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.


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

  • Dylan
    October 1, 2014 (9:56 am)
    Reply

    Good review, I’m gonna check out the rest of the blog now!

  • aaronskc
    October 1, 2014 (9:59 am)
    Reply

    Thanks for this, it looks awesome!

  • Brett
    October 1, 2014 (10:22 am)
    Reply

    Thanks for another great review and the giveaway!

  • Thomas
    October 1, 2014 (10:25 am)
    Reply

    I actually have an older D|Focus follow focus, but it has some play in it so I might give this a try. How would you compare the two? If you’ve ever used the D|Focus that is.

    • joe12south
      October 1, 2014 (10:56 am)
      Reply

      I’ve never used the D|Focus, so I can’t compare. I have noticed with the FOTGA that depending on the stiffness of the lens, adjusting the “drag” on the FF (which is a blue screw where the arm meets the gear box) can eliminate backlash.

  • Joe B
    October 1, 2014 (11:07 am)
    Reply

    Pick me! Pick me!

  • Ben Enke
    October 1, 2014 (11:28 am)
    Reply

    Very kind of you to be giving this away! Thanks!

  • ragingpanda
    October 1, 2014 (11:34 am)
    Reply

    This would be a great piece to add to my very basic beginners set – fingers crossed!

  • Sean Crowley
    October 1, 2014 (12:15 pm)
    Reply

    Good review, thanks!

  • Benjamin Morales
    October 1, 2014 (12:16 pm)
    Reply

    This FF looks amazing

  • Daniel Palmer
    October 1, 2014 (12:23 pm)
    Reply

    Oh wow, this would be incredible! Broke college student trying to build my rig; this would help more than you could imagine! I hope I win :)

  • Matt W
    October 1, 2014 (12:55 pm)
    Reply

    Great review! This would be a wonderful addition to my setup :)

  • insidiousraven
    October 1, 2014 (12:56 pm)
    Reply

    Nice! Just starting out and am reading up on follow focus’

  • Alec
    October 1, 2014 (1:15 pm)
    Reply

    Reddit sent me! And yes, a new follow focus would be amazing. I’m newly into DSLR filmmaking and this would be a tremendous help. Thanks to your review, that’s the next purchase.

  • DanQ
    October 1, 2014 (1:38 pm)
    Reply

    Great review, thanks for the info!

  • Carlos Salinas
    October 1, 2014 (3:19 pm)
    Reply

    Good review.

  • Fernando Pacheco
    October 1, 2014 (3:21 pm)
    Reply

    So while I normally do product photography, this would be great for the video work I’m starting to shoot. Here’s a sample: http://vimeo.com/102439512

  • Justin
    October 1, 2014 (3:39 pm)
    Reply

    Help a broke college kid?! I’ve had this in my amazon cart for weeks hahaha!

  • Joakim
    October 1, 2014 (3:47 pm)
    Reply

    I hope i win cause i need a new friend for my camera so he doesnt feel so alone when im not using him.

  • Casper Kjeldsen
    October 1, 2014 (5:36 pm)
    Reply

    Nice review, seems like a cheap but good solution.

  • MERIL G.
    October 1, 2014 (5:49 pm)
    Reply

    Looks cool! Nice review. Never knew what these things did before.

  • Rob
    October 1, 2014 (6:18 pm)
    Reply

    am I too late to enter? I’d love a chance to win this!

  • Josh Anton
    October 1, 2014 (6:48 pm)
    Reply

    I would love to win this, a follow focus would be a very nice thing to have.

  • louisolsen
    October 1, 2014 (6:48 pm)
    Reply

    would like it very much…!

  • Lauri
    October 1, 2014 (7:56 pm)
    Reply

    Would love to try out this follow focus!

  • Byron Fillmore
    October 1, 2014 (9:59 pm)
    Reply

    Very nice.

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