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Old December 19th, 2013, 02:19 PM   #1
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Level = not so much?

Hey folks. So I have a sachtler DV4 (not even the II!). Lately, I've noticed on shoots that when level, according to the bubble, my eye says I'm 1 or 2 degrees tilted off being actually level, and I'm having to find a perfectly horizontal or vertical surface to align the edge of frame to by eye. Is this possible? Have I lost my mind? Has all of Houston tilted a couple degrees in the last few months? If my bubble is screwed up how much does that cost to fix? Is it worth it on a $1000 tripod vs just buying another one?
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Old December 19th, 2013, 05:53 PM   #2
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Re: Level = not so much?

Hi Josh,

Apart from breakage or leakage it is hard to imagine anything going wrong with the bubble level itself. Is the bubble level loose in its mount or is its support bent?

When you set your head to the horizon or to a vertical by using the camera viewfinder instead of the bubble is the setting maintained through a 90 degree pan?

The last head I purchased had a very poorly fitted bubble level and it was also positioned where it was impossible to view without considerable parallax. Bubbles are readily available in various sizes and quantities. In the end I spent about $15 and positioned a new and larger bubble at a more favourable site and I have 2 spare bubbles left over for other projects.
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Old December 20th, 2013, 03:18 AM   #3
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Re: Level = not so much?

I'll have to check on what you asked. I mean I've had this thing for about ten years and it's only in the last few months I've noticed the issue, so I can't imagine it was always wonky.
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Old December 20th, 2013, 04:49 AM   #4
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Re: Level = not so much?

It's easy to test. Set up with a prominent horizontal feature in the frame. Set up level with the bubble, and see which end is high (always assuming the window or doorframe you might be using is plumb) then rotate the entire tripod/legs/head 180 degrees and see if when you adjust the bubble level the slant shifts to the other end. If so, the bubble has probably just been glued into the cavity and the glue has lifted at one end. If so carefully adjust the entire setup so the camera plate is level in each direction, prise out the bubble, use some quick setting adhesive, and gently press in the bubble until it reads level, then let the glue go off.
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Old December 21st, 2013, 12:15 PM   #5
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Re: Level = not so much?

As a sort of side note, there tends to be a misconception about finding true level visually within a frame. A horizontal will only work as long as you are dead square to it; as soon as you are panned off a few degrees it will no longer be a useable reference for level. I prefer to use verticals instead, but they have to be centered in the frame, as verticals on the edges of the frame will start to keystone as the camera is tilted. With a wide enough lens, this will occur even at neutral tilt.

Sometimes if there is a predominant visual in the frame that is just slightly off when the bubble is dead-on for the reasons above, it may be better to cheat the true level to deliver a more satisfying frame. The trick is to remember to re-level for the next setup!

A fascinating riff on how perspective affects visual level can be found here (the first 30 seconds, and again at 1:29)

Steadishots.org : Steadicam Shot by Larry McConkey from Raising Cain
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Old December 21st, 2013, 02:42 PM   #6
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Re: Level = not so much?

May not be the head anyway, it could be the plate to camera base that is introducing some tilt.
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Old December 21st, 2013, 10:33 PM   #7
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Re: Level = not so much?

All good points. Im sure sometimes it is a case of it being level and something in frame being off but in the last few months i think its ALWAYS been off when the bubble is "correct" which seems like it just cant be possible across different locations each time. Never thought about what Pappy said about horizontal vs vertical alignment but good point. I will have to see if something is up with the plate, never thought about that.
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Old February 2nd, 2014, 07:37 PM   #8
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Re: Level = not so much?

Hi guys. Got busy and wasn't able to play around with this 'til now.


So, I did the test suggested above. When bubble is "correct", the frame appears a degree or two high on the right (i.e. camera looks slightly dutched to the left).

When I turn the head 180 degrees, then re-level, still high on the right.

If it means anything, when bubble is centered with cam facing one way, after turning 180 degrees, bubble has drifted noticeably to the "southwest".

Looked at the camera plate, doesn't look like the sides are uneven in a way that would account for this.

And this is consistent with different cams too. . .EX1, 5D, makes no difference.
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Old February 2nd, 2014, 10:14 PM   #9
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Re: Level = not so much?

Have you had your eyes checked? It may be an optical problem in your prime lens? The problem is a recent one and we all get older...
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Old February 2nd, 2014, 10:33 PM   #10
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Re: Level = not so much?

Hah! No, it's very real. I've looked at footage after the fact and seen verticals in center of frame (e.g. lectern) leaning slightly.

I can even shoot a clip (even a still would do) with the bubble centered and a horizontal and/or vertical in frame for you guys to look at.

In addition, was just on a shoot with that tripod and several other folks, and the guy who set up my cam while I was doing other stuff said that when bubble was "right", it was not level, so he leveled it by eye.
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Old February 2nd, 2014, 10:42 PM   #11
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Re: Level = not so much?

OK, well the clip won't lie. I was just examining all possibilities. My Manfrotto 075 had a bubble that after twenty years got smashed and I picked one up on ebay from some guy in the UK and changed it out myself. I had to shave it down a bit to fit, but it did the job.
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Old March 21st, 2014, 05:08 AM   #12
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Re: Level = not so much?

So update:

Sent the tripod into a local(ish) Texas guy recommended by another Houston videographer (rather than possibly spending what I paid in the first place for the tripod by sending it to Sachtler).

He diagnosed that the area of the tripod right UNDER the level had suffered some trauma that had knocked it out of "true", so even if level was seated correctly, the part it was seated on was messed up. The local guy had it machined into "rightness", and things are back to normal.

I will go ahead and assume that this is due to me never having gotten a case/bag for that tripod in the 10+ years that I've had it.

So, case/bag recommendations? Is a hard case overkill if I don't fly with it? Will a bag protect it from something like this happening again?
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Old April 17th, 2014, 05:28 PM   #13
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Re: Level = not so much?

Well, it's still not right. I contacted Sachtler about how much a repair might cost, but I'm also looking into a temporary solution and then selling the tripod later and getting a newer (used) one.

Has anyone used anything like this?

Spirit Levels, Vials

(scroll down to the camera level) -- looks really cool. . .it's a tiny level that screws into your hot shoe. Seems like it would be accurate?

My other idea was to velcro something to the tripod head, but it has to be REALLY tiny (like about an inch wide) to keep from interfering with anything else. Anyone know of anything like that? I've found some that are 3 centimeters but even that's a little too wide.
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Old April 19th, 2014, 01:06 AM   #14
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Re: Level = not so much?

Hi Josh, I'm not sure if this is off topic but I have a Davis & Sanford ProVista 7518 Video Tripod with a "claw ball" (to level just the head by it self). I have this weird problem.... When I setup and level my tripod and then I go to pan the camera becomes off level. It becomes more and more slanted as I pan away from my starting point where I originally leveled the tripod legs and head. What the !&$% am I doing wrong???? It makes no sense! Is there a method to leveling a tripod?? Is this a stupid question??

Thanks in advance for your help
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Old April 19th, 2014, 01:30 AM   #15
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Re: Level = not so much?

Couldn't say, but yes, it should stay level throughout a pan. Although truthfully how it LOOKS on camera more important. . .does the image reflect the deviation from "true' as you pan? Or does straight stuff still look straight 90 and 180 degrees from your start point?
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