Lens gears. The vital link between your camera and your follow focus. Assuming you even shoot with a follow focus, which you really should. A quick word on that. If DSLRs featured a locking pin on the base so they were held at two points by the plate they’re mounted onto then it wouldn’t matter so much. However, with that single mounting point DSLRs are very prone to swivelling left and right. Pulling focus off the barrel of the camera exacerbates this action. Focus rings on video cameras are nicely damped but stills lenses are pretty ropey a lot of the time for controlled focussing. So, the follow focus is pretty useful. To use a follow focus you need lens gears.
Lens gears are pretty simple things, just a strap, or plastic mount that you add to the lens, but man there’s a lot of variety both in style and price. I’ve been through a whole bunch of different options of late and thought I’d share what I’d found.
The best lens gears are the most low-profile. The closer the cog of the follow focus is to the actual ring the better your result is going to be. More torsional stiffness, more direct input, it’s just physics. Most gear options are permanent additions to your lens. Stick em on, keep em there. Lenses go in camera bags and it’s usually a pretty snug fit so the less the gear sticks out from the barrel of the lens the better. There are other options that aren’t permanent but these should really only come into play if you’re renting gear. Fannying about sticking lens gears on is just not what you should be doing on set. Take a lens out, stick it on, engage the follow focus.
The temporary gears I’ve tested are the Redrock Micro ones and the Indisystem Snap Gears. The Redrock gears got me through a year’s shooting, would you believe, before I finally caved and went to low profile ones. That was just sheer laziness on my part. They come with a screw thread to attach them, but I was constantly taking the gear off and fitting it to different lenses so just used an elastic band to keep it in place. That actually worked pretty well. Which is not something I could say about the Indisystem gears. These are magnetic and snap into place. The only problem is that, despite coming in 6 different sizes, I couldn’t find a single one which fit any of my lenses. They do give you a pack full of sticky foam strips to bulk out the inner diameter of the gears, but they’re so big and clumsy I just couldn’t be bothered. Don’t go there.
In the low profile category I’ve tried Zacuto Zip Gears, Cambo, Shoot 35 Flexigears and now Half Inch Rails versions. These all work on the same principle: a plastic strap with teeth is fitted round the lens and locked in place with some kind of mechanism. You get broadly the same result from all of them so it really boils down to price and which one delivers the lowest overall profile. The Zacuto ($68) and Shoot 35 systems (£29) are quite pricey but the mechanisms are well made and if the gear detaches itself then they’re pretty easy to get back in place. The Cambo gear system is cheaper but it’s very easy to attach it. The Half Inch Rails system is the cheapest of the lot and attaches with zip ties (not included) for the absolute lowest profile lens gear of the lot. They come in three sizes and you get the lot for £10. For me this represents the best solution, if only because you can actually afford to put a gear on all your lenses. I don’t really know why I would ever want to spend $68 on just one gear. Lens gears are a small but important part of your kit bag .The huge range in price for the systems doesn’t fairly reflect what a simple job they’re doing. Sam Morgan Moore at Half Inch Rails has finally given us a solution that suits the DSLR ethos. Smart. And cheap.