Tripod levelling question

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by john_horvath|1, Oct 28, 2018.

  1. I recently bought a three way tripod head with 3 bubble levels on it. Even with all of this I just can’t seem to make properly levelled pictures with it. I’m doing everything correctly; the head is not mis-threaded, the camera’s weight does not exceed the limit, and I’m setting everything according to the bubble levels (2 at a time).

    So why do I still get consistently slanted pictures?

    This issue is important for me, because I use a film camera with no hot-shoe on top, so its a must to level the camera with the tripod head.
  2. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    You could go to the hardware store and look at levels. buy a very small one that can be temporarily attached directly to the camera using rubber bands or easily removed, residue free painters tape. Check all your levels to see that they match, then evaluate your photos after. There are laser levels as well, and they have come down in price, though that seems a bit excessive.
  3. Both the legs and head need to be levelled to get a pan that stays level as the head is rotated.
    Levelling the head in one position is no use if the legs aren't levelled. Better tripods have a circular bubble-level on the top of the leg section.

    Small circular levels can be bought for very little and cemented onto the tripod leg section. I've done this using two-part epoxy putty, but you could equally use decorator's filler, plastic wood or suchlike. Anything that allows some adjustment before it sets hard.

    Obviously, you have to ensure the leg section is truly level before cementing the bubble-level onto it! Most domestic floors are layed level and can be used for the purpose, but it's best to double check in all directions using a builder's yardstick level first.
  4. AJG


    Have you tried putting a small level on the tripod head without the camera mounted? It is possible that the levels on the head aren't perfectly aligned and this test could tell you this. I had to replace a level on a tripod head once and found it a bit difficult to get it aligned perfectly.
  5. My camera has a built in level that shows its position in both positions.
  6. - Another thought that occurs to me on this: Are you sure the horizon-line in the subject is level?

    The only natural horizon that you can guarantee is 'flat' and level is the sea. Any land horizon might be slanted up or down-hill. And even the sea will show Earth's curvature if taken from altitude with a wideangle lens.

    FWIW. Trees tend to grow vertically, and can be used as a reference against the edge of the frame.
    Moving On likes this.
  7. Thanks for all the answers.

    So I have to level the legs separately as well? I thought there are three-way levels on the head so it can be levelled on its own.

    I'll try it and will report back with the results.
  8. I think there are some little levels mounted on hot shoes. I have this issue myself, especially as I have to scooch down to see through the viewfinder, which probably messes with my ability to judge. I'm trying to pay more attention to horizontal lines. Sometimes the horizontals are actually slanted, and the picture will still look tilted when it is not.
  9. Only if you want to pan around and not have to re-level the camera - if you're moving the head after you levelled it and the axis you're moving it around isn't level because the tripod isn't, you'll go out of true. If you just want to take a single shot in the position you've lined up, levelling the head should suffice - unless something's stopping the head or QR plate sitting flush with the bottom of the camera. Are you consistently misaligned, which could be explained by this?

    If you want to pan after levelling, there are attachments which let you pan on top of whatever you've done with the head (searching Really Right Stuff's website for "panning" shows a few, for example, though they're not cheap). The same argument applies to a dedicated levelling base, which is designed for getting the top plate of the tripod flat before you do things with the head. There are also flat plates you can get which sit between the camera and head (optionally), which have a 2D level, if you want to double check everything.

    There are hot-shoe levels, and they're handy, but I assume John considered and rejected those due to "because I use a film camera with no hot-shoe on top". You could achieve the same effect with a cold shoe flash bracket (say this), though I don't claim it's not unwieldy. I agree with trusting the finder more, though - a grid in the finder (perhaps get a replacement screen?) or lining up AF points did wonders for my ability to level up a horizon, and I second the use of trees (if you're not pointing up or down). I still sometimes end up correcting things digitally afterwards - which I guess you could do when you print, if you're entirely analogue and only slightly off true?

    Good luck!
    carbon_dragon likes this.
  10. - Yes, that levels the camera in that fixed position, but as soon as you pan the camera that levelling will be lost unless the legs of the tripod are levelled as well.

    I might have been a bit confused by your statement that you were using a 'film camera'. I assumed a cine camera that was going to be panned. Maybe you just meant a stills camera taking that celluloid stuff?

    For stills, a 3 way head with levels should be sufficient. However, standard tubular bubble-levels are cumbersome to use and usually require you to crane your neck to see them. The type of single round level where you centre the bubble in a circle is far more convenient.
    Ed_Ingold and Andrew Garrard like this.
  11. Yes, although it does depend what you're doing. If you're trying to produce a level base, I agree a round level is helpful. If you're trying to level the camera, I'd argue that - so long as the axes are aligned to the body - separate levels are useful, because you can check that you're still level on the horizontal axis while tilting the camera up and down. But that's also an argument for pan/tilt heads over ball heads.
  12. In order to keep the horizon level when you pan, the axis of rotation (panning) must be vertical. If your tripod has a level, you can adjust the leg length until centered. You can also use a torpedo level against the column, facing the leg you're adjusting. Do that for two legs, then double check the first. It's easier to use a leveling platform, which goes between the column and the head, and almost always has a built-in bubble level. Typically there is a +/- 7 degree range, so you can eyeball the legs and finish with the leveling head.

Share This Page