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    Focus/Iris control review (The Bebob Foxi and Varizoom PZFI)
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    Senior Member evinsky's Avatar
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    Some of you may have noticed that after four years of asking Panasonic has included a new port on the side of the DVX100B and the new HVX200. This is the much-anticipated Focus/Iris control port. Those of you familiar with the Canon/Sony LANC port know that the ability to control focus remotely is something they have had since before 24P even existed in 1/3Ē cams. Nonetheless we are very happy and appreciate that Panny listened to our requests. In a way itís even better because itís on a separate connector allowing for your choice of zoom controller, focus controller or both.

    As of the writing of this article only two units with focus/iris control are available for immediate purchase, the Foxi by German manufacturer Bebop and the PZFI by Varizoom in Texas. Both controllers are made of durable plastic and both attach to the tripod handle using small screw posts and a curved pressure bridge between them.
    I should mention that Varizoom actually makes three products, one with a zoom rocker one with a ďStealthĒ style zoom control and one just focus/iris control. Since they all have the same basic functionality and design I will be reviewing just the PZFI Rocker style all in one product. Also it should be mentioned that this is only the first part of the article, Varizoom is in the process of refining a follow focus style controller of their own. I should be getting a sample just after NAB to test and will dutifully report back to you then.

    First up, design:
    For those of you who are already familiar with the Bebop ZoŽ and Varizooms Stealth and Rock line of zoom controllers the PZFI will look very familiar. It is essentially a DVX Rock with what looks like two Matchbox Car wheels glued on the left side. These are the controls for the focus and iris, the focus dial being the closest to your right thumb when attached to a tripod handle. The iris dial is just ahead of the focus dial. This arrangement allows for a very convenient one-hand approach to all remote camera controls. There are also two switches, one marked ďfocusĒ and one marked ďirisĒ, and both have an ďAĒ and an ďMĒ adjacent to them. These allow you to set either auto or manual control for the perspective dial. The zoom and record controls act just like the Rock or Stealth or ZoŽ so I wonít get into them here.
    Construction is solid and the focus/iris wheels have a nice knurled texture that offers a positive connection. At the other end of the PZFI is a two-headed snake of jacks that plugs into both the ports under the SD card slot of the HVX or under the headphone jack of the DVX100B. This could be done better, at least on the HVX. I feel that a solid connector that also provides some protection for the SD card slot would have been preferable.

    The Foxi is a horse of a different color, itís a bit bigger than the PZFI and for good reason, and filmmakers will immediately recognize the design motivation at work here. The Foxi is designed after the ďFollow FocusĒ paradigm. For those that arenít familiar, in film production all focus is ďPulledĒ by the 1st AC (Assistant Camera) using a follow focus unit. The FF unit is a wheel that, using belts and gears, translates the lens focus direction 90ļ to give the AC better access. It generally sits on the support rods for a mattebox. The focus distance is usually based on marks placed on the ground that the actors must hit. These marks are measured and then marked on the follow focus wheel. This system allows the AC to become something like a smart auto focus.


    The Foxi emulates the mechanical follow focus wheel and adds a belt of sorts for the iris control. There is a white mark-able tape that surrounds the wheel of the Foxi. This tape, in conjunction with the four black arrows spaced at 90ļ apart, allows for repeatable focus placement by marking the near and far focus positions with a temporary pen.
    The iris control is definitely a new approach. Instead of just giving us another dial Bebop has given us a small tank tread with a marking arrow and another mark-able strip of tape. The thought being that you may want to have your AC ride iris. Iím not sure how useful this is, but at the very least you could add a small printout of the various aperture placements and have a true aperture scale. On the underside of the unit just behind the focus wheel are two switches, these, like the PZFIs, control auto or manual operations. The Foxi comes with one other neato addition, a spacer that allows the unit to be attached to iris rods just like a mechanical follow focus. This is probably the configuration most film style shooters will be interested in.

    Second, operation:
    Itís obvious from the design that these two products have different shooting styles in mind. Thus the operation does too. The PZFI has a need for speed; the controls are very fast, especially focus, which requires a very fine touch for precise control. This may be very desirable in situations where you need to have immediate one-handed operation of these controls, like operating a small crane or jib arm. This also seems to me to be a good fit for light steadi-cam operation where reaching up to the camera might be very inconvenient or downright impossible.
    The Foxi is a follow focus through and through. Its well-dampened wheel action inspires confidence in the focus pull. The white marking tape is durable and fine tip non-permanent Lumocolor pen marks wipes off with ease using a little moisture. I can easily see using this product for precise focus shifts even at 55mm wide open on the HVX in HD.

    There is some logic to comparing the Foxi to mechanical follow focus units too.
    With a direct drive follow focus one advantage is universality, a direct drive FF can be used on almost any lens, including lenses that might be used on a 35mm DOF adapter or a professional 2/3Ē HD camera. The Foxi on the other hand is limited to the HVX/DVX, but allows for remote operation using extensions up to and beyond 25í, something only otherwise possible on FIZZ devices that are very expensive ($15K). You also get hard stops on the Foxi (And the PZFI) something that not all direct drive FFs have. You can even mount the Foxi to the top handle of your camera if you want to allow an AC to pull focus but donít have iris rods and a bridge plate. The Foxi is built well but feels light for itís size, but I still think it would hold up to professional use if not abuse. Bebob is also nice enough to supply you with a replacement strip of marking tape for when the first one becomes too marked up to be useable.

    Third, value:
    Here is where it comes down; The PZFI is a great deal for $299.00 especially if you donít already have a zoom controller for your camera. Its responsiveness may not be ideal for focus pulls, but itís size, comprehensive design and build quality make it a great value.
    If itís just focus and iris youíre after then the PFI is only $199.00
    The Foxi is considerably more at $465.00 especially since itís not made any better and doesnít include any zoom control. But personally thatís the way Iíd want it. And when compared to the ďBargainĒ Chrozsiel FF at $1600.00 it seems like a steal. There are some more affordable mechanical FFs coming to market soon but the smooth, hard stop nature of the Foxi is hard to pass up. Is the extra $165.00 worth it? If your doing Cinema style focus pulls I would have to say yes. But your mileage may vary, I would highly recommend test driving both and seeing which feels like a better fit for you.

    Last thoughts.
    I donít know if this is Bebob, Varizoom or Panasonic, but Iíd like to see the option of disengaging the individual controls even if the units were plugged in. Like say, having the focus be controlled by the Foxi but the iris still controllable from the camera. These are nit picks. Also the connectors them selves are a bit odd. This is Panasonicís fault; the zoom plug is a 2.5mm sub-mini headphone jack, something not that easy to find an extension for. Neither is the focus/iris connector, which is a 3.5mm three conductor type that is used on some consumer video cameras to pass L+R Audio and composite video over one cable. I found one extension, which I have tried and works well, here.
    http://www.smarthome.com/9725252x.html
    The zoom cable extension can be found at Pacific Radio
    http://www.pacrad.com
    Last edited by evinsky; 04-20-2006 at 01:57 PM.
    Always beg forgiveness, not permission! http://www.evingrant.com http://www.evingrantdp.com http://www.evingrantphoto.com
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    #2
    Cinematographiliac DC's Avatar
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    I have the VariZoom PZFI, which I like a lot. Attaching it to a tripod arm and something like a Fig Rig is a breeze and a blessing! I picked mine up at EVS for around $259 plus CA tax (only like 3% if you fill out their production form or what not). It's a great little piece of equipment when you need to control Focus/Iris/Zoom all with one thumb! Connecting it to the jacks on the camera is tight and a little awkward, but it works. And, yeah, the cables are short but invest in those extensions that Evin recommended. When you attach your HVX to a jib, you'll be glad you did.
    Last edited by DC; 04-20-2006 at 02:23 PM.


     

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    #3
    President/Founder Jarred Land's Avatar
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    thanks for the great article Evin.. good work.
    .


     

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    I couple things about the Foxi
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    I just finished a HVX feature using the Foxi, and I have to say it would have seriously slowed down the production had this not been available to me. On a given setup, we usually only 1-2 takes depending on the director - and the issues were never focus related. That being said, I am a professional camera assistant, spending most of my time on film productions. After using the product I believe that this unit is a necessity for the HVX. As Barry has pointed out previously, focus on this camera is important, especially at any lens size over 10mm. Using a manual focus on the HVX has its limitations, most notibly that any accidental bump of the Manual Focus knob on the camera will force you to quickly re-calibrate your knob. This isn't a huge problem, but in a pinch this can burn you. Once you set your distances on the Foxi knob (by eye focus using a good monitor as the focus distances on the HVX can be over 2 feet off at times), its calibrated permanently. Just plug in, and its good to go. You will have to change these marks if you change the lens, like adding and extender, but with some tape and prep time, this isn't a problem. I also believe that once caibrated correctly, this unit is the only way to accurately set your iris. The iris numbers on the camera are shown in 1/2 stop increments. The iris still closes and opens between these numbers, and without a visible scale, its hard to set your stop at "a hare under 2.8" and so on. I suppose some would say that its video and this wouldn't matter, but its really a matter of being professional, and in a feature environment it does matter. You can create a visible scale on the Foxi, allowing you set accurate stops and to do iris pulls as well on the fly.

    (that being said, wouldn't it be nice if we had T-stops on the HVX?)

    I have 2 complaints with this system.
    (1)The knob is reversed. On normal focus knobs, turning the knob clockwise (when you are facing it), puts the focus farther away. This is a time honored tradition in film (what 100 years or so?) - as "you roll out the carpet, the actor walks farther away." And as you roll in the carpet, the actor comes toward you. On the Foxi, it is the exact opposite. I figure they should be able to fix this somehow, but it is definitely wrong as compared to standard follow focus systems.

    (2)Need a quick release system. When jumping between hand-held/studio/steadicam productions, its nice to take the unit off and use it like a remote focus system. If they just had a quick release that lets you snap on and off the rods, it would make it that much easier.

    That being said, I would still buy one over the Varizoom for a feature production. When you have an actor running down a hallway from 100'+ down to 5' at 55mm (and 30 seconds to get it right), and all you need is 1 take (and some experience), its worth the money, especially if your job is at stake. As a rental, it should rent the same as a manual follow focus.

    markus
    Last edited by sukram; 04-21-2006 at 09:51 AM.


     

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    #5
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    ok so is the focus on the pzfi the one on the far left, and the iris is the one on top? just tryin to get that straight.


     

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    #6
    Senior Member evinsky's Avatar
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    Yes.
    Always beg forgiveness, not permission! http://www.evingrant.com http://www.evingrantdp.com http://www.evingrantphoto.com
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    #7
    Bronze Member GageFX's Avatar
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    I purchased/recieved the STEALTH PZFI a couple weeks ago and I LOVE it. I had been on EVS's hindend for over a month about it and they knew nothing about it and had no info or anything. I called Varizoom and they had it to me in a couple days.

    I LOVE the Stealth style with the small forward/back zoom control as opposed to the left/right rocker. The stealth keeps your finger tips right at the Focus/Iris controls for adjustment. My only problem is I'm still getting used to it (only 2 hours practice so far) and I keep accidentally knocking the exposure off. My one change would be a focus/iris LOCK that I can lock it at my desired apperture then unlock to change. I just need to learn to control my fingers, though.

    I have it on my Fig right now and it will also be used on a Steadi-sled as well as on a jib. It is a blessing on that Fig, though.

    -GageFX


     

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    #8
    Senior Member Monglane's Avatar
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    Very good article. I have purchased the Foxi and I will review it the way I already did with the indiFocus (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/cinedv/ffocus_english.htm). The only thing is, I'd like to buy an extension cord as well, and the people at Smarthome are charging over 50 bucks for shipping an 8.50-item to France... So, if any nice dvxuser with a Paypal account is willing to take care of ordering this cord and shipping it to me, I'd be delighted !


     

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    #9
    Senior Member ProfD's Avatar
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    Good read. Today(Tuesday,02May06) I received a very good price from the AbleCine folks on the Varizoom PZFI...even though Rush is not working there as I was informed earlier, they still came through with a DVXUser discount. Final price to me was $211...and yes...that included regular shipping. Very impressed with that.


     

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    #10
    Respected User Streamliner's Avatar
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    Evin, I returned my PZFI Varizoom to Birns and Sawyer, I couldn't get a smooth start or landing using that left/right thumb rocker. The way I really want to use a remote is mainly for zooming in out and rolling on/off in the hand-held mode in my right hand (attached to the grip on my shoulder mount), the same way I'd use my MicroForce... I hold the my Croiziel follow focus in my left hand and take alot of the weight there, focus maually or have an AC pull...Maybe the Stealth version would be closer to the MicroForce feeling, thumb back and forth...


     

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