Light with Might: Libec JB-30 Jib Arm Offers Robust Performance but Won't Weigh You Down
Libec is a fairly new comer to the world of camera support manufacturers. Although its parent company, Tokyo-based Heiwa Seiki Kogyo Co. Ltd., has been around since 1955, Libec Sales of America was established in just 2007. Both the parent company and the smaller, younger Libec are best known for tripods and tripod accessories, but they are branching out with more elaborate camera support offerings. I had the opportunity to work with Libec's new JB-30 jib arm in the Heavy-Duty Kit configuration, which includes the JB-30 jib arm, T-102 tripod and DL-8 dolly.
The first sales point I had the chance to challenge is the claim that the JB-30's build time is quick and intuitive. Although I've worked with a number of jibs and cranes in my cinematographic career, my background is as an electrician and gaffer, not as a grip, so I'm not the most well versed gripologist out there. Even with that caveat, the very first time I pulled the JB-30 out of the boxes, I found Libec's claim to be true.
Without reading any instructions, without having seen the product prior to that moment, it took me a mere ten minutes to build the jib the first time. And setup time decreased drastically the more I worked with it. I could easily see someone who owns this jib being able to set it up in five minutes or so.
The arm itself comes in a semi-soft carrying case. It's easily transported by one person in a typical vehicle. Out of the case, it sets up quickly and simply. There is a second case for the optional weight kit (standard barbell weights), which is like a small briefcase-sized nylon carrying case. The arm needs to be set up on a platform base, be that a dolly or a set of tripod legs. In this case, I worked with the Libec T-102 heavy-duty tripod, which is wonderfully light, yet quite robust. The tripod doesn't have a built-in spreader, so I used Libec's DL-8 spreader and wheels to keep the legs firmly in place under the weight of the arm.
Weight adjustment on the arm is incredibly easy and very flexible. I was able to use the JB-30 with a Panasonic AG-HPX500 (just under 9 lb.) and the Canon EOS 7D (about 2 lb.) with the same 30 lb. weight kit (two 10 lb. weights and two 5 lb. weights). The rear arm, where the weight attaches, has a telescoping adjustment to change the distance of the counterbalance weight from the fulcrum of the jib. This not only makes balancing the jib incredibly fast and easy, it also allows flexibility in the overall size of the jib. If necessary, you can shorten the length of the counterbalance arm, add more weight, and use the jib in a smaller space. I worked with the JB-30 in a residential location in Los Angeles in a narrow hallway and a living room, both with relative ease.
The 53" reach from the fulcrum to the jib's head doesn't change, but you can shorten the overall footprint of the jib by adjusting the rear telescoping arm. I wish the telescoping arm had some calibration marks on it—then I could quickly reset it to specific lengths for specific setups, which would make the process even quicker and easier. Also, it would be easier to note what kinds of adjustments I needed if I were working with or without common accessories.
Once balanced, which took about two minutes the first time I worked with the JB-30, the jib's action is smooth and fluid. There is no remote adjustment to the head, which features a 100mm bowl mount. There are no stops or breaks for pan or tilt, which I found somewhat disappointing. Also, as a safety feature, it would be nice to be able to lock the pan and tilt.
There are pan and tilt drag adjustments, but they're fairly coarse—really just tension screws that put a bit more friction on the movement. For the pan, there are two friction adjustments, but the variability is realistically more like "drag on" and "drag off." The tilt friction adjustment, oddly enough, is at the head of the jib, which perplexed me. Most of the adjustments are at the fulcrum/back of the jib, yet this one friction knob is at its head.
The arm of the jib is a fixed 53" from fulcrum to center point of the head mount. Its lowest point, assuming you're on the spreader wheels, is 14" to the head's baseplate. Adding a head can quickly get you up to a low point of 20-22", but the JB-30 has an easy underslung option. The mounting bowl can be removed with four threaded bolts and flipped upside down. An included underslung mounting clamp (UM-3) attaches to the upside down tripod head and clamps to the camera's carrying handle.
With the underslung option, you can get your lens as low to the ground as your camera's body will allow. This configuration is a little bit problematic as there are no stops or brakes on the arm's tilt function, so when I used the underslung option with the Panasonic HPX500, the camera would hit the ground before the arm came to a rest at its lowest point. What this means is that if I walked away from the jib and someone bumped it, for example, or something fell off or the weight was improper, the camera would very likely hit the ground.
At the fulcrum of the jib are two mounting points for accessories such as a Libec AS-7 Israeli-type articulated accessory arm for a small monitor.
I also tried out the Libec HM-1 accessory, which is a cap that goes over the rear telescoping arm where the weights are mounted and provides two toothed accessory connections for monitors or pan arms. It's a great position for a pan handle with a zoom/focus controller. Having the pan handle off of the back of the jib allowed for very precise and smooth operation.
As it was the holiday season, I tried out the JB-30 on my Christmas tree. I used a Canon EOS 7D for macro shots of the ornaments. The JB-30's action was smooth and easy, allowing me to do extremely detailed work with ease. The pan handle off the back of the jib with the HM-1 accessory allowed me even more precise control—especially when I was trying moves with a depth of field of less than an inch! I was impressed with the smoothness and precision possible with the JB-30 and how delicate I could make my moves under these extreme conditions.
The JB-30 is robust but lightweight. I feel confident in the construction of the jib—it feels like it can handle a lot of the rigors of real production. It breaks down into one small case for the arm, one case for the weights, and your tripod and spreaders. It is incredibly easy to transport.
The weight mounting bar is a threaded piece of steel that feels very strong, but I question the nylon threads at the back of the jib arm, where you thread the weight mounting bar into the rear telescoping arm of the jib. It feels like these threads could be marred or crack with a little rough handling. Indeed, the back nylon cap on the arm (which is part of the threaded piece) was cracked when I unpacked the jib. Although easily replaced, this seemed to be the weakest spot on the jib.
All in all, I was impressed with the portability, usability and precision of the JB-30. For a portable, one-man jib, it is incredibly smooth and fast. The Heavy-Duty Kit, which includes the JB-30 arm, T-102 tripod and DL-8 spreader dolly, retails for $3,700. That's a little on the high side for this jib arm's reach and capacity, but the professional performance of the JB-30 is worth the price.
Libec JB-30 Jib Arm
PROS: Lightweight, portable, fast and easy setup. Robust, with professional, precise performance.
CONS: No pan/tilt locks, limited pan/tilt friction adjustments.
BOTTOM LINE: A phenomenal portable jib that can be easily transported in nearly any vehicle by one person. Offers truly professional performance with a wide variety of camera possibilities.
MSRP: JB-30 jib arm $2,062.50, JB-30 Heavy-Duty Kit $3,322.50