Once you understand the value of depth-of-field (DOF) adapters in low-budget digital filmmaking, your skills make a huge leap forward in making your films stand out as professional-looking work. Listen, I am not against anyone who makes movies using the “everything’s-always-in-focus”, infinite depth-of-field option–either by choice or by limitations in gear. As valuable as I believe a DOF adapter is, there is no question that such an add-on device makes your rig heavier and less portable—and that makes many cinematographers feel less creative. The addition of a DOF adapter also adds a layer of complexity to the digital filming process that just isn’t necessary all the time. But if you just pull out that DOF adapter at the right moments–like when you do a smooth focus pull that provides new information to your audience as each element comes into focus–it’s really a powerful tool. Just about any mid-shot of a character speaking against a background benefits when the actor is backlit or hairlit and the background is out of focus so attention is drawn to the character as he pops out of the scene.
When I knew I needed a DOF adapter, I started my research and learned about the industry standard DOF adapters like the Letus 35 and the Redrock M2 series adapters. I learned how a DOF adapter screws on to the lens of your consumer camcorder and allows you to use 35mm prime camera lens. I also learned that DOF adapters from either of these companies start at over $1000 and go upward from there. Then my Internet search took me to www.jag35.com and I discovered a whole new world of DOF adapters, one that fits nicely with my indie, low-budget-yet-high-quality sensibilities.
JAG35, a series of products handmade by a guy named Jehu, offers DOF adapters that are of exceptional quality at prices starting at $200 or so. The website and blog are super-easy to navigate and there’s an ample amount of information about DOF adapters in
general as well as specifics on using JAG35’s products. In fact, the company just launched an all-new website in the last few days so I’ll assume it’s even better. There are 4 different JAG35 models; I purchased the JAG35Pro Full Rig Bundle and for $740, here’s what I got: 1) A JAG35 Pro vibrating DOF adapter 2) Adapter ring so it fits on my HFS100 58mm lens 3) 50mm f1.4 FD-mount 35mm lens 4) DC plug to recharge the batteries that make the adapter vibrate, PLUS…5) a D|Focus follow focus with rail system and a couple different gear systems so you can rack focus like the pros. You get all this for $740! When I got the package with my order, I was stoked. The adapter looks a little home-made, but it’s still a sturdy, well-designed piece of equipment. The website has FAQ and videos all over the place that showed me how to set up and use the adapter. (Their site also has links to about a hundred examples of the JAG35 Pro in action.) Learning to use the adapter with the rail system and follow focus was key for me, as it was much easier to manage the adapter without the rails after learning how to use it with the rails.
One issue with using DOF adapters is that it turns the image on your viewfinder upside-down. I’m not sure if the more expensive adapters do this, but I use a monitor when I’m filming anyway so I just flip the image on the monitor and it’s good to go. Jehu offers a service on some cam models (including the HFS100) where you send him your cam and he modifies the body with a “flip-hack” switch that rights the image in the LCD viewfinder. My cam is still under warranty so modding it wasn’t an option for me. Still, it’s a
$60 solution for those who want a right-side-up image and who don’t have/want a monitor. The D|Focus follow focus is a pretty amazing little machine. True, the more expensive brands offer smoother, ball-bearing racking action and sturdier lens gears, but the D|Focus v2 model is simple enough for me to understand and effective enough for me to use with excellent results. It will certainly last me the next few years and even then, I’ll look at what D|Focus is offering at that time before I go anywhere else. In summary, if you want to dive into DOF adapters and you’re on an indie filmmaker’s budget, you should check out the JAG35 series before dropping a bundle–like, twice as much–by the time you get the rails and 35mm lens and stuff. And the more expensive adapters might not offer substantially more value for the added money. Combined with an excellent, informative website and strong customer service… the JAG35 is well worth checking out. So don’t hesitate. Go there now. Just checking out the option will enrich you.
Let’s face it, no camcorder has decent onboard sound. When I first bought the Canon HFS100, I sprung for the
Canon DM-100 stereo mic that fits on the mini hotshoe. While the sound is marginally better than the onboard offering, I still wasn’t able to capture anything that didn’t have the camera right on top of it. I knew if I was going to have decent sound in my films I would need a more professional sound solution, meaning an XLR shotgun mic with boompole. Rode Microphones are made in Australia. I’ve been seeing these mics on numerous small-budget film shoots and I thought I would give one a try. The newest model shotgun mic, the NTG-3 was a little out of my budget at $699, but the slightly older NTG-2 was right in there at $269. The NTG-2 still has dual power options with 48v phantom or a 1.5v AA battery and is prabably the least expensive sg mic out there that still has the choice. I needed the battery option because the XLR adapter I got to plug into the HFS100 isn’t powered. When I powered everything up and placed the NTG-2 on a shockmount at the end of a K-tek 6 ft. boompole, I was amazed! The sound is so clear compared to what I have been dealing with. True, I now need a boompole operator, but I guess I just needed one all along and tried to make cheap/convenient solutions work. The NTG-2 has a super-cardioid pattern and comes with a nifty high pass filter set at 80db to knock out that low frequency noise that sometimes creeps into recording. The mic also comes with a highly-adequate foam filter and a stand mount, all in a zippered vinyl case. For its price, this shotgun is a “must-have” for low-budget filmmaking. All Rode mics carry a 1 year warranty, but they extend the coverage to 10 years when you register the mic online.