Once they’re locked, they’re fine, it’s just getting them there that’s tricky.

12mm square holeMinor complaint next: the square hole on the handwheel was just a millimeter too thin to truthfully seat the speed crank I have, which means it may not handle anything else. Of course, I only have what I have to test with, so it’s possible that it will accept “industry standard” (meaning, not-also-from-China) but it’s still something worth mentioning. Now, as you can see from the image, it fits enough–I can still get the functionality out of it. However, if this were a whip, and I walked away from the rig for a moment, it’s entirely possible that it would fall out.

So I’ve yet to field test the Lensse–will update this post when I’ve done so after next weekend. But my general impression is that it’s a nice, professional-looking follow-focus, well built, with a few quirks and quibbles. As with everything that’s cheap, just remember: there’s usually a reason for it.

Lensse Follow FocusBoth the mattebox and the follow focus highlighted a problem with some camera rigs: they require the lenses to be at the industry standard height from the rails (supposed to be 85mm from center of rods to center of lens–Duclos Lenses has a great post about that.) This required me to do some serious rig reconfiguration, which I suppose is my fault to begin with, but also highlights the issue with the P&C Gearbox cage in this configuration. You can see the height of the lens in relation to the bridge there, and just know that the bridge actually would run into the focus gear on my lens. Luckily, the focus gear was in a position that didn’t require me to get drastic with my build, but if you have anything close to what I’ve got, you might have to get a camera riser to use these pieces of equipment.

Next, the mattebox. The box listed it as a “Digital Juice” but I’ve seen practically the same mattebox (in pictures, anyway) from a variety of other sellers for a variety of prices (anywhere from $149 to $499.) Whether or not the others are the same ones with different stickers is something I suppose I can’t contest, but they look awfully similar.

Cut on the EyebrowOne thing I had read about in various reviews of the others is that there were scratches already in place from the box opening, and sure enough, there was a huge slice across the eyebrow.

Other than that, I didn’t notice any big problems right out of the box. The look and feel is very similar to the RedRock microMattebox that we had at Regent for our BMCC rigs–the comparison had been made before by a friend, but I didn’t think it would be as accurate. I think the main difference is in material of the mattebox itself. This would also affect the weight, obviously.

The mattebox comes preassembled, with a single hard-matte that clips into the front. The whole thing is a mixture of plastic and aluminum–some things that should be one are the other, but overall the design is solid. The hinge mechanism is clearly a lower-grade material, one which I’m used to dealing with on my Flycam–I know the feel of that stuff by heart now. But I don’t think it’ll give me any problems until much further down the road. The eyebrow and side-shades are individually wrapped, and may require the screws to be put back into their holes, but if you’re not an idiot, this should be fine.

IMG_6421

I have an empty Pelican 1600 case that I’ve been meaning to work on for a while, and this gave me a perfect excuse to create a “cinema” case for my equipment. I pulled the bottom foam from the mattebox’s box, and used some corrugated plastic to create the dividers on the right. I’m actually really happy with how it’s all turning out, though I haven’t run it through the ringer yet.

Filter traysThe filter trays are plastic (probably should be aluminum) but they work pretty well so far. I’ve read a lot of people distrusting the plastic, but we’re at that level of budget here–for under $200, it’s what you’re gonna get. Strangely, the “hard mattes” for the 4×4 filters (seen on the left) are aluminum–I could see those getting bent during handling, but I think they’re thin enough that you could probably bend them back without too much stress. Obviously, with some wide angles, you’re going to run into problems with that matte, but you’d run into that problem regardless because of the smaller filters. Eventually I might get to where everything is 4×5, but 4×4 is what I mostly have right now. Plus, they work well with my other filter system (a LEE screw-on system) so…

So there you have it. I will be adding updates hereafter as I start using these things in the field.

Update the first:
Used both over the weekend for a commercial shoot–what ended up being a very fast, hit-the-ground-running, already-an-hour-behind commercial shoot–and was very pleased with the performance.

2015/01/img_6462.jpg

The Lensse was fine for the most part–no problems like I’ve had with some other FF’s (namely my D|Focus.) Occasionally, the handwheel will work a little loose, but that could have been because I was taking the rig in and out of my car every hour. Also, if the unit has been sitting still for a certain amount of time, it will be very hard for the first turn–not sure what’s making it do that. It could be my lens, but I never had that problem with the Fotga or O’Connor. Other than that, no issues this time around.

The mattebox did pretty well. Often when sliding filter trays in, the top latch would catch, and sometimes the filter would get out a little, but it was never in such a way that would have broken anything. The foam inserts for keeping light out aren’t really matte black, so they reflect a little light back, but this is only a problem if you’ve got a lot of flaring (i.e., you had the sun in your shot, which I did at one point.)

A mild annoyance (and, as yet, not a functionally-challenging one) is that the mattebox isn’t on the optical center. I’m trying to figure out how to compensate for that, perhaps with a new aluminum plate for it, but I knew this was a possibility–several reviews on Amazon brought that up. But again, $168. Not expecting great things here. In general, the mattebox would bounce and flex while moving the camera between setups, but didn’t really do that during any shots.

Update the Second: here is the mattebox from the front. You can clearly see how far off-center it is from the rig. When I can make some better measurements, I will probably make some cuts and move the screws over.

So far off center. So far.

So far off center. So far.

 

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One Response to “Generic Mattebox & Follow Focus”

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  1. New Camera Rigging | diffusedlight - January 30, 2015

    […] realised with the Lensse follow focus, the P&C Gearbox cage wasn’t a correct lens-height from the rails. In order to correct […]

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