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Old August 11th, 2010, 10:05 PM   #1
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Tripod Head Level?

Kind of random here but boy do I struggle with this some times.
I set the tripod up, level the head (using bubble level built in head) then doubt myself when I look through the viewfinder. I adjust, reframe etc over and over. I know if your straight on, can level against a horizontal line, but when shooting the left or right throws it out of whack. Either the ceiling goes to an angle, or the floor.
Does anyone else do this, I always seem to get it right, because when all is said and done it looks fine, never any complaints but I swear, one time I am going to just set it up using the tripod head bubble level and leave it and see if it isn't right.

If there is a better way to do this, I sure would love to know.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 10:12 PM   #2
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i know what you mean denny.

Whenever I'm not sure with the bubble, what i do is i quickly pan to a "straight on shot" to level it with my eye. then I know when I pan it left or right, its already levelled.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 10:14 PM   #3
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Denny, if I understand your question correctly the effect you're describing is called perspective. Artists have been struggling with it for centuries. Trust the bubble unless you're doing Dutch angles.

Alternatively, you're using the extreme wide angle part of the zoom when the lens intentionally distorts the straight lines.
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Old August 11th, 2010, 10:43 PM   #4
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Thanks, I am now glad I asked this question, I was wondering if it was just me.

I never thought about the wide angle lens distortion either.

I need to shoot something not so critical as a wedding and set it up using the bubble, and edit it and see.

I probably spend 10-15 minutes some weddings changing and checking, double checking, triple checking then changing again.

I use the Libec RH35 and Bogen 503 heads, and they seem to be quality heads, so I should have more faith in their leveling system.

10-15 mins on a wedding day is a lot of valuable time.
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Old August 12th, 2010, 05:34 AM   #5
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Philip is 100% right. Perspective can play lots of tricks and mess with our minds. Since you aren't using a view camera or a bellows attachment on a 35mm still camera to adjust for it my suggestion is set the horizion level once and leave it alone after that. Ever time you try to fix it when panning you take a chance of missing something more important. Plus while the human eye and mind can "adjust" for perspective in real life the glass we use can't but for the most part people don't really even notice it. As a famous American once said "fuggettaboutit".

It is frustrating though isn't it ;-)
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Old August 13th, 2010, 10:40 AM   #6
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I usually leave the grid overlay markers on my Canons. There is also another option to display a horizontal line. That way I seldom have to look at the bubbles on the tripod. If the horizon is parallel to the display line, it's level enough. The grid overlay also helps me remember the rule of thirds.
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Old August 13th, 2010, 05:56 PM   #7
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I'm sorry but there really is no option but to trust the bubble. If the head isn't level any panning will simply be wrong. Even if you're filming something really weird and lopsided trust the bubble. That's why we have a bowl and a bubble and it's not offered as an optional extra. Only for Dutch angles should you ignore it - and most people don't understand that Dutch angles aren't just a matter of tilting the camera arbitrarily.
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Old August 13th, 2010, 09:25 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Philip Howells View Post
I'm sorry but there really is no option but to trust the bubble. If the head isn't level any panning will simply be wrong. Even if you're filming something really weird and lopsided trust the bubble. That's why we have a bowl and a bubble and it's not offered as an optional extra. Only for Dutch angles should you ignore it - and most people don't understand that Dutch angles aren't just a matter of tilting the camera arbitrarily.
I know your right Phillip, but have you ever set up using the bubble and look at your shot and question it?
Like I said, I need to go shoot something for fun, and just set up using the level and move and re set up again using it again then edit it, just to give me peace of mind.
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Old August 14th, 2010, 12:38 AM   #9
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Denny, my answer must, of course, be "yes" but there's a reason for that. Our third camera is on a high lighting tripod which extends the camera to about 16ft but which for stability we limit to about 12ft. The head and the camera are radio controlled. Obviously at that height the level is set before the column is raised and to do that we have not a standard bowl but a Manfrotto shallow levelling head with just a small range of adjustment - no good for the range of surface a video or film tripod has to account for but ideal for our purpose.

The camera control's principal drawback is that the gearing of the hothead motors is unrelated to the zoom distance of the lens - as you'll appreciate you need a low gearing for wide shots when the camera might typically pan with a couple "processing" past it at 20ft eg father-bride/groom-bride but a high gearing when zoomed in and panning with the reader moving from the pews to the lectern at the front of the church at say 150ft. In fact the gearing is best suited to the wide shot and any movement laterally when zoomed in makes a vast difference. The result is that the head is best used as a positioning device when the camera's zoomed in and a real-time panning device when the camera's zoomed out.

There's one other effect, directly relevant to your point and that is that all long telephotos and zooms when zoomed in, flatten the image. The combination of these effects means that unless the camera is positioned absolutely head-on (mathematically at right angles) to any horizontal surface eg the altar, altar rail, window ledge behind the altar etc but to one side or the other, the horizontals will appear in perspective and thus not level. This, combined with the flattening effect of the long focal length of the lens, does appear exactly as you describe.

However, if you dare to correct the appearance and level the horizontals, the result is even more disturbing for when you zoom back to the wide, the whole church is then leaning - and that's when the client can accurately say, our camera's not level.

Of course explaining all this to a nit-picking client who's criticising your zoomed in shots is futile - you can only point out that if your bubbles are set correctly, your verticals will always be vertical, regardless of the the focal length or the perspective.

Finally, even if i was tempted to ignore the bubbles, can you imagine how long I'd be stuck 12ft up a ladder trying to "correct" the levelling of our rear camera because I'd also have to take into account the slight horizontal perspective introduced by the camera pointing slightly downwards. Let's not go there!
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Old August 14th, 2010, 11:53 AM   #10
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I am using manfrotto tripod. They have this bowl leveling head. It goes between the tripod and the tripod head. I can adjust the leveling easily.

Manfrotto 438 Compact Levelling Head - Ball Camera Leveler 438 -

It really worths the money. I used to adjust the tripod legs in order to get a level frame. now dont have to.
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Old August 14th, 2010, 03:12 PM   #11
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You can get great ball head tripods on Ebay...any number of sellers.

I have one. Excellent, at an excellent price.

See for example:
Pro Video Tripod w Fluid Pan Head EI717 717 75mm Bowl - eBay (item 160407456816 end time Aug-21-10 22:46:30 PDT)
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Old August 14th, 2010, 08:06 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Taky Cheung View Post
I am using manfrotto tripod. They have this bowl leveling head. It goes between the tripod and the tripod head. I can adjust the leveling easily.

Manfrotto 438 Compact Levelling Head - Ball Camera Leveler 438 -

It really worths the money. I used to adjust the tripod legs in order to get a level frame. now dont have to.
Very interesting, wonder if this is more accurate than the bubble on the head, or even have two way to level instead of 1.
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Old August 14th, 2010, 09:50 PM   #13
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Denny, it's the same accuracy as any other bubble and is what I tried to describe (without the Manfrotto part no) - it's the device we use at the top of our tall tripod.

If by a two way head you refer to a pan and tilt head, you'll find that it absolutely must be set level to the ground to work over anything other than a single setting. A P&T head was my first introduction to practical perspective over 50 years ago when I bought the only P&T head I could afford as a small boy. It was little more than a toy - but then my camera was a hand wound Pathé Baby 9.5mm film camera. As soon as I tried my first pan (a passing railway train) I realised there was more to this game then I'd imagined.
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Old August 15th, 2010, 05:22 PM   #14
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Bubbles can be off - you may need to calibrate yours. Set up your head where there's a level horizon (the beach), without reference to the bubble adjust until you can pan without seeing a tilt, then check your bubble - if it's off center, mark where it is with a marker pen and use that spot to set your levels in future.
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Old August 15th, 2010, 09:43 PM   #15
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I'm sure that in our mass produced world Rainer's caution can't be dismissed but within the practical tolerance of the adjustment device I doubt whether a bubble costing a few cents would get through the quality controls of a reputable make of a fluid head.

Of course, if you doubt the accuracy of yours Rainer's suggestion is useful - or you could invest a few dollars in a better bubble - one supplied for my panorama device is a couple in inches in diameter and has two concentric rings to line up the bubble. The downside is that it would be extremely inconvenient (a fashionable word in some circles I gather) to remove the camera, line up the head and replace the camera for each shot.
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