Ikan, Tilta Max, and other new entrants to the market
Two years ago, there were only a few remote lens control options, now there are many options with more popping up all the time. Most of these new entrants seem to be in the low end of the market, offering price points well under $5,000 USD. Some of these may prove to be good performance at a good value, others may fall apart right out of the box. It’s important to understand that while on the surface, these systems look very simple and straightforward – a wheel controls another wheel that turns a gear remotely – seems pretty simple. But going back to the performance requirements of accuracy, speed, range, and consistency, these are not as simple pieces of gear as they seem.
The way I see it, there are three different types of users of these product with very different needs, so choosing the right system depends on which of these users you are.
User Type 1 – The career focus puller (1st AC)
If you are potentially looking for a career in focus pulling and want to sell yourself as a 1st AC to productions, you should get the highest end system you can afford and ideally, it would be the Cmotion or Preston brand. Preston is more popular in the US at the moment, but Cmotion has a very strong, positive reputation as well. Due to its compact size, light weight, extensive features, and exceptional performance, I recommend the Cmotion system hands-down for the very best in gimbal integration. In all likelihood, you will be able to capture a rental fee for your remote lens control system from production and that fee will correlate with the purchase price of your system, so you should see purchasing one of these systems as an investment that will make you money over time.
User Type 2 – The professional gimbal operator
If you are a professional gimbal operator, you need to be able to offer a turn-key rental solution to productions, including a remote lens control system. In all likelihood, this will be a package deal and as a rule, productions will want you to give them the lowest price possible for your kit. Since you are probably competing with other gimbal operators for the job, you want your price to be competitive, which means you probably won’t get an optimal rental price for each item in your kit. So while a 1st AC gets hired for their skills as a focus puller and may be able to negotiate a premium rental price for their own remote lens control system stand-alone, your remote lens control system rental cost will get buried in the overall kit cost for your whole gimbal system. This means you will probably not get a premium rental price for your remote lens control system, so investing $20k+ in a top-of-the-line system may not pay off that well. However, you cannot outfit your high performance gimbal rig with a low performance remote lens control system. The Hocus Axis 1 system is the perfect solution – high end performance, solid basic features, mid-range price. I have yet to have a 1st AC complain about the system once they start using it, even the die-hard Preston users. They may complain about losing their Preston rental fee though, so be ready to apologize for that.
User Type 3 – The aspiring gimbal operator / low budget shooter
If you want to spend as little money as possible on a reliable remote lens control system, absolutely go for the Redrock MicroRemote. It offers very good performance at a great value and has proven itself to be reliable since its introduction to the market two years ago. The thumb wheel control is a must-have if your production doesn’t have a dedicated focus puller. There are a few cheaper options now showing up on the market, but I am highly skeptical of their quality and reliability. Consider what the cost would be to even a small production if you had to stop shooting because you can no longer keep your subject in focus. I’ll bet the cost of having to stop your shoot and reschedule it due to an equipment failure greatly outweighs spending a few extra dollars on the Redrock MicroRemote system, so spend the extra money. You are buying confidence and avoiding stress, frustration, and humiliation on set – priceless.
Being a professional gimbal operator requires you to not only master the MōVI, Defy, or whatever gimbal you choose, but you must become an expert in all the support peripherals as well, including wireless video systems, monitoring systems, and of course remote lens control systems. It’s a lot to learn and a lot to manage on set. It’s also a large monetary investment as you grow your gimbal operating career from the ground up. If you are a solid operator with a gimbal system that delivers great results to all your productions, you will inevitably get more and more work and see a return on your investment very quickly. If you buy cheap gear that performs inadequately or fails on set and creates problems for production, you probably won’t get a lot of work and will not see a quick return on the still sizable investment you made on your kit. So whether you need to dig a little deeper into your savings to get the right system, or perhaps find another operator or a local rental house you can rent gear from, make sure you get the right equipment for the job every time you work.
~ Sam Nuttmann, MōVI Operator / Cinematographer