The Aputure DEC is one of those random little gadgets that occupies a special spot in my post-NAB heart. In short, it’s a focus/iris control for Canon lenses and micro four thirds or Sony cameras. At NAB 2015, I had heard from another correspondent that Aputure had an affordable way to control focus and iris remotely. This doesn’t do zoom (as there’d not really be a practical way to do that in an adapter like this) but affordable FIZ units, (or I guess we could call these type FI units) are not common. My interest was piqued, but I figured that if the controller was indeed a focus/iris remote controller and affordable that the quality would be poor–especially due to iris control via electronic signals to existing Canon lenses. I was prepared for stair-stepping electronic-feeling control. My expectations were totally unfounded.
The DEC consists of a little hand controller unit with a jog wheel thumb control and record start/stop button on its face and an iris wheel at the back where your index finger lies. I personally would prefer a more compact form factor over trying to stick with what might be more familiar to industry veterans. Even though the physical layout might approximate a broadcast camera controller, the experience of operating the thumb controller simply isn’t there. You wouldn’t want to try using this unit to follow a steadicam operator and subject as their distances between each other change for example. You could do that with a traditional follow focus ring, but trying to do so with a device that simply sends unidirectional speed and direction information to the electronics of a lens will result in frustration. What’s brilliant about the DEC is that it has A and B buttons for pre-establishing focus points. When the thumb controller is used solely as a vari-speed control between two predetermined points there is just enough variability to really make the control work. You can even clear just one of the points and re-establish it somewhere else.
That alone had me giddy the first time I tried it, but the iris control is equally gratifying. The iris ramps incredibly smoothly and the addition of an iris lock button means you can tap one button for full-open iris, get your focus with minimum depth of field, then tap the button again and you’re back to your previous f-stop for shooting. This works brilliantly and I use it all the time. It’s this sort of control that makes me believe in Aputure as a brand that understands the need of the market it serves.
We used the DEC extensively on this mini Merlin-themed commercial for Abundant Health™.
I’ve also used it on these music videos for DreamWorks. Again, trying to follow the skaters around the park wide open would be futile, but the thing works perfectly for having an A and B point and pulling right to it or between the two without having to touch the lens on a gimbal-mounted camera.
I have recently been reminded of the power of limitations. “Creativity is inversely proportional to the amount of tools you have to work with”. Someone once told me that and for the amount of times I’ve re-quoted it you’d think I’d remember who it was. The Canon 18-55 is supported and it works well on MFT cameras like my Panasonic GM1, but it’s the Canon 10–18 STM that really makes me smile. It pairs so well with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera that I felt released to experiment with a small form factor rig again. The BMPCC and DEC with the Canon 10–18 essentially gives you a 30mm–60mm ish range setup which I find perfect for run ‘n gun, walkabout experimentation. Not to mention, the upcoming “speed booster”-style focal reducer version should be another great match fro the BMPCC’s “tiny” (by modern standards) sensor. My point is that just one zoom lens, one small camera on a gimbal and this adapter, I’ve found a universe of creative potential open to me.
For the price, you can’t afford to not have one of these. In recent past, you’d be paying nearly this much for a “dumb” converter with no electronic contacts, let alone the ability to remotely control focus and iris on a huge variety of Canon lenses.
One note I need to make is that I have gone through several of these units with some QC issues. The biggest being that the adapter unit would not hold a charge, a smaller one being that one of the thumb controllers had a larger amount of play than the others. In all honesty, I think Aputure is a maturing company looking to find their way out of obscurity. And I do honestly think they’ll separate themselves from the mass of “Eastern” manufacturers looking to make a buck in the camera electronics world. The DEC issues certainly had me frustrated, but Aputure’s customer service was very responsive (which actually surprised me based on how little care is taken with their website) and my replacements were fairly efficient. Particularly with their LEDs in recent past, Aputure is calling attention to the brand as quality-centric company that keeps their tools affordable.
I should also note that I’m sure your experience will vary based on the quality, or more likely age, of your Canon glass. Since the lens electronics are used for focusing, the DEC can only be as smooth as your lens. I asked the creator of the DEC if this type of device would be possible on Nikon lenses and the reply wasn’t hopeful. It sounds like the AF motors in the Nikon lenses simply don’t operate smoothly enough for this kind of control.