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Thread: Low cost DIY Camera Crane Primer

  1. #1
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    Default Low cost DIY Camera Crane Primer

    (Admin, if deemed appropriate please re-locate in another section)

    The 'TIMBA-CRANE'

    Following something of a thread hijack in the User Video section regarding the use of a camera crane, to expand the quiver of available shots, as my time is limited I'd like to sound folk out about how you would like this design suggestion of mine to be presented to you. I've bought the parts today (pleasantly surprised by the cost which was less than estimate) so I'm going to make one for myself, this gives three possible ways to present the idea, the significant thing being the time between now and seeing the suggested design. Before that though, some design criterion in order of importance:

    1) Safe.
    For both operator and cameras, the design will be load tested to a factored amount above likely load carrying levels, and will be robust enough to ensure the camera will not be damaged through use or failure.
    Safety issues over the making of the crane will also be considered. No processes will be beyond a person with basic knowledge, no potentially dangerous practices will be required. Where there are practices that carry a 'normal' level of risk, such as using a saw or certain drilling operations, this will be highlighted.

    2) Effective.
    The crane will work, will not have unreasonable compromises in image stability, it will have good scope of movement, and be easy to operate and adjust.

    3) Scope of operation.
    The crane will be able to accommodate a typical pro-sumer type camcorder, with accessory lenses, large batteries and mic's fitted. Optional monitors will also be able to be mounted on the crane. It is designed to be for indoor operation with a maximum elevation of approximately 8 feet, a minimum elevation of 6 inches depending on camera type, 360 degree rotation, adjustable tilt/rise ratio, adjustable counterweighting, and single person operation. It will not be suitable for use on uneven ground, or ground that is not level.

    4) Easy to assemble.
    In both it's making and operation the crane will not require more than a single person to put it together initially, or to set up/break down for a shoot.

    5) Limited scope of tools required.
    No special tools will be needed to make it, i.e tools used will be those possessed by any person who carries out simple DIY assembly tasks.

    6) Wide tolerances.
    The design will be configured to keep the need for accuracy to a bare minimum. Certain requirements are there to ensure proper operation, but such things as materials cut to lengths will be arranged so that by simple means the cutting is either irrelevant to it's operation, or of minimal nature to achieve the desired result.

    7) Material Availability
    Most of the parts needed have been bought from one DIY supplier (Wickes in this instance), however there will be no rare or specialised components.

    Presentation (LOL! Item 8 with a close bracket after it is the forum code for this dude with the shades!)
    The primary version will look like a home made crane, however there will be a cosmetically improved version for the sake of it for those who wish to take it a step further, this will also look like a home made crane, but will be more suitable for those conscious of the image they project when working with paying clients.


    So to the methods of presentation:

    1) As a drawing (quickest route)
    Those able to simply look at a drawing and see how something goes together will need no more, it is assumed that if a part requires cutting to shape then the viewer knows how to do that, that if accuracy is needed that the maker has the knowledge to configure the operations to achieve this.
    The drawing will be in true scale within reason, with all appropriate views, and details will be enough for people to not have to inquire further on how it is made, adjusted, or operated.

    2) As still images (easiest route for me to show the actual making of one, intermediate time scale).
    I can simply photograph (competently) the main processes and provide activity text for each photo (such as the rifle modifications to be found in the link in my sig). A demonstration video of the crane is use will be included.

    3) As a video (most time consuming and long term method).
    This will take a long time to get together, shooting opportunities are limited considering other activites and it could take a few months to get to a viewable finished result.

    So, what are your thoughts on this? I'd like there to be a reasonable level of interest overall, and some form of clear preference for the way I show this to you before I commit the time to actually making one if it's required. I do need an indoor sized crane, but not right now, LOL!
    Last edited by Jerry Hill; 10-13-2008 at 12:54 AM.

  2. #2
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    Hi Jerry. I was building and selling these around three years ago on ebAY. (Hence my slightly jokey 'Mr. Crane Man' tag). Before long, others saw how many I was selling and jumped on the bandwagon... with so many at it, sales soon fell. I still have two of my own that I use and have to say a crane is an invaluable addition to any videograpahers kit.

    Whilst I am proud of my cranes, I am under no illusion - cranes from somewhere like Hague's in Nottingham are far superior. Main reason? Engineering tolerances and the use of quality bearings throughout the construction. Mine were fairly cheap and cheerful, but did include the tripod.

    My Kestrel cranes though still delivered smooth shots with cameras up to a couple or three kilos, and packed away into very manageable pieces. It didn't rely on cables to move the camera (a real bonus) and I've since added a power head from Hague's (about 150) to the boom giving a fantastic variety of available angles and movement.

    Summary - they're not a particularly challenging project to master.

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    Which is good for people wanting to make one, but not if I spend a lot of time showing people how to do it in excess, which is the point of this enquiry really, just to save me time.

    On the production versions, as I've said elsewhere I'm a Manufacturing Engineer attached to the purchasing department of a 250,000,000 production company with global customers, so I'm familiar with processes/job costings/marketing/packaging/distribution etc, and I still can't see where these people get their prices from, I've priced out 2,000 cranes at a far less than reasonable costs for such a retail price, I guess the market must be pretty small and the volumes are not there to get the decent prices, or earn a living off it, even though they are not all that big these days with the advent of CNC technology. We actually only make 350 odd of the product a year, they just cost a few million each, so I'm not mistaking this for a thousands off scene.

    Whatever, this is a Fred in the shed design for people who want one cheaply .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Hill View Post
    ...I've priced out 2,000 cranes at a far less than reasonable costs for such a retail price..
    Of couse you have. Generally, sellers will sell not for what something's 'worth', but what they can get for it. At the end of the day a crane is regarded by most as a luxury item, one that's not essential but would be a nice thing to have. Therefore 'reasonable' doesn't come into it. If the seller is selling, then they've got the right price. If they stop selling, the price will come down. Simple business really. Mine cost me sub 100 to produce and sold at the beginning for well over 600 on ebay, I let the market find it's own level. The lowest I got was just a smidge under 300 aside from private sales where I sold for what I considered was 'reasonable'.

    I've proved beyond doubt that there there is a market for cheap and cheerful cranes and other grip equipment, as there is for cheap cars and hell, cheap baked beans (Aldi's are horrible by the way).

    I'm sure a guide such as you're proposing would be worthwhile. One thing though, there are a ton of sites showing how to make cranes, steadicams, car mounts etc. Gorilla even sell plans on ebay nowadays, so I wouldn't spend a heap of time on it unless you're looking to have lots of people massage your ego with a 'thank you' now and then.

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    Price setting is a moot subject, I agree that folk will charge what they think the market can stand, I guess there's not enough competition to promote aggressive pricing.

    I have no interest in entering in to such a thing in my head at the moment, I do fine with the two jobs I have and have no need for anything else, but tell me, did you supply the counterweights with yours? The apparent shipping costs would make that costly I guess, though many carriers these days can be made to price by size, not weight, so it could be overcome, depends on negotiating skills and volumes I guess.

    I've seen very many sites which show home build cranes, but still there's this thing about unneccesary work, and weight, the best example of this is the control arm or jib which they all seem to have, this almost doubling of the jibs weight through using them without any stiffening benefit, plus doubling the counterweight needs, just doesn't make sense to me, when 'real' cranes, things that have been used for millenia to lift things long before a camera was put on the end of one, use control 'lines' to keep the lifting end at a constant angle.

    Massaging my ego? Maybe, I can see why that might be considered, but you'll just have to trust me when I say that I'm a benevolent character, and any gratification I receive will be knowing someone saved some money and got a nice result in the camera, I'm not such a dark or negative thinker that I'd even considered it to be honest. It's nice to help people if I can.

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    I didn't offer counterweights.... Argos do an excellent range of cast iron weights and they come in around twenty five quid. For the control arm I used a much, much smaller gauge of tube that added around four pounds to the entire balanced weight. The main problem I experienced was sourcing bearings that kept things silky smooth. If I had welding kit myself (I outsourced the production) I know how I would have overcome that problem, and bearings as such wouldn't have figured in a stripped down price model.

    Fair point about cranes using cables, but remember they just lift and lower things vertically, so a cable is sufficient. A crane has to pivot at the end of the jib. Larger cranes requiring pivots use hydraulic rams. Out of the question for a cam crane of course, so a control arm is way, way better solution. I've tried two cranes with cable control and they didn't offer enough precision for me. Plus, slippage is always a possibility and rigging is a pain when you have to tension cables before you can start.

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    I think this is a great idea and a commendable one. I think the best way to do this is with drawings and a short and sweet explination of things like the degree of cuts on certain parts, size of bits used, and crap like that. Another good thing you could do is put material used like say your using wood like oak, and then name a good alternative, or if you use a certain type of bearing like a slightly expensive one with a certain amount of balls in it or what have you name a slightly less expensive one. Though that might be asking a bit much. I suppose the best thing is just throw some details into the making of it. I know I've seen some plans that show you pictures of pipes bent but dont tell you the length or angle of the bending. They also fail to mention size of certain parts like bolts or screws and what have you. You get the point. In anycase it's an awesome contibution to give to the community.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy Lockwood View Post
    I didn't offer counterweights.... Argos do an excellent range of cast iron weights and they come in around twenty five quid.
    Yep, that's the very ones I use, pointless tryng to make such thing any better, as there really isn't anything. For the woody I'm using water as a default, dumbells as an option.

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy Lockwood View Post
    For the control arm I used a much, much smaller gauge of tube that added around four pounds to the entire balanced weight. The main problem I experienced was sourcing bearings that kept things silky smooth.
    Depending where the weight is that means perhaps 8-12 lbs of counterbalance just to balance the control arm weight, and it also means a stonger set of pivots. This design uses what I called string, but cord sold in DIY places is dyneema cored polyester, the size on my biggest crane is 2mm, it has a load capability of 100kg, and stretches 2-3% at full load, and once stretched it's going to stay there as the load is constant, tensioning this is achieved by the design of the camera plate, it's adjusted using a special adjustable knot, and what's needed to counterbalance it is not even worth thinking about.


    Quote Originally Posted by Andy Lockwood View Post
    The main problem I experienced was sourcing bearings that kept things silky smooth.
    Regular bearings for the horizontal pivot for my crane would cost about 4 each, taper roller thrust type bearings for the panning action (what's that called again on a crane? Slewing?) about 6 each. When such things are mounted onto less tolerant parts bearing 'carriers' are used, these would be CNC machined, but don't need to be exotic if the right materials are used, 'engieering plastics' are fine as bearing carriers.


    Quote Originally Posted by Andy Lockwood View Post
    Fair point about cranes using cables, but remember they just lift and lower things vertically, so a cable is sufficient. A crane has to pivot at the end of the jib. Larger cranes requiring pivots use hydraulic rams. Out of the question for a cam crane of course, so a control arm is way, way better solution. I've tried two cranes with cable control and they didn't offer enough precision for me. Plus, slippage is always a possibility and rigging is a pain when you have to tension cables before you can start.
    I'm not referring to the lifting rope, very large cranes and other outreaching 'arms' of huge sizes use cables to keep a 'head' at a desired angle. And rigging for support can be easily tensioned using an 'over centre' approach to tensioning them, takes seconds once set. In this image of one of my cranes the top supporting line is set like this, you just lift it up, the side ones are tensioned like drawing a bow. It's not absolute stiffness, but it does a lot to reduce flexing, by jiggling the unsupported jib side to side you'll see a sine wave appearing, place the connecting points for these lines away from any of the 'nodes' on this wave and it'll stiffen it, shifting the placing of the nodes, another pair of these lines will make a helluva difference too. The only adjustemt is a bottle screw you can just see the end of at the bottom of teh picture, I've not actually adjusted again in since construction.

    Also in this pic you can see the 2mm control line which runs through a pulley on the top of the jib (red line), the pulley helps to stop bounce in the line. you'll note there are no special bearings, it uses side float control to keep it all from wobbling about by holding the sides of the jib in compression, and 'plain' bearings in effect, teh wing nut you can see aloows the compression to be easily adjusted without tools. All of that is far stiffer than the stand it's mounted to, which is where my attention will be next on this particular effort shown.


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    Is that a crane Jerry or a medieval catapult?

    Seriously though, that really does look a tad over the top. And how much did you spend on all those clamps?

    If I was looking to build a lightweight, easy to set up, stable, safe and smooth crane capable of carrying a couple of kilos of camera and I saw plans for that, I would keep looking..

    I know you're have an engineering background, but I think, (and PLEASE don't take this the wrong way) you've over engineered it to death. It does look remarkably similar to the Cambo crane. But they have a throw of bloody miles compared to what the majority of videographers are looking for. And I'm assuming here that they're your target audience.

    But, if you're happy with it, I guess that's good enough. I'm sure you 'll get lots of admiring looks from people who have no idea what they're looking at.

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    LOL!, Yes, it's something of an eclectic mix for sure .

    Over the top? I guess that's about perception, the orginal crane took an afternoon to make, I've added a few bits as time has gone by, and I'm still doing so, so it might appear complex I guess. Not sure what you mean by 'all those clamps', I'm guessing you're refferring to the Manfrotto Magic Arm, that's just one device, it's something I have anyway and use to hold the monitor now, as it allows me to put it anywhere I want. It cost the same as the whole of the original crane, but was bought for POV stuff on kite buggies, though sadly it's not very good at that . If you mean any other clamps, then I'm not with you I'm afraid.

    The plans, albeit incomplete, are in my article on my web page, a few have made it, but I'd not expect a crane maker to be objective anyway, so no problem with that. You see it as over engineered, I see as under engineered. I never bothered with any number of things that could have been done, if I needed an angled bracket, I cut a bit off some angle, didn't bother with fine sizing, or even checking if the cut was square, as that sort of thing might make the 'finish' look better but adds no operating benefits. Lots' of it is 'found' parts, stuff I have kicking around to be honest. Believe me I could have really gone to town and used my lathe and millings machines to make up something really exotic, but to little benefit for any shots it could give me, maybe no benefits at all to be honest. It get's used maybe half a dozen times a year, so it's not like wear is a problem for instance, hence the simple bearings, an uspide down castor, and a couple of bolts.

    I'm not sure what you mean by my 'target audience', do you mean the people that are likely to watch my videos? Or people who might want to know about the crane? If the former, then my chosen subject is under filmed professionally at the moment, so it's down to us hobbyists to get things out there, and anything like this to add a different view has proven to be a good thing. To be honest when general film crews, like when TV crews have attended events, they've not made a very good job of it, not specialist enough to understand the sport. If the latter, as stated on the web page I produced the article as I was getting a lot of enquires from a YouTube post, and I was just repeating myself in messages a lot. This is not of course the crane I'm proposing to show here.

    The admiring looks thing intrigues me, that's the second time you've given the impression that what people think of the crane is important to me, it's really not, frankly I couldn't care less. It's nice to know a few pople have made one and are happy with them of course, it's always good to help people, but I'm really interested only in what shots it can get me.

    Yes I'm happy with what it can do for me generally speaking, it's got some problems that can be fixed. It's an interesting thing to use though, from a shot making point of view, I'm still at ground zero on that one, some friends who are better experienced than me come up with ways to use it that I'd not considered yet, I've everything to learn about images in motion I can assure you .

    So, for those who don't have a crane and want a simple one................

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