What is the difference between a crane and a jib, and why do I need one? As with other industry terms, these are often used interchangeably. Although, if you were being precise, you’d likely refer to a crane as a piece of equipment that has a boom arm (jib) but also a seat for an operator to ride along with the camera. Whereas a standalone jib is a boom arm that can operate from a tripod and be directed from a field monitor attached at the level of operation. The camera maneuver is commonly referred to as a “crane shot”.
In any case, the cinematic effect is the same: Lyrical movement.
With a DSLR or standard video camera mounted on the end of the cantilevered arm, the operator manually (or with a remote control device) moves the jib arm vertically to or from an overhead shot, or horizontally for a panning effect, or even toward or away from the subject like a zoom shot. A crane/jib offers tremendous versatility for visual effect, and pays off in high production value.
Often crane shots are used for “beauty shots”, such as opening scenes with a musical score or transition shots. Remember how the idyllic town is introduced in “Pleasantville”, or the how the magnificent mountain ranges could have been revealed in the opening scene of “The Sound of Music” had they shot it with a crane. (I mean, who has budget for a helicopter?!) Or even simply the way camera movement establishes pace, as it carries the viewer through a scene. Some nice examples can be seen in Blue And Gold Studios short camera tests of their ProAm USA DC210 camera jib.
But, crane shots can be much more than just beauty shots. Camera movement engages the audience -- visually pushing or pulling them through a scene, flying them through the air, plummeting them to the ground, or spinning them 360 degrees.
Such a simple piece of equipment can add so much drama or tone to a scene. Think of the dramatic effect of beginning a scene on a closeup of someone in a cemetery at a gravesite marked by a simple white cross, and then booming up slowly to reveal acres of identical white crosses. In that one brief camera move, the filmmaker reveals so much information -- one of individual loss and sadness, to mass destruction and sadness of a nation.
Imagine a crane shot choreographed to give the impression of someone flying -- a slow upward lift, with an orchestrated music bed. And, then a startling scream cues a sudden boom downward. Imagine being the audience member and feeling your own stomach drop. That’s immersive storytelling!
Filmmaker Jeff Lampo of LampoFilm provides a fantastic camera move tip, in his review video of the ProAm USA DC200 crane/jib. He gives the jib arm a gentle horizontal swing and has his actor walk in the direction of the camera, for an easy and effective 360-degree follow shot. He achieves a high-end camera move with only minutes of setup time, a crew of 1, and for an investment of less than $300. (Check out his other trick of using his truck for even easier setup.)
The jib isn’t only about producing impressive shots. It also can serve a purely utilitarian role. Consider the convenience of using a small jib in a confined location, such as a kitchen when shooting a cooking show. You definitely will want overhead shots of food preparation for instructional purposes, along with front-facing shots of the host and over-the-shoulder shots. You can easily achieve such variation by simply moving the jib arm into position.
It certainly is true that filmmakers enthusiastically buy gear that only ends up collecting dust in a garage. The jib is one to break out and use. The cinematographic payoff is worth it! ProAm USA has jibs of various sizes, for all type cameras, and each with easy, 1-person setup.
Tell us about your favorite crane shots. Heck, send us a link to your footage using a ProAm crane and we will add it on our Customers page.