Focus Technology in 2016 and Beyond

Lisa J Whelan TV-Bay Magazine
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by Lisa J. Whelan
Issue 110 - February 2016

With the advance of larger camera sensors, faster lenses and complex lighting systems, the role of the 1st AC (Assistant Camera) is more demanding than ever. Fortunately, the world of focus technology is developing new and innovative ways to step up and meet these demands head-on.

Out of Focus

Historically, when shooting a complex scene with multiple moving objects, the onus was on the actors and 1st AC to work in unison; relying on the 1st AC's experience of judging distance alongside the established Cinematography Electronics Cinetape measure system or floor markers. This was particularly difficult (or even impossible) in improvised or unpredictable scenes, such as car chases.

This is where the new stars of focus technology come in. The Preston Light Ranger 2 and the Ward Sniper Mk 3 both made waves in 2015 as revolutionary equipment to aid accurate focusing.

Ward Sniper Mk III

On the set of Spectre - the latest addition to the James Bond franchise - 1st AC Jonathan Webb specifically sought out the Ward Sniper Mk 3 for the now-infamous fast-speed car chase scene. As the shoot would be undertaken outdoors and at such high speeds, Jon needed equipment that would perform under heavy wind and alongside the rain deflector.

The Ward Sniper uses lasers to measure distance and report that information back to the 1st AC with zero latency, perfect for high-speed (and high-cost) shoots. For Spectre, Jon was atop a moving vehicle himself, yet was still able to accurately focus on the moving supercars at play in the scene thanks to the innovation of the Ward Sniper.

Spectre was one of the first major feature films in the UK to use the Ward Sniper, and has set a new precedent for the filming of fast-moving and unpredictable scenes.

Light Ranger II

The Light Ranger 2 uses infrared LED technology which is invisible to both the naked eye and the camera, rather than lasers, to measure depth of field and distance during a shoot. The brilliance of the Light Ranger comes from the unique pairing of the sensor and video display. The sensor measures the DOF, and again with zero latency, the video display reports that information back to the 1st AC via a grid made up of 16 different sections.

The grid is highlighted to accurately guide the 1st AC by displaying which items in the shot are behind, or in front of, an established distance. Continuing with the advanced trend we've come to expect of Preston; the Light Ranger also allows for smooth transition between auto and manual focus. It's easy to imagine how vital this equipment would become to a 1st AC dealing with multiple objects, especially during particularly long takes. The Birdman aesthetic may well soon become commonplace with the Light Ranger 2 eliminating the need for the desired effect to be created post-production.

Optical Support

At time of writing, Optical Support are the only UK agents and service centre for Preston Cinema Systems, with the first Light Ranger 2 units in the country. Optical Support are also the exclusive UK distributor of the Ward Sniper Mk 3. Optical Support are able to offer both these products and more for hire and sale, and provide specialist services to train, support and equip camera operators to the highest degree.

Tags: iss110 | focus | spectre | light ranger 2 | optical support | Lisa J Whelan
Contributing Author Lisa J Whelan

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