Zacuto Zip Gear
I decided to invest in a set of ‘Zip Gears’ from Zacuto because they offer a low profile solution that are easy to fit and remove. A lot of lens gears involve fitting giant plastic wheels to your lenses which can be impractical for storage and for removal of the gears when using the lenses for stills. The Zip gears use an ultra low profile flexible plastic gear that’s cut to size and secured with metal stops.
Like many Zacuto products they are very expensive though. Each gear is made up of three tiny metal blocks, a small bolt and the flexible plastic gear. Buy a set of four from creativevideo in the UK and you pay a whopping £350. B&H Photo Video sells them for around $350. You can also buy a set of four without the additional red stops for £240 in the UK or $295 if using lenses which stop by design.
So why would you be mad enough to spend that kind of cash in these tiny bits of metal and plastic?
In operation the gears do exactly what you would expect, they mesh with the follow focus and allow the lens to be focused. Where these shine though is when they’re being used with lenses where the focus ring doesn’t stop at each end of it’s travel. The hard stops mean that it ‘s possible to mark the disk on your follow focus and then return to it after going to the minimum focus distance or infinity and have the subject back in focus again.
If you try this without hard stops you’ll soon discover that you’re in a world of pain. As you turn the focus ring on a lens like my Canon 50mm 1.2 the distance marker turns inside the barrel of the lens and the focus changes accordingly. When however infinity or the minimum focus distance is reached the focus ring will keep turning without any change to the lens itself. As soon as you reverse direction the lens will respond immediately meaning that the mark on your follow focus disk is out. The Zip Gears with hard stops solve this problem completely.
Fitting the Zip Gears was fairly straight forward, you just need to cut the plastic gear to the required length and then secure it in place using the two black end pieces which tighten together using a small allen headed bolt, an appropriate allen key is included. With mine I guessed long and then started taking one tooth off at a time until they fitted snugly.
Where things start to get a bit trickier is in the setup of the red hard stop. The aim of the game is to set it far enough away from the black stops so that your lens can travel it’s full focal distance, but not to allow the focus ring to travel any further. If there’s any movement in the focus ring after the lens stops adjusting you’ll find that you’ll run into difficulty returning to you marks. Likewise if the distance is too short you might not be able to reach infinity or min focal distance.
I found that my three L Series lenses (50 1.2, 35 1.4 & 70-200 2.8) varied from 48 – 52 teeth of travel, but it was possible to get each set up perfectly. Once fitted and set up correctly the zip gears make a massive difference to using a follow focus on these lenses.
The gears are easy to live with if left on your lenses, you can even continue using the soft bags that are supplied with canon lenses. One thing you can’t do though is reverse fit your sun hoods on the lenses any more, so you’ll need to store those separately if you carry them around.
Here’s a quick video clip of a Zip Gear in operation on my 50mm 1.2.
In conclusion I’d say the Zacuto Zip Gears are a great solution, it’s a shame that they have such a crazy price tag though. Whether they are a worthwhile investment depends on how much you value the functionality they offer.