ProAim Rails, Follow Focus and Matte Box

OK so I am the first person to say ‘buy quality’ but there are some situations where even if you would like to buy the very best, you just cant. So it goes with my DSLR, I really cant stomach the cost of buying a nice set of Follow Focus Gears, Rails and Matte Box, I would easily be up for around the 3 to 5 grand mark. So with that in mind and the knowledge that I would NEED a set of rails for my new D300s, I went online and found a kit from DV Accessory’s called the PROAIM. They sell gear designed specifically for DV and DSLR cameras. I ordered the combo kit which consists of a set of rails, a quick release plate, follow focus with gears for different sized lenses and a matte box all for a little under $1000 Australian. Now I’m not an idiot, I can see that a device that is roughly 1 fifth the cost of the real deal is not going to be exactly the same in terms of quality, but I figured worst case scenario the parts will be a good place to start to customizing it to fit my needs with new gears etc. Additionally, things like rails are kinda hard to mess up, I mean they are two metal rods! So I pressed the go button on the order and what do you know, about a week and a half later they arrived.

ProAim Rig

Quite surprisingly the packing was excellent, they come in a custom molded set of foam, that you could probably pop straight into a Pelican case (and in fact I probably will) the instructions while sparse and peppered with awesome lines such as ‘The Matte box is mounted with foam so you dont have to worry about your lens during the bumps and grinds of capturing exciting footage’ , it does have plenty of pictures and I only had one piece that I looked at and thought, where does this go (I figured it out after a good ten minutes šŸ™‚ So I figured I would step you through the process.

Step 1: Rails – The rails come pre-installed with a quick release plate that has screw threads for all the normal sizes, interestingly they give you two of each so if you ever lose one your OK, also, I discovered the plate is identical in size as the Manfrotto quick release plate I already had on my Miller which was nice but as an added bonus the tension screw can be adjusted if it gets stuck near your camera (the Manfrotto cant do this). You get a series of shims to raise or lower the plate depending on the height of your camera. Attaching it to the tripod took seconds, and I only had to pull it off once when I figured out I had attached the quick release plate to my camera at the wrong spacing (unfortunately Nikon’s only have the one screw for tripod plates, they don’t have the whole for the guide pin that video cameras have, so you will need to be careful thatthe plate is exactly straight, I wasn’t and when I added the Matte Box I knew it). The build quality is very high, with most of it metal and only the locking mechanisms being made of plastic. They give you all the tools you need to adjust the level with shims, which is pretty much done with several hex screws.

Step 2: Mounting the lens with the follow focus gear – The first lens I tried was my 80 – 200mm, which has a tripod mount already on it, which meant not only did I have a bit of trouble getting it onto the camera (I had to rotate it to the top) but it also meant I couldn’t just slide the gear over the lens, I ended up undoing the gear completely and then after it was placed correctly, I re-threaded the tension screw and all was OK. I don’t think I will leave these on the lenses for day to day use as they look kinda naff, and when using the camera for still shooting, I can see things getting caught on them, they only take a second to add anyway.

Step 3: Follow Focus – Adding this to the rails only takes a second as well, line it up with the gear on the lens and lock it in place and your done. It has an area around the dial for marking focus points and you get a whip and bar depending on your preferred way of using the follow focus. So how does it work, well, lets just say I am not 100% happy, but I am not un-impressed either. The gears on the follow focus ( you get two replacement gears in the kit as well, which is nice) don’t exactly match up perfectly with the ring on the lens, and this seems to result in the movement not being as smooth as I perhaps would like, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no play, and for focusing it is awesome, I just think that for doing pull focuses mid shot, it may be a little steppy, that being said it is still better than doing it without the unit, and it is way better than doing it on a video camera by hand as well. I will do some tests, but I may take the gears to a friend who is an industrial designer and get him to re-create them out of aluminum on the flo-jet, that will mean they perfectly match up and then I reckon I have a great follow focus. It is worth noting that even the more expensive follow focus systems from Indifocus and Redrock are still made of plastic, and in fact the ProAim one has far more metal parts.

Step 4: Matte Box – This is where I had to stop and think, I had an extra component that looked like it went on the rails but there was nothing that needed rail mounting other than the Matte Box and it already had a rail mount underneath, after looking at the photos some more I realized that you actually get two ways to mount the matte box, a variable height mount (the one I was holding n my hand) and a non variable plastic mount, so off came the plastic mount and using the supplied allen keys I attached the variable height mount, once again made of metal, it allows fine adjustment for the height of the Matte Box. The other elements that make up the matte box are the flags, that also made of metal just screw into the side and top, and finally the filter holders (there are two) and the rubber donuts that slip around the lens to provide a light tight fit but not enough to mark the lens (especially if there is some movement), once again you are provided with a series of donuts depending n the size of your lene as well as a blank one if you need to make a custom one. The Filter holders are probably the worst part of the kit, and even then they do their job, they just arent as perfect a fit as the rest of the build, they require a bit of force to slide in and out (there are two of them for adding gels, ND filters etc) I think that with a slight shave of the plastic they will fit nicely.

Completed Setup

And thats it. all in all I was quite surprised by the kit, it arrived promptly, it was packed exceptionally well, the vast majority of the components are metal, and the parts that arnt are of sufficient quality that they aren’t a problem, the two areas that I wouldn’t give an automatic A+ too are the filter holders which don’t effect operation they just are a little stiff, and the smoothness of the follow focus, which I think can be rectified so it performs equal if not better than a RedRock system.

The last thing I did was to add an external LCD display, this is only temporary as it is too big, and it doesn’t have HDMI input, but I had it in the cupboard so it cost me exactly nothing to add, and as a final added bonus it seems the pin-outs for the LCD and the Nikon AV jacks are identical, so I can use a mini-jack to mini-jack able from the camera to the LCD (I will make a custom length one this weekend)


The final thing I plan to do is add some form of handle to this rig, so I can carry it easily, the base plate for the rails is VERY solid, and so attaching some for of handle to that will do nicely.

Finally, after chatting to a friend of mine who has the 5dMKII about eye pieces like the Zacuto, mentioned this HoodLoupe as a cheaper alternative, it attaches with elastic which is not as refined as the Zacuto but it is a fair bit cheaper, I think I may buy one and see how it goes, and if I have to order a Zacuto later.

So that’s about it for me now. Off to play Rock Band Beatles!

One Response to “ProAim Rails, Follow Focus and Matte Box”

  1. […] as I went along, which I did. And continue to do. I have written a more detailed post on the bits here, so wont re-invent the […]

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