In my last post, I reviewed the amazingly inexpensive DFocus follow focus. When I first heard about the DFocus, my excitement about the price was somewhat tempered by the daunting prospect of outfitting all my lenses with expensive gear rings. After all, what good is a follow focus if the lenses you are pulling focus on are not geared to use one? I looked into many available lens gear options -- the $165 Chrosziel Flexi Gear ring, the $65 Zacuto ZipGear, the $45 Redrock microLensGear (which I believe is actually a reduction in price from the time I was looking at them) -- but on cost alone, none of them lived up to the standards of a truly frugal DP. The least expensive gears I could find were those sold by Jag35 and made by the maker of the DFocus itself, the $30, one size fits all DGear. These prices may not seem all that outrageous if you have one zoom lens that needs a gear ring, but if you have a whole bunch of prime lenses (the subject of a future post, I'm sure) and a couple zooms to outfit, you can see how the cost could escalate quite quickly to potentially many times that of the follow focus, or in some cases, even the lenses themselves. Just as the frugal DP doesn't believe in paying more for a follow focus than on the camera it is to be used with, he also doesn't believe in paying more for gear rings than a follow focus. Or, to put it another way, let me quote The Frugal DP's First Rule of Frugality: "A Good Camera Package is a Proportionate Camera Package." Actually I made that up just now, but it sounds good, and I'm sure I will be coming back to it again and again.
I was just about resigned to the fact that I was going to have to spend several hundred dollars on gear rings for my ten or so lenses, when I came across a post on the Cinema5D forum mentioning cheap lens gears. They turned out to be the lens gears included with the "PROAIM" follow focuses from India that you've no doubt seen for sale on eBay. They are also sold through the website thecinecity.com. I wasn't interested in the follow focus, but it turns out you can order just the gear rings, if you are so inclined, for a mere $12 each. You will probably not see just a set of the gear rings for sale on eBay, nor on The CineCity website, but if you contact the seller of the follow focus on eBay, or email The CineCity at email@example.com, they will sell them to you.
The rings are available in six different sizes, meant to fit around lenses with diameters of 55mm to 110mm. I paid $84 for seven gear rings (5 of the 55-65mm size and 2 of the 65-75mm size), plus $14 for shipping. That comes out to just $14 per ring, including shipping. I was able to pay with PayPal, and the rings were shipped promptly and arrived quickly.
The gear rings are very similar in appearance to the Redrock microLensGears, the design of which I'm sure they were based on. They are made of plastic, and have plastic feet which grip the barrel of the lens. At the top, the gear is split, which allows you to stretch it out to get it around the lens, and then closed with a thumbscrew to tighten it down. In terms of their functionality, there's really not that much to say about them. They work. What else do you need from a lens gear? They seem pretty sturdy, and I haven't had any problems with them. I've looked closely at the Redrock gears a few times and couldn't tell any discernible difference in quality or function.
The screw closure at the top is pretty big and can be more obtrusive than the closure systems of some of the other manufacturer's lens gear options, but if you tighten it onto the lens in the right position to work with your follow focus configuration, this shouldn't be an issue. It could become an issue if you have to switch your follow focus from the smart side to the dumb side of the camera or vice versa, but this will be the case with any gear that is not permanently mounted to the lens in a continuous circle. At least loosening the thumbscrew and rotating the gear into whatever position is needed is quick and easy -- more so than with some of the other gears out there that require tools.
The only thing that's really notable about the PROAIM gears is the price. They do their job, and the next closest competitor I've seen costs more than twice as much. If I only had one lens that I used with my camera, I might consider spending more on one of the name brand gears, since one gear probably isn't going to break the bank, and it might buy me a little more peace of mind. However, considering I had a whole bunch of lenses to outfit with gears, the cost really added up fast, and at $12 each, the PROAIM gears were the only option out there that made sense. I give them five out of five bangs for the buck.