>Building a Pro Camera Crane / Jib, part 1


I was once told that my favorite interest seemed to be collecting hobbies. That may be truer than I’d like to admit, and for the last six months I’ve added yet a new project to all my previous (unfinished) tinkerings.

I have a Basic Stamp micro-controller and USB programming board left over from another project that I never finished. One day I realized that a fun use for it would be to build a joystick-controlled pan/tilt camera head that could be placed on the end of a camera crane.

After 30 minutes with a search engine I realized that buying a ready-made crane was out of the question, as the ones I found cost several thousand dollars. Working at a TV broadcaster I have first-hand access to professional jibs and saw that they weren’t as mechanically complicated as I had initially thought. I imagined the hard part would be controlling the camera head with a joystick. As the build have progressed I have come to understand that I had seriously underestimated the amount of mechanical work required.

My initial plan was to built a jib with a total length of 3 meter, based on that I found two light and sturdy metallic pipes (25 mm in diameter) in a local hardware store. These would be used as a parallelogram so that the camera head would always be vertical no matter how the jib was raised or lowered. With an arm of that length it would also be easy to fit the jib inside a car.

As the project has progressed I’ve abandoned these pipes for two reasons. Firstly I’ve found it hard to fasten the six ball-bearings to these pipes, since they aren’t very sturdy and I wouldn’t be able to make holes in them without weakening them too much. And secondly, I got megalomania and realized I wanted a longer arm that could still be stuffed into a car, so I decided to abandon the cheap pipes and go with two 3 meter long pieces of rectangular aluminum tube that could be assembled into a 5 meter crane. An added bonus is that the length of the arm can be shortened if necessary.

Using a single arm means that I need to use two pulleys with a wire between them. One pulley will be fastened to the camera head and the other to the tripod mount.

Without a sturdy tripod as a base, the jib would become wobbly and unstable. Luckily I found a great Manfrotto tripod with a fluid video head and detachable dolly wheels on Swedish ebay. You can’t complain about the price: $200 including shipping!

To attach the arm to the tripod I’ve bought a heavy construction bracket used for securing wooden beams. All I had to do was to chop off the protruding flanges and drill a hole for the tripod mounting screw. I’ll even be able to use the pre-drilled holes to fasten the axle!

The controller is housed in the clear acrylic case from an iPod Shuffle and is made up of a 9V battery, a Basic Stamp BS2p24 and a Pololu DC Motor Controller. Power to the motors come from an external 6V lead-acid battery that will be used as part of the counter-weight on the arm. The joystick is from a Sony PlayStation 2 and I’m using three potentiometers that will be used as separate pan and tilt speed adjustments plus a zero-point sensitivity adjustment. The code is still pretty rough, but I’ve added a routine that sets the zero-point of the joystick at boot time. I’ll publish the source-code when everything is working, if anyone’s interested.

As a camera I’m using my Canon HV-20 with a RedRock Micro M2 lens adapter with a used follow-focus (thanks to ebay again!) Unfortunately the HV-20 doesn’t have a LANC port so I’m using a 5 meter long optical fiber to send the IR remote signal from the back of the jib. A bit of a hack, but this is a rebel-style jib after all!

Yes, I know that with only one joystick I don’t yet have focus control, but based on previous experience I’ve chosen to complete version 1.0 before adding any more features. The motor controller can only be connected to two motors, but with my follow-focus I can easily attach a servo to the gear and control that directly from the Basic Stamp.

- So what will it be used for? you ask. Well, now we get into serious denial-territory. I’ve tried to justify the time and money spent so far with being able to sell really cool shots at iStockPhoto from our upcoming trip to the Norwegian coast , but lately I’ve come to terms with the fact that I just need the challenge.
I’ll keep posting with more pictures as I get closer to final assembly!
- Jonas

12 Responses to >Building a Pro Camera Crane / Jib, part 1

  1. Jonas

    >Haha, helt fantastiskt! Och nej, att “samla på hobbies” är ju ett inte helt obekant koncept. :)

    Det är därför jag frågar: Har du något tips på böcker, tutorials på nätet eller andra sätt att lära sig After Effects? :)

  2. Basse

    >Haha, du är grym. Ser fram emot en augusti-grillning med tillhörande demo…

  3. Jonas Hummelstrand


    Regarding your questions about good starting points for learning AE, I’d recommend http://videocopilot.net/ http://creativecow.net/aepodcast/ plus Chris and Trish Meyer’s apprentice book, plus the training from http://totaltraning.com/ and fxphd: http://generalspecialist.com/2008/07/even-more-great-vfx-courses.asp

    When you move up in knowledge, check out Mark Christiansen’s “After Effects Studio Techniques” and the Meyers’ other books.

  4. Dylan Reeve

    >For your jib arm I have one recommendation – based on a manual jib we built in school quite a few years ago we eventually decided that it the mount mount needed to be directly to the tripod itself.

    The friction locks in the tripod head aren’t really designed to cope with the torque created by the fib arm, even with a well balanced rig. We actually drilled a tapped hole through the head so that we could thread a bolt into it and lock the tilt. But in the end we actually decided it was a better idea to adapt the jib base to connect directly to the bowl adapter in place of the head.

    I’ve had grand designs for a homemade job for a long time now, just never had the time or resources to actually make it.

  5. Jonas Hummelstrand


    Thanks for your tip, I’m hoping to use the tripod head for horizontal movement and the ball bearing-attached-to-the-arm for vertical movement.

  6. Anonymous

    >Jonas, can you give me more specific information on the controller, i am working on a jib crane and the tilt/pan motor controller I have works but is crudely made with slot car hand controls and toggle switches, housed in a pipe. Looking to upgrade. Thanks.

  7. Jonas Hummelstrand

    >The basic Stamp is reading the values from the joystick and translating those into the speed and direction sent to the motor controller (which can control two motors.)

    Haven’t had time to work on this for the last months, I’ll try to get started again as soon as I finish recording a bunch of CS4 tutorials.

  8. Anonymous

    >wow it’s look great.
    waiting for update, i have mini-jib and i thought that i will make some engine that i could control pan and tilt

  9. Michael Cononie

    >Jonas, your idea is a great one! I built a jib myself, but I have become increasingly unsatisfied with the manual functionality. I have plans for a new one with a motorized pan/tilt head. i would very much appreciate knowing the software you are using, the model of controller, and source code you mentioned. If you could offer any of this, please email me at mcononie@verizon.net

    Thanks, Michael Cononie

    Toxic HD Entertainment

  10. Anonymous

    >Hi I,m wondering did you finish that controller. I also use basic stamp. what is the code. Can you send me a schmatic of the controller so i can copy it. I so want to build a moterized Jib head

  11. Anonymous

    >Hi i am trying to also make a jib for my canon xl1s. the one thing that has been stopping me from completing the crane is the type of motor and gear box i need. any help would be greatly appreciated :)

  12. your idea are excellent I too have built a 5 M cran using 75X40mm Alum hollow box in 3 sections with a surveyors tripod 90$ us its a develop as I go crane my brief is to be able to carryin a car and assemble it complete in 10 minutes max time , it’s working well I love the shading you have over your monitor where did you source it? Im thinking it might be less expensive to buy a Becor pan and Tilt head.

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