The cPRO is the new kid on the block in terms of reliable follow focuses that camera assistants can depend on day in and day out. It’s a wild looking, asymmetrical hand unit packaged alongside a simple and elegant looking motor that’s priced to compete alongside the best of the best in terms of wireless focus systems. We tend to place bets on the new guys around here, so we bought one.
This system was exciting enough for us to go all in on it for a few reasons. For us, the cPro is the solution to a problem we wanted to solve. The Venice doesn’t have native compatibility with the Arri WCU-4, so if we wanted to use the WCU-4 paired with the cForce mini motors, a wireless motor controller somewhere on the camera was necessary. This fairly large accessory with several cables extruding from it takes away from the “perfect build” mentality that we tend to have when building a camera and adds clutter to what is otherwise a fairly clean build that we have here in house. It’s also unruly to add on to our frequently used movi, easyrig, or handheld builds. The lighter, more compact, and clean we can make this camera for our operators and DPs, the better. It instills a bit of security and comfort in a DP when they can walk on set not having seen our build previously and stumble onto a clean camera not laden with spaghetti cables and oversized doodads. We aren’t fans of that look.
Enter cPRO. The cPRO motor is based on the cForce mini (also built by cmotion), but has the added benefit of a wireless module built into the unit. Its surprisingly slim figure touts some seriously impressive stats including a wireless range of 2,296-3,280 feet in uninterrupted space, 14 channels of frequency and a total weight of just 211g (or ~.5lb) which is inclusive of the antenna, gear, and motor clamp. These are big numbers packed into a small package. And now our Sony Venice is able to sport a wireless follow focus without the need for a hefty MDR on top. What makes this even more exciting is that we can go from Sony to Red to Arri to Panavision etc. and still continue to have the tools that we know well that allow us to maintain a low profile but fully reliable camera build. Versatility and preparation for the unknown are qualities that we pride ourselves on with our package, so this tool allows us to be as lean as possible while maintaining a reliable and future-focused arsenal.
The hand unit itself is a bit of a mixed bag. Getting used to the UI can be a bit of a learning curve. It has a circular, almost smartwatch style touch screen (think, Samsung Galaxy watch face) that can also be controlled by three user buttons underneath, along with the thumbwheel that rides along the bottom chin of the unit. The touch controls can be a little sloppy and difficult to use and the thin buttons aren’t particularly the most pleasing or efficient to use with the interface. The thumbwheel is good, but the only feedback you receive is a dinky vibration from a surprisingly loud and, in my opinion, substandard vibration motor (mind you, I’m accustomed to a good Apple haptic feedback in 2019). Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s any vibration intensity controls other than ‘on’ or ‘off.’
Scrolling through menus means either using the touch screen swiping one by one or using the thumbwheel to get where you want to be and then moving your finger up to hit the bottom button to select and repeat until you get to where you want to be. A little clumsy with some deep menu trees, but not the end of the world. There’s also quite a few little tricks that cmotion includes that aren’t obvious at first glance as well, like tap and hold, or two quick taps in certain menus but not others. It helps to read the manual on this one.
On the plus side, the unit feels great in the hand. The focus knob is a good size, much bigger both in diameter and in width than what I had previously been accustomed to with Teradek’s RT motion. It sports a soft touch material that gives it that feeling of quality that you would expect for this price. While we’re on the topic, the build quality in terms of the rest of the hardware is top notch. The four small buttons surrounding the touch screen could use some work in my opinion, but otherwise, everything feels pleasant to use, and while it’s got some weight to it (just shy of 2lbs), it isn’t terribly strenuous to hold for long periods of time because of the way it balances in your hand due to it’s unique design. That balance lies naturally on the left hand with a nice grippy rubber that gives you a solid hold on the unit so it most certainly will not slip away from you. Right above the left hand is where the third axis of the FIZ can be controlled by the joystick, which makes it feel a bit like a Bop-It, but provides pretty easy functionality of that axis. Assignable to focus, iris, or zoom, it has multiple sensitivity and speed options to get the feel just right, as the joystick itself is very stiff and doesn’t give much in the way of feedback, which can be slightly annoying when making minor adjustments (it does have an LED indicator to show you where you are in the rack, though). The optional monitor bracket screws in neatly on the left side of the unit and can balance even a 7” monitor fairly well. The screws are set in to the bracket pretty deep, so make sure you bring a long allen key along with you.
How the cPRO Stacks Up
The WCU-4, being the cPRO’s direct competitor, has some design features I quite like over the cPRO. Having big physical buttons that correspond to the menu selection that is on the screen similar to the Alexa menu system is much quicker and easier to navigate. Also, having a physical toggle switch to move up or down the menu one by one is a feature that will surely be missed on this unit. As much as I like the thumbwheel, navigating menus with it is not particularly the fastest or, again, most pleasing/elegant way to go about it, but it does get the job done. The torque adjustment knob for the focus wheel on the WCU-4 is also a unique feature that I wish made its way over to the cPRO in some way, but we can’t all get everything we want, I guess.
But I enjoy the cPRO and cmotion for its forward thinking persona. This product shows that there is a lot that can, has, and will be done with wireless focus systems. The cPro has some great features packed into it; lens mapping (both uploaded via USB or manually inputted), a “panic button” that, when pushed, slides under the mechanical hard stops allowing you to easily override them in case focus changes beyond your pre-determined boundaries, compatibility with cForce mini motors as well as cPRO motors as a full FIZ by simply daisy chaining with one cable per motor (via LBUS), DoF calculator, multi-color status indicators all over the hand unit and motor, and much more.
Already groundbreaking in its all-in-one motor design, the company has some very exciting propositions in their update roadmap. Most excitedly, cPro is reporting that it will be adding camera control integration, allowing us to wirelessly control the Sony Venice settings including internal NDs, frame rate, shutter angle, etc. They’re also bringing virtual markers, cinefade mode, a 4th axis control, and others. All current features and future roadmap can be found on cmotion’s blog page.
I have to concede that the WCU-4 feels like a better hand unit for ease of use and efficiency with its big screen, more comprehensive menu settings, and physical control utilization. However, the cPRO offers integration into our package that the WCU-4 system simply can’t. It provides a compact wireless solution that allows for quick setup time, ease of use, and full compatibility for not just one particular brand of camera, but any lens we choose to stick our cPRO motor onto.
Our sets move fast. We’ve had days where we need to swing from a fully built interview camera setup to a stripped down build on the movi in half an hour. The less bits that I need to fiddle with to balance properly, the faster I can get the camera to the DP to get the shot while the light is still where we want it to be. A good AC should be consistently looking for new tools to make him/herself more efficient by creating a build that is as nimble and easy to rearrange and dismantle as possible. This is one more tool that can bring that kind of efficiency to your set.