SmallRig MagicFIZ Wireless Follow Focus Basic Kit 3781
- 16 frequency channels
- Control up to two motors
- Range 100m/328ft
- Motor torque 0.5N·m
- 20hr battery life for controller
- Wired and wireless record control
Like so many accessories in the film industry, wireless lens control kits can be pretty expensive to own, and with prices upwards of $10,000 for the hardcore professional kits new comers and those on a budget can be left somewhat out in the cold. Fortunately, in recent times there have been a growing number of more accessibly priced wireless kits coming on to the market, such as Tilta’s Nucleus-M, and the SmallRig MagicFIZ system on test here.
SmallRig has made a name for itself as a manufacturer of low-cost cages and rigging kit, and has been moving into slightly more sophisticated accessories over the last couple of years. This wireless lens control system is one of its latest examples. Obviously, it isn’t aimed at high-end users, but is targeted towards small productions and one-person camera crews in which the camera operator is also pulling focus.
The unit on test here is the Small MagicFIZ Wireless Follow Focus Basic Kit 3781. It comprises a handheld controller that’s used to direct the actions of a motor unit that’s designed to turn the focus, iris or zoom ring on your lens. The two devices connect wirelessly by radio, but can also be tethered with a USB-C cable for a lag-free experience.
The handheld controller uses a built-in battery that SmallRig claims has a life of up to twenty hours depending on how it is used, and the motor unit requires some sort of external power source. A battery plate is supplied for the motor, so we can attach NF-P type batteries in a range of sizes, weights and capacities such as NP-F550, NP-F750 or NP-F970. One of the two USB-C ports on the motor can also accept power from a block battery or powerbank.
SmallRig supplies a 200mm long 15mm rod for the motor to sit on, as well as a clamp to attach the rod to your camera cage so it can be mounted alongside or above the lens. A mount is also supplied for the handheld controller, that screws into the multi-angle fitting on its rear, so it can be attached to a NATO rail via its clamp. A pair of 8mm geared ring-adapters allow lenses without their own gears to also be controlled.
Included in the kit is a sleeve for the control knob that grows its diameter from about 40mm to about 60mm, and which allows slightly more delicate movements of the wheel. The extra knob pushes on over the existing one once the standard marking disk is removed. The marking disks are unmarked, so the system doesn’t offer us distance measurements in feet or metres.
The motor unit is pretty simple and offers only Up and Down buttons for control and a 0.52in OLED screen to monitor what is going on. The Up and Down buttons deal with the frequency channel the motor will be working on, the ID number of the motor, calibration and switching the unit on and off. We have a choice of 16 frequencies to work with between 2.4000 and 2.4835GHz, though we don’t get to choose the actual frequency – just channels 00 to 15. The motor can be assigned an ID between 1 and 3, as the controller can work with two motors at the same time if you buy an additional handgrip for the controller.
When you come to calibrate the motor to your lens a single long press on the Down button activates the process by which the motor discovers the extremes of rotation of the ring it is working with, so the closest and furthest focus points if the motor is set to control focus.
The small OLED screen on the motor unit shows us the frequency channel it is set to, the ID number of that motor and the voltage of the battery that’s powering it. A further three-digit number – the digital marker – indicates the motor position on its journey between the calibrated end points of the focus/aperture/zoom ring. These digital markers offer us 1000 measured positions from 000 to 999.
A matching set of digital markers are also displayed on the handheld controller, so bringing the motor to exact positions repeatedly can be easily achieved. Our controller’s 0.96in OLED also shows us the frequency channel, the ID numbers of the motors it is working with, the state of the battery and the method by which it is connected to each motor. Connection between the controller and the motor can be achieved wirelessly of course, using radio, but we can also use a USB-C-to-USB-C cable should the airwaves be congested or we need a guarantee of lag-less operation. When connected via USB the motor and controller need to be within a couple of metres of each other, but in wireless mode SmallRig claims a range of up to 100m/328ft in ‘ideal’ conditions.
We have a number of buttons to use when setting-up the controller and when matching it with the motor. A ‘Mark’ button can be used to calibrate the motor with a long press, and is also used to create A and B points for manually limiting the extent of the motor’s travel for a specific focus pull. We can also use the controller to activate recording in certain cameras. Pressing the Record button will trigger recording via Bluetooth in some models of Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras, while a cable between the camera and the motor is required to perform the same task in Panasonic Lumix, Fuji and some other Sony models.
We access the controller’s menu with a long press on the Set button, which then allows us to switch on a ‘night-mode’ LED and choose between six colours for a light on the control wheel. We can also alter the direction of rotation of the control wheel, flip the display so it can be read upside down and recalibrate the relationship between the controller and the motor. The up-and-down buttons allow us to navigate through these processes.
The base of the control unit houses a USB-C port that can be used to charge it or to connect it to the motor via a cable – you can’t do both at the same time. A cover over the base can be detached to allow the handheld controller to be mounted on, and connected to, a handgrip that offers additional controls for instructing two motors at the same time.
The whole system is pretty easy to set-up and to understand, and those who are used to this sort of device will work it out in a few minutes. Those with little experience will take a bit longer, but SmallRig has made the control system quite straightforward and a quick read of the mostly good instruction manual will get the majority of people on the road quite smartly. SmallRig also has a collection of support videos that show how to set-up the system. As there are so few buttons some are used for the unexpected, so reading the manual is required to learn that a long press on the record button switches the controller on and offer, for example.
A nice feature of the motor unit is an automatic lens calibration that can be activated with a long press of the Down button, and which gets the job done in about twenty seconds. The motor and controller retain the last calibration when switch off, so when we switch back on again we can go straight back to work using the same lens without having to perform it all again.
Manual end-point calibration is also simple, and marking temporary A and B points for specific shots can be done quickly. Neither the controller nor the motor has the ability to store A and B points or calibrations for later use.
The controller has a two buttons on its front – Record and Mark – and the rest sit on the rear side where we need to locate them by touch as we can’t see them. Using the front and the rear of the body allows the device to be relatively small, but perhaps a little more than the very modest dimples on the Set button could have been done to help us differentiate the controls with our fingers.
I found the buttons on the control unit a bit spongy and in need of a good firm press. I suppose the upside it that no one will press one by accident, which could be a danger with a unit we hold in our hands all the time. I just had to get used to making an extra effort to get the device to do what I wanted it to. On balance that may not be such a bad thing, but the double press required to alter the channel frequency is a little difficult to achieve.
I’ve been impressed though by the smooth operation of the kit, and the smooth action of the motor as well as the tiny increments by which it can turn the lens. The digital marker display running between 000 and 999 gives us an accurate idea of where the focus is, and allows us to get back to specific points easily and repeatedly – without always needing to set A and B positions for specific shots. These positions are pretty accurate, and I found the same degree of focus when returning to certain digital marker positions repeatedly.
I found the motor responsive too, and a slight shift of the controller’s position immediately triggers an equal response from the motor. In tests I couldn’t really determine any difference in lag between using the units wirelessly and cabled, as the motor seems to respond very quickly.
Having a choice of power supplies for the motor means we can effectively switch batteries without having to turn the unit off, so I was able temporarily run the motor from a power bank while switching the battery in the battery plate. Using NP-F750 batteries adds quite a bit of weight to the unit and makes it quite bulky, so I’d go for NP-F550/570 units if I could even though they have only half the capacity. Obviously if you are working on a tripod the weight of the battery mightn’t matter, but if you are on a handheld- or shoulder-rig with a monitor and its own battery, the weight adds up.
I’m not certain how useful the coloured LED light is on the handheld controller as it doesn’t really serve much purpose beyond making the unit look pretty. In the dark the main screen is well lit and clearly visible, but I suppose it helps when you have more than one controller and want to identify which is which. The LED though does get some action when you have used the controller to trigger video recording in the camera, as it pulses gently to let you know recording is in process.
The knob on the controller has a ribbed rubber finish and is easy to grip, nice to turn and glides with a smooth motion that has just the right amount of resistance. The additional 60mm knob is also comfortable to use and has a somewhat more aggressive ribbing that makes use with gloves a lot easier. I fitted the 60mm knob almost straight away and didn’t take it off very often during the test as I preferred it. The larger knob fits over the smaller one, and when the standard marking disk is removed there are notches around the base of the knob for the new knob to slot into.
I found the control unit very comfortable to use, and it’s light enough that when attached to a rig it doesn’t upset the balance or make it harder to hold for long periods. When used remotely from the camera though pullers might wonder what to do with it between takes, so it would have been good to have had a strap lug on it somewhere to allow it to be worn.
The motor unit has a torque of 0.5N·m which proved enough to shift the rings on all the lenses I tried it with, including the rather stiff iris of a Great Joy 85mm lens. The lenses I used the kit with are all designed for small mirrorless systems, and so it may not cope so well with bigger and heavy lenses – though it probably isn’t aimed at that sort of market. When the motor does come up against something it can’t move, such as when it’s used with a lens it hasn’t been calibrated for yet, it sends a Blocked signal to the handheld control unit, which in turn vibrates to let us know. Getting rid of the Blocked warning involves switching the motor on and off again.
Obviously this is all a lot more complicated than using a manual follow focus with a focusing knob right beside the lens, but the freedom of being able to adjust focus from where ever your hand is most comfortable on the rig is a great benefit in many situations, especially when the lens is big and heavy and you are handholding. With a little lens and a small camera in a cage working with a manual follow focus is fine, but once the lens and camera grows finding a good balance can take your hand away from where a manual follow focus needs to be.
Range and life
SmallRig claims the motor unit can be controlled from a range of 100m/328ft in ideal conditions, and in tests this proved about right. I can’t think of an occasion in which I needed to be 100m from the lens while focusing it, but I guess the extreme range is an indicator of the power of the signal and how well it can deal with passing through obstacles such as walls if you are pulling in another room. It managed to operate very well two floors apart on the opposite side of my house, but did finally fail 80m/260ft from the house when I went behind a brick building. So, I think we can safely say that for most situations the range will not be an issue.
We are also told to expect 20 hours of battery life from the control unit, which is another claim I can’t dispute. I had the LED light on for a lot of the time during the test – for no reason other than it looks nice – and didn’t ever find I’d run out of juice before a shoot was done. The motor, on the other hand, relies on your own batteries, so how long you get from them depends on other factors. I didn’t find it especially hard on the batteries though, and would expect one NP-F750 to last most of a day.
Part of a system
Although the handheld controller can connect to and display information on two motors it can only control one motor at a time. If you want to control both focus and the iris, or the zoom ring, you’ll need to add a second motor and the handgrip (part no. 3917) for the controller to do so. The key element of the handgrip is that it brings a second knob (K2) to the arrangement, so the finger and thumb of one hand can control focus with knob 1 on the handheld unit, and the trigger finger of the other hand can deal with the iris/zoom on the handgrip. The controller mounts onto the handgrip and becomes its display panel for two-motor operation.
It’s worth noting that the motor units are quite wide, so mounting them side-by-side is only going to work if there’s a good distance between the aperture and focus rings. I had an extra motor and found I could just about manage to mount them this way with my larger lenses, but even then I couldn’t use the battery plates and couldn’t get a USB cable into the side-mounted port. A solution was to use the battery plate on one motor and a USB source for the other – or to mount one motor either side of the lens, or one from above.
The handgrip also adds an extra power source with its LP-E6 type removable battery. Focus pullers can use the grip remotely with the handheld unit, while camera operators can use the grip in a shoulder rig set-up to control focus themselves – or two grips to control the iris as well.
SmallRig sells the handgrip and two motors as a kit (3918), as well as the handgrip, the handheld unit and two motors as another, so you can start with the basic kit and add grips and motors as you go along. Following the part numbers it’s possible to find each of the individual items for sale on the website.
This unit will not be the first choice of a professional focus puller, and it doesn’t have a tenth of the niceties of the Arri Hi-5 and other such high-end control systems, but it is also more than good enough for a lot of users and for many shooting situations. If you are starting out as a puller on small productions or are an owner/operator pulling focus yourself the SmallRig MagicFIZ system will be very helpful to get you started – and actually will probably see you through so long as your demands don’t become too sophisticated. I’ve found it very reliable and easy to use, and it does what it is asked to do well.
Having the handheld unit attached to the handle of my shoulder rig allowed me to pull focus without adjusting my position as I would with a manual focus finder, and without shaking the camera. I like that once the kit is set-up it becomes a low-maintenance system and I didn’t have to keep going back to it to adjust, recalibrate or solve problems – it just gets on with the job. With the one-touch calibration switching lenses is easy too, though of course having a built-in memory that could store start and end points for a collection of lenses would make it even better – but only fractionally, as the 20-second calibration process probably takes not much longer than looking up saved lens data.
It’s a nice little system, it works well, is easy to use and will make a lot of pullers and camera operators very happy indeed for not much financial outlay.
- Larger wheel
- Battery plate
- 15mm rail
- Rail clamp
- Controller mount
- 2x adjustable gears