The LIVE AIR 3 SMART gives you LiDAR focus without requiring you buy a gimbal first

Aug 15, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

The LIVE AIR 3 SMART gives you LiDAR focus without requiring you buy a gimbal first

Aug 15, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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DJI’s LiDAR focusing system (buy here) has been met with mixed responses since it was released in 2020. Some love it. Some hate it. LiDAR focusing is still in its early days, and the tech has a long way to go before it’s perfect, but it shows a lot of promise.

They’re not the only company working on it, though. PDMOVIE has just released their new LIVE AIR 3 SMART (buy here). It’s a remote follow focus motor that also includes LiDAR focusing for cinema and other manual lenses.

DPMovie LIVE AIR 3 SMART LiDAR focus motor

The LIVE AIR 3 SMART essentially mounts to rails on your camera rig the same way a regular wireless follow-focus motor would. Of course, you can use it with a gimbal if you wish, although, unlike DJI’s offering, buying a gimbal is not mandatory.

It is an interesting-looking device that holds a lot of potential for filmmakers. It’s not going to be perfect for every scenario, and you’re still limited to a single specific spot to focus on instead of being able to tap around your entire frame but, yes, potential.

LiDAR is pretty new to this sort of application, so it’s going to take some time for it to really come to fruition. Already, though, LiDAR focusing offers some great benefits over both manually focusing and existing Phase Detect, DfD and other autofocus systems – which is why Panasonic’s looking to integrate more tightly with DJI.

Calibration is fiddly, but it remembers your lenses!

You do have to manually calibrate the motor for each of the lenses you wish to use. It’s a petty fiddly process, but you should only need to do it once. It even stores a range of lens presets so that you can save your favourites and don’t have to calibrate them every time.

YouTube video

Once calibrated and remembered, swapping lenses is as easy as taking the old one off, putting the new one on and loading the preset for that lens. Once calibrated, the focus response seems to be very quick and accurate if this demo is anything to go by.

YouTube video

It offers about 8-10 hours of runtime on a fully charged battery. And one of the great things about this device is that it uses a removable battery. So, you can have 2 or 3 spares sitting in your bag for long sessions filming away from power.

If you only have the one battery, you’re able to charge while using it from a USB-C power bank. This is also how you charge your batteries when back at home or the studio.

It’s a regular wireless follow-focus unit, too!

As well as adding LiDAR autofocus capabilities to cinema and other manual focus lenses, it also acts as a traditional wireless follow focus. In fact, PDMovie says that they make the world’s smallest thumbwheel for follow-focus control.

From looking at the pictures of it, it sure seems to be extremely small at only 31mm in diameter. It sports a 1/4-20″ thread on the bottom, allowing you to screw it directly into any 1/4-20″ mounting point on your camera, cage or other part of your rig.

The company also offers a larger handwheel device for remotely controlling focus away from your camera, with up to 100 metres of range. You’re also able to set focus markers, allowing you to quickly go directly from one focus distance to another in an instant.

Overall, it looks like a very well-thought-out system that offers a lot more capability than DJI’s LiDAR offering.

Price and Availability

The PDMovie LIVE AIR 3 SMART is available to buy now in three packages from the PDMovie website. Two come with the Mini version of the motor, and one uses the regular version.

The mini versions are the PDL-AFX-S for $419 and the PDL-AFX-RA-S for $509. The main difference between these kits is that the latter comes with the larger follow focus wheel. The regular version is the PDL-AFX-RA-SP, costs $669 and comes with the beefier and more powerful motor.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “The LIVE AIR 3 SMART gives you LiDAR focus without requiring you buy a gimbal first”

  1. Joost Wierenga Avatar
    Joost Wierenga

    Interesting, nice combination of technology