As more photographers look to leverage the power of video in the delivery of content and services, we start to encounter areas of challenge that we might face when it comes to working with manual focus, particularly on lenses designed to be used with autofocus systems. There are tools out there that are designed to help resolve those problems, this Aputure unit may be one of them.
For folks using DSLR cameras to shoot video, the discovery gets made pretty quickly that video autofocus is slow and spotty. It tends to hunt around, and goodness forbid, we might even see lens "breathing" as focus is achieved. (Seriously, this gets blown way out of proportion most of the time). Most guides and coaches will advocate manual focus when shooting video and while this works very well for framed shots, it becomes more troublesome when you need to change the focus plane in a single clip. Seeing the LCD screen can be a challenge sometimes, but so can be precise focusing.
Professionals will use follow focus rigs with stops to quickly move focus from one point to another, but that is a skill requiring practice to do well. Wouldn't it be cool if we could program focus planes and have the AF motors drive the lens to these points?
That is exactly what this Aputure V-Control is designed to do. You can use it for stills and I will talk about that towards the end, but it designed first and foremost for video.
The controller connects to your Canon DSLR via USB. Yup, first gating factor is that it ONLY works with Canon DSLRs because it is encoded to use Canon's command set. Once connected and turned on in video mode, switch the lens to manual focus and use the wheel to adjust focus. While this works ok if you are using the back of camera LCD, it really comes into its own when you are using a supplementary display plugged into the HDMI port on your camera. This allows you some practical standoff distance.
Focus change can be adjusted in three different step amounts, very useful when using different focal length lenses and at different focus distances. You can also alter the focus change command send rate in up to nine different rates to again accommodate your shoot demands.
Once all connected, push the Lv button to remotely put the camera in Live View, but be sure that you have set the camera to video mode in advance. Now you can use the focus control wheel to adjust your focus.
On the left side of the wheel are four buttons labelled A, B, C, and D. These are recallable focus settings. Focus the lens to where you want the focus plane and hold down the button you want to use as a save position until the LED blinks green. You can have a maximum of four saved focus positions in the V-Controller at one time, two more than on a typical follow focus rig.
The red button on the bottom right starts and stops the video capture process.
You can also put the V-Control into Stills mode where you have remote USB control over shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation, depending of course on the operational mode set on the camera. In this scenario, you don't use the V-Control as a focus control but use the wheel to change settings on the camera. The buttons now take on a short press, long press mode that takes getting used to. A long press selects the underlying function such as choosing to adjust the ISO, whereas short presses can be used to reposition focus points. The wheel only changes exposure parameters.
The unit is very inexpensive compared to other remote control focus methods, but is bound to the camera by a USB cable and only works with Canon. Other systems use powered gears to manipulate focus and work over radio, but at 10x the approximately $230 of this unit.
The user interface is not particularly intuitive, requiring time spent reading the documentation which would not be a bad thing if it was at all comprehensive. It's not, and sometimes the translation leaves much to be desired. You do get a lot of stuff in the box including clamps for standard 15mm rods used in video rigs as well as this really pretty vintage looking leather carry case. I was sort of at a loss as to it's viability. Getting the unit out of the case requires a substantial tug on the control wheel and every time I did it, I was worried I was going to break the unit.
Power is supplied by AA batteries so it's completely portable and while it is not comparable to a Red Rock Micro or Cinegears system, it may be all you need for better focus control in your DSLR video activities. I want to thank the people at Henrys for providing me a unit for evaluation for this review