Every now and then, a product comes along that makes you say “WOW! I never thought about doing that before!” The Aviator Travel jib by Nice Industries is one such product.
This review is based on my experience working in a bicycle touring environment with the Aviator Travel Jib over the period of two months. If you are a traveling filmmaker whether on bike, or other means, this will hopefully give you a good idea of the strengths, weaknesses, and uses for this amazing tool.
The Aviator Travel Jib comes in two different types: Aluminum, and Carbon Fiber, the main difference being price, weight, and holding capability. I won’t focus too much on specs, but there are some key factors that you should know about:
Carbon Fiber: $850
-Weight: ~2.75 Pounds
– Carrying Capacity: 7.5 Pounds
– Length Retracted: 24″
– Extended Length: 6′
– Set Up Time: 3 Minutes (realistically)
– Weight: ~3.75 Pounds
– Carrying Capacity: 6.5 Pounds
– Length Retracted: 24″
– Extended Length: 6′
– Set Up Time: 3 Minutes (realistically)
I have not personally used the aluminum model, however to my understanding the function of the two remains identical, besides the component and price differences. Therefore I feel confident that this review can successfully cover both models.
The primary strength of both models is their weight as compared to other Jibs in their class. For example, their closest competitor from Kessler Cranes comes in at over two pounds heavier. This may not make a difference to you if you’re travelling by car, but by bike it can really start to add up. When I got the jib, I was really impressed that it was lighter than my tripod/pan head combo, especially since in a pinch, the jib can double as an adventurous pan head. I didn’t end up going this route while on tour, preferring to keep my options open, but the thought definitely crossed my mind a couple times when we were biking up the hills leading out of San Diego on our Southwest Tour. But what good is weight efficiency if the jib doesn’t do its job? Fortunately for the Aviator Travel Jib, this isn’t a problem.
Minus a couple of quirks (which I’ll get into later) the Aviator is really pleasant to work with in a travelling environment. It sets up quickly, breaks down quickly, and most importantly gives you those smooth sweeping motions you so desire in a low-budget travel film. I don’t want to mis-represent the learning curve on this tool, it WILL take you several days to get truly smooth shots if you’re not used to using a Jib. It will probably take you the better part of the day to get smooth shots even if you have had prior experience. Here are a few key things I learned while using the Jib that will hopefully speed up your learning process:
- Read The Manual!!!: I cannot emphasize this enough. I practically voided my warranty in the first 5 minutes of using the jib because I was so eager to try it out that I didn’t see the big exclamation marks about NOT moving the jib around once loaded. (it’s meant to be taken down, and then set up for each different shot, not a big deal because this can be done really easily. Simply remove the ballast, and camera, move locations, rebalance and re-attach!)
- Stabilize Your Tripod: I watched a professional user review of the Aviator the other day and was surprised when in one of their shots, the tripod tipped forward onto two legs. They kept the b-roll shot in the review, but if you were trying to actually capture footage, that shot would have been unusable. You don’t have to have the most expensive, fancy tripod in the world to get good shots with this jib, as long as you have a center column that you can attach a weight bag to. (make sure your tripod is rated appropriately for the total weight used, Nice Industries suggests 17lbs minimum) I usually take one of my smaller bike panniers and use that to weight my tripod down – dual purpose!
- For Ultimate Smoothness, Use Solid Weight Plates: The included travel sack weight is great, but it does tend to sway a bit at the beginning and end of jib movements. I leave mine at home while on tour, preferring to use my water bottles for counterweights since they handle almost identically. If you have the ability to use solid weights (the round metal type with the hole in the middle) it will afford you much smoother starting and finishing sequences.
- Always Check Your Bubble Levels: The Aviator Travel Jib does “settle” a bit after it’s been set up for an extended period of time (say, 10-15 minutes) I’ve noticed that after performing multiple moves, that it’s always a good idea to re-check your levels on the base of the unit, and then on the head. Also, as the section locks are twist lock, it takes a bit of practice to know where to hold your bubble level while you are tightening down your final section. I usually overcompensate a bit to the right, so that when I cinch down the last joint, it drifts directly into the center with the final twist. (You shouldn’t tighten the section joints super hard, go for “hand tight” If they’re doing their job you won’t need any extraordinary pressure to keep your jib solid)
Durability, and Compromises:
This is one area where I go back and forth. On one hand, the carbon fiber used is extremely high-quality. On the other hand some of the components used to connect the jib together as a whole feel a bit sub-par. The screws used to hold the jib together are one example. I could tell immediately that they were poorly casted, due to the rough edges, and non-uniform tool shape (the type where you have variations in the size of the actual phillips socket, making it hard to use just one screwdriver to tighten reliably). Luckily, I haven’t had to tighten any of the screws yet, but I can tell that if I do, I’ll need to pay very close attention to what I’m doing or risk stripping out the screws. In my opinion, it would have been great to see them use a full allen wrench system, as most of my other film equipment already uses them. I feel that for this type of joint you have a much better chance of not stripping out with an allen wrench. The jib does use allen wrench sockets for many of it’s components, just not all of them. (Update! Nice Industries has confirmed that they are looking into this change for future updates!)
Joint Locks: The jib I received received had the first generation of leg locks, hence my photos and durability concern. Nice industries has informed me that they switched to Evo 2 3LT leg locks soon after I got my unit, eliminating my concerns. Lock On!
While the padded carrying case is awesome, it would be swell if it were a bit better made. After only two months of use the bottom end has begun to fray, and I can see myself needing to stitch it soon unless I want my jib to start peeking out of the hole. Granted, this jib was strapped to the back of my bike for over a month, but I always kept it well secured, and with padding between the case, and the rack, so this is something I’d definitely keep an eye out for as you travel the world.
Finally, the pan base is a little tricky to get used to. At least on mine, it’s a pretty tough to make good movements until the pan base has been used, and loosened up a little. Do a couple practice moves (you should be doing this anyway) before going for your first take to make sure the base has a time to loosen up. This problem is MUCH more pronounced in cold weather, and I had a heck of a time getting it to work smoothly without significant warmup while up in Alaska earlier this winter. I also found that if you want it to stay attached to your tripod base, you really do need to crank it down hard. I’ve had numerous times when I was doing a Right -> Left movement, and the jib started unscrewing itself from the tripod base. (this is related to the resistance of the pan head/fluid, were it a little more forgiving, I doubt this would happen as often or as easily) The solution I found was to significantly tighten the pan-lock located on top of the fluid pan base, and then give it a good swing when attaching it to the tripod, seating the fluid pan base securely. The only issue with this, is that the pan-lock does leave circular scarring on the pan-base. I’ll need to do more long term study to see how this affects the jib, but as the base is aluminum, it shouldn’t rust out anytime soon.
My over-arching comment on durability is this. China is great and all, but I have seen very few examples where goods made sight unseen overseas equal their rivals made under more rigorous conditions either in the U.S. or in other countries with stricter tolerances such as Italy, Germany, and Japan. While there are examples of high-tolerance products coming out of China, I can’t really say that the Aviator Travel Jib is one of them. (I wish I could). The fact remains that the company contracted in China to supply the carbon fiber for the initial run used the wrong carbon fiber, denied it, and then when faced with the facts refused to comp Nice Industries for the mistake. This shows that while it may appear cheaper to do things in China, it is rarely a cut and dry case. I for one would happily pay a 30%-40% premium to have the same jib made on U.S. (or other reliable) soil, to the same quality standards as those found at Gitzo, Manfrotto, or the like. (Update: Nice Industries has confirmed that they have been working with over 50 U.S. manufacturers in the past 3 months in efforts to bring production to the U.S. – They haven’t found any that will do it affordably yet, but are actively working on finding the right fit for a U.S. manufacturer; there is hope!)
Now for the fun stuff. Did I mention this jib was light? HOLY COW! This fact alone almost forgives all of the other concerns I have. Especially for the carbon fiber model, it’s great to not worry about my digits freezing to the jib while filming up in Alaska. The Aviator Travel Jib also fits my bill for being easily carried and secured to my bicycle – something that would take a lot of extra rigging or planning if the jib were any longer or heavier. While it’s been advertised as being able to be set up in under 1 minute, I’ve found that realistically this is more in the 2-3 minute range for me. This is definitely a strength, because a lot of production jibs take the better part of a day to properly set up and take down. Speedy? Check point! I really like the Aviators unobtrusiveness. This might sound insignificant, but when I’m stopped outside a food-mart in who-knows-where-istan it’s awesome to know I can leave the jib on the back rack and grab some food without worrying too much about it running off without me. Of course someone could always just cut my lock grab the whole kit-n-kaboodle, but that’s another story.
The last point I really wanted to stress is the quality of service you get when you buy into Nice Industries. Zeke is an awesome guy, and very fast and informative when getting back to your questions. I have probably sent him 4-5 correspondences regarding the jib, and each and every time he was right on the ball, answering my questions and offering useful insight into my concerns. If there’s one thing Zeke, and Nice industries is good at, it’s being honest about their process and making it RIGHT when things go wrong.
But don’t take my word for it! Check out a video I recently completed (with the help of my former partner) while on tour using the Aviator Travel Jib:
With that said, I think there are a couple of things that would be good to keep in mind for the next revision… (Update: After I sent my review to Nice Industries, they got back to me on most of the issues I had, I’ve left the original thoughts below, as well as the updates by Nice Industries.
- Glue the rubber grips on joint locks in place, or find better fitting rubber so that they do not slip off of joint locks so easily. (Update: Fixed by Nice Industries)
- Use higher-quality allen-wrench screws to avoid stripping by users tightening jib. (Update: On the drawing board with Nice Industries)
- Include the user manual in main body of the soft-carrying case so that people can find it easily. (Update: Already fixed by Nice Industries for current jibs)
- Stronger sewing on the soft-case. Also, if the case was ~1″ longer, it would allow the user to leave their counter-weight bolt, and clip attached to the jib, further reducing setup time.
- Instead of a circular style grip for the 1/4″ camera screw, a wingnut, or tri-point design would be much easier to tighten securely with the space provided in the housing. On my Canon 7D, and Panasonic GH3 I’ve never quite been able to get the tightness I’ve desired. (Update: In development by Nice Industries)
- It indicates that a user manual was available via Aviator Camera Gear’s website, however I was unable to locate it. Perhaps it could be more visibly placed? (In development, may be a while according to Nice Industries)
- Take steps to move production to more tolerance-focused countries such as the US, Italy, or Germany. (Update: Steps are being taken by Nice Industries! Excellent!)
Effective design is about compromise. No piece of equipment will be ever be perfect, and anyone out there who thinks that they can design one tool to fit the masses is looking for a tough reality check. (or a forum full of user complaints) Can one piece of equipment be pretty darn good in the right settings? Absolutely! The Aviator Travel Jib falls nicely into this category for filmmakers looking to trim down weight, pack small, and remain mobile. It’s also proven it’s mojo in several different production environments, and is making the rounds in the hands of hundreds of accomplished videographers across the world.
While my review style may seem to focus on a lot of the negatives, I want to be clear. This is a wonderful piece of kit. I only point out what I notice in hopes that future products will be even better, and to make potential users aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of any given tool. I’ll never review something I don’t use myself, and this jib has a very welcome home in my small arsenal of filmmaking equipment.
The small size, weight, and set-up time of the Aviator make it stand out as a winner in the sub $1000 class, whether you’re purchasing the aluminum version or not. Is there room for improvement? Of course, nothings perfect (if it was, us reviewers would be out of business). But for a first run, and of all things a kick-starter funded company, the Aviator Travel Jib by Nice Industries is going to be hard to beat.
If you found this review helpful, informative, or thought provoking and decide that you want one of these great jibs for yourself, consider using one of the links below to make your purchase. You don’t pay an extra dime, and I receive a small amount of the proceeds which allows me to continue bringing you great content.