Front vs. Rear Operated Jibs
A few notes for those of you new to the world of jib arms, and who may be confused about the difference between front-operated and rear-operated systems.
People tend to use the words "crane arm" and "jib arm" interchangeably these days. Originally, a crane was a much larger unit, usually carrying a camera operator and assistant as well as the camera. A jib was a smaller unit carrying just the camera. However, the important distinction these days is not whether you call it a crane or a jib, but rather whether you operate it from the front or from the rear, because even though these systems look very similar, they are not really the same tool. Porta-Jibs are primarily used as front-operated devices, (although our Standard Jib can be rear-operated as well--more on that later).
Let’s start with understanding the basics of a rear-operated system. Rear-operated units need to have a way to remotely pan and tilt the camera. Be aware that some of the inexpensive ones do not even pan the camera, they only tilt via a cable, and panning can only occur by panning the entire arm rather than the camera head itself, which means you cannot do a very sophisticated compound move. However, more typically, rear-operated systems will be more complex than that, and will have a pan and tilt head that either is driven by motors or by a cable system, so that you have the ability to pan and tilt the camera as well as boom and pan the jib itself. The advantage of these systems is that they can position the camera far higher than one could hope to reach if manually operating the jib from the front and also be able to reach out over things.
So the question becomes: why would one want to operate from the front, when the rear operation gives one so much more range of motion. This is where it becomes a question of the using the right tool for the right job. If what you want is extreme height and reach, then obviously you want a large jib with a remote head controlled from the rear. If however, you want to make more subtle movements in the 2-to-8 foot range, then a front-operated jib is the way to go.
In this case, you simply place a fluid head (that you typically already own) onto the front of the jib. You already have good intuitions of how to pan and tilt the head, since you probably have been doing this for years on your tripod. So when you need to follow a complex action on a jib, which do you suppose is easier to master--front-operation with a fluid head or rear-operation with joysticks? Let's suppose you are following an actor who suddenly stands up and moves across the set, and your job is to keep him framed in the center of the camera's view. Imagine trying to make a quick speed change, a pan-tilt motion, and a boom up while operating from the rear with joy- stick controls. Then imagine trying it with a front-operated jib, where the speed change and framing come easily because you are comfortable doing that with your fluid head. So all you are adding to the mix is the booming motion. It should be obvious which will be easier to master. Furthermore, the lower the shot the more difficult it becomes for the rear operator because now his hands need to be well above his head as he is trying to get the camera to low position. True it can be done from the rear by experienced operators who make a living at being remote head operators, but a new client will often be reduced to using his jib only for very easily controlled high angle moves.
So if height is what you need, then the remote head is for you. But if what you want is to add movement to your everyday work where the camera tends to stay in the low to mid-height range, then clearly a front-operated jib is the way to go. No additional batteries for motors are needed, a far quicker set-up time is obtained, and generally a much lower cost, because low-end remote heads start at around $2000 to $3000, just for the head without the arm. When you think of which type of shot is far more prevalent in everyday production -- a floating movement in the less than 8 foot range, or the birds-eye view of scene – obviously, for most clients, the front- operated jib is the more useful tool.
The Porta-Jib is primarily a front-operated type. However, having said that, we need to point out that although we do not make a remote head for jibs, our Standard Jib does have the capability of adding an additional 3 foot extension to lengthen the front arm, so often customers will choose this version to use with another manufacturer’s remote head. That way they will have the capability of working either from the front or the rear as the job’s requirements dictate.