IndiRAILSpro MP = mobility, stabilization, and follow focus all wrapped into one. Some of you may be wondering what gear we used to create Lovely to Me (Immigrant Mother).
A large part of the film was shot using the IndiRAILSpro MP made by Tim Ovel and Studio 4 Productions to help out guys like me who need stabilization for their smaller DSLR cameras but who are constantly on the move. The MP is ideal for run and gun, wedding, and documentary work because you can set up your shot quickly and be on the move in an instant. Instead of a tripod and a separate follow focus rail system, the MP has a monopod which rests under a long J- shaped support system. On the rear side of the support system is pad that rests on your shoulder. In the middle, there is a sliding camera mount made from a Giottos MH-652 compact quick release assembly and MH-642 plate where your camera sits and an additional Giottos quick release mount located under the support system to attach to the monopod. To finish it off they added a follow focus on the front of the rig so you can run and gun with your DSLR and your prime lenses in manual focus while having the ability to rack focus fairly smoothly.
In most larger rigs the shoulder support and the follow focus are separate attachments but Tim and his crew created a lightweight one piece alternative. The follow focus on the MP is the Indifocus 20. Its a little larger than my Chrosziel AC-206-50S follow focus and a lot cheaper in price of course. The Indifocus 20 is fixed to the front of the MP with a sliding plate that loosens and locks into place with a quick release mechanism to allow you to change out your lenses fairly quickly. The quick release levers are not only placed on the follow focus mounting plate but also on the sliding camera mounting plate. This is a great feature that was just added so you can adjust your camera and the follow focus at the same time with little hassle and with the ability to do immediate fine tuning in a pinch. When your camera and lens is not in the right spot you can tighten up the follow focus plate and camera mount with just a few turns of the lever and be ready to start shooting quickly.
It was imperative to use the MP in order to draw as little attention as possible and to set up our shots and move in and out very quickly. In Chinatown and Love Park, this was a necessity because the streets and sidewalks constantly have moving traffic from cars and people walking just about anywhere. With the MP, folks would turn slightly and walk around us, its a leaner setup and perfect to retain that honest realistic setting of our Chinatown and Philly neighborhood surroundings. I already had my Zacuto zip gears on my Canon FD prime lenses and they worked very nice and smooth with the MP follow focus. There was a little bit of play compared to using to the Chrosziel but overall the setup with the MP and GH1 and Canon primes were very lightweight and was a wonderful surprise to use. Im so used to using not only the HVX or EX1 but also the added weight of a 35mm adapter rig. This was really like a dream come true to be so streamlined. The MPs follow focus also includes one adjustable gear to place on your lens. Its made of plastic and is usable but I found that even when you tightened down the gear the plastic tended to slowly slip especially when using a larger lenses. I had a hard time fitting the gear on my Schneider 1:2/18-90 C-Mount zoom which is a larger lens.
Putting the gear on the smaller Canon FD lenses seem to work but I needed reliability and consistency and it was nowhere near the solidness of Zacuto gears. There is some light adhesive tape that is like a cushioned version of double stick tape that does help secure the gear to the lens but it is cumbersome to put it on the lens and helps a little but not a whole lot.
My recommendation would be to wait and see if Tim Ovel comes up with better gears or go with some alternative manufactures. On the shoot, I found the MPs strengths to be the following:
The use of manual lenses both zoom and primes is a major plus. Not having to drag along a heavy rig and follow focus system is perfect for those who want to use their DSLR in a variety of settings, on the streets of a big city, the wilderness somewhere, covering concerts, sports the sky is the limit. I used my Schneider 1:2/18-90 on the follow focus and MP and it worked very nicely. No need to worry about a gear ring because the Schneider lens has a built in gear ring on the focusing ring itself. This was a nice find. The quick release type locks to loosen and tighten the follow focus, monopod, and camera mounting plate are very well designed and well built. I also appreciate that the sliding plates are grooved into the bracket so that when the mount slides it will not move from side to side. This is really important and something that was added just recently so it shows that these guys are constantly tweaking and making things better. Based on a suggestion I had, the groove that the camera mount slides on has been increased so that the camera can be moved closer to the follow focus when using smaller cameras like the GH1 are used and that often use smaller prime lenses. I had no problems with my Canon FD primes and though I have not tried it yet popped on Kodak cine ektar lenses and they can reach the follow focus quite nicely.
The MP can never replace the stability of a tripod and a good fluid head. It definitely is not meant to do that. Even with a steady hand, you will get shaky footage especially when shooting with higher focal lengths. With the MP being a one piece unit it is a challenge to figure out how to store it and travel with. It’s hard to find a bag that will accomodate the L-Shaped bracket. I’d rather not have to take that off every time. The Giottos camera mounting plate to the camera needs to be a stronger and a tighter fit. One of the problems that occurs is that the camera would loosen and move side to side over the course of a shoot from the pressure and use of the follow focus. I think if there is some way to lock the position of your camera to the mounting plate with out having it move from side to side that would be ideal.
I would love to have the ability to have a swivel tilt monopod head. This can be easily added and found online but it would be nice to have it with the package right off the bat. Although I like the MPs follow focus, I would love the option of putting my Chrosziel follow focus. I kind of figured out a way to do it but it meant adding an additional component and a set of rails. It would be nice to have a simple cushioned slip cover and strap to protect the follow focus and that can hold the monopod and L-bracket. It would be great for traveling and storage. Currently, I have to strap it to the outside of my tripod bag. One thing that has been nice is seeing that you can also put the mp on a tripod if you need to have that extra bit of sturdiness and smoothness. It would be nice to get an additional Giottos quick release mount so that you can quickly switch from monopod to tripod.
Overall, the IndiRAILSpro MP was a great asset for us on our shoot of our music video and I constantly use it for event shoots were I can’t bring a tripod. I know that Tim and his crew are constantly re-tweaking their gear all the time so I’m hoping that with some of these improvements the MP will be a solid go to tool for the always on the go filmmaker.
Here is an outtake from the film/music video of Taiyo Na’s Lovely to Me (Immigrant Mother). These are different shots that we were exploring for the opening sequence. The footage was shot with the Panasonic GH1 and Canon FD Prime lenses using the IndiRAILSpro MP from Studio4 Productions.