How to level tripod legs for panoramas?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by reginapagles, Nov 20, 2005.

  1. Can anyone help me understand how to achieve the following? I read this information in
    Pop Photo/July 2005, but I am unclear as to how to achieve proper leveling of the tripod
    legs for better panoramas.
    'If you have a tripod with a spirt level fixed to the leg platform (not in the head), adjust the
    leg lengths to get the leg tops completely level. Now level the camera on the horizontal
    axis only, with a second spirit level mounted in the tripod head or camera hot shoe. Once
    these steps are completed, you can rotate through the image series with no further need
    of adjustment.'
    I do not have a tripod with a spirit level fixed in the leg platform, but want to know if it is
    possible to manually fix one there.
    If this is possible, would I fix a spirit level to EACH leg of the tripod?
    I currently am attempting panoramas with just the tripod head level, and I need to re-
    adjust the tripod afer each shot to maintain its' levelness. This is very tedious and
    challenging for me, and I would like some clearer understanding of the above method.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!
  2. I use a circular bubble level.You can buy them at most hardware stores. They have a small circle inside a larger one, and you just put the bubble in the middle of the inner can lay it on the tripod head, it will set the level in all directions at the same time. .
  3. I use one of these:

    You loosen the lever, level the entire camera, done. Does not matter how the legs are extended or what they sit on.
  4. I use a RRS PCL-1 panning clamp on a ballhead (
  5. Try again:
  6. What you need to do is to get the tripod, below the head, levelled. That way, when you pan, the platform will be level. Another issue then is to level the camera on the tripod head but that alone is not enough when you pan from left to right.

    Many tripods are sold without a head. I have a Gitzo tripod that has a level in the top where the tripod head is fitted. So it is possible to adjust the leg heights to get the bottom of the head straight. If you can remove the tripod head there is usually enough flat piece of metal or plastic to allow the use of a small level. A simple torpedo level would do, but you need to check in two directions, 90 degrees apart. It may take some time to adjust the legs just so that the head is level. Then you can screw on the head and fix the camera and level the camera in your usual way. Other way would be to fit a thin but strong metal plate just under the tripod head and use that for levelling, You could fix a bubble level to that plate. When the plate is level, the tripod itself is level. Instead of adjusting all the legs (or two of them) separately, it is easier to get a leveling head, a small flat head that goes in between the tripod legs and tripod head and allows to finetune the levelling without having to adjust the legs independently. It would be worth buying if you need to do this often.

    If you have a pan and tilt head, it is possible to mark the zero positions on the head so that the camera platform is exactly parallel to the base of the head. Then you can use the spirit level on the camera or on the tripod head, just as you mentioned doing, and get the panning platform exactly level.
  7. Another solution is a panning base mounted *above* the ballhead. The ballhead is used to level the panning base. The camera then is mounted to the panning base and can be rotated 360 while remaining level. That is how the RRS PCL-1 panning clamp works.
  8. If you have a suitable flat spot on the tripod where the legs attach, you can use an inexpensive bubble level from the hardware store, and shorten the one or two high legs to level the tripod. You could also use a torpedo level on the column - it's just more to carry.

    A leveling head makes this a lot faster. After roughly leveling the tripod (eyeballing it is often good enough), the leveling head goes +/- 7 degrees or so to finish the job. A leveling head is a ball-and-socket device with a bubble level embeded. Gitzo makes on (G-1321) which fits on Gitzo Studex tripods (13xx, 14xx and 15xx). Bogen/Manfrotto makes on the goes between the platform/column and head on any tripod.

    Leveling the tripod makes the pan head turn on a precisely vertical axis, so that the horizon doesn't shift as you pan. You also need to level the tripod head (or camera) so that the horizon is level. A two-axis, shoe-mount level is the easiest to use.

    The RRS PCL-1 clamp allows you to use a ball head to precisely level the base of the camera in two axes, and pan using the clamp itself. You might have +/- 45 degrees of motion to play with. The downside is that the horizon is in the center of the frame, which does not make for good composition.
  9. "The downside is that the horizon is in the center of the frame, which does not make for good composition."

    Wouldn't his observation be true of all simple leveling (not just the RRS PCL-1)?

    One could add a vertical pivot. This could facilitate multi-row panos, 3D VR, or simply allow a pano with the lens axis inclined from horizontal.
  10. "The downside is that the horizon is in the center of the frame, which does not make for good composition." Wouldn't his observation be true of all simple leveling (not just the RRS PCL-1)? One could add a vertical pivot. This could facilitate multi-row panos, 3D VR, or simply allow a pano with the lens axis inclined from horizontal.
    Or one can crop.
  11. Thank you all for so much help!
    I have a much better understanding on this topic than I did prior to all your advice. I am
    considering the Bogen Leveling Head that Richard uses. I am still a little confused,
    however, as to wether or not I would still need the hot shoe spirit level on the camera
    itself. I believe that the Bogen Leveling Head levels on 2 axes, so am I correct in assuming
    that it levels both the tripod and the camera? I would need to know prior to placing my
    order w/B&H and I would not mind saving the $36 on the spirit level if I do not need it. By
    the way, I forgot to mention that I am using the 'Ninja Nodal' for my tripod head.
    Thank you all again!
  12. If you level the base of the head, you still need to level the camera, because the head has movements too. The easiest way to do this is with a double-axis, shoe-mount level. With this level, you can level the camera horizontally, yet tip the camera up or down for better placement of the horizon (you can also level the camera fore and aft if you wish).

    This level is also very useful for taking single-frame landscapes. It's often hard to "see" the horizon or true vertical in the mountains, for example. Yet "vertical" is painfully obvious, afterwards, when trees are observed in the aggregate (your eye is good at "averaging" what it sees, except in a viewfinder it seems).

    You could also crop the image for better composition. In doing so, however, you lose much of the resolution you are trying to achieve by stitching frames together. It's better to compose in the viewfinder.

    Panorama Factory is an excellent, inexpensive piece of shareware. I too have been successful "eyeballing" the horizon without a tripod (often prohibited in Europe), using Panorama Factory to stitch the frames together. Panorama Factory does a good job correcting for perspective and alignment. The latest version (4) adds Linear projection (like a wide-angle lens) to the usual Cylindrical and Spherical projections.
  13. Chris,

    If you level the base of a panning head then you can use the ball head to tilt the camera up or down. The panning plane is horizontal but the camera is inclined. You will have to adjust the camera on the rail to centre the nodal point. I use a double bubble hotshoe level to ensure the horizon remains level.
  14. Keeping the panning plane level is not the only requirement for getting good panoramas, the other is to ensure that the camera rotates about the front of the lens. This to ensure that you do not create a stereo type effect between adjacent images. This particularly important when there are close items it the shot.

    Another trick I learnt was to set the camera in portrait orientation when taking panoramic shots. This helped to increase the verticle range and reduce the amount of post process work. It did however mean that more shots were required in the horizontal plane.
    Good luck with your panorama shooting.
  15. Well, thanks to all your help, I finally achieved a level camera and tripod using the manfrotto
    tripod base leveller and a hot shoe mounted spirit level.
    Thank you all again! Regina
  16. Here is a panorama that I took recently using my new Bogen Tripod Leveller, hot shoe mounted double axis Spirit level & the Ninja Nodal panoramic tripod head (only $150.00). Thank you all again for the great panoramics are now perfectly level (most of the time) and the process is so much easier. Regina
  17. Here's another...
  18. Very nice, Regina.

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