Why Use Cranes

I have used Chapman Cranes, camera cars with arms and built many for my own use from riding ones to backpack models weighing a few pounds.

The most obvious use of a crane is to move a camera up and down and get a camera higher than a tripod allows. Another advantage is the ability to place a camera over objects that wouldn't allow a tripod or dolly under the camera. Some cranes allow the camera to go below the surface that the crane base sits on. A crane arm also supports a camera so it can be easily positioned to compose a shot even without making a move during the shot, such as macro photography of moving small critters.

Jibs, cranes, arms, etc. allow the camera to remain stable when stopped with no effort from the operator.

Parallelogram leveling arms keeps the horizon of the camera head always level if the post is vertical and the parallelogram leveling arm geometry has equal measurements. Changing the geometry can give some interesting moves.

The inertia of a crane arm gives smooth moves because of its mass to give smooth starts, stops, and moves in between.

Cranes give perspective change that pans, tilts and zooms on a tripod cannot. A perspective move (a change in the relationship of foreground, mid ground and background) gives a 3 dimensional feeling that is very important for small screen-low resolution images such as video. Dolly moves by foreground objects also accomplish this. Cranes do it in a different way. An arm up without a horizontal move does it if there are objects close to camera, especially if more of the scene is revealed during the move. A horizontal arm move changes the composition of the horizon, as does a pan on a tripod. This is not often desired and has to be compensated for by panning the camera on the end of the arm to keep the horizon composition static. (Not an easy move.)

Cranes allow moves that no other device can provide. By moving a camera around in an arc close to objects you get sweeping change of perspective that a pan on a tripod would not give. Cameras angled 90 to 135 degrees to the arm work well.

All of these moves can be learned with a simple arm in the privacy of your home or yard and before needed on a shoot where your reputation is at stake.


Stage cranes and camera cars with arms can provide a very fast setup of camera positions without using the arm to make a move during a shot. Sometimes the director joins the operator and assistant on the arm and spend hours knocking off shot after shot.

Cranes can be used to move large objects for special effects and can avoid building special devices. They often are used for lights such as moon light effects.

In every case CRANES ARE DANGEROUS and should be used with trained crews or at least people who have used their own unit enough to know it's weaknesses and capabilities. Accidents often happen when a director will ask for more than a tool will safely do and a crew violates their own safety rules and good sense. I have been around dangerous situations that have never cost a life, but have had potentially serious consequences. BE SAFE! (See Safety)

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.