16 Feet Pan-and-tilt Camera Crane for $60

Introduction: 16 Feet Pan-and-tilt Camera Crane for $60

For about $60, you can build a camera crane for a lightweight videocamera. The nifty thing about this design is that you can not only the move crane up and down and rotate it, but you can also pan and tilt the camera at the end of the crane. Plus, it's pretty lightweight and can be easily disassembled and transported.

The design is really simple: on both sides of a telescopic extension pole sit a fixture that can pan and tilt, using two hinges. The fixtures are identical, except for the camera mount.
The fixtures are connected to each other by 3 pieces of wire. The resulting effect is that if you move one fixture, the other fixture copies the exact movements.
The range of motion is about +/- 45 degrees left&right and up and down. As there are no pulleys or complex lever systems, the motion is pretty smooth. The hinges need some more work, they tend to stick a little and make some noise. I'll remove some material to make it smoother.

Here is the crane itself:

And here is some footage I shot with it

Step 1: Stuff You'll Need

- A videocamera. Don't use a 10-year old one, as I'm not sure this crane will carry the weight. A regular Mini DV camera should work great.
- A telescopic extension pole. These things can be used for painting, changing bulbs, etc. I got a 16 ft one at OSH for $40. That's the most expensive part of this crane. I'm sure you can find a cheaper one if you shop around.
- About 2 feet of 1x1 inch square aluminum tubing (OSH, around $10)
- this is where it gets fuzzy: various pieces of aluminum (I had these lying around) and wood.
- 60 feet of nylon rope
- various screws, bolts. (screw to mount camera is 1/4")

The most critical thing in the desing is the double-hinge that allows for pan and tilt. A ball joint is less preferable, since that will also allow the fixtures to rotate around the axis parallel to the extension pole.

When building the double-hinge, make sure that the rotating axes are as close together as possible. You'll have to make some smart trade-off's there: bring them really close together and you might limit the range of motion. If you have them far apart, the tension in the wires will change with varying angles. This can be overcome by adding a spring or rubber band in one of the wires.

I'll might post a detailed how-to-build list, but as you can see, it's pretty simple. I built it in a single afternoon...

The pole flexes quite a bit if extended fully, but that doesn't seem to be a problem. Getting smooth motion and aiming the camera will require some more practice.



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    36 Discussions

    Um, WOW!
    Excuse Me While I Pick My Jaw Up Off The Floor.
    Not only amazing cinematography and shots,
    but also beautiful engineering, ingenuity and attention to detail.
    Keep Up The Good (Read: Amazing) Work!


    You could get a 7 inch LCD screen between one and two hundred dollars. The ones made for iPods are often battery powered, though you'll have to make sure they have an input you can use. Ones made for use in automobiles may have better mounting options, but you'll need to create a 12V power supply. Run the composite video from the camera to the screen using a long shielded RCA cable. Make sure to use a coaxial cable to reject noise (and a static-filled picture). Mount to the controls of the boom with a home-made adjustable bracket. A hood will also come in handy made from black cloth, foamboard, or whatever you have to shield the screen from outside light, so you can see the screen better.

    very cool low-cost jib. i just built my own but in researching plans etc i studied yours closely. it would seem that due to the cable system, the 'head' could only pan so long as it wasn't tilted. is this true? on my limited budget i built mine with a simple tilt head. anyway very pleased with the final product and thanks for posting your design

    i hate empty compliments but this is way too cool to not say this is way too cool. i could do the same with theatrical lights. a follow spot on stage. yeahhhhhh!!! thnaks

    this is a great instructable! the only problem i had was when i needed to put my shotgun mic on it, but i figured it out. right after i built mines my frend found one for 21.50 on ebay. :-) but i had a lot of fun making it.

    It's been a while since I posted this one. I have ideas and plans to build a new one, much more stable and smoother, but still low cost (I'm cheap). When / if I get there, I'll post some decent instructions. I just moved (back) to the Netherlands from California, and the next few months we'll be busy getting readjusted.

    I hope the crane is not very steady.I need steady cranes, and also if i keep heavier cams it would be hard to control

    1 reply

    Hey Matt, awesome idea. Have you thought about replaceing the ropes with a set of rigid linkages?

    1 reply

    I tend to agree. Rigid linkages would give much finer and smoother control. However, you'd have to build 6 more dual axis hinges. - Which would certainly be worth it. I might suggest another option as well: using thin steel cable and some small turn buckles. The cable wouldn't stretch like the rope, but would allow simpler connections. Small turnbuckles would let you keep them tight from the control end without having to take the rig apart. -This may put more pressure on the boom arm, so if it telescopes, you may want to put a cotter pin through the overlapping section to keep it from sliding.

    Thanks man! That clears a lot up. After I saw your design not to long ago, maybe 3 days ago, i thought i might want to build one. I really want to make one this summer and that helps a lot. Thanks!

    You did a pretty good job with this! I'm impressed, seriously. one question though. what did you use for the boom. Also, how do you do the hinges and the rest of the mechanical parts. more detail would be GREATLY appreciated. thanks! and once again, nice job!... good footage, too...

    1 reply

    Thanks! For the boom, I used an extension pole from a hardware store (OSH). These are used, for instance, to paint heigh ceilings. One end has a screw-base that mounts to paint rollers, lamp changers, brushes, etc. For the hinges, I used square aluminum tubes that slide onto the extension pole and a piece of wood. You'll have to be a bit creative with this, depending on what you have lying around. The main trick is that there are 2 axes to the hinge, perpendicular to each other. In other words, the piece of wood has two holes, perpendicular to each other. If you have a 'swiffer' lying around, look at how that is constructed. It's basically the same idea, just a little larger and stronger. Hope this helps a bit. I just never took the time to do a decent explanation, mainly because it depends very much on what parts you can get your hands on.