The digital revolution in event videography has enabled forward-looking professionals to shoot, edit, and distribute videos that rival the look and sound of film. But no matter how high the resolution, how flawless the lighting, or how rich the sound, videographers are only so tall. Without a bird's-eye view, event videos lack a whole range of angles from which to record an event, thereby never quite reaching that film-like look that so many event videographers strive to mimic.
Hollywood has cranes sophisticated enough to capture scenes from any angle, but they're too large—most have wheels because they're too heavy to carry—and much too expensive, way outside of the average videographer's budget. So what are budget-conscious videographers to do? Buy low once, rent on occasion, lease for a long-term relationship, or build it themselves. There are many ways to get some of the functionality without all of the cost. Here's a look at what's out there, and how using a crane, jib arm, or monopod can help videographers gain a new perspective on the events that they cover.
Buy Low Once
Not all cranes cost tens of thousands of dollars. ProMax sells its CobraCrane I for $299. It attaches to the top of a three-foot tripod and can raise a camera to an elevation of eight feet, but that camera can't weigh more than six pounds. For videographers with heavier cameras, ProMax offers the CobraCrane II; it costs a hundred bucks more and increases your maximum carrying capacity to 25 pounds. If eight feet isn't high enough, "plus" versions of each are available for an additional hundred dollars. The CobraCrane I+ reaches 14 feet, while the CobraCrane II+ goes as high as 12 feet. The CobraCrane BackPacker ($349) offers the same features as the CobraCrane I, but adds the ability to shorten to 42" for storage.
The CobraCrane line represents an affordable way to own a portable crane, although the costs don't end with purchase of the crane itself. To attach to a tripod, all three CobraCranes require a $79 mounting bracket, which is designed to work with Bogen tripods. Then there are the accessories: the extension kit, the tracking dolly, and the mini-monitor mount. Even still, no other cranes on the market offer such a cost-effective and portable solution. ProMax CobraCranes can also be rented for as little as $55 a day from video equipment suppliers like Express Video Supply of Glendale, CA.
Any studio that handles multicamera, multiperson shoots would be wise to pick up a CobraCrane, or even two. Single-camera shooters shouldn't seriously consider a stationary crane like this as it would severely limit their mobility. Some single-shooter, multi-camera videographers might appreciate the ability to lift their unmanned cameras out of arm's reach.
For a bit more money, videographers can move from a crane to a jib arm. EZ FX sells its EZ FX Jib for $1,149 and a Junior Jib for $979, both of which also mount on a tripod. Two things separate EZ FX's Jibs from ProMax's CobraCranes. The EZ FX system can convert from a mini-jib to a longer event-type arm. Also, both the Jib and Junior Jib are compatible with the EZ FX Handle. Designed as an alternative to the motorized heads required for panning and tilting on most jib arms, the EZ FX Handle enables operators to manually pan a camera mounted on an EZ FX Jib up to 300 degrees and tilt it up to 125. The Handle retails for $279. Not surprisingly, there are a number of accessories available for the EZ FX system, including an LCD Vest, which acts as an upper-body mount for an LCD monitor; an EZ UnderSling, which allows videographers to hang their camera off the end of the EZ FX Jib; and a Weight Caddy, which stacks the Jib's counterweights for portability.
A Singular Viewpoint
The HI-POD XP-1 generated a lot of buzz on the floor at WEVA EXPO 2004. Videographers drooled over its versatility, with the ability to act as a monopod, a crane, or a steadicam. The HI-POD XP-1 utilizes a pulley system to tilt a camera that is anywhere from six to fifteen feet in the air, depending on how far the user has the HI-POD extended. The other control on the HI-POD is a handle-mounted LANC controller, which plugs into a camera's remote LANC control, allowing for the remote control of the camera. All of the wiring for the LANC controller is built into the HI-POD itself. To keep an eye on the action, the HI-POD also includes a built-in LCD monitor powered by a belt-worn battery pack.
While the HI-POD XP-1 does offer a lot of functionality, it doesn't come cheap; a new unit will set a videographer back almost $3,000, and that's not counting the accessories. Two extras of note are a Stability Harness, which attaches the HI-POD to the shooter's body and enables true crane-style shots, and a Base, which limits mobility but increases stability, turning the HI-POD into a more stationary tower-style camera setup.
But just because purchasing a HI-POD costs more than the entire budget of many videography projects doesn't mean that it's out of reach for most videographers. HI-PODs are readily available for leasing. Typical leasing agreements run for two to three years with payments of $170 and $140 a month, respectively. You can lease a HI-POD in a lease-to-own arrangement, meaning that at the end of the leasing period, for a $1 buyout, customers can then own their own HI-POD. If that's still too much of a commitment, HI-POD's Web site offers links to a handful of video equipment suppliers in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York that offer HI-PODs for rental. The aforementioned Express Video Supply charges $155 per day to rent a HI-POD.
Do It Yourself
Another option available to the cost-conscious videographer is to build a crane from scratch. For less than $200, handy videographers can take advantage of the copious amount of information available on the Web about how to build a jib arm, boom, and/or crane with parts that can be found at Home Depot. Both simple and complex plans can be found, ranging all the way up to remote controlled panning and zooming. The Suggested Resources box includes links to a number of sites that host do-it-yourself plans.
One thing to keep in mind is the importance of using a monitor with any crane, jib arm, or boom. Without a monitor, a videographer using a crane, jib arm, or boom will be shooting blind. But monitors are a subject for another edition of Gear & Now.
One last product worth noting in this space is the Body Boom, a body-mounted boom system that can reach up to nine feet from the operator. With a built-in monitor, remote camera control, motor-driven pan and tilt head, and complete mobility, the Body Boom is truly next-generation technology. Unfortunately for the cash-strapped videographers, it's prohibitively expensive, with a price tag of nearly $14,000. They are available for rental, but at a cost of over $1,000 a day, although that rate does include a Body Boom operator as well as the use of a Sony VX2000 3-CCD camera. So even though the Body Boom may be the solution most well-suited to the mobile nature of event videography shoots, it isn't a viable option for all but the most high-end and large-scale of videographers.
ProMax Systems www.promax.com
EZ FX, Inc. www.ezfx.com
HI-POD Inc. www.hi-pod.com
Body Boom www.bodyboom.net