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Thread: In search of the perfect level

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    In search of the perfect level

    I seen an never ending search of the "perfect level" both on this site and others. I've seen people bemoan the fact that the level attached to their tripod is perfect; likewise the level on their head. This is being posted in "Medium Format Systems..." as this is the place where I see this quest the most. I've kept quiet until now....

    As many may know I am primarily a landscape and nature photographer with a limited amount of wildlife thrown in to shake things up. My primary capture method is medium format using a combination of a tech cam as well as a Phase One DF; using a Phase One IQ160 back. I have a sturdy tripod and head which I use to attach my gear to and all told if I count each and every level system I have at least 2 to 3 depending which one I'm using.

    I've tried to have my tripod perfectly level. I then attempted (and failed) to have the head perfectly level after leveling the tripod. I then attempted (and failed again) to have my camera body perfectly leveled once I had the tripod and head near level. I spent nearly an hour one time as an experiment seeing if I could ever get the "perfect level". And failed.

    I learned quickly on that I need to trust one leveling system and choose the levels on my tech cam. I figured that the ground I was standing on wasn't level and what I needed was to have the tripod as sturdy as possible and just level the camera. Using this method I've captured multiple images where I stitched them together with near 99% success rate. Then Phase One came out with the IQ back that had yet another leveling device and I tried using that and failed. The failure wasn't so much the fault of the back than it was mine; it took too much time that resulted in the same end result. I've returned to using the levels on my tech cam.

    My holly grail isn't so much of getting the perfect level. What I'm attempting to achieve is being able to shoot multiple captures which when stitched together achieve 100% pixel coverage. So far I've gotten as close as 98-99%.

    Even getting as close as I have gotten there are times when I look at the image file knowing I was level (where I was standing) and see that the horizon looked "off". It happens and then what you need is good software to correct the problem of perception.

    In the end I've learned that in shooting in the outdoors there simply isn't a level place and you need to learn to deal with it. Or, go nuts looking for the perfect level. My recommendation is to pick a level and stick with it.
    Don Libby
    Iron Creek Photography
    Blog
    Tucson AZ

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    Senior Member Pemihan's Avatar
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    +1
    I too stick with the levels on my tech cam (Cambo WRS 1250) and am getting pretty good at it.
    But yes even though you KNOW that everything was level, sometimes it just looks wrong and you have to correct a bit.

    This image I know was perfectly level, but to get it to look right I had to rotate it just a bit clockwise.

    Peter
    My website
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    a bit of extra detail:

    the level needs to be done both ways, L/R (a true sea horizon is a good indicator) and front.back. all the bubble levels can do this for you, subject to their own inaccuracies.

    you also may need the rotation axis to be plumb, and it will be only if the rotation device is properly machined. way to tell: level both ways, then rotate the camera 180 degrees and it should stay level. My cube was off; and i corrected it by machining and re-setting the levels accordingly and I used more sensitive bubble vials

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Everything was good when there were fewer levels. Now, you've got a level on your tripod leveling base, on the panning clamp, and on the camera. If two out of three agree, you're lucky.

    The answer is to take your Phase back to the RRS tour and adjust the level to Graham Welland standards.
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    Senior Member stephengilbert's Avatar
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    "My recommendation is to pick a level and stick with it.'

    And cover your other levels with gaffer's tape.
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by stephengilbert View Post
    Everything was good when there were fewer levels. Now, you've got a level on your tripod leveling base, on the panning clamp, and on the camera. If two out of three agree, you're lucky.

    The answer is to take your Phase back to the RRS tour and adjust the level to Graham Welland standards.
    Feb 21, 2014 is the start of CI in CA(rmel) at San Luis Obispo with the RRS tour. Do we really want to talk "levels" with RRS? It was hard enough with Don Libby walking around the facilities last year. I was hoping to get invited back again...

    Graham Welland RRS Level standards: I like it.

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    RRS has alread told me I'll have my own "guide" for the tour. That's okay but why do I need the special uniform?
    Don Libby
    Iron Creek Photography
    Blog
    Tucson AZ

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Find the center of gravity of your camera, place that above the center of gravity of a tray, and float the tray in a container of water. Done.
    Will

    http://www.hakusancreation.com
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Is that a straitjacket?

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Libby View Post
    RRS has alread told me I'll have my own "guide" for the tour. That's okay but why do I need the special uniform?
    Peter
    My website
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    i'd agree with steve about picking the one set of levels and i'd use the ones on the cambo, except for the rotation axis requirement. since i rotate for panos using the top rotation plane on the cube, that is the primary plane i want level, best set by the levels on the cube (if they are calibrated). then i want to make sure the cambo image plane is truly plumb, from to back and side to side and that the cambo levels agree with that.

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    I don't rotate my panos when using the tech cam preferring instead to use a flat stitch. There are however times when using the 645 that I'll rotate and if I don't have a hotshoe bubble then I'll use the levels on the cube. Easy to double check. Enforce capture, just rotate the camera making certain the level remains throughout the arc of the rotation.

    Again, pick the one that works best for you and forget about the others. Finding the "perfect level" is very much like finding the perfect camera.
    Don Libby
    Iron Creek Photography
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    I disregard all level readings from tripod , Arca D4 , Cube and camera and use a
    EBISU Diamond Crystal Level ED-10CLS . It is a pocket size precision level which I already mentioned in an earlier thread .
    I measure horizontal and in the direction I shoot (before shift) . I use that spirit level with my ALPA where I always can find a good surface to put the Spirit Level .
    That at least works perfect for architecture photography .
    Regards . Jürgen .
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by stephengilbert View Post
    Which assumes that the level in the robot is calibrated and correct of course!

    As mentioned, select one level and stick with it. I had camera and IQ back tested at RRS on their leveling tables and ultimately was very pleased to find that at least the Alpa body levels were accurate and so I was able to sync the IQ body level to it. (I guess I shouldn't be surprised given the anal nature of Alpa about these things).

    The level on the cube and everything else I've tried has always been slightly off from either of those two references.

    Having seen the level of perfection that John Milich goes to with engineering his Cube to be correct on all axis, I'd use that to calibrate my gear in the future when I see him
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    we old machinists get a lot of practice with level and squareness. (the moment of the first plane strike, day of 9/11/2001, i was leveling a LeBlonde lathe)

    that new machine i just got (graham saw it) weighs 21,000 lbs! and has a 4' x 18' footprint. we will level that to .002" over the entire bed, level and flatness both, and then dial in the shaping head to the same tolerance over 12'. i rough it in with a bubble level or a laser, then use an optical transit, then finally a very precise machinist's level, .0005" per foot/divison line on the bubble, tweaking the multiple feet to take out sag and twist.

    the cube was easy
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    I am confused on the concern about being level, when you are shifting a digital back. I fully understand the issues that the various tools for determining level, (on the camera, on the tripod, etc.) don't always agree with each other.

    If you are stitching with a tech camera, i.e shifting the back, not lens, why do you worry about being level? With digital back shifting, there are no issues with parallax and the shots shifted will come together fine fine, no issues etc.

    If you are panning via a nodal pan, then it's all about being as level as you can. It's just like the days I used a Zork adapter on a Canon 35mm, with the Zork modified so the camera shifted not the lens. 100's of compositions taken over then years, all 3 part shifting.

    One of the main reasons I use a tech camera is to have the ability to stitch, 3 way, 15mm L C 15mm R. I can frame the shot the way I like it and not worry about being limited by being level, as you have to do with a nodal pan. I pretty much always try to stitch most scenes so that I can have the option to create a short pan later on in post.

    If I want to max resolution, then I will take 3 rows 15mm L C 15mm R which creates a more square image but does provide a huge file. Setting these up I never worry about if I am level or not.

    Not needing to be level makes things much easier. Just one less thing to have to worry about when setting up a tech camera on location.

    These 3 or 9 shot combinations are simple to construct in just CS6, no need for tools like autopano or ptgui. The time in working them is all the LCCs.

    Architecture work I can see a reason to be level as perspective issues can come into play or working in a nodal pan setup.

    Paul Caldwell

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Paul

    The issue is if the tech camera isn't level, even when doing shifts, you'll end up cropping the image in post. Now obviously the solution there is just to shoot a little looser but you know how finicky people get about these things
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by jlm View Post
    we old machinists get a lot of practice with level and squareness. (the moment of the first plane strike, day of 9/11/2001, i was leveling a LeBlonde lathe)

    that new machine i just got (graham saw it) weighs 21,000 lbs! and has a 4' x 18' footprint. we will level that to .002" over the entire bed, level and flatness both, and then dial in the shaping head to the same tolerance over 12'. i rough it in with a bubble level or a laser, then use an optical transit, then finally a very precise machinist's level, .0005" per foot/divison line on the bubble, tweaking the multiple feet to take out sag and twist.

    the cube was easy
    Very interesting John
    I would very much like to see , how this is done .
    Regards . Jürgen .
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Graham,

    Thanks, still can't get my hands around it.

    I setup literally hundreds of shots on mine, and I just never worry about if I am level, instead I just frame the shot the way I want it to look and stitch. These type of stitches, almost never require any cropping, max sometimes 1/8 of an inch on the top of one of the stitches but it's nothing like when you get a nodal pan that is not level and have to use something like a cylindrical assembly where you have huge amounts of detail lost due to the assembly method.

    This is stitching with a 28mm, 35mm, 40mm 43mm and 60mm on the Arca platform. All outdoor landscape scenes.

    Paul

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Here is an example from this fall. This was a 3 part shifted stitch from the 40mm Rod, on the IQ260. 3 horizontal shots combined in CS6. You can barely see a white line about 2 pixels wide around the bottom and part of the top. Yes, this might have to be cropped, but it's just as easy to blend with Content aware. I don't consider this too much to crop, not to have to worry about exacting perfect level. Neither camera or tripod were level as I was leaning out into space a bit to get around the railing, of which you can still see the left support in the lower part of the frame.

    Paul

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Personally I'm not anal about the leveling so long as I've got one reference point. Even when everything is plumb I may end up adjusting it anyway so that it works better visually.

    Btw, are you relying on eyeballing for level or are you letting C1 correct based on the back? That's certainly an option if you have an IQ back and you're 'close enough'.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    About 80% of time, as long as I am shifting the back, I just eyeball the lineup, using the Acra viewfinder. However when buildings are involved, or structures where I am working to hold my perspective, the level on the back comes in extremely handy.

    Paul

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    i never used to use a level, and i'm a tripod user, rather relying on the eyeball.

    made use of grids on the gg; and sometimes on the LCD (IQ160).

    then i got that damn cube with two levels on it.

    now the cambo has levels all over it…when they are there and convenient like that, you start to use them, which has been the slippery slope

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    The problem is even if the Cube is level, the camera might not be. That's why Don would level the camera instead. I think this might be useful for the quest of being perfectly level

    Digi-Pas DWL3500XY 0.001-Degree Resolution Dual Axis Digital Master Machinist Level - Amazon.com

    I'm going to get a geared cube mostly for having less crop as well.

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by hiepphotog View Post
    The problem is even if the Cube is level, the camera might not be. That's why Don would level the camera instead. I think this might be useful for the quest of being perfectly level

    Digi-Pas DWL3500XY 0.001-Degree Resolution Dual Axis Digital Master Machinist Level - Amazon.com

    I'm going to get a geared cube mostly for having less crop as well.
    Too bad there is only one in stock since two would be better for both directiond

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob View Post
    Too bad there is only one in stock since two would be better for both directiond
    It's a dual axis level with built-in vibro-meter for tripod test as well . Youtube ad:

    Digi-Pas DWL3500XY Dual Axis Master Machinist level with 0.001 degree resolution - YouTube

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Btw, even if the tripod, cube and camera are all level it doesn't mean that the sensor actually is 100% level which ultimately is the only thing that matters.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by hiepphotog View Post
    It's a dual axis level with built-in vibro-meter for tripod test as well . Youtube ad:

    Digi-Pas DWL3500XY Dual Axis Master Machinist level with 0.001 degree resolution - YouTube
    Cool, one for the bag and one for the shop.
    -bob

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    Btw, even if the tripod, cube and camera are all level it doesn't mean that the sensor actually is 100% level which ultimately is the only thing that matters.
    I had a machine bed in California once that was carefully leveled, then it rained, and the soil expanded a bit unevenly and screwed it all up.
    One reason that slabs of granite floating in mercury are so popular as stable bases.
    -bob

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    Btw, even if the tripod, cube and camera are all level it doesn't mean that the sensor actually is 100% level which ultimately is the only thing that matters.
    You forgot landscape - that's never level! Sometime I just screw the level of the gear and level everything to fit the shot.
    Don Libby
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    I never even look at the levels on the tripod or camera. For level I place a small spirit level alongside the back itself (luckily it seems to be machined relatively square to the sensor). For pitch I place the level against the sliding back.

    Works for Architecture... as long as it was built straight.

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Barrett View Post
    I never even look at the levels on the tripod or camera. For level I place a small spirit level alongside the back itself (luckily it seems to be machined relatively square to the sensor). For pitch I place the level against the sliding back.

    Works for Architecture... as long as it was built straight.

    Great , simple , cheap and efficient
    This is exactly what I do , except , that I use an EBISU CRYSTAL LEVEL .
    Similar size .
    Regards . Jürgen .
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Fortunately, on my kit, the levels of the D4, as well as a large Arcatech spirit level mounted on top of the D4, as well as the levels of my WRS1000 do match. Also the resulting captures are corretly leveled (I do shoot a lot of architecture, so decent leveling is critical for me).
    If the levels of the D4 would not be accurate, I'd send it to Arca for recalibration...

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Let r = (# of shots ruined due to badly leveled camera) / (# of shots ruined due to bad focus, exposure, or composition).

    For me, r is about zero. I hope one day for everything else to be good enough so that r shows up.

    --Matt
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    as i said before, the devil is the guy who put the levels on the cameras/cubes in the first place.
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Exactly! When there was only one, or zero, we were blissfully unaware of the inaccuracies. When you've got seven or eight and they're all slightly different the unnecessary irritation sets in.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Which is why I level the cube, look at the Cambo's levels, shrug, avoid looking at the levels on the back, shrug again, and shoot.
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    Paul

    The issue is if the tech camera isn't level, even when doing shifts, you'll end up cropping the image in post. Now obviously the solution there is just to shoot a little looser but you know how finicky people get about these things
    When shooting and stitching with primes, I always shoot a little loose. In fact with primes I end up doing some minor cropping on every image ... it’s never just right on. So not really doing it intentionally, but nearly every image can be improved compositionally by cropping. I do not have any standard sizes, I crop to what looks right to me, regardless of aspect ratios. My work is all priced based on the long side of an image only.

    I find shifting doesn’t allow me a wide enough horizontal capture most of the time, so I’ve pretty much moved to nodal rotation. When I have to tilt the camera because I can’t use shift to get what I want keeping it level, I found panotools does a nice job of pulling things back to “normal”. I also “oversample” when I shoot so there is a lot of data, overlapping by 65-75%.
    wayne
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Love both of those. They were shown in a earlier thread and I tried to locate them in the US. But seem to be only in Canada and Europe.

    Paul Caldwell

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    I find it easiest to simply use the dual axis leveling system on my IQ180 to level the camera system. It's certainly "close enough" for anything that I've done in photography and I've never found myself dejected into thinking, damn, wish I had a better, nay, the perfect level... The Cube makes leveling in conjunction with the IQ levels very easy.

    That being said, the Graham Welland standard may be the best compromise in search of maybe not the perfect level, but realistically ideal.

    It looks like CI in Carmel will stay mostly in Carmel in February 2014, but start in San Luis Obispo with a tour of the RRS facility. I'll check into the group using the RRS leveling tables to calibrate the dual axis levels for those with IQ series MFDBs to the Graham Welland standard. Not sure if the P65+ single axis level can be user calibrated.

  42. #42
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul2660 View Post
    Love both of those. They were shown in a earlier thread and I tried to locate them in the US. But seem to be only in Canada and Europe.

    Paul Caldwell

    Bought mine online for $30 with shipping, came from UK, iirc. Took 5 days to arrive.

    http://www.tradesmanschoice.com/cata.../ED-10CLS.html

    Still tend to use the built in Alpa levels more, though.
    Last edited by narikin; 15th December 2013 at 09:27.

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Thanks for the link.

    Paul

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    what tends to happen:

    level the camera for the center image for a 4 or 5 shot pano. use any level you want: camera, clear plastic, cube, IQ screen, etc. even the horizon.

    now pan using the cube top rotation plate and see if you are still level. not a lot to ask, but this is the reason to have your levels match on the cube, rotation axis and with the back
    Last edited by jlm; 16th December 2013 at 03:34.
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    a good source also :

    Spirit Levels, Vials

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Surely Leica will introduce a level with a red dot and charge $500 for it.
    Brad Husick

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    Quote Originally Posted by bradhusick View Post
    Surely Leica will introduce a level with a red dot and charge $500 for it.
    It should come as no surprise to learn that Alpa do have such items.

    Oh, and you'll need more than the $500 budgeted

    ALPA of Switzerland - Manufacturers of remarkable cameras - ALPA separate and interchangeable split spirit level

    ALPA of Switzerland - Manufacturers of remarkable cameras - ALPA separate and interchangeable spirit level
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    finally getting a bit of time to finish some old stuff. hate the levels on my cube, but that is not all. my primary reference needs to be that the panoramic plane be truly level. i very carefully leveled the cube both ways by placing a precision level in the clamp and immediately found the reading was not repeating when rotated 180 degrees, both x and y axes. meaning when the surface was level the rotation axis was not plumb.

    rigged up the following. the cube is fastened to the mill table and the indicator is clamped to the cube top pano center, rotating on the pano axis with the needle reading off the mill table. the cube gears are used to get the same indicator reading +/-0.001" at each quadrant. (the table is also level both ways)



    next step is to machine the cube top surface, taking off a very tiny amount (.003-.005") just enough to ensure the newly created surface is fully cut, as it will now be a plane perpendicular to the real pano axis.

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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    last step is to machine out the level pockets to accept new glass vials with 5 times the accuracy; they will be bonded in tomorrow. the arca plastic vials are pretty cheesy
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    Re: In search of the perfect level

    moving forward a bit; now i have accurate levels on the cube AND it stays level both ways within tolerance when rotated 90 degree increments. this ensures i can find and rotate in a level plane for panos relying on teh cube levels

    next step is to make sure the camera is consistent with the cube.
    with cube leveled:
    at first go, L/R cambo bubble level looks good, but the F/B bubble is off (bubble touching line, not centered)

    but what really counts is the sensor, so looking at the electronic levels on the IQ back and assuming they are the reference, i would have to re-set the cube out of level a considerable amount to level the back, and thus lose my level pano plane

    this tells me the RRS adapter plate and the Cambo base are out of whack with respect to the sensor.

    am investigating how to correct this problem right now.

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