Focusing is one of the biggest challenges when using a gimbal. It’s a simple fact of physics. If you’re moving and/or your subject’s moving, then they’re going to be moving in and out of the plane of focus. So, you need to be able to adjust it while you film, right? Well, maybe you do sometimes, but there are plenty of shots you can get with the focus locked.
In this video, filmmaker Chrystopher Rhodes at YCImaging shows us four ways to deal with focus on a gimbal to get great shots. And he does it without using autofocus or a follow focus unit.
Stay the same distance away
This is an obvious one when you think about it. If your subject’s always the same distance from the lens, you don’t need to shift focus through the shot, right? This technique works really well for tracking shots where you’re moving parallel to a moving subject. But it can also be used for subjects that are walking towards you or away from you, and revolving shots, too.
Stop down your aperture
Sometimes, increasing your aperture (the number, not the size) by stopping it down to give you more depth of field will be enough to do the trick. Not everything has to be shot with a paper-thin depth of field. Sure, sometimes you will want that really shallow depth of field, but do you really need it for every shot?
Focus in the middle
This is basically pre-focusing your lens to hit a certain distance between you and your subject so that you can move forward and have your subject pass through that field of focus. Essentially, they go from being out of focus, to in focus, to out of focus again ass you move towards them or away from them. It’s certainly not a move for every project, but it can be quite effective. I do this one sometimes with product b-roll for reviews, but it can work well for music videos, and even dramatic narrative stuff.
Shoot wide angle lenses
Wide angle lenses typically have a lot of depth of field. This means you can get a whole lot of movement towards and away from the camera while still keeping things in focus. The wider the lens, the more depth of field you get. And if you have something like a 15mm stopped down to f/8, pretty much the entire planet is in focus beyond 3ft from the end of the lens.
Chrystopher suggests turning on focus peaking, if your camera offers it, when using all of these methods. This will help to ensure that when you’re tracking with your subject, or if you want to move to bring your subject from blurry to in-focus, you can see exactly when they’re in the right spot.
There are definitely times when being able to adjust your focus during the shot is helpful. Some gimbals, like the Zhiyun Crane 2, try to do this by having a follow focus wheel on the gimbal handle itself. A wheel that only works with Canon, unless you get the motorised follow focus – A follow focus that’s now included for free with the Crane 2, but that I have to pay for if I want one for the Crane 2 I already own.
Sometimes you might want a wireless follow focus and a second operator to monitor the camera and pull focus while you move. But you don’t always need to adjust the focus during your shot. And sometimes it can work better if you don’t.