ARRI OCU-1 Operator Control Unit

The ARRI OCU-1 is the override that Camera Operator’s have been dreaming about for as long as wireless lens control units have been around.

Even with the world’s best Focus Puller at the WCU-4 wireless lens control wheel, Camera Operators may sometimes feel like a driving instructor itching for dual steering wheels.

Once upon a time, the Camera Operator could simply tweak focus, iris or zoom by grabbing the mechanical focus knob or lens barrel. Those days ended when wireless lens control units revolutionized the first AC’s job.

Camera Operators, however, could no longer eye focus on the eyelashes of the lead actress. The lens motor gears were unyielding.

Now, ARRI has come up with a brilliant focus override knob. They call it OCU-1 for Operator Control Unit.

Actually, it’s a single channel unit that lets the pilot…er…camera operator temporarily retake control of any wireless lens control function from the camera assistant. One OCU-1 can take over focus, iris or zoom control. For really type-A operators, presumably you could mount three of these things on the lens rods. That could truly be called fool control if only the name were not already taken by Mikael Lubtchansky.

The Operator Control Unit works together with ARRI’s Wireless Control Unit WCU-4 lens control system on ALEXA Mini cameras. It could be possible to enable it on other Alexas with future firmware updates.

“This is a simple device that does exactly what the name implies,” said Christine Ajayi, Product Management, PCA Electronic Control System. “It gives Camera Operators full control of their lenses when they want it and enables them to override and return focus, zoom, and iris controls at the touch of a button.”

That’s an important point about returning control. It’s like the pilot returning control of the airplane to the co-pilot. After you finish checking eye focus, you can return wireless control back to the Camera Assistant.

The OCU-1 can also help a Camera Operator take control over the zoom motor—for example on a critical, close-up, dramatic moment where an ever-so-gentle push-in on the actor’s performance will bring tears to the eyes of everyone on set, and hopefully the audience as well. You can also use the OCU-1 to adjust the lens aperture when, perhaps, the sun pops out of a cloud.

The OCU-1 can even control EF lenses mounted on ALEXA Mini and AMIRA cameras without any additional external motors.

The OCU-1 is small, lightweight, and easy to use. It has the same control knob, display and LBUS protocol as the ARRI Master Grips. The OCU-1 mounts onto 15mm or 19mm rods, ARRI Rosettes, or 3/8-16 threads. The knob can also control the roll axis of an ARRI Stabilized Remote Head SRH-3. The OCU-1 should ship later this year.


Some practical scenarios:

1. Let’s say the focus puller is slightly off. The operator sees this and adjusts with the OCU-1. Can the focus puller see this and adjust?

Yes, ARRI’s Wireless Compact Unit WCU- 4 gets an update at IBC that supports the OCU-1. With this software update installed, the WCU-4 alerts the Focus Puller that override mode has been engaged by the Camera Operator. The OCU-1 informs the focus puller about the new lens motor position.

2. The Camera Operator notices a focus buzz. Let’s say it’s focused 1 foot behind the actor’s eyes—at 12′. The Operator corrects the focus with the OCU-1 to 11′. What happens next when the Operator returns wireless control from the OCU-1 to the Focus Puller’s WCU-4? Will the focus jump back to the buzzed position?

No, the focus on the WCU-4 won’t jump back. The Focus Puller gets an indication on the WCU-4. The Focus Puller can turn the focus knob to the override position mark and then can regain control of focus without a jump.

Reprinted from Film and Digital Times September 2018 Edition #89-90

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