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A Review of the DJI Follow Focus

August 30, 2016

I just had the worst experience with DJI customer service!  But first, let me tell you about this amazing new follow focus product by DJI.

DJI has undoubtedly made its mark in the world of video production, bringing a capable gimbal into the market which now seems ubiquitous among smaller productions that want professional feeling stabilized camera movements without renting a Steadicam and the associated costs of an operator. DJI created the Ronin which, for a reasonable and accessible price, gave filmmakers control over stabilized camera movements with the freedom to move around as the operator pleases. However, gimbals can be very specific when it comes to balancing, and weight is a big factor when it comes to the maximum payload. Traditional wireless follow focus systems were designed for camera rigs that didn’t have stringent balancing needs.  With the popularity of the gimbal, platform came a need for an equally affordable wireless follow focus system that was reliable, well built and most important, lightweight.

DJI Follow Focus

This is where the wireless DJI Focus comes in and they hit the mark on most of those bullet points. With the motor driver built right into the motor unit, the DJI Focus eliminates the need for a separate receiver, cutting down on weight and also the headache of dealing with multiple cables in respect to calibrating the gimbal.

DJI Follow Focus

Out of the box, the first thing you notice is the weight and build quality of the hand unit. It’s ergonomic, sleek and feels durable. It features a digital readout for letting you know where it is in the spectrum of its range from 0%-100% and also all of the menu functions which allow you to change motor direction, torque, and acceleration. On the knob itself, you have a removable marking disk, hard stops for DSLR lenses without focus ends, and a way to loosen and tighten the drag of the knob itself.

DJI Follow Focus

The physical buttons allow for menu control and also features 4 set points, labeled “A” through “D”, for designated marks that could be useful for pre-blocked tracking shots with multiple landing points. The Arri standard rosette on the side is also a great addition for attaching a handgrip or monitor mount. One downside is that the battery is charged via USB and, as of now, not swappable with another. However, the listed operating duration is 12-14 hours, and so far we have yet to have it die during a shoot. If battery life worries you for your next shoot with the DJI Focus, the best bet would be to have a USB power bank or a Gold / V Mount with USB power out on standby for when it starts getting low.

DJI Follow Focus

Now, on to the motor. In the broad scope of tech in the industry, this is a great step. Incorporating the motor driver into the motor is a drastic improvement in respect to gimbal operations. (The Cinegears Espresso offered this feature first but is more than twice as heavy) We’ve tested it with CP.2’s, CookeS4s, and CN-E Zooms and the DJI motor was able to handle them fine during our trials. However, according to anecdotal evidence, the motors seem to burn out easily and in our experience the repair on the motor costs significantly more than purchasing a new one. $750 for repairs compared to $550 to purchase new. You also have to wonder which corners they had to cut to bring it to that price point that’s way below many professional wireless follow focus motors that don’t even have drivers built into them. (A Heden Carat motor costs as much as the entire DJI Focus system itself.)

DJI Tech Support also leaves something to be desired.  This is where my story began.  We had a motor burn out during a customer’s shoot.  It is not clear whether the fault was with the customer or the manufacturer, but we were never able to get that far.  We did send the motor in to be inspected and hopefully repaired, but this is where my frustrations mounted.  Whether it be on the phone or online, they pretty much just repeated the issue I stated back to me instead of telling me what possible scenarios could have potentially caused a burnout. (Reverse polarity? Bad power distribution? ANYTHING?!) Getting scoffed at over the phone because the technician couldn’t comprehend the difference between listing possible technical scenarios for a motor burnout and someone asking him to wave a magic wand to fix it over the phone isn’t the best way to make a customer feel appreciated.  At the end of our conference, they just sent me a repair bill for $750 which I assume was just to get me to go away (remember, the motor itself costs $550).

DJI Follow Focus

When I started writing this article, I had just received that repair estimate, but after a few revisions and cooler heads have prevailed, I am willing to cut them some slack given that the DJI Focus was considered an “experimental” product for a bit and it’s possible the technicians didn’t fully comprehend the system yet. DJI as a company also realizes its need to bolster its customer service as a whole, transitioning away from overseas servicing to their new US-based West Coast headquarters and seems to be providing decent service for their drones and hand-held stabilizers like the Osmos. So it seems like the service issues are consigned to this particular product for now and the company as a whole is taking measures to be better about it.

Albeit the support issues surrounding the unit, it does it’s intended job of providing a convenient yet powerful wireless follow focus solution for gimbal work. Its prosumer price point lends itself nicely to gimbal owner/operators who work with their own gear.  It is also a great tailor-made addition for rental houses to suggest to clients renting a gimbal for a relatively lightweight, hassle-free wireless follow focus solution. For the price point, the build is strong and when it works, it works amazingly for its intended uses. The service issues surrounding it will hopefully iron out when the DJI Focus reaches full potential in the DJI product lineup and with the liberation of drones in terms of accessibility and cost, and legal issues being more clearly defined, the niche gimbal market for the Focus can only expand to more consumers and professionals that could greatly take advantage of this system.

P.S.  After my experience, I sent out a really nasty customer service survey to DJI and a couple weeks later I received a call from a very lovely woman who wanted to help.  So things are looking up.

Written By:  Auggy Kim – Camera Rental Manager

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