Wrapping Up my Rig – Initial impressions of the Petroff Follow Focus & Matte Box

I have recently received three items to complete my camera tripod rig, a Matte Box, a Follow Focus, and a Follow Focus Gear Ring for my Meteor 5-1 zoom lens. After some serious consideration I finally decided to purchase a Matte Box and Follow Focus from Petroff of Bulgaria. I settled for the Petroff P44-01 MatteBox for the following reasons: A fully modular lightweight two stage system that doesn’t need any tools for assembly and adjustment, and is easy to handle in the field. It is made out of glass reinforced polymers that have the tensile strength of aluminum, bending and springing back to their original form when under stress, and only weithting 720 grams (25 oz), making it very suitable for hand held work. The back clamp opening is 142 mm which allows for large lenses. It has four flags, sides, top and bottom, which is quite uncommon (most matte boxes only has side and top flags), and these fold and fit into the envelope of the matte box, making it compact for storage in a instrument case. The two stages rotate 360º and are removable, accomodating for 4×4″ filters. The matte box was delivered with two filter holders and a rubber diaphragm lens adapter ring as standard, as well as the P44-07 MatteBox Support Adapter for clamping the matte box to a Ø 15 x 60mm rods system, that I ordered especially from Petroff. I ordered the matte box and follow focus from Petroff’s ebay store; I had to order the support adapter separatly from Petroff’s web page, however, everthing was delivered in one package from Bulgaria. The parcel took ten days to arrive to Gothenburg from order. Everything was neatly packed in a cardboard box, well protected with plastic bubble wrap, enveloping each of the three items (matte box, support adapter and follow fous).  Everything was delivered in one piece without any visable damages.

Unpacking the Petroff Matte Box and Follow Focus, and the RafCamera Follow Focus Gear

The RafCamera Follow Focus Gear For Meteor 5-1 1.9/17-69mm zoom lens (80-93.6-20mm) arrived unscathed one day later in an bubble wrap protected envelope. I decided to opt for this particular follow focus gear ring as it is specially adapted for the Zenit/LOMO Meteor 5-1 lens, which uses a rotating front element for focusing, necessitating a broad or thick surface for the gear teeth, as it moves sliding back and forth when focus is pulled. The dimensions of the RafCamera follow focus gear is 80 mm in its inner diameter, with a 79 mm stop rim, and an outer diameter of 93.6 mm; its thickness is 20 mm, well enough for my needs. It has a 0.8 mm module cine pitch, making it compatible with the Petroff follow focus gear. Upon unpacking I was happy to seet that it was made from aluminum, lightweight and sturdy. The follow focus gear ring has three allen screws which fastens it to the front barrel of the Meteor 5-1. Unfortunatey, I would say, it also features a stop rim which makes it impossible to adjust the placement of the ring on the barrel; I would have preferred to attach the follow focus gear slightly further back to make it possible for the barrel to move safely within the matte box rubber diaphragm, but now I’m forced to buy a separate lens hood instead, such as the JJC LN-77S, to extend the barrel for use with the matte box (filing off the rim is not an option). Also, procruding a millimetre from the front element, it makes it a bit ankward (but not impossible) to attach the Zenit lens cap and lens hood, especially the former which only screws into the 77mm thread half the way compared to before. But it is quite easy to attach and remove the follow focus gear ring to the lens, using the allen wrench that comes with it; but I will leave it attached to the lens, as I now regard it to be an integral part of it.

The Petroff Follow Focus and its functions

The Petroff FF-01R Reversible Snap-On Follow Focus is adapted for the Ø 15 x 60mm rods system standard, having a removable and sliding snap-on bracket (it is possible to attach a bracket adapted for the Ø 15 x 100mm and 19 x 104mm standards). Its gear box is made with custom built “helical bevel gears” that provides a very accurate and really smooth no-play movement. The dotted rubber grip is really comfortable and makes operation easy, preventing any slips. It has a removable 3D white marking disk, which is easily removed and reattached with the help of a slot and two small magnets. The marking disk is circumscribed with a 360° adjustable pointer, which is movable and fixed using a small knob. The pointer and entire control wheel and disc are made of plastic, while the rest of the follow focus, the gear box and clamp, is made of metal; it all very well made and emits a sense of high build quality. The follow focus gear is removable and is able to be inserted back to the gear box from the reverse side to make it adaptable; it is simply pulled from the gear box using the fingers, and some force, and as easily pushed back. This also makes it possible to mount the follow focus to either side of the rods system, allowing for the use of a dedicated focus-puller (assistant) to work from the dumb (or right), or from the operator’s smart (or left) side, looking from the camera. Removing the follow focus gear and pulling a red lever on the side of the gear box makes it possible to flip the entire gear box, reversing the rotational direction; after the gear box has been flipped, the lever is pushed back into its locked position and the follow focus gear reinserted, making it ideal for use with some Nikon, Tamron and Tokina lenses whose focus barrels turn the opposite direction of traditional cine lenses. When the red side thumbscrew is unscrewed, this allows for it to push the entire clamping mechanism, freeing the clamps and mounting the Follow-Focus to the rails. Releasing and rescrewing the thumbscrew locks the rod clamps; this allows for quick release and mounting which really comes handy in pressed situations. The position of the Follow-Focus in relation to the lens follow focus gear ring is adjustable and locks onto a single rail on top of the clamping mechanism, with the red thumbscrew between the rail clamps. And all of this adjustment of functions can be done entirely without any use of tools.

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera rig, using components from POOLi™, SmallRig, Petroff and Fancier

Upon delivery, the two stages with attached filter holders, where loosely fitted into the Petroff MatteBox. I had to loosen the three red thumbscrews to remove the entire back, and align the stages to the back, sliding them gently together. Following that, it flawlessly rotated 360º, after reassembling the matte box back. A small knob or thumbscrew fixes each of the stages. I was happy and relieved to see that all four flags were delivered, also the bottom one; reading the ebay description, it was open to interpretation if it included the bottom flag. Each flag includes one adjustable, swiveling louver, allowing for control over the light reaching the lens; together the flags cover and seal off the light, creating a cubical lens hood; each louver slides in its flag with a natural intertia, making any additional screws unecessary, and the adjustment very quick and easy. Each flag is firmly fixable with a knob, especially necessary when adjusting the top and bottom flags. Also, each of the four flags is easily removable from the matte box unscrewing two small thumbscrews, sliding them off from the hinges which are fixed to the matte box. The Petroff patented matte box design, being so lightweight, makes it ideal to attach directly to the lens, without the need of rails; it is possible to purchase a Clamp-On Lens Adapter Ring which is fitted into the back clamp opening, which mounts the matte box to the front of the receiving lens. Personally, I prefer to use the rails system, and thus ordered the optional MatteBox Support Adapter, which allows for some vertical adjustment, allowing the matte box to be positioned appropriately for the lens. The matte box is easily attached to the twin small rods of the support adapter, using a single knob to lock it properly; I have slided the small mattebox clamp all the way through the rods of the support adapter, without the need to adjust it further, as it fits perfectly to the height of the POOLi™ S-BASE-2 and SmallRig lens support combo (see below). One interesting observation: Mounting the rod clamps of the support adapter to the POOLi™ rails and S-BASE-2 Ø 15 x 60mm rods system, it is quite easy to slide the adapter all the way through the rails, even unto the base itself. This suggests that there is no fault on behalf of POOLi™ standards; the only explanation why it’s so tough to slide the SmallRig lens support rod clamps (to the point of being impossible to slide the last few centimetres), is that the quality and standard control of the Chinese manufactured SmallRig component is to be blamed.

Ready for some serious sharpshootin’!

I assembled my entire tripod rig, mounting the SmallRig 1638 Top Handle Cold Shoe Base to the BMPCC POOLiCAGE, mounting it to the POOLi™ S-BASE-2 (with attached Ø 15mm rods), with the SmallRig 1087 Lens Support attached to the rails, mounting the Meteor 5-1 (with the RafCamera Follow Focus Gear) to the BMPCC and adjusting the lens support to fully raise the lens level. I then mounted the Petroff FF-01R Follow Focus with the quick-release clamps, adjusting its follow focus gear to the RafCamera ditto, and mounting the Petroff P44-01 MatteBox to the rails using the P44-07 MatteBox Support Adapter. This entire rig, which weigths quite heavy holding it to the top handle, I attached to the Fancier FC-02H Fluid Head, having previously mounted its quick-release plate to the bottom of the S-BASE-2; everything was supported by the Fancier FC-270A Tripod. My primary goal was to try out the follow focus, how well it worked together with the RafCamera follow focus gear ring attached to the Meteor 5-1 lens. Initially, I didn’t raise the SmallRig lens support sufficiently enough which made the entire lens wiggle slightly when pulling focus. This made me attach a rubber band to the lens support, which stablised the lens somewhat but not fully. The lens support was raised to its full 41.5 mm height, adjusting the POOLi™ S-BASE-2 accordingly, which aligned the lens perfectly to the centre of the matte box back clamp opening. I also noted that the entire cage easily wanted to move towards the right when the follow focus gear was aligned hard enough not to make its teeth slide of the RafCamera follow focus gear ring; I had to fasten the cage really hard with the 1/4″-20 screw of the S-BASE-2, and repeatedly had to turn the cage back using the top handle. The good thing with the S-BASE-2 system of adjustable rod clamps is that raising the rods to adjust the lens support also raises the matte box correspondingly; after having raised the entire rails system and the Meteor 5-1 lens sufficiently, this fixed the lens firmly and made the wiggling very slight, almost non-existent, when pulling focus.

Centering and finding the proper balance of the rig and optimal counterweight of the fluid head

A final note on the proper balance of a tripod rig and some final adjustments: When attaching and screwing the Fancier quick-release plate dead centre onto the POOLi™ S-BASE-2, and when attaching the rig to the Fancier FC-02H Fluid Head perfectly centered, it is impossible to find a proper counterweight on the fluid head, as the rig becomes waaay to front heavy, even though the Petroff MatteBox is made of lightweight quality plastics. To finally arrive in a properly balanced counterweight I had to attach the quick-release sliding plate as much off from the centre as possible, screwing its 1/4″-20 male to the most forward corresponding female thread of the D-BASE-2 bottom, and then to slide the quick-release base plate all the way off-centre until it reached the safety stop (see attached image above). This arrangement, although not as pretty as before, pushing the camera and lens further back, aligns the rig almost midway between the front element of the lens and the back of the camera, over the centre of the tripod head. Also, to be able to attach the rubber band over the lens barrel, I have moved the SmallRig lens support as far back on the rails as is possible, applying the lifting pressure of the Meteor 5-1 just in front of the aperture ring; this actually places the lens support almost exactly over the balance point of the fluid head. I also noticed, after mounting the Petroff Follow Focus, that I couldn’t pull the zoom lever all the way forward; this made it necessary to unscrew the three small allen screws of the RafCamera lens adapter, and rotate the entire lens on its axis, enough to free the lever (with attached rod) slightly above the follow focus – looking from the position of the camera, the zoom lever reads “ten to twelve”. Now I can either pull focus or the zoom easily with the left hand, with a very slight shift in hand position.


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