Cranes & Jibs are the norm on a movie set and major video productions. With a crane you can get swooping shots from high angles and bring the camera to levels not available with just a tripod or hand held.
Cranes are used to shoot establishing shots, bring the viewer above the action and follow a subject in and around our three dimensional world. With a crane you can take the viewer high and low or around and through your shooting area. Plus, nothing says "Pro" better than a few crane shots in your production. Even an audience that knows nothing about movie-making will see and feel the difference.
You can find several cranes on the market, ranging from around $120.00 to much more expensive and elaborate. A quick look on eBay will bring up a plethora of different types and models. Depending on your shooting needs, a 4 or 8 foot model may be all you need.
Things to look for in a Crane or Jib:
Durability: When buying a crane price is not all you should look for. Study the cranes construction, remember you will be attaching your camera to this thing and you want it to be sturdy.
Metal is best, avoid wood or something that looks D.I.Y. The crane should be machined from quality parts and durable materials.
Size & Weight: This will be your biggest issue when using or transporting a crane. Cranes are heavy. Cranes are big and can be cumbersome and cranes need to be assembled. You will need a hefty set of sticks to put the crane on as well. Plus you will need weights to counter-balance the crane. All of this adds up and will make your crane the elephant you carry on location.
How big is it broken down? Will it fit in your car? Do you have room for it with all your other equipment? These are questions you need to address before you buy a crane. Videographers have bought cranes and never use them because of these factors.
Ask questions and find out how much it weighs, and how big it is when broken down. Consider the time it will take to assemble it and use it on location.
Manageability: When assembled how smooth does the crane move? If a demo is available watch it, if a review is available watch it twice! Look for shaky movements and listen to the owners thoughts on his actual use of the crane. The jib or crane is useless if it is not smooth. You want it to be easy to maneuver and you want the pan/tilt head to be effortless...or as effortless as possible.
My crane cost about $140.00 and on a scale of one to ten - with ten being perfect, I give it a seven. It is not a ten because the pan head does stick some. However with more use a crane will "smooth out" a bit and work better. Which brings up another point...
Out Of The Box: When you first use your new crane do not expect it to be perfect! All of the parts will need time to work out the little kinks that are inherent with all cranes. The more you use it, the smoother it will get. All the bolts and such need to be worked some. Out of the box your crane is freshly painted and bolted together, some of the areas of the crane will need to wear in and then you can accurately judge the cranes performance.
I recommend you load that sucker down with camera, monitor, cables and everything you plan to attach to it and give it a good workout. Flex it's muscles and then evaluate it.
You may need to tighten or even loosen some parts to get it smooth.
You should be able to tell if your crane is a flop.
Shoddy workmanship will show up quickly and you will know if it was worth the money. It would be nice if you could test a crane before you buy but in most cases that won't be possible. If you bought a lemon, return it. Then get another when you can. Consider also that you will need to tighten bolts and such from time to time. The crane will loosen up but can loosen up too much over time.
You will need to have a couple of wrenches on hand too when you assemble your crane to use it. Buy the wrenches you need and keep them with the crane in it's bag. The last thing you want is to get on location and can't assemble the darn thing. So keep a tool kit consisting of only the tools you need with the crane at all times. Your crane may have extra bolts and such so having a box or bag to keep all your crane parts in is a must.
Signs of Trouble:
If your crane sways to the left or right on the tripod you may need to study the crane and see if it is attached properly and their is no 'give' to the attachment. Meaning, It should be firmly attached to the sticks and not rock or tilt back & forth. If it does and it's the crane, not the tripod head or where it's attached that is giving, then you may have a problem that will only get worse. Use the crane and let it come to rest balanced on it's own, if it kicks over a bit you have the aforementioned issue.
Gravity is your friend with a crane, and your worse enemy. Remember your crane will want to "settle" and it will do so naturally. If there is a part or attachment that isn't firm then it will come to rest at whatever angle gravity stops it at. Ideally your crane will 'float' to a stop and hang there even and level. If it doesn't, look for the problem and see if you can fix it. If it's a problem with the crane itself then you can either live with it or get another, better built crane.
The arm on the crane should be smooth so you get smooth tilts. You will need to work that arm quite a bit when the crane is new. If you loosen bolts to get it smooth make sure you don't loosen them too much. Another thing to do is listen to your crane. Does it rattle? Do connections snap or pop when you move it and does it grind when moving. All of this can usually be corrected with a wrench. Your crane should be quiet. It should not transfer any vibration to the camera or the microphone. Nor should it stick.
Maintenance: You should keep your crane clean. A light soap and water only. You may be tempted to soak parts with WD-40 or other oils. I recommend you do not do this. If your crane is built well you shouldn't need it and if you use oils you can introduce contaminants to your equipment that will cause issues later. Even just handling the crane will get oils on your hands you can transfer to your camera and such. So put that WD-40 can away.
Keep your crane dry and disassembled when not in use. If you have a crane bag then keep it and all parts with it. Take a trip to your local home mega-mart and pick up a couple extra bolts you may need. The ones that could get lost easily.
If you do invest in a crane then use it. Don't just store it away and never take it on location, put it to good use! It may be cumbersome but the results can be priceless. You may need to dedicate a spot in the car for it, or consider getting a trailer to haul it and equipment around. The more you use it, the better you will get using it.
In my next article I will discuss ways and tips to get the most out of your crane, so stay tuned!