A few weeks ago I came across a video by Chad Bredahl of Krotoflik (krotoflik.wix.com/krotoflik) in which he explains how to create a lightweight DIY crane for a video camera that amazingly also doubles as a shoulder-rig when collapsed, all from off-the-shelf parts from Home Depot or the like.
I've been wanting a crane for some time but none of the cranes on the market that I found were compact enough for the type of one-man shoots I usually do. This one was small, light and cheap so I decided to give it a go. The results don't look bad, if I do say so myself.
Instead of creating the shoulder-rig handles with pipe foam, I opted to extend the handles using some leftover metal bits from one of the bracket sets, and then wrapped a layer of the foam with tennis grip. It gives it a little extra grip area and looks a bit tidier. The only real drawback is that they're a little flimsy near the tips. That could probably be solved by bolting on a stronger metal for the extender but since I was making use of leftover pieces I can live with it.
I used a Manfrotto tilt mount to give me a little more flexibility with camera angles, instead of having two of them for both crane and shoulder-rig modes, I have a quick eyescrew to remove it and remount it between modes. It doesn't add much time to the conversion and saved me $60. :P
Chad did an outstanding job designing this out of existing parts, I can't believe how smoothly this thing moves when raising and lowering. There are only two issues I've come across so far:
1) the moves themselves are smooth as silk, but starting and stopping the movement is a little jerky, which you can see in a few of the shots. Maybe if I play with screw tensions more I can solve this but I fear it might be a combination of weight of the rig and the components (the monopods in the crane arm are pretty bargain-basement and not as rigid as they could be).
2) There is a tad bit of wobbliness when raising/lowering (again visible in a few shots) but I can minimize it if I'm really careful. I have a feeling this is due to the Manfrotto mount, which is pretty heavy itself and also a few inches high, which mounts the camera just that much higher off the mount-point on the crane so it gets more leverage to wobble it around.
Aside from those issues though, (the second of which is my fault and can be slightly minimized using image stabilization in post) I couldn't be happier with this thing. A hearty thanks to Chad at Krotoflik for putting his brainpower and talent together to not only design great DIY tools like this but to share them so readily with other filmmakers.