This will be a short review of the above mentioned follow focus, I promise. But, I’m going to take this opportunity to give you a little background first that will help explain why this little hunk of Chinese metal makes me so happy.
I grew up in the country. Let me be a bit more specific. I grew up in the South, in a very small town. The kind of place where people do things for themselves. If something breaks, you fix it. Yourself. If you need something you don’t have, you make it out of what you have available. If we had a place nearby to purchase the things we needed, we may very well have gone there and purchased them. Out of necessity, we became engineers, inventors and jacks-of-all-trades. And I certainly did. MacGyvers as my father liked to called us. He and I were always trying to out MacGyver one another. Special thanks to Richard Dean Anderson. Now, there are a lot of “funny” pictures on the interweb of shoeless folks wearing overalls standing next to, riding on top of and generally being proud of some amazing contraption they created. And proud of all of them I’m sure they are. But, like many stereotypes these are fairly inaccurate representations of the kinds of things we MacGyver’d. And what clothes we wore on a daily basis.
My cousin Richie lived in Kenya for many years with his family and when he visited, he always exposed me to something new from the other side of the planet that I was unaware of. On one specific trip to visit us circa 1988 or so, he changed my destiny forever. I’m not sure I’ve ever expressed that to him. I should. Because the magic book of awesomeness he had with him was a copy of “Cinematography” by Kris Malkiewicz. I had always been interested in filmmaking, at least since I was aware that filmmaking was a thing. This book was filled with amazing information and photos of the magical machines and contraptions used to make the things I loved more than anything… movies. The next trip out of town for a doctor’s appointment(or whatever), I made sure we stopped at the bookstore and I purchased my very own copy. I still cherish it to this day. Thank you Rich.
The great thing about having this book at my disposal was that in my mind, I had the blueprints to build everything I would ever need to make movies. Just like the big guys had. And I did. I built a jib arm out of conduit, nuts and bolts and scraps of aluminum. I stuck my super 8 camera on there and it worked. I built a dolly out of old lawn mower wheels and plywood. And it worked. I ripped the head off Dad’s old tripod and clamped it into a suction cup vice… car mount… and it worked. I was off to the races. My friends thought it was crazy that I spent hours in the garage cutting and drilling metal to make some contraption for my “big career in movies”. I could have been hanging out at the tie yards and cruising town with everyone else, but I was perfectly happy making stuff in the garage. And then making stuff with the stuff I had made.
So yeah, the follow focus. It’s a long way around to the point I’m making, I know, I know. Hang with me.
I always dreamed of a giant catalog of all the cool things I wanted and limitless funds to order one of each. I lost many hours of sleep imagining the spaceship from the Greatest American Hero would appear outside my window and deliver such a thing to me. Never happened. Until… wait for it… Ebay and the country of China. What a glorious thing. The Chinese can make just about anything and sell it for pennies on the dollar to me through the magical catalog called Ebay. Now, I’m very aware that I may be contradicting my southern heritage a bit by even admitting I don’t buy strictly American made products. That’s a topic for another long rant.(Sorry, really. I’m getting there, to the follow focus. Sigh. Really, I’m sorry if you just wanted to read a review of the thing because you were like me and thinking of buying one. We’re almost there!) But, if I had Ebay and the Chinese in 1988… Well, let’s just say I would have been the guy who was the guy. I don’t even know what that means. What I’m trying to say is holy shit it’s amazing the stuff you can buy on Ebay from China! For cheap! And it just keeps getting better. I could force out a little tear right now.
I’m fortunate to mostly work with what would be considered as “pro gear” on a day to day basis. Really expensive stuff. And, projects that support such in their budgets. But I’ve always been astounded looking at an ARRI follow focus(which is a solid piece of gear, don’t get me wrong) and then the price tag of said gear. Pretty crazy considering what it actually is. It’s not rocket science in there.
I’ve purchased a bunch of gear from China over the past few years, ya know to give it a shot. It looked cheap, it was cheap and was never exactly as well built as I had hoped. But I could slap a follow focus on each of my old Super 8 cameras for practically nothing. It just looks cool. Oh, yeah, and it’s functional too. You get what you pay for, I’m well aware. But in the past year or so, I have witnessed an incredible leap in the build quality of gear coming out of China. They’ve caught on over there that we want this stuff and their prices have increased a bit. Still, it’s an amazing value in many cases.
Which leads me to(we finally made it!)… The Fotga DP500 2S!
I could’t find many useful reviews out there for this thing(and I know you’re saying to yourself right now, “you mean like this long winded story-review-thing, you jackass?!), but I’ve gotten pretty good at cross referencing photos on Ebay(and the web) and studying their details until I can make a good judgement call about a piece of gear(see, all those hours staring at gear in Kris Malkiewicz’s book and building my own stuff paid off). So, I clicked some stuff and typed some stuff into the magic catalog and today waited anxiously for the postal lady to stop by. She did. And I opened that box to find one of the finest pieces of $200 Chinese gear I have ever purchased.
So after all that backstory, I’ll get right to the reasons the Fotga DP500 2S is awesome.
There are apparently a few different packages you can purchase with varying items included. Here’s the package I ordered :
• Fotga DP500 2S Follow Focus
• Gear dampening adjustment
• Quick release rod clamp
• A/B Hard Stops
• Moveable view mark
• M0.8 – 43T gear
• M0.8 – 38T gear
• M0.8 – 65T gear
• Two sided reversible gear mount
• Speed crank
• Flexible lens gear
• All aluminum, very solid construction – the marking disc is the only plastic part. Well, not exactly. The gears are supposedly metal and coated with some sort of grippy plastic to ensure a solid connection and add friction with your lens gear. They are solid as a rock, mesh perfectly with my lens gears and I’m completely OK with the design and materials.
• The marking disc is removable and held in place with magnets. There is a notch to ensure perfect alignment as well as a slight cutout so you can grab it and pull it off easily – nice touch.
• Zero perceivable backlash! It’s amazing really… no backlash at all. Wow.
• The gear dampening adjustment is awesome. Basically you can adjust the tension of the hand wheel to turn with more or less tension – great feature.
• The adjustable viewing mark rotates a full 360 degrees and is a great design – very useful.
• A/B hard stops work as they should. They also rotate a full 360 degrees each and lock into place with the thumb screws effortlessly. My only complaint here is that when they are not in use/not locked down, they make a slight bit of noise when turning the hand wheel. This is a very minor complaint however.
• The hand wheel is aluminum and has a nice texture/grip. I like it.
• The quick release system locks onto your 15mm rails easily and is super solid without cranking down on the tightening screw. Same for the horizontal adjustment that moves the gear to and from your lens.
• The reversible gear system is fantastic. Solid locking, no gear slipping. Good design.
• The two additional gear sizes is a great addition for varying lenses with short and long throws. Well worth having.
To sum it up, I’d say the Fotga DP500 2S is a budget follow focus in price only. It’s a very well built system that feels very solid and does what it should without any glaring flaws in design or performance. In fact, it’s as nice as some MUCH more expensive units I’ve had the privilege of using. If you have $200 to spend on a follow focus and don’t care about having a fancy name painted on the side of it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this little hunk of metal from China.
Thanks magical internet catalog.