Sachtler Ace Follow Focus: Exceptionally Straightforward and Complete

In this penultimate episode of our series on Sachtler gear -- our first exposure to this legendary German company's products -- we take a peek at their follow focus unit, available separately  or as part of the complete and beautifully integrated Ace accessories kit (which also includes their matte box and base plate). At $630 for the follow focus alone, it's just over three times the price of my edelkrone FOCUS ONE, but spoiler alert: if it fits with the rest of your gear, I think it's worth it.

Wow: the Sachtler Follow Focus integrates incredibly with its stablemates, the Ace Matte Box and Ace Base Plate.

Gorgeous, simple, tightly coupled, smooth: that's the Sachtler Ace accessories kit jincluding follow focus, base plate and matte box [B&H|Amazonin a nutshell. Of course, it's never quite that simple. But in this case, close.

Light weight, intermediate price and lovely industrial design make it a great match for Sony's FS5  [B&H|Amazon

Gear drive for cine lenses or friction drive for still photography lenses, the Sachtler Ace Follow Focus has you covered. Left or right side, ditto. Different lens barrel diameters, sure enough. Want to use a whip? Ready. Want to change the direction of focus? A hex wrench and 10 seconds will do it.

But the overarching thing I like about Sachtler's follow focus is that it just works,  simply and completely. That -- as Mark Twain once famously remarked about common sense -- just ain't that common.

  • The hard stops are the easiest and most intuitive I've ever used: once you release either of the two grey push buttons, they lock into place. 
  • Meshing the drive wheel with geared or non-geared lenses -- at least with the ones I tested -- was dead simple: just slide left to right until they do (so is switching between a geared drive ring and the friction drive ring)
  •  The marker ring locks into place positively (there's only one way it will fit).  
  • You can even invert the gear case in order to change the distance from the drive wheel to a matte box if the location of the lens' gearing or focusing ring place the follow focus too close.

The net result is that by eye or by feel, you're in good shape.


Of course.

  • The knob and the rings on which the hard stops are mounted are plastic (thought this doesn't bother me, it might bother you -- the edelkrone has a meatier feel to it).
  • The stops click into place so they aren't quite as precise as stops that are friction fit locked, like those on Cinegears' wireless follow focus controller (though the Cinegears' hard stops are more fiddly).  
  • It doesn't integrate quite as neatly on a third party rod system or shoulder mount like the Zacuto Recoil Rig (like any other follow focus, if you're going to mount something like the FS5 on your shoulder, the space around the follow focus, matte box and EVF gets pretty tight) though in the end it works well enough -- this is more a testament to how well Sachtler's follow focus  integrates with the rest of Sachtler accessories with which and for which it was designed).
  • There's no built-in illumination to see your marks in the dark (but let's not be piggy).

Closing Thoughts

Almost all of my shooting is one-man band commercial work or blogging, but like shallow depth of field with which it is so closely linked, racking focus is a basic element of isolating subjects within a frame -- I'd like to do more of it.

The Sachtler Follow Focus is thoughtfully designed, exceptionally straightforward and smooth. It integrates beautifully with its cousins the Ace matte box and base plate.  Think of it as a premium product for one-man bands and priced accordingly, though you could just as easily call it a bargain if you're used to the plenty of more expensive gear out there: it is not the last word in precision or robustness, but in actual use it's just about perfect for filmmakers who are serious about racking focus and don't have the budget or day in/day out use to go higher.

If you like what you've read here, please subscribe; visit our YouTube channel and subscribe there too and give us a "like"; and if you're in the market for gear, consider using our affiliate links at B&H and Amazon  (once you click on them, any purchase will help out) - they don't cost you anything, but they help me stay caffeinated.