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How to shoot a feature on Alexa without a focus puller?


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#1 gustavo godinho

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 02:00 AM

Hi.

 

Are there many camera operators/dps who do their own focus without the need of a first AC as focus puller? I'm not talking about documentary stuff. 

 

I'm thinking about doing it after watching this Listen Up Philip BTS doc.

 

Sean Prince Williams, the DP, is pulling focus himself. What do you guys think when we're talking about working with actors and, sure, with a language that allows some focus mistakes?

 

 


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#2 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 02:34 AM

Pulling focus is basically as easy or hard as you want to do it. If you want a lot of shallow DOF shots in your movie, you're going to have to make sure your getting the focus marks 100% spot on, or it'll look like crap.

 

I currently run a GH4 w/ Speedbooster which brings the FOV to basically that of Super35 film, and I always pull my own focus.

 

Pulling focus yourself will be easier if:

 

a ] You attach a large 7" HD monitor to the rig that has focus peaking.

 

b ] You have a follow focus that allows you to move to marker toward the back of the camera, so you can actually see the marks.

 

Of course, its going to be harder for you, since you have to pay attention to not only the framing and the focus peaking, but also your marks on the follow focus. Hard A/B stops are really desired here.

 

Large format films, large sensors, and/or fast lenses will make pulling your own focus harder. However, with a standard Super35 format, it shouldn't be too hard - considering you have the right tools and understanding.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 05 February 2018 - 02:36 AM.

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#3 Phil Connolly

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 05:16 AM

It also depends on how you stage the shots. Pulling your own focus on shallow DOF is fine if there's not too much movement. So if your doing elegant Fincher style locked of shots its easier to pull focus. If the camera operating side is complicated, then its more difficult to do both. 

 

If you look at multi-cam sitcom and ents TV those camera operators pull their own focus and its fine. TV studio Ped operators have to do everything and could be asked to crab the camera, while booming down, while zooing in and pulling focus. You need 3 hands to do some moves on a ped. In those situations DOF is your friend and thats why studio sitcoms/shows tend to have such deep focus, its to give the ped ops a fighting chance. 2/3inch sensors help too. 


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#4 Paul-Anthony

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 05:45 AM

I just shot a feature film on a Greek island, with an Arricam LT and Zeiss T.2.1 lenses. I did the focus myself on 90% of the shots (shoulder and still shots) and it really looked perfect at the end. I shot between F.stop .2.8 and 4 all the film. I did not use monitoring, only the viewfinder. We did several rehearsals each time, because we shot 35mm that gave me the time to get friendly while framing to do the focus. I just saw a screening of the film last week, and felt that the focus looked really organic because I was framing myself the movie. I think with an alexa camera it is the same. I did not use any follow focus, only my hand on the focus ring of the lens all the time.

 

Cheers.


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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 10:40 AM

I do find that cinema-oriented lenses make focus pulling difficult. Very large focus rotation is often lauded as a good thing. It is, if you're working in the circumstances of a single-camera drama shoot. If you're working alone, it is emphatically not a good thing as you simply can't get there fast enough. This is, for instance, one of the flaws of the Zeiss 21-100mm lightweight zoom, which is probably still a great documentary lens despite the fact that the manufacturer shouts proudly about its 300 degrees of rotation. It's too much for run and gun.


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#6 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 10:56 AM

I might rack focus myself for intimate closeups on objects or actors when my eye is supposed to be the viewer and I'm deciding what they'll see.  When I'm scanning the frame and rolling back and forth through it slowly.   That kind of thing is hard to communicate to an A.C. cause there are no real marks.  It's intuitive.   

 

And for cramped quarters when you can't fit a second person and there's no wireless then yeah, you have to do it alone.

 

Much prefer a good focus puller for the basic moving from A to B stuff.  Frees me up to see the lighting and frame better.

 

Also sets up a dangerous precedent.  I already have a hard time fighting to keep a good 1st A.C. on the crew.  To suggest you don't need one for focus is really self defeating.   Cause you'll end up with no camera department eventually.   You'll be carrying all the gear, slating yourself and doing all the DIT work.  haha.  It's a slippery slope.


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#7 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 10:57 AM

I agree with Phil.. doesn't matter about much else.. cine lenses have a large focus travel to aid focus pullers.. and a good idea it is too.. but doing your own.. its actually impossible to do well.. your hand cant physically do it in one go.. 300 degrees forget it.. Empirical fact of the universe .. the only one Ive found for "rolling your own" is the CN7.. which boasts a 180 degree travel.. like any ENG zoom.. not great for focus pullers.. but very good for doing your own.. even the cabrio,s .. you cant do a long throw pull without putting your wrist out of joint.. cine lens.. and pulling your own focus are pretty much contrary terms..


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 07:15 PM

Yes, pulling your own focus for the occasional handheld shot where you may just have to adjust a few inches or a foot or so during the take is fine... but cinema lenses have such a long barrel rotation (to allow better focus pulling by measurement plus make the focus pulls smoother) that it is hard to do a big rack with one twist of the wrist.

 

I'd would make more sense if shooting a format with more depth of field like Super-16 or 2/3" video, and if using lenses with shorter rotations like ENG zooms or still camera lenses, and it might make sense if a floating hit or miss shallow-focus 35mm look was part of the style, or if you are doing such an intimate shoot that you only want one or two people in the room (though with a remote focus system, a focus-puller can be farther away), but otherwise, it's better for the operator to concentrate on framing and let someone else concentrate on focusing.

 

Not to mention, it's helpful to have a camera assistant in general besides for pulling focus!


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#9 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 08:11 PM

You can put on a follow focus with gears that made the rotation less.. for your hand anyway.. Ive tried this on other peoples cameras.. but its something you  really have to get used to.. that it becomes intuitive like your hand on the barrel.. which it never really did for me personally.. bit like using Nikon lenses on a stills camera.. 

 

Looks to be a s16 Aaton in the OP,s video BTS.. that would  make life alot easier that s35mm lenses .. much smaller lenses too..


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 05 February 2018 - 08:19 PM.

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#10 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 08:20 PM

The follow focus I use, the JTZ, includes multiple sized gears for just this purpose --- to adjust the lens throw. Despite using Cine DS lenses, I almost always find myself using the largest gear to get a shorter throw. They just pop on and off the drive wheel on the FF.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 05 February 2018 - 08:20 PM.

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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 08:27 PM

The thing is that most camera packages -- unless it is an ENG camera + zoom in a carrying bag, plus some lightweight sticks -- are better-handled by at least two people, especially when unloading and setting up, not to mention loading film mags, filling out camera reports, slating, etc.  The few times I was a one-man camera crew on 16mm short films, it was crazy to have to stop everything so I could go into a changing bag and load and download.  Plus if there were a couple of cases, it took me a couple of trips to unload or wrap at the end of the day.  The only time it was OK was on EPK jobs where I could fit a betacam and zoom into a bag.


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#12 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 05 February 2018 - 09:01 PM

Oh yes if its the case for having a camera assistant .. for sure you want one.. I was talking just about physically doing your own focus on S35 cine lenses..  which now nearly all camera people have to do with nearly all shoots being on S35mm sized sensors.. Im doing almost excuslively corp shoots now pretty much.. which used to all be ⅔ inch ENG style camera,s.. now I would bet the farm there isn't a single corp shoot being shot with these cameras.. docs also have gone 99% this way.. but yes you never want to work as a one man crew.. its just physically lugging  the gear around.. even when I was a loader .. the loading was 10% of the job at most.. the rest was lugging 150mm bowl Ronford tripods and other heavy boxes around the world.. even the spreader weighed a ton.. and helping the sound recordist with his wallet..

 

Now there is that market demand.. there are cine s35 zooms being made with 180/200 degree travel.. CN7 and the new Fujinon MK series are some..  the Cabrio,s are too long ..


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 05 February 2018 - 09:05 PM.

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#13 Vital Butinar

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Posted 28 February 2018 - 09:18 AM

Me and my partner always pull focus ourselves and doing it on the small DSLR screens is challenging to say at best. What usually helps us is that I usually use a lens that has a longer throw for focusing and my partner she always uses the normal dslr lenses and pulls focus via the lens itself. I've tried to get her to use a follow focus but she says she's more responsive with the lens itself and I guess I can understand that but have never been able to do it myself. What I do is I rehearse the scenes and get used to the movement of the focus and then try to compensate. The problem si if I'm moving around, framing, trying to keep with the background and foreground, not shake the camera too much and then pull focus the result is usually not good so I try to limit the amount of things I have to keep my eye on and then recheck the shots every time I finish.
But still sometimes you just go wrong.

 

I'm hoping that now with a new monitor that has peaking it will be easier and bigger project where we can afford the right gear it will get easier.

 

I'm guessing that peaking should be good enough for you to focus. But as I said my experience is limited. Best of luck. :)


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#14 Richard_Swearinger

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Posted 01 March 2018 - 06:02 PM

I was looking for something else in the forums, but found this comment from Phil Rhodes in 2013:

 

"Focus pulling HD video on 2/3" video cameras is difficult.

 

Focus pulling on 16mm film, micro four-thirds video, or something like a Blackmagic cinema camera, is very difficult.

 

On 35mm, APS-C or similar sensors, it's so hard they usually employ someone whose sole job it is, and give him a lot of time and technology to get it right, and still expect to blow one take in three when it gets particularly taxing.

 

On full-frame DSLRs, Vistavision, 65mm, or equivalent, focus pulling is a sort of Zen meditative pursuit that's been known to drive people completely underside pumpernickel intrinsic caboose caboose rumplestiltskin."


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#15 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 01 March 2018 - 08:26 PM

The thing is that most camera packages -- unless it is an ENG camera + zoom in a carrying bag, plus some lightweight sticks -- are better-handled by at least two people, especially when unloading and setting up, not to mention loading film mags, filling out camera reports, slating, etc.  The few times I was a one-man camera crew on 16mm short films, it was crazy to have to stop everything so I could go into a changing bag and load and download.  Plus if there were a couple of cases, it took me a couple of trips to unload or wrap at the end of the day.  The only time it was OK was on EPK jobs where I could fit a betacam and zoom into a bag.

 

What I do --- I always have 2 people on camera, me included. However, I find it much easier to train someone quickly to do slate/reports/offload/grunt work than focus pulling.

 

I agree - it's difficult to setup any kind of camera system that is rigged out by yourself, even more so if you're also the DP, etc. Usually, I let the AC handle the setup while I'm lighting or directing.


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