GEAR REVIEW: FOTGA DP500IIS Quick Release Follow Focus

Fotga DP500IIS Follow Focus
(< $175 @ Amazon)

Inexpensive, light, solid construction, no backlash
Can’t be used for remote control

Among low (or no) budget filmmakers, there is something of a mystique surrounding geared lenses and follow-focuses. For many years, I read about them, understood them in principle, but never tried them.

This was partly because I repurposed still lenses that aren’t geared. But still lenses can be easily adapted to use gears. The real reason I never tried a follow focus was the outrageous cost of a “quality” unit. It’s common for a follow focus to start around $500 and not hard to find them listing over $1,000.

This always seemed outrageous to me. A follow focus is a just a knob attached to a gear that needs to mesh with another gear. Beyond that, common niceties are ability attach a whip, one or more hard stops and a way to temporarily mark any number of “soft” focus points. None of these features need add up to the price of a decent camera. Besides, how much of a difference would it really make?

Follow Focus (Silo)Then I got the chance to work with cinema lenses and a follow focus. From the very first shot I was aware of what I had been missing. I could never go back. Silky smooth, repeatable manual focus with the control right where I needed it. But how could I afford to shoot this way all of the time? On the lens side of the equation, the Rokinon Cine-styles allowed me to acquire geared cinema primes at prices mortals can afford. Now to find a reasonably priced follow focus.

I first dabbled with the Hondo $50 follow focus. While I appreciate their effort to create such an inexpensive piece of gear, and the good folks at Hondo obviously care about their craft, it really didn’t work for me. I found myself constantly fiddling with it to keep it tight against my lens (they have a new version which is supposed to be better at this), and the handle (which will eventually bump against your rig) just isn’t comparable to handling a nice big knob that can turn 360º. I found myself missing shots because I was fiddling with the follow focus. Still, if $50 is all you can afford, it’s worth a look.

Then I stumbled upon a review of the inexpensive FOTGA DP500IIS. The claim that it had no backlash (the delay between turning the knob, and the lens actually turning) made me decide to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did because I couldn’t be more impressed with this piece of kit.

The whole thing is made of strong*, light weight aluminum except for the magnetized focus ring. It has two hard stops. It has an awesome quick-release snap mechanism for mounting to your 15mm rails. (No need to remove matte box, etc. in order to slide it off.) It stays exactly where you leave it, snug against lens. You can reverse it for left or right hand use. You can switch gear sizes. In short, it does everything you need a manual follow focus to do, and it does so very well. And as others have said, there is zero backlash. The finest turn of the knob will immediately translate to action at the lens.

Put simply: Unless you have need of some esoteric feature missing from the FOTGA, there is absolutely no reason to spend any more money on any follow focus.

* A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my rig in a parking lot. Hard onto concrete. The DP500IIS took the brunt of the fall, and surely saved my camera. The arm that attaches the knob/gear assembly to the base was severely bent, but beyond that the follow focus was completely fine. I contacted FOTGA to get a replacement part. In the meantime, I disassembled it, bent the arm back in a vice, and it amazingly it works good as new.

UPDATE: We have a winner! “Anna” from I don’t know where is lucky number 118. (Drawn from a collection of golden lens caps stored in an underground vault protected by the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock.) Congrats to Anna, may she never miss focus again!

Not only did FOTGA send me a new arm, but they sent me a whole new follow focus. Since I already have two, I’ve decided to give this one away. If you’d like a chance to win it, leave a comment below. (Make sure you register so that I have some way to contact you.) In two weeks, I’ll pick a winner at random from one of the comments.


131 Replies to "GEAR REVIEW: FOTGA DP500IIS Quick Release Follow Focus"

  • Ben P.
    September 21, 2014 (12:44 pm)
    Reply

    I’ve always wanted to try out a nice follow focus, so I’m glad to have stumbled across this giveaway!

  • smashfury
    September 21, 2014 (12:45 pm)
    Reply

    cool review

  • Adam Reber
    September 21, 2014 (12:50 pm)
    Reply

    Woo! I would love to win this! I am actually getting off my butt and working on a horror film I’ve wanted to make for quite some time!

  • joe12south
    September 21, 2014 (12:52 pm)
    Reply

    Good luck to everyone!

  • Matt
    September 21, 2014 (12:57 pm)
    Reply

    I’d be very glad to win it!

  • Luca Leinemann
    September 21, 2014 (1:00 pm)
    Reply

    I often use them (rented) on my shoots, and I absolutly love the Fotga Follow Focus! Would be a nice way to get on in my own hands 🙂
    Greetings from Germany!

  • Brent
    September 21, 2014 (1:08 pm)
    Reply

    I’ve considered getting this FF. Let’s see if I can win it!

  • shizzel
    September 21, 2014 (1:20 pm)
    Reply

    I actually recently bought this one: http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?id=24009652609 . The focuspart isn’t even that bad really. I just doesn’t fit on my rodsystem properly… So it’s back to using the Focus shifter from Kickstarter, which more or less is a fancier solution of the DIY jar opener. xD

  • sabnitron
    September 21, 2014 (1:20 pm)
    Reply

    We have a 72 hour short film contest coming up next month, and this would do wonders for our already stretched budget!

  • Guillermo Ramírez
    September 21, 2014 (1:22 pm)
    Reply

    Lo quiero! Nice review btw

  • nikkor
    September 21, 2014 (1:23 pm)
    Reply

    I might give it a shot since my cheap one is dying.

  • James
    September 21, 2014 (1:24 pm)
    Reply

    I have been looking for a follow focus that can help me learn better focus pulling for school. I’ve heard this one is great for the money. Maybe luck will swing my way!

  • DanT
    September 21, 2014 (1:31 pm)
    Reply

    Thanks for the reviews! Very helpful and written so that even a beginner like me with just a Panny G6 can understand them. Please enter me in the contest for the follow focus.

  • Joe Oberster
    September 21, 2014 (1:35 pm)
    Reply

    Leave a comment like this?

  • DanT
    September 21, 2014 (1:36 pm)
    Reply

    Just checked out your Facebook page and saw you are from Pittsburgh – woot! I live about 30 min south in the Mon Valley. I write about it on my WordPress blog. Best of luck in Kentucky!

  • Lee Burnett
    September 21, 2014 (1:39 pm)
    Reply

    This seems like a great bit of kit, has a lot more features than my current one, so thanks for the heads up. I guess longevity could be a difference between this and a more expensive FF, but the price difference is whacky. Now hopefully I can win this one 😉

  • Brady Daley
    September 21, 2014 (1:56 pm)
    Reply

    Would love to win this. This would be a great addition for my GH4.

  • Sam
    September 21, 2014 (1:56 pm)
    Reply

    I really appreciate the in depth review. It’s always difficult to find thorough and unbiased discussion.

  • Stephen Kampff
    September 21, 2014 (1:57 pm)
    Reply

    Even if I don’t win, if I had the money it might be worth the investment! I’ve used a friends Zacuto follow focus before and it’s ruined me..

  • Dylan
    September 21, 2014 (2:02 pm)
    Reply

    It’s a sharp-looking piece of gear. As an amateur filmmaker, I’d love to be able to use follow focus like this!

  • Ed
    September 21, 2014 (2:06 pm)
    Reply

    I agree. I used it with the Rokinon cine lens with this unit (both rented) and I would love to own this. Good thing I stumbled upon this review.

  • Edward
    September 21, 2014 (2:13 pm)
    Reply

    Nice piece of kit.

  • Carl
    September 21, 2014 (2:29 pm)
    Reply

    Looks awesome. Great construction.

  • Bill F
    September 21, 2014 (2:38 pm)
    Reply

    Looks like a nice combination of features. Also good to hear of a well-made piece of hardware that will stand up to repairs on a vice! That’s my kind of follow focus!

  • J.P.
    September 21, 2014 (2:44 pm)
    Reply

    Would love to win your extra focus. I’ve been using a rubber jar opener, would love to upgrade my gear!

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