Cue the Hydraulic System… Lights, Camera, Action!

A Hydraulics Online Case Study

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In live broadcasting, time is of the essence. In this case study we showcase how Hydraulics Online designed a ground-breaking hydraulic system that automatically keeps the camera crane level from one location to another.

“I have a dream”

Outdoor filming for TV series such as BBC Springwatch Live is no easy feat: live broadcasting means there’s no opportunity for ‘take two’. Add uneven terrain in woods, farmland and rivers and unpredictable British weather into the equation… and at times it can seem like a ‘mission impossible’.

Adrian from Off Road Jib has been ‘swinging jibs’ since 1998 and has lots of experience in large-scale wildlife and nature filming. If you’re not familiar with a ‘jib’, it’s a long metal arm (or rig), which can stretch up to 30 feet, with a camera on one end and a counterweight and camera controls on the other. It operates like a see-saw, but with the balance point located close to the counterweight, so that the camera end of the arm can move through an extended arc.

The fluid motion effect that is achieved from using jibs helps to create a variety of dramatic and smooth sweeping shots across countryside, crowds and stages. The camera can tilt up and down, pan left and right, or do a combination of both – capturing dynamic movements and cinematography.

After many years of having to manually level the heavy arm and then re-position the camera between different sets and locations, Adrian knew there had to be a better way. He had a vision of a camera mount, which would automatically self-level whilst moving the base regardless of terrain. He knew it must be possible, but didn’t pursue it further, simply not knowing who to turn to. In Adrian’s own words: “I didn’t know where to start and thought it would be too complicated and way too expensive to make it a reality.”

A Chance Encounter…

One weekend whilst staying with his family in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, Adrian made a rather fortunate encounter.

Holidaying in the same area was Mark Tonks, Managing Director of Hydraulics Online. The two families’ children had been playing together for most of the day and as they did, so the “grown-ups” struck up their own conversations. Oblivious to Mark’s background, Adrian talked about his work as a TV broadcaster and his need for a hydraulic system to solve his manual rigging dilemma. Mark laughed, before introducing Hydraulics Online – explaining how the company specialised in custom-made hydraulic system design. It was a true serendipitous moment!

The First Prototype

Could Hydraulics Online bring Adrian’s idea to life? Absolutely!

Discussions continued to the technical specifications; Mark gave an idea of cost – which was happily within budget – and arrangements were made for Mark to see the camera jib in action the very next day so that a prototype system could be designed.

When back at the office, Mark turned his focus to a similar self-levelling hydraulic system used within the leisure industry as a starting point for Adrian’s design, and began work on a software programming solution.

A few weeks after placing his confirmed order, Adrian’s prototype system was built and ready to be put through its paces filming on BBC Springwatch.

“Springwatch is coming to an end tonight. It’s been another excellent series and as usual so much fun to work on. The prototype gator hydraulic mount has worked a treat – keeping the jib level as we repositioned across some pretty uneven ground, then allowing us to raise and lower the jib depending on the shot. It’s back to the engineers for some minor tweaks then back in action in a few weeks.”

Adrian CroomeCreator and Operator, Off-Road Jib

Solving problems and bringing ideas to life is what we do best here at Hydraulics Online. Only a few minor adjustments were needed to the mercury switches to stop a minor tremble and then the new ground-breaking, self-levelling hydraulic mount system was signed off, sealed and delivered!

Let’s take a closer look…

The new hydraulically operated mount is a totally unique design for this type of application, which allows for an auto in-motion self-levelling and height adjusting manoeuvre – all remotely controlled via a panel. The strictest of safety measures have also been taken into consideration with weight distributed over five cylinders.


Once again we’re heading to Springwatch and this year we will have our new hydraulic self levelling mount. This will keep the jib level as we move around the uneven site making repos faster and safer. Pretty extreme angles, but no problem, constantly adjusting as we move into position.

Off Road Jib hydraulic system design drawing

The jib in full swing

Mark says:


It’s great to have found a completely unique design solution for this type of application. It ticks all the boxes with regards to functionality and we’ve applied the highest of safety measures too. When you put a camera weighting approximately 15 kg at the end of a 30-metre rig, the counterbalance weight-pressure at the mount and balancing point is more like 150kg, so it needs to be robust! As such, we designed a solution where the weight could be evenly distributed across five symmetrically positioned hydraulic cylinders rather than just one. This provides optimal safety for the staff operating the jib and longevity of the kit.

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