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Thursday, December 3, 2020

REVIEW - iFootage M1-III (3) Mini Crane

The iFootage M1-III (3) mini crane ready to use,
with a Vinten Blue 3 tripod & Radian Pro wireless video set.
First Impressions
iFootage, the creator of the very popular Shark slider, recently added a new product to their impressive lineup: the M1-III (3) mini crane. When you see the bag that holds the mini crane, it is hard to believe that the crane can actually fit inside it. It's similar to the size and weight of a Vinten Vision Blue tripod when stored in its bag, but it is housing a complete camera jib system that can hold 15 kg (33 lbs) of weight and has a maximum boom range of 210 cm (83 inch). Incredible if you think about it! When I opened the padded bag I noticed the great amount of accessories you get included by the mini crane, all neatly tugged away in custom pouches. The mini crane comes with everything you could ever wish for and you can start booming your camera in no time. While taking out the crane I was surprised by how light it felt. It's rather difficult to imagine that it can hold so much weight while staying so light. That's probably because of having a square tube design as main support beam instead of a round one. I've been working with a camera jib in the past that is known for its portability, while still weighing about 13 kg (29 lbs)! It also has less boom range then this iFootage M1-III mini crane, and it was quite a pain to set up. This is the first time that a compact and lightweight mini crane (or pocket jib), originally designed for smaller cameras, manages to come this close to the specifications and performance of a camera jib costing 5 times as much, while weighing only 3,8 kg (8.3 lbs). The iFootage M1-III  mini crane beats the older jib I've worked with in the past in almost every way and it's a lot more fun to work with as well! I don't want to spoil the conclusion of this review, but I do have a new favorite camera jib...

iFootage M1-III (3) mini crane unboxed, showing all of its included accessories
The iFootage M1-III neatly stored in its nicely padded bag
Setting it up
Setting up the mini crane is an absolute breeze. You can mount it on your existing flat tripod (but please make sure to check the maximum weight capacity of your tripod) or on any 75mm bowl tripod, by using the included fixing screw and locking knob. No need to buy this separately, they already included it in the package. Love it! For the record, I placed the mini crane on a Vinten Pozi-Loc 75mm bowl tripod. iFootage also has compact and lightweight tripods available which can offer a high load capacity, namely the T1, T5 and T7. They are perfect to use in combination with the M1-III. A spirit level on the pan head base of the mini crane will help you to correctly mount it on your tripod of choice. At this stage you can choose either to keep the mini crane 'mini', or extend it to its maximum size of over 2 meters (85 inch) long. You can simply do this by loosening the two locking buckles and extending the crane. These locking buckles, or clamps as I like to call it, are simple to use and feel extremely sturdy and certainly won't get loose by accident. Thus ensuring to keep your equipment safe.

Extending the crane is fast and easy with these locking buckles
Spirit level on the pan head base
Mounting the Camera
Now it's time to mount the camera. The M1-III mini crane has a lot of different mounting options available and iFootage included all the necessary accessories to let you decide what works best for you. You can mount your camera, flat head or 75mm bowl fluid head directly onto the M1 Quick Release Plate. You can also use the M1 Low Profile Quick Release Adapter for low-angle shooting. And when combining the standard M1 Quick Release Plate with a tripod head mounted upside down, you can even undersling the camera for new shooting capabilities since you can simply flip the footage back in post. In the bag you will also find a Motion X2 Quick Release Plate for mounting the iFootage Motion X2 system (not included) directly on the crane, providing you with a complete motorized system for shooting interesting angles with ease. I have a Vinten Vision Blue 3 fluid head that I enjoy working with, but when I want to travel light I can also use a small 701HDV Manfrotto tripod head on the M1-III. You can mount any flat tripod head on the crane, but you can also get the Manfrotto 520BALLSH and convert the head to a 75mm bowl head for easy mounting and better placement on the M1 Quick Release Plate. You can go even lighter if you don't use a tripod head at all and simply mount the camera directly onto the crane. There's a spirit level on the front of the crane and there's one on the quick release plate and if your tripod head also has a built-in bubble level, you would have a total of 4 spirit levels (including the one on the base of the crane), so you are really the only person to blame if your shot is off-angle. Disappointing, I know!

Vinten Vision Blue 3 head mounted on the crane with a cherry (Sony A7s) on top 

Let's add some fun.. erhm weights!
Now comes the fun part. Well at least for me that is. Adding counterweights to the back of the mini crane to make your camera ready to fly. And it will feel like you're defying gravity after balancing is complete, since the camera will float around as light as a feather. Even with a heavier setup. But to get to this point we need to balance the crane first. After loosening the locking knob at the back you can pull out the rear section and add the counterweights in the form of gym weights. If you want to travel light, you could also use a special waterbag from iFootage that you can fill with the right amount of water on location, or you could hang some weights in a bag on a hook at the back of the crane. There are two weighted buckles included with the crane to help you hold the counterweights securely into place. There are marks to help you remember your settings, for quick and easy setup next time. Once you have attached the right amount of counterweights, you can add a bit of drag or dampening to the boom to have a crane that stops when you stop and helps to create a perfect ending of your shot. Now that the camera is floating on air, or at least that's how it feels, you can start using the mini crane. Setting up the crane can easily be done within 5 minutes once you get acquainted with the process.

Counterweights securely locked into place with the weighted clamps

Filming with the iFootage M1-III
Once you've set up the crane it's such a joy to work with! Especially when combined with my beloved Sony A7s with FE 24-240mm lens and Radian Pro wireless HDMI set from Camera Motion Research. The movements are silky smooth in both panning and booming direction. Thanks to the built-in high quality pan bearing, there's no need to mount this crane on a fluid head. The shots you can create with a camera jib go far beyond the limits of using a slider or tripod/dolly to move the camera around. Within the 1,2 meter (47 inch) maximum radius, you have complete freedom over where you want the camera to be. For example, you could start with a sliding shot that shows an interesting object in the foreground and then start booming the camera up to reveal the background. The possibilities are endless. With some practice you can create incredible shots, especially when using a fluid head on top of the mini crane. But even without a tripod head mounted, you can still create some fantastic moves thanks to the 'focus shooting' mode. There are 9 different levels you can choose from on the crane's pan head base, which allows you to adjust the pitch angle. Zero keeps the lens horizontal at all times, but level 1 to 8 will tilt the camera up and down in the opposite direction of the crane's booming direction. So if you boom up, the camera will start looking down and vice versa. That way your subject will always remain at the center of the frame. A very neat trick that will create stunning shots which are very hard to pull of otherwise.

'Focus Shooting' mode better explained with this drawing

Shots created with the iFootage M1-III mini crane will look very dynamic and professional and will certainly leave your viewers in awe. Since the crane is extremely portable and easy to set up without the need of using any tools, you can use the mini crane anywhere you'd like. During a shoot it enables you to get many different angles from the same location without ever having to change or move your tripod around. And as an added bonus you can create a nice subtle movement if needed. This is also how a jib is often utilised in TV broadcasting. When shooting an interview on location with multiple cameras for example, the jib operator can cover lots of different angles without the need to stop and change camera positions during taping. But for camera jibs and cranes the same rules apply as for dolly and slider shots (and all other types of camera movement): it's best to sparingly use these shots throughout your production to get the maximum effect.

A video demonstrating the M1-III is in the making and will be added at a later time.

The design of the M1-III is a big step forward from it's predecessor, the M1-II mini crane. The square design of the main beam allows the M1-III  to fly more weight and reduces the unwanted camera shake that can result when using a round tube. The construction consists of a 20-layer high impact carbon fiber material and aluminum, which makes the mini crane very durable and strong while keeping it light and portable. Thanks to the tool-less setup you have the crane up and booming in no time. You can choose to keep your mini crane compact, or extend it with the easy to use locking buckles for a great booming range. The many different mounting options for your tripod, head, camera, external monitor, lights, etc. create a very comfortable overall shooting experience when using the mini crane.

There are several mounting points for attaching accessories like this MustHD monitor

This is by far the best mini crane / camera jib that you can find on the market today. And not just for the new generation of lightweight DSLR cameras, since the iFootage M1-III can hold a maximum weight of 15 kg / 33 lbs! But the thing that makes it even more exiting to work with, is that iFootage has thought about everything. You can keep the crane compact to work in tight spaces or you can extend it to have a maximum radius of 120 cm (47 inch) and a boom range of over 2 meters (83 inch). This mini crane deserves to be called a true camera jib in every way. It also feels like working with a camera jib costing 5 times as much. And dare I say it, it's a lot smoother too! Setting it up is extremely simple and effortlessly. You can set it up in any configuration that you like, no questions asked. With or without fluid (or flat) head, high or low angle, monitor and other accessories. The fast amount of different mounting options is incredible. A very nice padded bag in black and red colors will keep the M1-III safely stored, with little pouches inside to hold all the accessories neatly into place. The folded length of this jib is a staggering 97 cm (38 inch), which makes it very easy to travel around with. When you're working with gym weights as a counterbalance, I would like to suggest to get the EZFX weight caddy for easy transportation of the weights, since you will need quite a lot of them to even out the weight on front of the crane. Especially when you're also working with a fluid head in-between the crane and your camera. The iFootage M1-III mini crane has surpassed the camera jib I always loved to work with in almost every way. Simply put, it's the camera crane I've been waiting for all these years, ever since a new generation of lightweight cameras took over the filmmaking business. And to be honest, it was worth the wait!

Price of the iFootage M1-III (3) mini crane is $525 dollar and available from in the USA and around €400,- in Europe from your local dealer.

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