Home Camera The Power of Focus

The Power of Focus

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

Focus is probably one of the biggest obstacles that the 5D encounters.  So many of our colleagues have questions and wonder why it is absolutely essential to have a focus puller.  They are the backbone of this amazing technology.  Shooting with practical lights and minimal crew is one thing, but a focus puller is the anchor for the entire project.

Gauging exposure so that you have the necessary depth of field to give your focus puller a chance is as much your job as it is to light the scene, block it and compose it.  I have found that a 4.0/5.6 is the lowest you want to go with the 5D.

Techcom "Terminator:Salvation" Webisode

Techcom “Terminator:Salvation” Webisode

For example, when looking at a face, I prefer to have the nose, mouth and especially the eyes in focus, the ears can gradually fall out of focus, but the nose and mouth being out of focus is very distracting.  The photo above is a close-up of a face that I shot for the Terminator Webisodes. It was shot on a 28mm Nikon Prime at a 5.6 which is about a 19mm equivalent on a 35mm motion picture camera.  Look at his ears and the fur on his jacket, they are completely blown out of focus, the nose and mouth are slightly soft and this was at a 5.6.  I might have 1.5 inches of depth of field here.  With a Canon 85mm lens, at a 1.4 t-stop you have a 1/32” of focus.  At a 4.0/5.6 you have 3/4-1” inch.  So you can see how shallow it is.

These cameras are so compact and light, you can move a camera in new ways.  You are not moving the mass that we used to have prior to the invention of the HDSLR technology.  In the movie business it was all about figuring out how to move the camera mass, whether it is with a crane, Steadicam, dolly, helicopter, cable cam, hand held, etc.

Moving an HDSLR camera wide open following action, pulling or pushing someone, or just shooting a scene that has simple blocking is a recipe for disaster.  I can only speak from my experience shooting the beginning of the Navy SEALS film at a F-stop 2.0 and nothing looks sharp.  There are bits that are sharp but because it is such a shallow plane of focus, it seems all out of focus.  The 7D is a different animal because of the smaller sensor.  You can shoot at a F-stop 2.8 and get the same focus feel as the 5D.  So, you can roll with 2 times less light and have good odds that it will be in focus.  Be careful about giving this camera too much focus.  It will start to look like video quickly and you will have many more moiré’ and aliasing issues because of the increased depth of field.  The background lines do not fall off like the 5D.  The 1D camera has an anamorphic sized sensor and this will deliver a focus footprint like the 5D at a F-stop 2.8/4.0 split.

The people that I have assembled on the Elite team have motion picture experience and have had to relearn the still platform. They have been so inspired by all of the still photographers and have immense respect for your contribution. The Elite Team members have pulled focus for years and understand how to Zen gauge distances and the mechanics for what it takes.  My advice to all still photographers that are diving into motion would be to seek out these talented people.   If you need help I can provide you with names of top-notch personnel in many cities across the United States, Mexico, South America, Europe, and Asia.

Manual follow focus is not an option at all unless you are on a fluid head of some sort.  Anything that touches this camera while operating will throw you off because of its minimal weight.  There are several remote follow focus systems available that are affordable.

Bartech remote follow focus will cost around $3,500.00 to buy.  Their system uses 900 MHz data transmissions and with 8 channels.  It comes with a MDR, remote follow focus handset, cables, and Heden focus motor as well as the now M-one motor.  It is a unit that has been tested in the film industry under extreme conditions and works well for single channel focus control. www.bartechengineering.com/

Bartech Remote Follow Focus System

Bartech Remote Follow Focus System


View factor remote follow focus costs around $2,600.00 for the Indie model and about $9,500.00 for the Pro.  Their system has Blue-tooth technology.  It comes with a MDR, cables, follow focus handset, and a focus motor.  I have tested this system and it works very well.  The people at View Factor are very accommodating and will custom build equipment if need be.  This kit is available now, with upgrades that are worth waiting for that should be ready in late February, early March. www.viewfactor.net/

View Factor Remote Follow Focus System

View Factor Remote Follow Focus System


Preston III Remote Follow focus system is the premiere industry follow focus.  It costs anywhere between $25,000.00-$30,000.00.  It is a 3 channel system so that you can do focus, zoom and exposure. They are all hand-made have been battled tested on features since the 1980’s.  It also has a cine-link function where you can get wireless focal distances sent from a cine-tape sonar focus device that shows up on that screen at the top of the handset.  The hand grip is very important for your focus puller.  It gives them the ability to do very precise racks.  It comes with rings that you can calibrate to every lens in your kit.  So, put your lens on, hit calibrate and the motor goes through its rotations.  Once that is complete you set infinity and all your focus marks on your handset sync with the lens.  It is genius. www.prestoncinema.com/

Preston Follow Focus

Preston Follow Focus

Cinematography Electronics Cine-tape Sonar focus system will run about $8,000.00.  It is a device that rides in the hot shoe or on the matte box that helps gauge focus through sonar waves.  It is an essential tool to roll fast.  It gives the focus puller a digital readout of what the distance of an object is in front of your lens.  It does not move the focus on the lens. The focus pullers job is to interpret what the devise is saying, determine the distance and whether we want that in focus or something else in the frame in focus. www.cinematographyelectronics.com/

Cine-Tape Box With Sonar Focus Horns

Cine-Tape Box With Sonar Focus Horns

IR Laser range finder costs about $150.00-$250.00 for a good one.  It is an IR device that allows you to aim at an object from where you are standing and get the distance.  Leica makes one, but it does not work well in daylight. The Hilti Laser Range meter is the best and it works in the blazing sun. Head to your local Home Depot and pick one up.

Hilti IR Range Finder

Hilti IR Range Finder

Focus Magnifier on the Canon Cameras is a very powerful focus tool.  It provides accurate focus checking by zooming in 5x and then another push of the button will get you 10x magnification. You cannot use this while you are recording but it is great to check focus before you start rolling.  Make sure your focus box is in the center of your LCD screen, aim the box at what you want to check and hit the magnifier.  That little box bugs me, so once I use the magnifier I move the box down to the lower right hand side of the screen.

All these are amazing tools to assist with focus during shooting and for you to move the camera in ways that we have only seen on a computer.  Even with all of the tools, there is still a very talented technician, co-collaborator delivering your images in searing sharpness.

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James Warren February 15, 2010 at 10:52 PM

You’ve listed some amazing follow focus systems there! As a stills photographer dipping my toe into the realm of moving images I was struggling with any focus pulls directly on the camera. I opted for a cheap follow focus ( D-Focus) which works incredibly well for the money. I can now make pretty smooth, accurate focus shifts without major vibration.


Shane February 16, 2010 at 12:48 PM

James Warren, I would wait for the Red Rock Micro remote follow focus. Brian will release it for NAB. It will be around 500.00 and will change the way you shoot.

Justin Cerato February 16, 2010 at 1:15 AM

Do you know if View Factor are still developing a bluetooth receiver which can be connected via USB to the 5D? I saw a photo on a blog sometime back and the idea of it really interested me as the focus is controlled using the lenses internal focus motor.

Shane February 16, 2010 at 12:42 PM

Justin Cerato, I will have Curt at View factor give you a shout so that you can ask him.

Jon Carr February 16, 2010 at 1:43 AM

Hey Shane,
Awesome interview on Red Centre! It would be really cool if you could do a blog breakdown on your twixtor process in the future.

I spoke with Brian at Red Rock at the San Francisco Final Cut Pro Super Meet and he said they have a remote follow focus in the pipeline for $500.

Thanks for the info.

Shane February 16, 2010 at 12:41 PM

Jon Carr, you are so welcome, I love Jason he asks awesome questions and I love his sense of humor. I sent him a huge amount of pictures to post. Brian at Red Rock is putting out some awesome equipment. I did not include him in the mix because I have not tested it yet. I only comment on the gear I test. Red Rock’s handle technology is so amazing. I just bought 6 Capt Stubling rigs and 6 shoulder mount rigs so from a rig testing perspective I love Red Rock Micro’s new design.

Coby February 16, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Another great feature of the Preston system is that it allows you to set limits to how far the motor will rotate the lens. In other words, you can limit the lens rotation to the area from close focus to infinity. This is crucial when using the canon zooms because of that pesky infinitely rotating focus ring. The bartech works in essentially the same way because you are setting the limits while you calibrate it manually.
I’m amazed by the prospect of a remote focus for under $1000, NAB this year is going to be jaw dropping.

Shane February 17, 2010 at 12:30 AM

Coby, you are absolutely right, hang it is going to be a wild ride.

Justin February 16, 2010 at 6:00 PM

I agree with your comments on working with a deeper stop. I shot a music video called Luv Deluxe on the 5D, it was amazing how shallow the focus was focusing at 30″ at a 2.8/4 and I lived on a 14mm lens! That being said, I sometimes find it difficult to utilize the camera’s best low light capabilities when I have to stop down to a 5.6 so the focus can feel more cinematic. Thank you for all the informative research you share with us.

Shane February 17, 2010 at 12:38 AM

Justin, That is why I go up to 1600 ISO to give me that stop. The wider the lens the better chance of focus, but that 28mm was a 19mm equivalent to 35mm motion picture lens and the depth of field might have been an inch. I feel if your image is not in focus; your actor, your emotion, your vision, and your story fails. It is simple as that. Unless that is what creatively the project required.

Dana February 16, 2010 at 9:30 PM

Shane, you always mention certain requirements to “give the focus puller a chance”. In your experience, what is the smallest monitor a focus puller needs to do their job? Thanks for all the info–your blog is like a mini university.

Shane February 17, 2010 at 12:55 AM

Dana, Thank you so much for your kind words, glad to be of help. Giving the focus puller a chance is something that I try my very best to do but sometimes I cannot. What I mean by this is that they have a very difficult job and a lot of pressure is on them to deliver images that are sharp and technically on point, and I will at times put them to the absolute test of their skills to do a specific shot. On every film that I shoot there is that impossible lighting set-up or the shot that requires 30 takes, these are decisions I make as a Director of Photography along with the director and production, that if we want that shallow depth of field this is what the sacrifice will be, but these moments are a calculated choice that has as much to do with budget as it does art.

The smallest monitor well, I would say at least a 6.5″, but I find that when I was in Kiev I mounted my 24″ HP Dream color monitor to the dolly so that the focus puller could use it. But most of the time my focus pullers go off of instinct and zen focusing. Try the Marshall 6.5″ high resolution monitor, you can see focus pretty well.

Ryan E. Walters February 18, 2010 at 2:12 PM

Do you have an actually working model of the View Factor? That unit has always intrigued me, yet I thought that they were still unavailable due to problems with some of their parts manufactures … their site still says out of stock … I hope they are able to deliver that product to market …

Shane February 19, 2010 at 3:26 AM

Ryan E. Walters, Curt over at View Factor is starting to crank them out. I have been asking for several revisions in the circuit boards so that the power ports can handle more, this will allow me to power my Preston and Bartech remote follow focus units, Black Magic HDMI to HDSDI converter as well as a Marshall Monitor. He is getting close, but still working out the bugs for this request. I know he has full working cages getting ready to release. So it should not be long.

Joel Bergsma February 18, 2010 at 6:58 PM

Hi Shane,

What version of the Nikon 28mm is being used in that image? Is it the newer 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor AI-S or the old Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI that was discontinued around 1981?

Shane February 19, 2010 at 3:18 AM

Joel Bergsma, Nikon 28mm AI-S

Sam Morgan Moore February 20, 2010 at 1:41 AM

Shane thanks for pointing out the obvious – good footage needs to be in focus which is hard with a DSLR – people dont say that enough

I think using a FF, self operated, handheld is possible however to a good standard

Three things help this

Placement of the FF

Using low friction cheap comapared to cine short throw light friction DSLR lenses

Both factors mean use of the FF interferes less with stability

My favorites are nikon AFs from about 5 years ago and the 28 3.5pc nikkorMF

This is shot http://vimeo.com/7769606 with the nikkor 50 at f2 on a 7d, no monitor just viewing the cam screen !

Check out my belt driven FF – http://www.halfinchrails.com


Shane February 21, 2010 at 12:39 AM

Sam Morgan Moore, that was some nice rack focuses and the camera did not move, was that handheld? The low friction definitely helps for sure. That belt driven contraption is very cool. The Zeiss ZE primes are very tight.

Ryan E. Walters February 20, 2010 at 9:35 AM


That is great news- thanks for the update. 🙂

Shane February 21, 2010 at 12:47 AM

Ryan E. Walters, not a problem.

Matti Poutanen February 21, 2010 at 10:29 AM

Nice to see a voice of reason regarding the DOF and focus issue. Nowdays (and especially with HDSLRs) people seem to be interested to get the most shallow DOF possible without thinking if it´s actually good for the shot, and if it is even humanly possible to work with that that kind of stop! Some stuff that circles around the Youtube/Vimeo just makes you sad, with people entering focus briefly just to lean and be out of focus again…

Sorry to derail a bit, but I just read your article on AC (January 2010), and couldn´t help noticing a very handsome looking camera bag in one of the pictures (page 92, bottom picture, orange/gray bag which is open in the foreground of the photo). What bag is this, it looks exactly what I need with lots of space and modular velcro walls.

Shane February 21, 2010 at 8:50 PM

Matti Poutanen, thank you so much for the kind words. I purchased that bag at Big 5 sporting goods and then the velcro padded inserts were from a EMS Pelican 1550 interior. We pulled it out and it fit perfectly in there. I hope this helps I will get you the exact make and model number once I get back from the DR.

Ricky F February 22, 2010 at 12:48 PM

RT Motions simultaneous 3D FIZ system is coming soon for just $1,200 http://www.rtmotion.com.

I’ve ordered one.

Shane February 22, 2010 at 10:23 PM

Ricky F, I will check them out. Thanks

Sam Morgan Moore February 22, 2010 at 8:54 PM

I reckon a lot is the position of my hands right by the FF

That fencing was all handheld with the 50 1.4 nikkor AF at F2 – much smoother the AF lens – I have on old 50 1.2 manual – couldnt do the same thing – also I use the 24-105 (5d) and tokina 16-50 (7d)

Also there was no mass on the rig – so its very very jumpy

I like zooms because I can operate faster than changing primes – and they have short throw on the focus – the tokina is cool with a big fat barrel and it stops at infinity

Ive ened up using cheap zoom glass – even though I have just about every nikkor out for stills photography

Did this test on today – you probably cant see any pulling becasue its 16mm but its there


This rig had mass – Small HD and a dive weight to the rear


I think reconfiguration of the mass would get a smoother shot – but not look I was going for

We are really drifting onto your other post – rigging the cam

Shane you get it !

My approach to rigging is to keep mass to a minimum and then add mass at specific points to perform a specific task


Shane February 22, 2010 at 10:16 PM

Sam Morgan More, thanks for all the info and insight.

Jean Dodge February 22, 2010 at 10:52 PM

Finding solutions to the myriad focus issues with the vDSLRs are worth all the effort one can muster. There is a style of cinematography that is possible with these cameras that has not been available before, but it takes a hybrid knowledge base that draws from the skill sets of fashion photographers, photojournalists, motion picture DP and focus puller experience and not surprising, DIY videography guerilla chops to unleash fully.

There is a “less is more” style emerging that is exciting to watch as shooters from each of these camps brings skills to the combined body of work. I’m not sure what’s more fun, watching fashion photographers learn motion or seeing film DPs realize the boundaries of bulky equipment are going away… somewhere near the end of this rainbow is a playground for directors and actors that is going to involve a great deal of new freedoms. But unless some of it is in focus….. it won’t find a real audience.

At present it is frustrating that the monitors from the 5dmk2 are not being sent a full HD signal – it reminds me of shooting Zeiss super speeds years ago when most 35mm motion picture cameras had viewing optics that were at best around an f 2.8. Often in the toughest shots things that looked good to the operator were buzzy in dalies – a disappointing thing for the the focus puller to have to work with when the DP wanted to shoot with the lenses wide open or close to wide open. A situation is created where there is no real way for critical focus to be judged or critiqued as a production progressed.

Trammel Hudson and the Magic Lantern project are promising an upgrade soon to where the 5Dmk2 will send a fuller signal to an external monitor while recording and I see that day as a breakthrough moment for the camera – because then it may be possible to move further into low light territory than has been exploited RELIABLY up to now.

Another great help would be if it were possible to use the 5x and 10x zoom features while recording. I’m curious if it could be built into a monitor easily or not.

The best Marshall monitors have focus peaking functions which are worth mentioning, although they are far from perfect – just another tool in the arsenal to selectively employ.

I’ve seen 5Dmk2 footage transferred to 35mm film in tests and can report that it is possible to shoot at wider apertures and get acceptable results but it is not easy.

Shane February 23, 2010 at 4:23 PM

Jean Dodge, View Factor is working on a lightweight monitor that will have the 5x and 10x built into the monitor. But it does not bypass that while filming. You can use it to check focus before shooting.

Sam Morgan Moore February 23, 2010 at 3:09 AM


the 7 has better O/P to the monitor than the 5 – since I have been sratching my head over which I prefer 5 or 7 I think the 7 wins almost for this reason alone for some situations

I prefer the image on the 5 by 10%

trouble is the 7 is great at F2 which is not cheap or even impossible at the wide end and the 5 works lovely with cheap glass like the 24-105 because it peaks at 5.6-4


Jean Dodge February 23, 2010 at 10:58 AM

bokeh…. and how to get it. Also, extending the shooting further into the magic hour where the sky turns purple is so rewarding with the 5D mk2. The zone in which these camera CAN operate is there – it just isn’t practical to follow focus in the field, especially with the monitor issues at present. I shot a test for a music video yesterday where I did the old trick of roping myself at the waist to the subject and walking backwards in the late dusk city lights, dragging my subject along at an exact distance with my 5Dmk2 with a 55mm f1.2 nikkor AI lens WFO, and loved the results. There is a tender emotional quality to such non-existent depth of field, and I admit it an effect but you can’t deny that some people are learning to use it as a stylistic choice and not just a random result of shooting wide open.

I’m looking forward to more testing with the 7D soon but that magic lantern update is what I really want…

I do agree with Shane that there is a pleasing zone for portrait-like DOF that holds the subject’s features sharp but blurs quickly before the ears and shoulders are reached. The trick is getting there reliably so an actor can work, and the director/editor can choose the best performance of the actor, not the focus puller. I’ve been using every trick in the book, including circle dolly track and having the actor mime walking, and the “spike lee” shots where the subject rides the dolly too.

But for the most part the f/4-5.6 split does seem to be the comfort zone with pulling focus and getting the basic cinematic look when using the 5Dmk2. ISO 1600 is gain-boosted ISO 1250 so it can actually look better to shoot at 1250 as a ceiling for noise-free low light settings. I’m slowly adjusting to this and liking the results, but again it makes it harder to monitor. There are a lot of f-stops between ISO 1250 at f 5.6 and 1600 at f 1.4…. we’re talking about the difference between action under the theater marquee and in the back row of the balcony or even the alley behind…. and these are the places where we haven’t seen the motion picture camera REALISTICALLY depicting scenes before. There is an odd blend of verisimilitude and portrait look to low light shots in practical locations possible with these vDSLRs and I want to unlock that look!

Shane February 23, 2010 at 4:15 PM

Jean Dodge, BRAVO!!!, unlocking that look is all about the creative process, THIS IS WHAT THESE CAMERA’s DO IN SPADES, what works for someone does not work for another. The shallow depth of field in the situations you are describing is what I am all about too. THANKS

Jean Dodge February 24, 2010 at 2:10 PM

You’re welcome, and thank you Shane, for providing a forum to share your stories with others. What’s interesting about following your experiences with these cameras on a good budget and with a dedicated team is seeing the GAP between “the best money can buy/rent” and what an enterprising indie film maker can afford grow smaller and smaller as the technology improves. The real work is the creative stuff, not the gear… but finding that freedom is certainly half the battle. I’ve worked on films that cost 30 million and I’ve worked on features that cost 30 thousand… and when the camera starts turning over on that first shot of the movie, the difference between eventual success or failure is seldom dependent on the budget, if you manage what resources you have in a creative and intelligent fashion.

Shane February 24, 2010 at 8:23 PM

Jean Dodge, you are so welcome!!!

Dustin McKim February 24, 2010 at 3:15 PM

Hi Shane, thanks for this breakdown on focus and the units available. I’m personally going to wait to see what RedRock is coming out with at NAB before I make a purchse.

I noticed on a photo you were holding a wireless monitor. Can you give us a similar breakdown on wireless monitoring options. I’ve got a 3 7D camera shoot coming up with tons of action, shootouts, cars etc and would love for the director to see his footage on at least 1 of the cameras without being on my back the whole time. I want the freedom to roam and shoot with the action.

Love the blog! This site has helped me with a lot of my shoots using the DSLR cams. Keep up all the amazing work!

Josh Silfen February 25, 2010 at 1:42 PM

Given that you find you need to shoot the 5DII at around a 4-5.6 to be able to pull focus effectively, and the same depth of field characteristics can be achieved at 2.8 on the 7D with about 1/4 the amount of light, do you feel there are any advantages to the 5DII over the 7D for film making purposes? (People seem to feel that the 5DII is marginally better in low light than the 7d, but surely it’s not 2 stops better. I couldn’t imagine the image from the 5DII at 1600 ISO looking cleaner than the image from the 7D at 400 ISO.) Seems like the 7D would give you an advantage in allowing you to shoot the same image with 2 stops less light. (Not to mention the fact that more cine lenses will cover its 35mm motion picture size sensor.) As you have grown more and more comfortable with how you shoot these cameras, have you found yourself gravitating more towards the 7D?

Jessica Dimmock, Mark Jackson and Moby « UNT PHOTOGRAPHY 2 February 25, 2010 at 10:51 PM

[…] On The Photography Post, Jessica Dimmock answers some questions about the video she and Mark Jackson made for Moby. Dimock is most known for a series of pictures she made of heroin addicts in New York. It was made into a book and a multimedia presentation. From a technical standpoint, this video will teach you a lot about shallow depth of field. Speaking of shallow depth of field ,Shane Hurlbut does a great job explaining how shallow depth of field works in terms of video here. […]

Jean Dodge February 26, 2010 at 12:11 PM

Interesting video for Moby…. it has the official stamp of Artistic on it due to the pedigree, but heroin chic is a powerful thing to play with for promotional purposes… part of me wished the video ended with the addict flushing the drugs down the toilet – although that doesn’t happen too often.

DIVNG BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY’s first reel has a lot of great focus-dependent shots that employ Lens Babys, tilt shift, etc and razor thin DOF to wonderful effect.

In the context of this discussion however I’d classify that sort of “fishing for focus” shooting as what I’ve begin to call “tender focus shots.” And in nuts and bolts cinema language, it is an effect, as in, can be used for specific emphasis on occasion. It does have that photographer’s quality of looking through the viewfinder of an SLR – one almost expects to see a split field diopter in the center of the image, struggling to resolve the image. There is a power to be used (and hopefully not abused) to moving images where the dynamic of the frame depends upon directing the viewer’s eye to the individual portions of the image that are in focus. Keeping that sweet spot moving is a look that is about to become over-used in my opinion, but when it gets used right it has its place in the language of cinematography.

Going all the way back to DW Griffith, directors have tried to employ selective focus as a technique to make actors appear vulnerable. Watch BROKEN BLOSSOMS, (shot on a short schedule in 1919) and note the uncredited work by Hendrik Sartov, who was a still photographer brought in by the director to work with Bitzer on the close ups. It’s amusing to note the tone with which Karl Brown treats Sartov, alternately jealous and reverent at the alchemy he employed as it seemed to clash with his more scientific outlook. (Brown was Bitzers assistant, and wrote a MUST READ book on cinematography in the form of his autobiography)

Much, much harder is when a cinematographer and his team can keep a performer’s features sharp at shallow focus out of cinematic choice, or necessity in demanding situations – tight spaces, low light/ available light/ mixed light exteriors, etc. It’s difficult to imagine the heroin chic look sustaining a dialog scene. But with the tools available today, the slices of distinction between that “tender focus” look and something approaching a classic cinematic image are becoming more and more definable, controllable and desired. Being ready to push that envelope takes dedication, a skilled and prepared team and the right combination of tools and zen.

Thomas Gottschalk March 4, 2010 at 9:41 AM

I love the thought of unfolding a completly new visual vocabulary! Wow!
Having been a focus puller myself for over 10 years ,I deeply appreciate Your approach towards focus pulling.
I would not consider myself capable of getting digital into focus. So at least we should take care about our
focus pullers, treat them well and most importantly: give them a chance! Hugh!

Shane March 6, 2010 at 1:47 AM

Thomas Gottschalk, giving my Elite Team members the necessary f-stop to make them and to make me shine is all part of cinematography.

Paul Hughen March 5, 2010 at 8:26 PM

Hi Shane,
Could you briefly shed some light on how you frame the image (frame lines?)as you are operating. In one of your photos, on the web site, I see white marks top and bottom and was wondering if those were tape marking 2:35 or ?
Thanks in advance! Paul

Shane March 6, 2010 at 12:32 AM

Paul Hughen, yes those are 2:35 lines that my elite team made on there for the Navy Seal film we just finished. We found a short cut to pasting the lines for 2:35. Use the focus box. Move it all the way to the top of your LCD screen and the bottom of the box is the top 2:35 frame line and then move it to the bottom of the LCD screen and then you the top of the box and that will be your bottom frame line for 2:35.

dottore March 7, 2010 at 6:02 AM

Shane, just found your site, awesome!
Know anything about new ‘intuitfocus’, super compact DSLR ff system, seems pretty cool ? might be of interest for you.
Saw this info at vimeo;-http://vimeo.com/9827192,

and http://www.cinema5d.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=11292

Any feedback would be great.


Shane March 20, 2010 at 7:44 PM

dotore, I have found if you are using Canon lenses the only remote follow focus system you want to use is the Bartech. It is the best by far. Kicks the shit out of the Preston. The reason why is that the Preston needs lens focus stops to calibrate. The Bartech you can program Infinity and your close focus depth. You can also unhook the cable and not lose your settings.

Bob Franco March 9, 2010 at 2:39 AM


Not sure if this is the right place to post this question and my experience with this subject but here it is.
I’m really getting paranoid about changing lenses. I’m using Nikons and too often I’ll see dust on the sensor
and spend a lot of time trying to blow the dust off, shoot a solid light colored background to check, and then
clean until I’m satisfied. I’m worried that I’m going to miss some dust and end up with a speck on an actor’s
face or on a product that is very difficult to get rid of in video. Do you have any tips or tricks to making sure
the sensor stays dust free when changing lenses? I always have the lens to be mounted ready to go. I point
the camera down, power off, and make the change in just a couple of seconds. I only use a powerful air bulb to blow off
the sensor while I’m pointing the camera down at an angle. I just got a cleaning kit with brushes. I’ve heard conflicting advice. Use only an air bulb, then brushes, and finally a special wet swab. I’ve also heard never ever use a brush even if it is designed for the sensor and also never use anything directly on the sensor! I’ve got a movie I’m shooting in a week and I’m thinking of shooting the whole thing on a 50mm lens so I won’t have to change lenses!

Bob Franco
Endorphin Productions

Shane March 20, 2010 at 7:38 PM

Bob Franco, wow you have had some dust busting issues, I am so sorry to hear that. I never blow anything in the camera, EVER. If a spec shows up I go to sensor cleaning and use the clean now function and it always seems to remove it. Yes do not touch that sensor. I would get another camera and try this practice that I just described and send the other back to Canon to have cleaned. I have battled the desert dust in Africa, Mexicali, Baker and have never had any issue. I hope this helps.

Francis Coral - Mellon March 26, 2010 at 1:18 AM

Your example was a very close up shot. Does the 4.0 / 5.6 rule change with the distance of the subject? I have no idea. If they were further away but you still wanted a selective focus would you stop down further? I imagine it would be even more difficult to get focus in that situation. Also I use a sigma 30mm 1.4 on the canon 550D, a 7D equivalent crop sensor cam. And I have been keeping it close to wide open most of the time indoors (except in harsh daylight) with Iso down as far as plausible at the time to get a clean image. Is this the wrong approach for a cinematic look for this lens and sensor size? What would be a situation in which you get close to wide open?

Also why people buy low f stop prime lenses if you shouldnt go wide open? Is the performance a lot better than higher f-stop lenses or zooms in detail and things like that? Sorry a lot of questions :(..

Lastly your blog is brilliant! I have been an amateur for a while now and this seems to be the perfect place to get to the next level of digital cinema.

Shane March 27, 2010 at 12:22 AM

Francis Coral – Mellon, shooting wide open with the 7D is much easier than the 5D. The smaller sensor gives you more depth of field. You want to stay around a 2.0 on the 550D or the 7D, you are doing the right thing to give it a cinematic feel. My thought on all of this is when you are doing action, or when people are moving you need bit of DOF to be able to give the focus puller a chance. Buying lenses that go down to a 1.4 are excellent, because when you need the f-stop you can go for it. You can use this shallow depth of field to your advantage, but a still frame that has motion is one thing, but an actor coming at you moving around, lunging forward is another, this shallow depth of field will beat you up and spit you out.

PORTLAND FILM » Blog Archive » The DSLR Cinematography Guide March 29, 2010 at 3:16 AM

[…] it’s nigh impossible to achieve sharp focus on a moving object (like a person’s face). Also from Shane (he’s talking about a full-frame sensor): “With a Canon 85mm lens, at a 1.4 T-stop you have a […]

Francisccm March 29, 2010 at 9:43 PM

Thanks Shane for your feedback on my question. That really clears things up for me about the 550D focus. I will make sure to keep up to date on your new posts so I don’t fall far behind. As someone wanting to break through as a DP would you recommend bothering local industry professionals to shadow and learn from them or just stick to doing my own work for young producers and directors as I currently am doing. How open are industry professionals to having a shadow during work in your opinion? I just want to learn above and beyond, once that happens I am sure the work will start coming with the improved image.

Ready for Primetime? « MotionLife Media Blog April 11, 2010 at 9:25 PM

[…] to Shane Hurlbut, who has an interesting post on this topic, in order to get the same amount of depth of field on both cameras, the 5DmkII would have to close […]

Leo Mumford May 7, 2010 at 7:16 PM

Hi Shane, I sometimes shoot without a crew and am wondering if there is any rig or contraption that will allow me to follow focus manually? Without a remote?

Shane May 8, 2010 at 1:31 AM

Leo Mumford, sure Zacuto has a nice rig that has one grip and then the other is your manual follow focus. It is set up so that you can put your Z-finder on the camera and see very clearly if it is in focus. It has a nice conter-weight also.

Two Terrific Take-Aways! | Branding-HowTo.com July 18, 2010 at 5:33 AM

[…] The Power of Focus | Hurlbut Visuals […]

Eloy Jablonski May 3, 2011 at 5:30 PM

fantastic post, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector do not notice this. You should continue your writing. I am confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

Bill Hamell May 4, 2011 at 9:35 AM

Redrock microRemote any word as to when this will be released?
Thank you for all the work you put into the blog!!


Bill Hamell May 4, 2011 at 2:57 PM

The folks at RedRock had this to say…

“The microRemote and other
accessories are set to release on June 15th.

The price will vary depending on what you choose. The base station is
$595 and it is the base needed for all setups. The actual microRemote
is $895, the sonar measuring tape is $795 and the focus thumb wheel is
$95. We will not have a motor available at this time since it is
still in development. However it is compatible with the Heden motors
which are approx. $2500.
We plan on releasing our own motor in the future but since the demand
has been so high on the remote, we decided to launch as is.”

Francisco Bulgarelli October 8, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Thanks for all your insight and advise. Your site is very informative.

Shane October 9, 2011 at 11:59 AM

Francisco Bulgarelli, you are very welcome and thank you for your kind words and support

Benjamin July 26, 2012 at 5:26 PM

Hi Shane,
I have been Folowing your blog for quite a while now, and this is the first time i leave a comment. I would like to Thank You for the passion that you deliver, for this Storymaking business, as well for the Insights on some of your tricks, On the next months i am aiming to make my camera into a movie making machine, So im thinking on buying a good Follow Focus System, I have already read the blog but still a few questions remain.
Which system do you recomend Baritech or JAG35 is there really a big difference? and altough we don`t know when RedRocks Follow Focus System will be in stock again do you believe the wait is worth it?
Thank You Very Much.
Keep that passion alive.

Shane July 26, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Benjamin, Thank you so much for all of your wonderful words. Really appreciate this. Bartech has been around for decades. It is tried and true. All the others are just getting in the game. Tons of bugs. Bartech has had time to work all that out.

Richard Dean December 3, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Redrock microRemote is back in stock:


it’s been getting good reviews


Shane December 8, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Richard Dean, I will check it out, this thing has been 5 years in the making. I am a little underwhelmed.

Venky August 24, 2013 at 9:03 AM


What are the best options for an auto follow-focus? I’m like a one man army, I cant spend much on a crew, so want something which I can set it on a subject and either use a slider or glide cam support.

Planning to use 5D MK-III this time. I heard a lot about better focus points with this version of the camera, but not sure whether I can use it for video.

I live in LA and have rented before from u. I something is available I will check it out at your place.


Venky August 24, 2013 at 9:09 AM

Just a clarification. The Auto focus-Points I talked about was using in the SERVO-MODE for videos in 5d-MarkIII.

AC December 13, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Some of you might find this project interesting: http://adisoffer.tumblr.com/
an open source based, DIY, wireless, relatively low cost, follow focus for DSLR cameras.

Shane December 27, 2013 at 8:51 AM

AC, very cool


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