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Author Topic: Architecture Photographers: What do you use to perfectly level the camera?  (Read 4997 times)
hub
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« on: June 27, 2010, 06:11:30 PM »
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This question has puzzled me for some time now. Architecture photographers, what do you use to make sure the camera is perfectly level, horizontally and vertically?

Although this is not strictly a medium format question, since this forums is the place many architecture photographers gather, I thought this would be a good place to ask this question. For my architecture projects, I currently use Nikon D3x with Nikon T/S lenses. To level the camera, I have tried using the spirit level on the tripod head (Manfrotto 410), 2 way hotshoe levels, and now a large tradesman level. The D3x also has a built-in digital level.

But which one do I trust??? I have the most trouble with the vertical axis. For the horizontal axis, the measurements have been more consistent among all the different levels. Most of the time I just place the tradesman level on the camera hotshoe, and adjust from there.

But when the D3x is turned to portrait orientation, there is not a flat surface on top to place the tradesman level. I can't trust the hotshoe bubble level because they don't fit the camera snugly. They are easily off. I have many of these little hotshoe bubble levels. They just don't seem to be made to very high tolerance. The built-in digital level doesn't show tilt…

I would love to hear how you guys critically level the camera, especially for the vertical axis when the camera is turned sideways. If I have this done perfectly while shooting, there is one less step in post, which is always a good thing!

Many thanks! If anyone is interested, here is a link to my architecture portfolio: http://www.hubertphoto.com/#/Architecture/...ure%20Gallery/1

Hubert
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feppe
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« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2010, 06:27:19 PM »
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Haven't ever had the need for this, but KISS solution which should work is use a shot (or a ring or a nut) on a string and use that to align the face of the lens to vertical. Put the level snugly on the face of the lens if you need a longer reference line.
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JonathanBenoit
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« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2010, 06:33:57 PM »
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Quote from: hub
This question has puzzled me for some time now. Architecture photographers, what do you use to make sure the camera is perfectly level, horizontally and vertically?

Although this is not strictly a medium format question, since this forums is the place many architecture photographers gather, I thought this would be a good place to ask this question. For my architecture projects, I currently use Nikon D3x with Nikon T/S lenses. To level the camera, I have tried using the spirit level on the tripod head (Manfrotto 410), 2 way hotshoe levels, and now a large tradesman level. The D3x also has a built-in digital level.

But which one do I trust??? I have the most trouble with the vertical axis. For the horizontal axis, the measurements have been more consistent among all the different levels. Most of the time I just place the tradesman level on the camera hotshoe, and adjust from there.

But when the D3x is turned to portrait orientation, there is not a flat surface on top to place the tradesman level. I can't trust the hotshoe bubble level because they don't fit the camera snugly. They are easily off. I have many of these little hotshoe bubble levels. They just don't seem to be made to very high tolerance. The built-in digital level doesn't show tilt…

I would love to hear how you guys critically level the camera, especially for the vertical axis when the camera is turned sideways. If I have this done perfectly while shooting, there is one less step in post, which is always a good thing!

Many thanks! If anyone is interested, here is a link to my architecture portfolio: http://www.hubertphoto.com/#/Architecture/...ure%20Gallery/1

Hubert

It really just sounds like you don't have a decent bubble level. The one made by Acratech has always fit snug on all hot/cold shoes that I used it on. It shouldn't make too much difference when you are using a geared head anyway. Just take more time to compose it correctly.
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Geoffrey
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« Reply #3 on: June 27, 2010, 07:29:22 PM »
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The ones in hot shoes don't do the trick - unless (as suggested) someone has made a correct, taut, highly machined one, but I've never seen it.

The bubble level in a tripod mount does pretty good - some are better than others.

The real answer is to use grid lines in the finder - and align with verticals. WLF and MF work well for this, to be sure. That's why some of us like MF gear!

The Canon 7D (and probably others) have a built in level, and show this electronically on the rear screen - but you have to move quick before it shuts off.... so it has some application, but isn't perfect.

Overall - its alignment with verticals.
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #4 on: June 27, 2010, 07:41:24 PM »
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First I use a focusing sceren that has a grid on on it and make sure that it is installed properly. Then......I have never found a Canon hot shoe that was level. So I carry a bubble level in the hot shoe for convenience, but I hold it up against the viewing screen (with a couple of layers of tape on the surface that contacts the screen to prevent scratches). It is similar to what I did for almost 30 years with a view camera-level off the ground glass.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2010, 07:42:30 PM by Kirk Gittings » Logged

Thanks,
Kirk

Kirk Gittings
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JoeKitchen
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« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2010, 08:21:06 PM »
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I make sure that my camera is securely fitted to my tripod and use the tripod bubbles to get a rough gage.  Then plum it off the best I can with the head I have (I dream of owning an Arca Cube   ) with a focusing screen that has a grid.  I also am a very patient man and will spend 10/15 mins placing the camera just right.  Last, although I always correct the perspective optically the best I can, I will in post reposition the image in a larger file so the center of the image circle is in the center of the file and use the perspective correction in PS to make it perfect.
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Joe Kitchen
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« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2010, 07:31:48 AM »
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My Linhof has air bubbles on three of the axis (side of body and plates), so long as the bubbles seat within the small ring (marker) it is spot on. While I am studying at Uni we are expected to align as close to 100% as possible. Even with my small builders level ... the bubbles lining up in the marking rings are nearly always spot on each time.

I personally can not work the hot she mounted levels ... they irritate the heck out of me
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Gigi
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« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2010, 07:41:51 AM »
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Hot shoe bubbles sadly are just not accurate. They can wiggle all around in the mounting.

One technique is to level well with bubbles on tripod (or some view cameras have good bubbles), but get a gridded viewscreen, line it up, rotate the camera to check alignment in opposite direction. If no verticals can be found, use the horizon line, and rotate the camera 360 on the tripod, checking its consistent placement. Usually does the trick. 
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Geoff
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« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2010, 08:24:32 AM »
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Even with the built in levels on MF stuff, I am still pretty persnickety and have no faith at all in electronic levels.  For DSLR's I Place a level across the front of the lens for vertical... um except with the 17 TS-E....DOHT!  and then use my grid screen for horizontal... but that only works if you're square to the architecture.  I LOVE the Cube for this... I usually level that first and then pan back and forth to gain squareness to the scene... shooting tethered, I verify everything with guides or grid in C1 Pro.

I would really love to find someone to machine me a perfect 5" long stainless dual axis bubble level.

There's so much that can throw this all off.  With DSLR's there's nothing on the camera body to attain horizontal level with and if there was, how likely is it that the sensor is installed perfectly square to that?

With a MFDB, is the sensor perfectly square to the housing?  Is the mount square to the camera... adapter plate... sliding back... camera body... tripod?

I'm actually amazed this stuff is as accurate as it is sometimes... but yeah, one of the reasons I prefer to work on a leash.

CB
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BartvanderWolf
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« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2010, 12:28:03 PM »
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Even with the built in levels on MF stuff, I am still pretty persnickety and have no faith at all in electronic levels.

If you are referring to in camera digital level, I agree. Their 1 degree tolerance is way too much.

However, for well made digital levels that isn't true. In fact they can be as accurate as many long fluid vial levels and what's more, you can calibrate them to compensate for any electronic drift (try calibrating a fixed level). I found an affordable one via eBay, with a 0.05 degree accuracy (the DWL-80 Pro version), and the tests (rotating 180 degrees) deliver a consistent result in both horizontal as well as vertical mode. Due to it's compact size it fits in the bag easily, although a short base relies on a flat surface.

Having said that, then there is the manufacturing rotation tolerance in mounting the sensor array in the camera/back ...

Cheers,
Bart
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schaubild
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« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2010, 12:30:50 PM »
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This bubble level is really precise (and adjustable):

http://www.alpa.ch/en/products/miscellaneous-accessories/alpa-separate-and-interchangeable-spirit-level.html

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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2010, 12:49:29 PM »
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I use a simple high quality bubble level for the hot shoe for a DSLR (the cheap hot shoe bubble levels are usually not level themselves. I don't use it in the hot shoe however, because I've yet to find a Canon hot shoe that is level. I carry it in the hot shoe but hold it against the view screen with some tape on the contact side to prevent scratches. That is for front to back leveling. Having done this for almost 3 years I can attest that Canon view screens on 5D/5DII are parallel to the sensor. For horizontal leveling I use an aftermarket grid screen in the finder. This method works so well and I have no desire to seek an alternative-KISS.

One advantage to this method is on twilight shots. The glow from the view screen illuminates the level as you hold it against the screen.
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Thanks,
Kirk

Kirk Gittings
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WWW.GITTINGSPHOTO.COM

LIGHT+SPACE+STRUCTURE (blog)
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« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2010, 01:04:59 PM »
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I would really love to find someone to machine me a perfect 5" long stainless dual axis bubble level.
*********
Only one axis so you would need two but the Starret levels are precision instruments.

Starrett 98-6 6-Inch Precision Machinists Level...http://www.amazon.com/Starrett-98-6-6-Inch-Precision-Machinists/dp/B0002CSBNY/ref=pd_sbs_indust_2
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Gigi
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« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2010, 04:53:43 PM »
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Looks good - but what does it attach to?
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Geoff
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« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2010, 05:42:06 PM »
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actually, that would really only work for me if it had a vial perpendicular to the base, as I often place the level across the lens flange or MFDB mounting point on the sliding back....

Yada yada ya.

Man.  That was a stiff Margarita... time to go retouch!
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Barkeeper
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« Reply #15 on: August 22, 2010, 03:04:33 AM »
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Looks good - but what does it attach to?
To an ALPA body  Wink (They all have holes for 3/4'' screws on nearly each side.)




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kers
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« Reply #16 on: August 22, 2010, 09:52:51 AM »
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I too use The D3x  for architecture with the PCE's

At the moment I am very pleased with my leveling setup that is usually within 0,3 degrees.


I use  the PCL-1 - Really right stuff) for a Leveling base. and a BH 40 ballhead.
In combination with an L-bracket you can also level it in portrait-mode

http://reallyrightstuff.com/pano/02.html

the good thing about it is that it works on top of the ballhead- so independent of how your tripod is standing you can level it.
RR are very good craftsmen - the level is correct ( unlike Manfrottos)  and the base plate is big and well made.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2010, 01:40:10 AM by kers » Logged

Pieter Kers
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« Reply #17 on: August 23, 2010, 10:17:54 AM »
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My horseman has bubble levels on three axis on each standard, And I double check on the monorail with a longer precision level I used to use for woodworking.

If I'm still off beyond that (rarely, unless I wasn't oriented to the building correctly) - I correct in post after drum scanning.
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archivue
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« Reply #18 on: August 25, 2010, 03:23:44 PM »
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A Transparent bubble level made by Ibisu Diamond© (Japan) replaces my Transparent and no longer available ( horseman or toyo ? ) clear level.

I'd like to have a dual axis level on my digital back...



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