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Stabilising Systems
Jibs and Cranes

Beginners Guide to Tripods, Cranes, Jibs and Rigs.

by Christina Fox  and David Fox

If you've ever had to hand-hold a camera all day you'll know how tiring it can be. You will end up with a bad back and wobbly shots. Eventually you'll realise that you need some support - camera support.


Tripods The best known names in tripods are Vinten, Sachtler, Manfrotto (all owned by Vitec) and Miller. Expect to pay between 250 - 1,000 (UK Pounds ) for a tripod and pan/tilt head suitable for lightweight cameras, 1,000 and more for heavier professional cameras.

Although price is always the limiting factor, you can get a lot for your money. Here are the main things to look for:

Weight gives stability to your tripod, camera and shots. Carbon Fibre tripods are lightweight and stable but tend to be expensive.

Your tripod will need to be able to take a lot of abuse. Buy the best you can afford.

You must also ensure your tripod is strong enough for the job. Always check the weight of your camera and accessories (batteries, mics, waterproof cover, etc) and ensure the tripod has been designed to take that weight and more.

MANFROTO 540ARTQuick-release levers on the legs.
This is exemplified by Manfrotto's ART legs, which take just a couple of seconds to set up the tripod and mean no more bending down to adjust low level locks. The other companies have their own quick-release technologies, such as Miller's Sprint-Loks.

Quick release hot shoe.
To get the camera on and off the head quickly.

Most tripods can reach a useful height, but it is also important to check how low it can go.

Removable spreader.
The Y-shaped brace stopping the tripod doing the splits is the spreader. Mid-level spreaders add stability, but for a heavy camera consider a tripod with a ground-level spreader that is detachable/extendible. This allows you to spread the legs even further and get very low angle shots. Legs also have to be adjustable to allow each to be set at a different length to get the camera level - essential for stairwells and uneven terrain.

Spiked feet.
Great for soft ground like sports pitches, gardens and even deep pile carpets. The spikes dig into the ground and keep the tripod stable. Bowl. The head should fit into a bowl shaped socket to allow the head to be levelled using the...

manfrotto MDeVeBuilt-in spirit level.
Essential, otherwise all your shots will be slightly off the vertical/horizontal.

Separate pan and tilt frictions.
Friction adds resistance to give you smooth camera moves. Some heads come with combined pan and tilt frictions. Even where they are separate, most people set them the same, but as they get hot or cold, materials expand or contract differently, so having separate controls makes it easier to adjust.


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STEADICAM ULTRAStabilising Systems

The rig that launched a thousand copies is the original Steadicam. With a tight fitting vest, counterbalancing arm and camera rig you are all set to recreate those moves from The Shining or Goodfellas. However, before you start, ensure you have money left over to get the right training. You'll also need a good camera assistant, plenty of rest breaks and a chiropractor.

Chrosziel, Glidecam, MK-V, Hollywood Lite and Sachtler all make their own version of the Steadicam (now part of Tiffen). Some parts are even interchangeable. The larger rigs, such as Glidecam's Gold Arm, can take weights from 5.9kg to 17.3kg while Sachtler's Artemis HD/Cine modular camera balance system can take different spring sets with a load capacity range from 15 to 35kg (the standard arm carries 25kg).

Sachtler ARTEMIS DVIf they are too big for you, there are also rigs for smaller cameras. The Artemis DV carries up to 2.5kg. Hollywood Lite and ABC Products also have rigs for lightweight DV cameras. Unfortunately, most smaller rigs don't incorporate a vest. You take the full weight of rig, camera and counterbalance with one hand and arm.tortlerig in action

If you are a wimp like me you might be more interested in the Easyrig and its little brother the Tortlerig, which take the camera's weight off your shoulder and arms and transfer it to more muscular hips. Once set up, getting in and out of them is as simple as putting on a rucksack, although they don't stabilise the shot like a Steadicam.

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Jibs And Cranes

SACHTLER CAMCRANECrane shots are the hallmark of a big production, usually because cranes themselves have been large and heavy. Now there are several lightweight, collapsible cranes which can be used for almost any type of shoot. Sachtler's new CamCrane DV, for DV camcorders up to 5.5 kg, fits any standard 100mm bowl tripod and extends to to 3.2m. For carrying, it packs down to 1.1m and weighs 6.5 kg, and can be set up with no tools.

For larger cameras Sachtler also has the new CamCrane EFP, for cameras weighing 18 kg to 35 kg, depending on extension length which goes to 5.3m. It weighs 20 kg and collapses to 1.5m.

Panther's latest version of its lightweight Pixy crane is designed for video use. It weighs 30 kg in its longest configuration and extends to 11m - at which it carries 16 kg, down from 40kg at its shortest, when it can also be used as a jib arm. It can be mounted on tripod or dolly and operated by a single person. It has a clever anchoring method for extra stability.

Egripment's new JanJib system boasts a new, modular method of building a jib arm. The lightweight aluminium sections slide and clip together, allowing users to create ten different jib arms with only one basic Trunnion section, one basic Front section and one basic Rear section.

Microdolly Hollywood's 4.5kg jib arm carries up to 28kg. It extends to 5m and automatically tilts the camera down as it rises (and up as it descends), using no electronics or extra weights, so it is always level. It has a collapsible lightweight weight cage which can be filled with any form of ballast and comes with a sand sack and a water bottle. It is also showing a new low-cost, lightweight remote pan/tilt head at IBC that can be used with the jib.

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  • The Tortlerig and Easyrig 2 - camera-work without back pain?
  • CamSling - a low-cost alternative to the SteadiCam.
  • Camseat - go on, put your feet up - camera support saves space and lets more spectators to see the big game.
  • Buying a camera kit  - the essential guide to everything you'll need.

    Christina Fox and David Fox