Zocus & The Big Life Fix

Making Photography Easier For Everyone

Zocus allows you to wirelessly control the Zoom and Focus of your DSLR Camera Lens, via the Bluetooth enabled Zocus App, on iPad or iPhone (Android coming soon).

The device is useful to any Photograph/Film enthusiast, although the device was originally developed for James Dunn as part of BBC Two’s series, The Big Life Fix with Simon Reeve. James is passionate about photography, but who also has a condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa, which makes his skin to be very sensitive to even slight pressure. This causes James severe pain and considerable frustration when trying to operate fiddly camera buttons or scroll/jog-wheels.

James wants to master this art and wants full creative control of a professional DSLR camera, to frame and focus the world as he sees it. At the time, James had to verbally describe each of the numerous adjustments on the DSLR to his dad Kenny. Understandably, this was prone to confusion on both of their parts.

Jude was recruited by the producers of the series at Studio Lambert to work on this project with James. The Design Brief was as follows:

Jude worked with James over the course of 5 months, to better understand his aspirations in photography and the limitations and also possibilities surrounding his condition. Jude is an advocate of Inclusive Design, whereby it is understood that even if a product is designed with a person with an impairment in mind, it is not confined to being a ‘disability-device’ only, but rather that good design is for everyone (e.g. Oxo Good-Grips).

Prototyping proved to be an essential part of the process, and one which Jude has had considerable experience in companies like Dyson, UK and Speck Design, CA. He was able to put together a simple ‘lever’ so that James could ‘turn’ the Zoom and Focus, like a spanner loosening a nut. It was not pretty looking, but it was fast and cheap - and crucially, it allowed James to explore what mattered most to his photographic process. Jude also used sugru to adapt the buttons to ‘stick out’, but still be soft and rubbery - so that James could press the buttons, although the jog-wheel was not possible to control. He spotted that although James cannot walk, he can use his feet to press buttons, so he was able to make a foot-pedal to fire the shutter.

After a few hours, James was amazed that he was composing, framing, focusing, metering and shooting his own pictures - but he also pointed out major limitations: The rubbery buttons improved the situation by allowing him to press the button, but after a long day they would still cause discomfort (and rather drew attention to his camera gear not looking conventional). The levers were also tolerable for a few goes, but similarly would cause discomfort after a while. However, Jude was able to get better insight of the style of photography James was looking to capture - and was able to start the real design process with confidence.

The Zocus rig was designed to be ‘Open Sourced’ - so that anyone could replicate this design worldwide and even improve upon it. The electronic parts were widely available and the 3D Printed parts could be downloaded and edited to make new designs.

Explosion of Zocus mechanical rig parts that were 3D printed

The final design (or should we say, V1.0), was presented to James, and he was able to use this in combination with other off-the-shelf photographic equipment (such as CamRanger to control the Pan and Tilt of the Camera, as well as the settings - all from a tablet computer).

Final rig with iPad app being demoed

The Zocus App was developed to control the Zoom and Focus via a Tablet/Smartphone, and was developed with the help of Ross Atkin (bluetooth transmitter) and Akram Hussein (iOS app). James is now able to capture the world as he sees it, with a degree of control he never assumed was possible. He hopes that others enjoy using Zocus, via this Open Source design.

James, Jude and Simon holding up a signed print of James' photo