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Production Equipment Reviews: Redrock Mattebox and Focus Puller (a working review)
(Review update for 2015)
For many years we have used a selection of mattebox fittings and various types of bellows lens shades for both stills and video camera equipment. For the majority of our video production work today we use two mattebox types and a focus puller originally designed for the Indy market.
Chrosziel Mattebox: (Lightweight Model):
Lightweight and well made, we keep this on the camera at all times, unless of course we are travelling by air. Of course the beauty of this product is that it does not require rails or any other attachments, you simply clamp it onto the end of your lens and there is virtually no weight added to the front of the camera. The unit from Chrosziel also has two filter trays that revolve independently from the actual hood. Where these units really come into play is when you are on the move a great deal or when you are shoulder mounting for any length of time.
While for most jobs this type of lightweight unit is all that is required, we do occasionally need better shading from extraneous light hitting the front lens element and using bits of card or human bodies as a flag is not always ideal. And it was a combination of this and the need for a focus puller that led us to look at the excellent offerings from the American company Redrock Micro.
Unfortunately, our purchase was marred by a less than satisfactory transaction through our UK dealer which took many weeks to resolve. Despite being ordered correctly, the focus puller came with the wrong gear pitch (one for Fujinon and one for Canon lenses (and the gear assembly itself was out of alignment and / or bent. I will not belabour the point, as clearly it was a genuine mistake and clearly Redrock are working hard to produce and provide professional products; it’s just a shame it took so long to sort out.
Redrock Micro Mattebox:
Redrock have been around for a few years, they quickly made a name for themselves in the Indy film market with their 35mm lens adapter unit. Their swing away, 2 filter tray, adjustable 3 French flag design mattebox is what can only be described as excellent value for money, and while not built to Chrosziel or Arri standards, it is not far away at all.
Made of good quality materials that have been well engineered and produced, this unit fits onto either standard 15mm or 19mm rails. While Redrock have a “rail” package, you can adjust the mattebox to suit other manufacturer’s rails if you already have a set. The swing away hood giving access to the 2 filter trays is a nice quick way to change filters – you will require 4x4 filter masks if you will be using 4x4 filters. As with any good mattebox the filter trays revolve allowing the use of polariser or graduates that need positioned at an angle to suit shooting conditions. The top French flag is a single sheet of metal held on by two thumb screws while the side flags are made up of two leaves per side that are adjustable via little thumbscrews which are offered in a range of colours, as well as black.
In Every Day working Conditions:
The mattebox assembles quickly from new, and fits easily. It’s excellent at controlling light spill, particularly when using diffusion filters. As we already use a heavy camera, the unit adds quite a bit of weight making shoulder mounting a bit of an affair. A good support system such as the EasyRig and or a DV ENG Rig with a bit of padding on your shoulder would benefit those long shoots off the tripod. And talking of tripods, if you are already close to the knuckle with your tripod then this mattebox will add significant strain hanging way out in front, so do make sure you have the head and sticks to cope. Travelling for overseas jobs is always a pain when trying to choose what to take and what to leave behind and so far we only take our lightweight Chrosziel Mattrebox with us.
RedRock Mattebox & Red One Camera:
When fitting the Mattebox designed for 15mm rails onto the 19" rails of a RED One you will need an adapter. Seen here in the pictures, the Mattebox is fitted to top rails using a RED Universal Mount with a 15mm adapter and 15mm rods. There are other methods of attachment but you do need to be careful that all the various attachments do not foul each other. Remember, with such a heavy unit out front like that, the need for a heavy duty tripod is essential.
Considering the cost of professional matteboxes of this type, I think Redrock have managed to achieve a product that is clearly well made and priced to sell. Time will tell if it will stand the rigours of professional use, but one problem that immediately comes to the fore is the thumb screws holding the side flags, these could be better, as they come loose very easily resulting in the side flags falling off (happened twice on one particular job). For those whose rails are short enough to allow the filter trays to drop from underneath, you need to be sure you don’t accidentally allow the filter and tray to drop through onto the ground. If you are in the market for a railed mattebox, then the Redrock must be a consideration.
Redrock Micro Focus Puller:
For the majority of our work we did not require a focus puller, occasionally we would use a Fujinon focus control cable but that is an entirely different animal.
Since we purchased Sony’s PDW-700 XDCAM HD422 2/3” Hi Def camera we have noticed that focusing moving objects has become very much a challenge and the danger of replacing a creative moving shot with a locked off shot is more of an issue. Because of this we decided to purchase the Redrock micro focus puller and a 12” whip.
Much like the mattebox, it is made of good quality materials and sound in construction. One of the tell tale signs of a poor focus puller is the play exhibited in the gearbox. By holding the lens barrel with one hand and trying to gently turn the focus wheel back and forward with the other, you will get an idea of how much slack or play there is in the gearing. With a Chrosziel unit for example there is virtually no play, while with the Redrock product there is a little play involved, I certainly would have liked it to be a tighter tolerance but to date we have found that it performs well. On the whole it’s actually very well made and we don’t have any problems with the accuracy in regard to focus movements.
The puller fits to standard 15mm rails or to 19mm rails via an adapter, once we received the correct (optional) gear wheel with the Fujinon pitch (comes with Canon pitched gear as standard) fitting and marrying the gearwheel to the lens gear was straight forward. Of course it’s important to make sure that you don’t have too tight a fit or you will apply unnecessary pressure on both the lens and the focus puller gear assembly, which may cause damage over the long term and of course difficulty in pulling accurate focus. Too slack and you will get slippage at worse, and play at best. For those using Prime lenses or 35mm stills lenses Redrock supply a set of geared outer ring wheels to suit most diameters.
The outer diameter focus wheel comes with a magnetic white disc that you can mark with a marker pen. There is a needle pointer to line up your pen marks making it easy to hit your marks. We did wonder why Redrock did not make this marker with more of a point to it rather than a square end? However, no big deal.
RedRock FF & Red One Camera:
When fitting a Follow Focus designed for 15mm rails onto the 19" rails of a RED One you will need an adaptor. Seen here in the pictures is the Redrock Micro 15-19mm adaptor for the Redrock Follow Focus 2 unit. When using RED Pro Prime lenses there is not a great deal of clearance under the lens, something that may need to be considered depending on lens choice. There are other methods of attachment but you do need to be careful that all the various attachments do not foul each other. If you live outside of the USA, delivery for these items can take some time.
Focus Puller Whip:
We opted to purchase the 12” whip which push fits into the large diameter wheel – this is via a spring loaded ball bearing (similar to a socket ratchet) which could do with being a little more positive. While the whip will not fall out easily, it would benefit from being a tighter fit. We find the 12” whip a nice compromise between the short 3” and the long 18”, both of which have handling anomalies that need practice. Using the short one can cause the camera to be nudged during a focus pan, or using the long one requires extreme wrist action to get the focus travel required for certain shots.
In Every Day working Conditions:
Of course a focus puller is great for effects work when shifting focus from one object in the foreground to another in the background – or vice versa of course. However I have found that I can track an object much easier using the focus puller as opposed to turning the lens barrel. At the longer end of the lens, trying to keep tack sharp focus on moving subjects or camera movements was very difficult by just trying to revolve the lens barrel as you inevitably under or over shoot the focus mark. While this was far less noticeable using standard definition cameras and to a degree even on the Sony F350 XDCAM HD camera, the PDW-700 is completely unforgiving because the image is very sharp.
The whip is essential if you don’t want to nudge the camera, particularly on long shots. As with everything practice is needed and everyone develops their own technique. I would say that while it would be nice to have the set of Whips we have found the 12” to be very good in most situations.
When travelling to other countries by air, although we pack our PDW-700 c/w lens, rails and viewfinder, we remove the focus puller and pack that separately. Having shot in all kinds of environments from underground caves to baking hot desserts I have had no issues with the puller whatsoever. It’s well made, solid construction, not too heavy, and easy to use.
Having used these products for a few years on both broadcast projects and cinema film production where these units have been really put through the mill, I would say they have fared well. Redrock products stand up well against units costing a great deal more. In regard to the mattebox, other than the side flag thumb screw arrangement being a bit iffy, we also found that the large screws used to tighten the rail clamp and adjustable rods became difficult to tighten without an Alan Key. The follow focus gear slack, while minimal, did prove to be a nuisance with certain shots when used on a RED with RED Pro Prime PL Cine lenses (known for their barrel tightness).
Stewart Menelaws (Director of Photography)
You can read some more in-depth reviews on XDCAM products by choosing from the review links below.
"You can also read interviews Stewart has done for "The Producer magazine".