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Spirit Levels

A small number of cameras now have a form of electronic level display built in, with the Nikon range this is in the full frame cameras including the D3 and D3X, (d700?). These displays show if the horizon is level, so one side in relation to the other, they do not show the relationship of front to back.

Where we want to level these front to back and with all other cameras we need to use a spirit level. We can use one or more built into a tripod or one that is an accessory on the camera, or both. I prefer to use levels on the tripod to get it level and an accessory level to check the  level of the camera. When hand holding its often helpful to have an accessory level.  Similarly when using liveview and holding the camera away from you a level allows you to produce far better results. We are going here to look at two accessory levels.

2 Bubble Spirit Level

The most useful general purpose level is the 2 bubble level that fits onto the cameras (flash) accessory shoe. It will go on in two ways, the unusual way displays two spirit levels one side to side and the other front to back. This is ideal when looking at taking multiple images that will be stitched together into a panorama or where photographing buildings. 

The second way to use this level is to mount it from one end. In this mode you can see a single bubble that allows levelling in all directions at once at the top and the other spirit level can show either side to side or front to back level depending in which way round it is.

When the camera is turned on its side, from the end mounting you can get 2 levels or a bubble and side to side level, by mounting it using the other mount you can also get a bubble and forward/backward level.

The most accurate levels are when you are using the two spirit level as opposed to end bubbles.

You will find it is very sensitive and easy to see and use when on a tripod, when hand holding its far more difficult and when looking through the viewfinder you can't see it at all.

Price around 7.95 (03/2009)

You can click on smaller images to see larger versions.

Seculine Action Level

The action level is electronic and levels from side to side. The level is shown by a line of bright LED's, outer ones red, next in yellow and central one green. Its level when the green light only is lit.

It works both when the camera is in view and portrait orientations.

It will only fit one way so cannot be used to level from front to back.

The LED's are angled so as to be viewable from below as well as from behind, this means that you can use it easily handheld, including when the camera is held high above your head. When looking through the viewfinder the colours of the LED's, are still visible in your peripheral vision so when using the viewfinder you can still level up.

The action level is shaped so that when its on the accessory shoe the pop up flash can still be used. However the pop up flash may knock it slightly and you may then find it has a tendency to fall off. It has a short tie line with it, which could be threaded onto the camera strap and used to carry it, or you could try and use this to tie it to something when in use so that it does not fall off and get lost, this is however too short to be used on its own and you will need to work out a way to extend it. As the unit times out when not used and is small, if you do drop it, it will be extremely difficult to find.

On the rear is a small on/off switch, and on the top there are 2 very small buttons, used for changing the brightness, sensitivity or readjusting the level if its compensation and your accessory shoe is not completely level. It runs on two small batteries (CR1220) and comes with two in and 4 spares provided.

I find the action level of particular value when using Liveview and holding the camera some way from me, for example out over the battlements of a castle to give a view alongside it, as if in the air, or out of the window of a steam train. In both these cases I can get a view with the camera that I cannot get myself, but keeping that camera level in these situations is difficult.

Price around 29  (03/2009)

The image above shows that it works both when the camera is in the view and portrait orientation, with the Green light showing that it is level. The light shows down as well as to the rear so can be seen when using the viewfinder.


I use both of these levels, the double bubble when using the camera on a tripod and the electronic action level for when I want to use it handheld, and in particular when using Liveview.

Above - the pack, electronic level and batteries

Above right electronic level in place, green lights shows it is level

Right, it is shaped so that the pop up flash can still be used

You can click on smaller images
to see larger versions

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Page Ref: spirit_levels Classification: Accessories Last Updated: 03/2009

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