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Which level to choose..??

BaroneBarone Member
edited November 2012 in general photography
Hi guys, there's something i'd always wanted to know but never dared to ask:
let's say i'm shooting with my Canon 5d Mark III mounted on a top quality tripod that has a bubble-level integrated on its plate and a same-quality head which also displays its own bubble-level, and just to make sure i'm not missing anything i put one more bubble-level on the flash hot shoe. And now, just to exaggerate, i turn on the built-in electronic level of the Mark III.

Well, i must choose one of the toys to start leveling so i go with the bubble-level on the head... and.... all the other levels seem to be on a different ground from each other; then i level with the one mounted on the hot shoe... and here we go again: each of them has a different opinion about horizontal and vertical lines...

So... the questions are:
1 - Why does it happen..?
2 - Which of the levels is the one to rely on, if any..?

Many thanks to all of you..


  • First of all, Id rely on my eyes, then the built in level in camera.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited November 2012
    I use the inbuilt 'bubble' in my head. Sounds like a long drawn out process to me having to try to equate to all the leveling you are trying to achieve. [Unless you are shooting a night scene and need tripod for long exposure of course]

    The simplest way for me is in camera and as long as it's close to center and not right on the edges, especially using a wide angle; is to look for vertical lines, like posts, edges of buildings, tree trunks, etc. which should would be more or less vertical.

    Sometimes, getting a horizon dead perfectly straight in an image, with people in the foreground and other elements may *not* appear to be right to the eye., optically.

    There is such a thing as 'optically level' whereby all the elements of an image falls into correct perspective to a viewer even though if you were to draw a dead straight line along the horizon it may be off very slightly. So optically I do it in viewfinder.

    Of course this would be negated if a perfect horizon as in a seascape where sky meets water with no mountains, trees, curving rivers, etc. would help disguise.

    A 'trick' I use in post: I never crop/straighten an image in RAW.

    Once I adjust the things I need to do in RAW, all images are opened in Photoshop anyhow for editing and this is where I now crop/straighten if needed.

    Have the image open; duplicate background before anything else; using free transform tool expand proportionally the image to your desired 'crop' and or straighten by rotating also.

    To get a perfectly level horizon in a seascape, or anything else for that matter, while the layer is in transform mode, click/hold on the image and if you have something horizontal to work off like a horizon, move that layer all the way to top until just the horizon is near the top edge of your background image, then rotate until you see it looks level, then move back into position and commit the transform.

    If you have a vertical line to work off, slide the layer to left or right of closest edge, rotate until straight, move back to composition you want and commit transform.

    This is a first test shot of image I did, and optically correct for level, but in the background there is an edge of sea meeting mountain not 'perfectly' level, however if I did do that pedantically the rest of the image would have been off.

    See the edges/lines I used in my viewfinder, in this image the example I ended up doing was to crop part of the carpark out from right edge. [Identities protected with blur, couple not given permission yet to use]

  • Trev, thans for your reply..!
    I see i forgot to mention why it is sometimes so important to me having the camera perfectly leveled, that is when, quite often, i shoot interiors. And even more important when i find myself in the narrow rooms of a sailing boat. Please consider that i always use a TS-E 24mm, and shoot 2 photos for the same frame:one with the lens shifted all the way left and the other all the way right; i edit then the 2 photos in PS6 (Photomerge) to get a nice and wide panorama without distortions..
    Also, when i shoot a 360° interactive panorama the perfect leveling of the camera is necessary for a good blending.
    Then you can see that it's not a matter of straighten the horizon, but it's about having all the vertical and horizontal lines looking straight..
    I tried somethimes to warp such photos, but i find that the result is quite weird/poor, not natural anyway...
    Ok, that's all for now.. i will appreciate any further suggestions.. and can anyone explain WHY 2/3/4 levels on the same system (tripod-head-camera) does not match...??
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    oh, that's a different kettle of fish then; I appreciate why so critical.

    Sorry cannot answer to why levels all are different, never used any.
  • I would think that as long as you utilize the same level for your photos, they would all match in terms of being level (horizontal) and plumb (vertical). If my work depended upon this being precise, I would get one calibrated to be sure of its reliability. You could mount your camera on a tripod and align the grid display to a laser level to check for level and plumb but I don't know if there is a way to change the calibration on your camera. You could also use it in the field and turn it off once the camera is aligned.
  • Sovaphotos might have hit on something there. If you pick one level and stick to it, maybe that would at least give you consistent results. I would pick the bubble on the plate, since there could be a couple degrees of play between the plate and the tripod head.
  • That's a great location Trev but I think their faces are a little underexposed!

    To add my 2c to the OP - I believe the reson you might get inconsistent levels may be due to the mount surface. Case in point: If you level the camera using the bubble on the Tripod and the mounting thread is only slightly off square (i.e. not quite vertical) or you have debris on the mount pad then the camera will still be slightly off level - this would throw the level out placed on the hot shoe.

    I agree with Mgarber - pick one and be consistent.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited November 2012
    JonLloyd said: That's a great location Trev but I think their faces are a little underexposed!
    :) Ya think! Pretty funny John, I like it. It's a place called Shute Harbour, in the famous Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays Group here on east coast Australia, around 2 hours drive from me. Have a Google.

  • I wish to thank you all guys, each of your comment is useful to me..
    sovaphotos, what do you mean when you mention the "calibration of your camera"..?
  • I was referring to the possibility of correcting the camera's built in level for accuracy similar to Lens Micro adjustment feature. Checking the manual shows there is no option to do so. It also stated an error factor of +/- 1 degree, even more if the camera is tilted, which is not precise enough for your needs.
  • I suggest getting a Hasselblad H5D-60 and a fast wide lens. That way, you need only be facing the same hemisphere as your subject. Level, highlights, shadows, lens cap... it can all be fixed in post.
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