Andra uses motion capture sensors to precisely calculate the distance between multiple subjects and the camera at all times, keeping things perfectly in focus at all times. It’s like an incredibly advanced and configurable autofocus system for large sensor cameras with wide aperture lenses – and it’s already creating some beautiful footage that would be ridiculously hard to capture manually.

Why is focusing so difficult on high end cameras?

Large sensor cameras, wide aperture lenses and high-definition video have made focusing a pain in the butt. Just try to follow a moving subject at f/1.2 on a DSLR and you’ll know what I mean. Autofocus has worked pretty well on camcorders for decades now, but those camcorders can’t deliver the depth of field and lens choices filmmakers are demanding.

What’s more, 1080p is no longer considered high definition. We’re moving towards a 4K capture standard. Getting images in focus is going to be harder and more important than ever – and it’s not something you can fix in post production.

Certain DSLRs like the Canon 70D are now offering video mode autofocus, but it’s currently slow and inflexible, because phase detection (the quick autofocus you use for still shots) doesn’t work with the mirror up, and the camera pretty much has to pick one spot on the screen and focus on that – which isn't helpful if you want to focus on something that’s not in the middle of the screen!

So, amateur filmmakers are being exposed to a lot of the same problems the pros have been dealing with. In the film industry, you usually have a second camera operator on hand whose sole job is to pull focus, marking the spots where the actors need to move to for each shot and pre-determining the focus movements in a rehearsed manner. Even these expert operators find it very difficult to follow subjects that move unpredictably.

And that’s why this device could be a major development. Cinema Control Laboratories has come up with a system it calls Andra.

Andra’s Motion Focus system

Andra uses tiny motion capture sensors, which you can place on a number of subjects, that constantly send information on exactly how far from the camera they are. The system can then be set up to automatically operate your focus ring to keep your selected target in focus. And as this video suggests, it seems to work really well:

You control the Andra system through an iPad app – and with multiple sensors on set, it’s very quick and easy to switch between subjects during the shot.

You can take control of just how quickly you switch between focus points by manually transitioning between them – and if you’ve got a gun focus puller on your team you can simply use the system to tell you the distances and have the focus done manually.

Additionally, the camera doesn’t have to be set to focus directly on the marker. Instead, you can place the focus marker on the chest of the subject and then set your focus to where the eye is in relation to it, and the Andra system will hold focus exactly that distance from the marker as you shoot. It tracks in less than 50 milliseconds, making it quick enough to catch a front-on walk with a wide-open lens:

There’s a lot of exciting things about this technology. First up, it should open up a number of creative possibilities that would have been absolute murder to shoot in the past – stuff with a moving camera operator and multiple focus points. Even the demonstration images are pretty amazing – like in this improvised dancing clip. When the focus switches between the dancer’s hands, it’s seamless and mesmerizing:

Secondly, it’ll be exceptional for spontaneous and improvised performances. When hitting focus marks ceases being an issue, actors will have more freedom to improvise and roll with the energy as they perform.

Thirdly, and probably distantly into the future, it’s going to be wonderful for one man band run and gun documentary guys, who’ll be able to stick a focus point on a subject and worry about framing, exposure and getting a good story without having to focus on… focusing.

One further hidden benefit could be increased confidence to shoot in lower light situations, where wide apertures are needed.

The Andra Motion Focus system will work for "any geared lens with hard stops" – which kinda rules out all seven lenses in my bag, because the focus keeps turning past infinity. It won’t be a problem with cine lenses. Its range of operation doesn’t go much further than about 24 ft (7.3 m) at this point, but that’s still plenty of room to work in.

Now, the real bad news. It ain’t gonna be cheap, at least not in the short term. At somewhere between US$7,900 and $12,000 for a "low end" starter kit, it’s going to be a pretty significant investment. But this is the very beginning for the Andra system, and if it does well in professional applications there’s every chance the prices can come down and the kits can become more streamlined for the amateur and semi-pro market.

Andra will debut at NAB in a couple of days, keep an eye out for further information or visit the Andra website.

Via: NewsShooter, where you can read an interview with Sam Fisher, CIO of Camera Control Laboratories.

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