I had the pleasure of using the Cobra Crane II on a film I shot a few years ago and I was extremely impressed and thoroughly addicted to using it.
First things first: the Cobra Crane II is a crane that produces extremely smooth and impressive crane shots with cameras up to 25 pounds in weight. If the camera you plan to use is not heavier than 25 pounds and if you do not need a booming range greater than about 10 feet, the Cobra Crane II produces crane shots that are every bit as good as those produced by $15,000 cranes.
(A shot filmed with the Cobra Crane II.)
Setting up the Cobra Crane II
The Cobra Crane II works by being mounted on a heavy-duty tripod. Mounting the Cobra Crane II on the tripod is the only operation that requires two people. The way it works is that you secure the camera to the crane, together with the counterweights at the other end, and then with the help of your assistant you secure it to the tripod. This operation needs two people, but it is extremely straightforward. Needless to say, it is absolutely essential that everything is mounted securely!
Balancing the Cobra Crane II
The Cobra Crane II is mounted on a heavy-duty tripod head, with the camera on the long end of the crane and the counterweights on the short end. The aim is to achieve an exact balance, in such a way that the crane remains motionless when you take your hands off it. The correctly balanced crane will move very smoothly when operated with correct technique (which is very easy to learn with this crane).
Using the Cobra Crane II
Using the Cobra Crane II is a real joy — it’s as simple as that. This is for two reasons: (a) it is very smooth and enjoyable to use, and (b) it produces extremely impressive crane shots that look like they were filmed with a hugely expensive crane. The Cobra Crane II adds a lot of production value to video projects.
The Cobra Crane II allows you to tilt the camera up and down independently of what the crane is doing. This is achieved by means of a cable-and-pulley system that connects the pan bar of the tripod’s head to the swiveling component that holds the camera. This is partly what makes this crane such amazing value for money: there are many affordable cameras on the market, but the Cobra Crane II is the only one that allows you to tilt the camera independently of the crane itself. This feature is absolutely essential for serious videographers and filmmakers.
The way this works is that with one hand you operate the crane, maneuvering it from the end that holds the counterweights, and with the other hand you operate the tripod’s pan handle, which controls the camera itself. If you are right-handed, you need to mount the pan handle on the left side of the tripod’s head so that you can control the tilt function of the camera with your left arm while you maneuver the crane itself with your right arm. The coolest thing about the Cobra Crane II is just how quickly you pick up this simultaneous operation of the crane and of the tilting function of the camera. You will be craning up and down while simultaneously tilting the camera to compose the shot very quickly after you set up the camera for the first time, particularly if you are an experienced cameraman.
Please note that while the Cobra Crane II allows the independent tilting up and down of the camera, it does not allow independent panning. The only way to pan the shot is to pan the crane itself, which means that the camera will not just be panning — it will also be moving. This is never a problem and indeed can give shots an incredibly dynamic and expensive look. It never bothered me on my film shoot and in fact I used it to my advantage.
Composing the shot / viewfinding
With the camera several feet away from you at the other end of the Cobra Crane II, the only way to compose the shot is with an LCD screen connected to the camera. As a result of the need to tilt the camera during crane shots in order to maintain composition, it is quite tricky to use the camera’s on-board LCD viewfinder to compose the shot, because if the camera is pointing down quite steeply, the LCD screen is not visible and you can’t see what you are filming. For this reason the best option is to connect the camera to a decent-sized LCD screen that you can mount to the tripod’s head, where it is visible to you all the time. This is the setup I used with large cameras. When using small camcorders, I have used their on-board LCD screens when a separate LCD screen was not available. This is perfectly possible, but as mentioned above, if there is a lot of tilting, the camera’s LCD screen will be out of your view some of the time and hence your framing will not always be perfect.
Cobra Crane II review: conclusion
In my opinion the Cobra Crane II has been the best affordable camcorder crane for years, and remains the best. I simply cannot say enough good things about it. Its only limitations are the boom range (approximately 10 feet) and the fact that you cannot pan the camera left or right independently of the crane, but for such an affordable product this is really a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. The Cobra Crane II is a videographer’s dream for any indoor shoot, and also for outdoor shoots, provided you don’t need a vertical craning range of more than 10 feet. It is straightforward to set up (with an assistant) and incredibly enjoyable to use, producing some extremely gratifying results. I recommend the CobraCrane IIwholeheartedly to ambitious filmmakers and videographers who need an affordable and high-performing crane.