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jonreid
14-Mar-2012, 04:39
Hi again,

My 'dorff has no levels on it. So, I bought a plasticky 3-axis level which I would hold flat against the GG to determine lateral and longitudinal level.
Occasionally I'd get unexpected results, such as unvertical verticals. I put it down to stupidity, error, camera bumping etc and cursed myself.

Last shoot I changed sides on the level and noticed a difference. So it seems my level isn't.

Quite a few 'reviews' of the same or a similar product on Amazon complain of similar inaccuracy.

What do people use to accurately level a camera with no built-ins?

Jon

Bob Salomon - HP Marketing
14-Mar-2012, 05:06
Since your camera is wood you can get individual screw-on Kaiser levels.

Go to a hardware store. Take 4 of their levels and place them on the same surface. They probably also dont agree. Your 3-way level was made to be slid onto a camera accessory shoe. Was that the surface that you used on your camera or were you placing one of the other plastic surfaces against the camera?

jonreid
14-Mar-2012, 05:14
I was placing one of the other surfaces on the GG Bob as the bottom most surface wasn't particularly flat and was also smaller.

I thought about screwing some on but I guess there's always the chance of them not being accurately attached as well, or would they be close enough?

Jon

Michael Graves
14-Mar-2012, 05:32
I won't drill holes in my wooden camera. Great Neck Tools has a keychain level that is small and very accurate. It is only a single axis, so you measure right/left and front/back tilt separately. However, I have found it MUCH easier to use that the bubble levels that have you settle them at the top. And if I drove to the scene of the accident--err, rather the photograph--there's a pretty good chance I have my keys with me. A dual-axis might be nice, but I haven't found one that goes on a keychain.

jonreid
14-Mar-2012, 05:36
Michael, sounds like you are satisfied that the top of your rear standard is perpendicular to your GG?

I wasn't so sure. My 'dorff is old with some splits etc in the lacquer. That's why I was preferring to hold the triple bubble flat against the GG, aligned with the bottom.

Jon

Bob Salomon - HP Marketing
14-Mar-2012, 05:57
We have never had a complaint that they were off. And we have been selling these for more then 20 years. But you mentioned that your camera is old. You have to make sure that the surface you mount them to (or put your level on) is smooth and flat and perpendicular to your gg.

What Linhof does with their 2-way plastic level is to place it against the gg itself and then against the lensboard. They use to make a clip to hold it onto the gg. But that is no longer made or available.
As long as you use the same level and position it the same way on each surface at the same spot you are fine. When you rely on multiple levels or change level positions you will see disagreements in the readings.

E. von Hoegh
14-Mar-2012, 07:54
Hi again,

My 'dorff has no levels on it. So, I bought a plasticky 3-axis level which I would hold flat against the GG to determine lateral and longitudinal level.
Occasionally I'd get unexpected results, such as unvertical verticals. I put it down to stupidity, error, camera bumping etc and cursed myself.

Last shoot I changed sides on the level and noticed a difference. So it seems my level isn't.

Quite a few 'reviews' of the same or a similar product on Amazon complain of similar inaccuracy.

What do people use to accurately level a camera with no built-ins?

Jon

Use a gridded groundglass. No level you can attach to your camera will be as accurate.

Brian Ellis
14-Mar-2012, 10:02
Use a gridded ground glass. Both of my Deardorffs had them as OE.

cdholden
14-Mar-2012, 10:17
Gridded glass is nice. I also have a 9" torpedo level. It's more accurate than the little bullseyes on the top of some cameras and is portable so I don't have to modify anything. It can be used on as many different cameras as I want. It also has the advantage of measuring any plane on the camera I want... top, sides. ground glass. lensboard. The best part is that they're available at just about any hardware store and are fairly inexpensive.

Len Middleton
14-Mar-2012, 12:19
If you have an iPhone, there is Lenny Eiger's PhotoToolsPro app.

If you carry your iPhone with you everywhere, then with that app, you have a level with you, as well as other useful photo related tools and information.

aluncrockford
14-Mar-2012, 12:40
The best way I have found to level any large format camera is the third option on the link below, just put it against the ground glass and lens for the uprights and let it sit on the base for the horizontals , This is far better than any built in level

http://www.fine-tools.com/level.htm

Daniel Stone
14-Mar-2012, 13:11
Film(itself) sometimes doesn't seat exactly square in the holders. I know, I now tap the holder to "settle" the film in the holder before inserting into the camera.

-Dan

jonreid
14-Mar-2012, 15:47
@Dan, good point. I think this is part of the problems at times.

@Len, I have that app. Crashes constantly.

Thanks for your replies everyone. Some food for thought.

Jon

John Kasaian
14-Mar-2012, 22:11
Use the grid lines on the ground glass. A few steel or brass washers, or lead fishing wieght tied to a length of string makes a handy plum bob to line up with a vertical grid line. Cheap, rugged, good! You can even use the cord your light meter or loup comes on but it's not as heavy if there is any wind.

Leigh
14-Mar-2012, 22:27
All levels are self-calibrating.

First, check the reference surface of the level (usually the bottom) for flatness against something known to be flat,
like a good counter top. If the level can be rocked in any direction by any amount, toss it in the trash can.
(For these tests the flat surface need not be level, just accurately flat.)

Next, cut a cardboard L from the back of a tablet of paper. Tape this to your flat surface. (Orientation is irrelevant.)
Put the level in the L so it touches both the long and short sides.
Note the position of the bubble. (It need not be centered. As long as it's not at the end it's OK.)

Rotate the level 180°, place it back in the L at the same position, and note the bubble position.
If it's the same at both orientations, the level is correct. If not, it has a problem.

If the bubble is not centered, the error should be in the same direction at both orientations, like one division to the right.

McMaster-Carr has a large selection of small levels, both bubble and bullseye styles, in various sizes and accuracies.
http://www.mcmaster.com
Great company to deal with. Online ordering, no minimum, and no handling charges (actual shipping charges only).


- Leigh

E. von Hoegh
15-Mar-2012, 08:05
All levels are self-calibrating.

First, check the reference surface of the level (usually the bottom) for flatness against something known to be flat,
like a good counter top. If the level can be rocked in any direction by any amount, toss it in the trash can.
(For these tests the flat surface need not be level, just accurately flat.)

Next, cut a cardboard L from the back of a tablet of paper. Tape this to your flat surface. (Orientation is irrelevant.)
Put the level in the L so it touches both the long and short sides.
Note the position of the bubble. (It need not be centered. As long as it's not at the end it's OK.)

Rotate the level 180°, place it back in the L at the same position, and note the bubble position.
If it's the same at both orientations, the level is correct. If not, it has a problem.

If the bubble is not centered, the error should be in the same direction at both orientations, like one division to the right.

McMaster-Carr has a large selection of small levels, both bubble and bullseye styles, in various sizes and accuracies.
http://www.mcmaster.com
Great company to deal with. Online ordering, no minimum, and no handling charges (actual shipping charges only).


- Leigh

McMaster-Carr really is great. If I call them before noon, I often get whatever I order the very next day via UPS.

Len Middleton
15-Mar-2012, 10:50
@Len, I have that app. Crashes constantly.
Jon

Jon,
Sorry to hear that, as I have not had that problem (otherwise would not have recommended), and find it a useful tool.
Have you had any correspondence with Lenny, and how did that go? He is a member of this forum.
Just curious as a user of the app...
Good luck in your efforts,
Len

jonreid
15-Mar-2012, 18:07
Len,
I've emailed the developer twice with no response then left the most negative app review I could. Still no response.

TheDeardorffGuy
15-Mar-2012, 18:38
I got emaled to offer an answer. I use the lined glass most of the time but when I need a level I use this:
http://www.stanleytoolparts.com/42-731-1-07-0d-0.html
http://www.stanleytoolparts.com/levels.html
I have 4 or 5 of them and they fit in the nooks of the camera. I never glue them. I just lay them on the camera and look.

Doremus Scudder
16-Mar-2012, 03:55
This topic gets hashed out every so often here. The upshot of the discussions is almost always the same. Nothing really beats a correctly installed and aligned gridded ground glass for leveling the camera for architectural work.

Levels, except for very expensive and rather large models, all seem to be less precise than necessary to do the job. That does not mean, however, that they are useless. They are very good for getting the camera relatively close to plumb; fine adjustments are then made using the ground glass grid.

I've added levels to a few of my cameras that did not have them originally. I recommend using simple bulls-eye levels or a couple of small torpedo levels mounted on the back standard. My technique for mounting and orienting the levels relies on having a gridded ground glass, and may seem overly finicky to some, but, FWIW, here it is:

First, you need a correctly installed and aligned gridded ground glass. I check to make sure that the grid lines are parallel to the edges in the back (checking to see if these are square and parallel to each other is not a bad idea with wooden cameras!). Since the object is to get the grid aligned with the edges of the film, the position of the film holder when inserted must be checked as well. I've used shims, tape and even a bit of judicious carving to get everything lined up. When you are satisfied that the ground glass grid will align with the film edges when shooting, you are ready to install your level(s). Notice that this method aligns the level to the grid and not to any parts on the camera itself. It is important, therefore, to make sure that the grid and filmholder line up at the very start.

Next, find a good architectural subject with lots of horizontal and vertical lines. Pick something new and well-made that will have no sags, distortions, etc. in it. A modern wall with lots of glass windows, etc., works well. If the subject isn't plumb, using it will result in a less-than-optimal mounting of the level, so try to find something with really vertical verticals and horizontal horizontals (if that makes any sense...)

Now, spend a half an hour or so aligning and and leveling your camera using the grid alone so that your subject is perfectly plumb in relation to the grid (use a good-quality "normal" focal-length lens to minimize any distortions introduced by the lens, or use the lens you plan to use most for this type of work as long as it is really rectilinear). Start by aligning a vertical in the center of the image by using side-to-side tilts on the tripod head. When this is perfect, correct convergence by using verticals at the edges of the image and the front-to-back tilt on the tripod head. Finally, make sure the horizontals are parallel using pan on the tripod head. Now, start over with step one and go through the whole procedure again, iterating as necessary until you are really satisfied that the image is lined up with the grid both horizontally and vertically. Lock everything down so it won't move.

Now, place your levels in the desired position. LI like a bulls-eye level on the top of the back standard. If you want two or more torpedo levels, you'll have to repeat all of this for the other(s). Anyway, position the level and see how it reads. It will likely need some shimming to get it to read true (if not, you are lucky!). I like to shim with sticky stuff, like tape of varying thicknesses so the shims stay put. Take some time with tape and scissors to get the level to read true in the camera position you know to be visually true (or at least very close).

I have installed levels a number of ways, but now like simple double-sided tape or double-sided adhesive foam strips. The tricky part is getting all the shims to stay put during installation (that's why I like tape for the shims). Anyway, cobble the level, shims and adhesive tape together and stick it to the desired location on the camera in exactly the same orientation as it was when it read correctly. Voilą, you are done.

Now you have a level installed that will get you really close to the grid lines on your ground glass. If all the preparations were done well, then with the film as well.

Use the level when setting up to get the camera to "starting-point plumb." If you have important verticals/horizontals in your image, refine the composition with the grid. If further refinement is needed after shooting, it is usually a small adjustment of the enlarging easel or (heaven forbid) some squaring up in PhotoShop.

Hope this helps.

Doremus

Leigh
16-Mar-2012, 11:27
Levels, except for very expensive and rather large models, all seem to be less precise than necessary to do the job.
Sorry, but that's simply not true.

The catalog number 2198A86 bullseye level from McMaster-Carr costs $18.20. http://www.mcmaster.com

This s a high-quality glass leve in a chrome-plated brass housing with a base diameter of 1 7/16".

It's accurate to .035"/foot, which is 1/3 of a degree.
Your film isn't held in the film holder that accurately.

And this brings up a significant point...
Unless you're using really fancy film holders, precise horizontal/vertical alignment really doesn't accomplish anything.

The important consideration is that the back and the lensboard both be accurately vertical.

The best tool for this is an angle indicator that you can place against the vertical surface (GG or lensboard).

McMaster-Carr has a suitable product at catalog # 20025A33 for $10.65.
It's about 3 1/2" x 2", and calibrated in half-degree increments.

- Leigh

E. von Hoegh
16-Mar-2012, 11:57
And none of these gizmos are as reliable as the grid on your groundglass.

aluncrockford
17-Mar-2012, 03:30
And if you use a clear screen

Doremus Scudder
17-Mar-2012, 04:18
Liegh,

I stand corrected. In my experience shopping for levels, no two seemed to read the same except the really expensive ones. If McMaster-Carr has inexpensive and accurate ones, so much the better. My method for mounting a level will get even closer to ideal. An angle indicator will also still need to be checked with the grid and is just something else to carry around.

I would never, however, take a photograph with important vertical and horizontal lines without checking them with the grid; i.e., I would never rely just on the level/angle indicator anyway. I find a level mounted on the camera good to get to "starting position" and then refine with the grid.

My point, I think, still stands: The alignment of the grid to the back and the way the filmholder seats is most important. And, if the grid is square and mounted properly and accurately, it is still going to be more accurate in practice than the level since it is more direct (reading the level accurately is often harder than lining up subject lines with the grid and levels are often mounted with a slight error). And yes, there's a rather large margin of error in filmholder construction; but that doesn't mean that precision in position the image on the grid is wasted. Instead, it is all the more reason to use the grid and at least get the image squared up; if the film plane is parallel to the ground-glass plane, the image will still be square within itself, even if it ends up being skewed one way or the other on the film. This is of no consequence unless you print full-frame with the negative edges showing in the print.

And, I take lots and lots of architecturals with the back aligned plumb, but the front standard tilted or swung for other depth-of-field considerations. It's only the back that needs to be plumb to keep the verticals and horizontals perpendicular and parallel. Moving the lens stage will affect focus, but not the geometry of the projected image (at least the verticals and horizontals if the lens is truly rectilinear).

Even with all of this, I often find I have to make small adjustments at the printing stage.

@aluncrockford: If you use a plain screen, get a grid overlay if you do a lot of architectural work, etc. There are many you can print yourself on transparency material. For landscape and subjects with no vertical/horizontal lines and the occasional architectural, using the edges of the gg frame (assuming that it is square!) as a guide when needed is pretty good (yes, you have to pan and tilt a lot sometimes with this method; that's why a grid helps if you do a lot of this).

Best,

Doremus