Should I trust the electronic level or the bubble level?

Discussion in 'Mirrorless Digital Cameras' started by jimsimmons, Oct 31, 2016.

  1. I like to use the electronic level on my X-E1. But I've noticed that if I level the camera using the bubble level on my Manfrotto 410 geared head, the electronic level on the X-E1 is off, and if I level with the electronic level, the bubble level is not centred. Another test I've tried is to level a 48" carpenter's level on a table and get the viewfinder framing guidelines to line up with the the carpenter's level. When I do that, the tripod head bubble level is centred, but again, the electronic level is not lined up. This implies that the liquid levels are matching up, so are accurate, but the electronic level is off. What do you think is going on here?
  2. Jim you've done more systematic testing than me, but I'm convinced that the 'green line' in my XE1 is often inaccurate. Lots of pics with an horizon in, such as over the sea, I've carefully levelled with the green line but turn out angled. So much so that I've considered installing one of those little cubes with spirit level bubbles for horizontal and vertical that slip into the hot shoe.
  3. Dunno about the XE-1 but my Olympus E-M5 has a "Level Adjust" option in the menus. Basically you set the camera up as you did with the carpenter's level and calibrate the internal level of the camera.
  4. Wayne, that would be ideal, but no, the X-E1 does not allow an adjustment. (I just double checked the manual.) I will be buying an X-T1 soon, so I will check to see if they've added that feature.
  5. Ensure that your camera is truely square to your reference level target before you decide which if either level is
  6. Round bubble levels used in tripods and heads are sensitive but not especially accurate. Levels that fit in the flash shoe aren't much better. I have a Starrett machinist's level with 5 minute sensitivity bubble as a cross check. The electronic level in my Sony A7 is centered when I ease the head in to nearly perfect alignment, but not particularly sensitive. You have to tilt the camera about 1/4 degree before it moves off center. I think that is good enough for government work.
  7. I find the electronic level way to distracting to have in the viewfinder. I prefer the gridlines option and then make a final correction if needed in post processing.
  8. I'm the opposite of Sanford - I appreciate having the e-level. I am notoriously poor at holding any camera level, so always have a lot of straightening to do in post. With the e-level I get very close to, if not completely, level.
  9. If two or more mechanical levels are in agreement with each other and disagree with the electronic level, I would tend to put more faith in the former and seek to calibrate the camera level.
    A level will not assure you of minimal so-called perspective distortion when using a very wide angle lens. Better to position your camera at an optimum point to minimize that and to trust your eyes in interpreting the play of receding lines of linearly contained surfaces.
    The same practice holds for horizons that you can alter the placement of visually by your point of view, while remembering that many but not all horizons are horizontal.
  10. A person with two watches never knows the right time.
    I never felt my bubble level on my tripod was accurate or it just took too long the adjust the tripod. I tried those bubble levels you slip into the flash shoe but they were terrible as well. My new Sony R100M4 has an electronic tilt and level display built into the viewfinder. I've played with it, and its truly amazing and accurate, but it slows me down and takes me away from the enjoyment of shooting pictures.
    So I find that adjusting the camera view through the viewfinder by eye works the best and if slightly off, post adjustments are easy. Also, constantly fiddling with the levels is just another distraction in trying to get the best composition and best exposure. Trust what you're viewing through the viewfinder and/or use gridlines in it like suggested by Sanford above.
  11. As an aside, remember that horizontals can fall away from the horizontal plane in a keystone effect the same way vertical lines do that. In both case, you're trying to flatten out a 3D image into a 2D surface.
    So if you're aiming the camera to the left or right of directly onto the horizontal plane, you get the same keystone effect as when you raise or lower the camera when shooting vertical lines. So the gridlines won't line up. And the horizon won't be level.
    At least that's what I think they do in my camera. What have others found and how do you deal with it?
  12. A person with two watches never knows the right time.​
    This is an old saw, pithy but largely irrelevant. Rather than "right," in measurement science we use the term, "in tolerance". All instruments exhibit error. It is only important to know the significance of that error.
    It is very difficult to level a tripod by adjusting the legs. If level is important, that is why a ball-and-socket leveling device is not only useful, but quick. It is relatively easy to adjust a tripod by eye, even on irregular surfaces, to within the range of a leveling platform. A picture frame 1/2 degree off plumb is easily seen by your eye.
    Level is more important in some situations than others. Unless you are shooting panoramas or sunsets over water, it's usually more important to get vertical lines straight. While you can correct level and perspective in Photoshop, you lose less to cropping and stretching if the camera were level.
    There is one anomaly which occurs in practice. If I'm shooting a goup shot on stage and can't get exactly center (it's often impossible to fit behind the organ in many church choir lofts), the edge of the stage will be off tilt if the vertical lines are preserved. This is more annoying than having some verticals off plumb, so I adjust accordingly.
    In a mountain scene, there is usually no clear horizon, but trees, in aggregate, should be vertical. That's often hard to see at the time, even with grid lines, but painfully obvious later on.
    It is a natural tendency to tilt the camera to the right or left depending on which eye you use. It is something you have to work to overcome, particularly if you're working quickly. That doesn't seem to bother the folks in the "Streets and Documentary" forum, and maybe it shouldn't bother me.
    In summary, I like the viewfinder level feature. I find I can ignore it when it's not important, or turn it off, but make good use of it at times.
  13. To make sure that all my levelers are in agreement, I periodically take my equipment to the edge of a large body of water (such as Lake Michigan) and use the sky/water horizon to test them.

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