Here is a look at the camera crane in digital video filmmaking, as well as the jib arms that make it practical for low budget digital video professionals.
More Than Standard Video Equipment
For most people who are working with digital video equipment, high scale camera accessories are out of the question. A high quality tripod and possibly a light monopod and dolly is all you can expect on a smaller scale, and if you are really innovative you may be able to bring in small car mounts and steady cam kits. If you want more high-end shots that including sweeping camera moves that look down from above you will have to go with a camera crane, which is one of the more expensive and attractive types of camera angles you can achieve.
Using the Camera Crane
In general phrasing, a camera crane is simply a large scale industrial crane used for high crane camera angles. This requires mounting the camera onto a crane and utilizing it from its extended arm, often over a hundred feet in the air. To manage this, you are going to need a large team of people, ranging from the director of photography through the 1st assistant camera person, 2nd assistant camera person, and several people to operate the crane's functionality. This is difficult because their must people mounted with the camera up in the crane, or allowing the camera to remained fixed and then controlled at the bottom. This will all depend both on the size and complexity of the crane that is being used as well as the type of camera crane angle that the director of photography is looking for.
Use and Misuse
The cost of the camera crane is prohibitive to smaller productions, and even larger ones will limit the number that they can allow. In general, a camera crane angle is not one that fits into a standard coverage pattern and is hard to link up for dialogue and normal scene elements. Instead, these are often beauty shots that are for intense emotional moments. Since these shots are often independent of the core elements of the scenes the emotion will just come from the aesthetics, often making them feel somewhat decadent and manipulative to the audience.
Camera Jib Crane
Camera crane angles have been used much more often in smaller independent films in recent years, mainly because using a camera jib crane is much cheaper and easier. A camera jib crane, or just a jib arm, is a smaller scale incarnation of the camera crane. This can often just be mounted directly on an appropriate tripod, or mounted on other areas depending on the size. In general, these are affordable for small to moderate production houses to own and can really be transported and operated with minimal attention. On a smaller scale, these camera jib cranes use a counter weight system to allow you to move the jib arm smoothly, but on larger camera jib cranes you will have much of the same distance between the camera and the ground that you had in the standard camera crane angle. Since jib arms are so much smaller you can use them inside scenes much easier, allowing you to have more minimal camera movements that follow the same basic principles of the camera crane angles.
Author's own experience.