If you’re anything like me, someone who takes a great deal of pride in their work on set, then you’ll try just about everything once to gain knowledge on that particular item and see if it benefits my workflow more than others. I have been pulling focus now for just shy of 13 years in Los Angeles and more recently Atlanta and I’ve worked with just about every wireless follow focus out there, from Bartechs, Heden Carats, and Tilta Nucleus’s to Prestons and Arri products. What I’ve found to work more in the narrative world doesn’t seem to hold true in the world of music videos, commercials, stage shows and docs. Preston seems to reign King in most narrative work and car commercials I’ve been involved in due to the seamless integration of the Light Ranger distance measuring system, but what Preston lacks in with bulky MDRs and calibrating to infinity on the lens, Arri’s WCU-4 and Hi-5 systems swoop in to pick up the slack, with a built-in MDR brain into the C-Force RF motor and no need to set the lens to infinity when calibrating, making lens swaps that much faster in real-time. I normally don’t use a distance measuring system when using the WCU-4 or Hi-5 setups, but when I can, I use the CineTape, and now that you can integrate the FocusBug system as well if you are using the Arri RIA-1 module with the appropriate RF Radio Module as your hand unit on the camera side, my options have doubled.
I recently finished up an IMAX documentary feature film in Florida where we were shooting Sony Venice 1 and 2 camera systems at their max resolution within IMAX-approved frame lines. We had cameras in studio, handheld, and Ronin 2 builds, from Signature Primes and Sigma Primes to Angenieux EZ Zooms and 12:1’s. We were able to accomplish quicker camera builds and keep the weight down on the Ronins by utilizing Arri WCU-4 and Hi-5 systems with C-Force RF motors on our builds. Not having a separate MDR is one less thing we have to worry about when tightening the build to keep the payload lower.
Understaffed and with only two full-time focus pullers on the Florida unit alone, there were days where we still had more than 2 cameras playing in a typical day, depending on the need for its specific build. On the second to last day of the demonstration show we were filming, my operator was requested to start filming the show on the Venice 2 with a 12:1 on a ratchet-strapped b-stand and then immediately move to a Venice 1 on the Ronin 2 setup with a tight EZ zoom. I tend to own multiples of many things in my kit, and this specific day I was fortunate to have brought my backup C-Force RF motor, which I threw on the Ronin 2 prior to moving out to our shooting location. I was incredibly happy with how quickly I was able to swap radio channels between the two separate cameras’ RF motors in the time it took my operator to come down from his stand to throw on his Ready Rig for the Ronin, and I was able to calibrate while we were moving without needing to be right next to the camera. This move ended up being immensely seamless which worked to our advantage on the already crazy day’s schedule and tight timelines to achieve our shots.
I know there are plenty of focus pullers out there who swear by Preston, and believe me, I love using the Preston system when its what a production already has been using, but what has proven to work time and time again for me and my needs, has been the Hi-5. Its range far surpasses its predecessor, its batteries last much longer and are hot-swappable (hand unit will turn back on instantly after new battery is input if the hand unit was on prior to swap), it can automatically tell which ring has been placed on the hand unit thanks to the chips embedded into the rings, you can transfer LDS and other files through an app on your phone, and the hand unit can stand on its own! The lack of the bulky MDR (even Preston’s MDR-4 has its caveats and is still a bulky addition to any camera build) has made the gimbal and Steadicam operators I’ve utilized this system with much happier when flying the camera due to the lighter weight overall.
Take my advice or don’t, but if you are able to get your hands on the Hi-5 wireless follow focus system on your next job, I highly recommend it, whether you’re on narrative shoots or not!
Central Region 1st Assistant Camera, Local 600