Dumping the ballhead.

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Has anyone else dumped their ballheads in favor of a better system? I've gotten tired of mine from a leveling perspective, which I usually do by groundglass. I also generally shoot with the camera above my head which makes a bubble level on top impractical. In video production we level the tripod and that's that. I'm thinking of maybe doing the same and getting one of those Bogen one way tilting heads, and panning with the center column. Problem is I need a bubble level for my tripod.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), December 19, 2001


Wayne: I have seen bubble levels in home centers and RV centers that you could lay on top of your tripod's camera plate. One I saw was about 2" in diameter, with the bubble level in the center. It should fit in your shirt pocket nicely. If you use a flatbed camera, you can lay a small level on the bed. It might not be as handy as a bubble level on the tripod, but it will show the camera is leveled. My old Ansco 8x10 has a swinging pointer on the side that shows when the camera is level front to back. Don't know why it isn't on modern cameras. Incidentally, you may can find a stick-on small level for the camera. I am like you...I can't see the level on top of the cameras as I like to raise the camera's ground glass to eye level. The small levels are cheaper than replacing a tripod head.


-- Doug Paramore (Dougmary@alaweb.com), December 19, 2001.

Well I do shoot a flatbed, but even a bubble there would be a pain since you have to look down on it. Best bet is a tripod with a level, but for a couple of bucks I should be able to work it out. Maybe a bubble on the opposite end of my column facing up would work?

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), December 19, 2001.

Wayne, I don't know if this is helps answer the question, but Gitzo has a leveling base. The part # is G1321. It has a level bubble on the top (where the tripod legs meet). If you have the RRS stuff catalog they discuss it on p. 46.

-- Jennifer Waak (jen.waak@visi.com), December 19, 2001.

The L. S. Starrett company is an old American firm that specializes in machinist's tools. They make a wide variety of levels, some with an accuracy of thousandths of an inch, and some which are perfect for photographic purposes. To level my big Gitzo tripod, I use the "Cross Test Level", No. 136, which has two ground and graduated vials at right angles (the bubble level built in to my tripod lost its accuracy twenty years ago).

http://www.starrett.com/catalog/catalog/groups.asp?GrpTab=Spe c&GroupID=128

I lay the level on the flat plate of the Gitzo that contains the collar for locking the centerpost height, and align one leg of the level with the base of the triangle formed by the tripods legs. I adjust one leg to level the base of the triangle, and then adjust the leg controlling the altitude of the triangle. This whole operation takes only seconds, and gives me an accurately level surface without resorting to the Gitzo leveling base. For a tripod head, I have the wonderful Arca-Swiss B2 Monoball, with its separate adjustments for each axis, and use the levels in my Arca-Swiss F/Metric camera for any subsequent fine-tuning, especially when shooting architecture. For speed and accuracy in setting up a reference position for a camera, I think the Starrett 136 level and B2 head are hard to beat. Starrett tools can be ordered through local distributors, and Robert White's prices make the B2 a not inexpensive, but reasonable proposition.

-- Christopher Campbell (christopher.campbell.mc.79@aya.yale.edu), December 19, 2001.

I use the Gitzo leveling head I mentioned before with the B2. I tried a ballhead and it just didn't take with me. I don't have the patience to just turn the dial a fraction to just loosen it up enough, so my camera would almost always go flopping right over when I usually just wanted to pan a bit. I think that either a leveling head or the triangle thing in the previous post combined with either the B2 or a pan-tilt head is what you want (I can't see any way out of your dilemma without two pieces of equipment). I really like my B2 and also bought it at Robert White. If I recall, you do a lot of architecture, so this solution seems ideal.

-- Jennifer Waak (jen.waak@visi.com), December 19, 2001.

Amen to the Starret, just junk all the rest. But then I junked all ballheads except for my window pod. I couldn't seem to get around using one there.

-- Ken Woodard (klwoodard1@home.com), December 19, 2001.

I changed from a ball head to pan and tilt heads for large format work several years ago. I have two Bogen pan and tilt heads, both have very visible bubble levels built in. Not quite as good as being on the camera itself, since the camera has to be perfectly level on the head in order for the levels to be dead on, but still much better than the ones on top of the camera which, like you, I couldn't see at all.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), December 20, 2001.

I'm not fond of ballheads either and could never understand the attraction of them for large format. I use a three-way pan-tilt head and probably will eventually move to a Ries head with pan and tilt only on the fore/aft axis, since my camera has a cylindrical rail, and I can level the camera left/right on the rail. I'm using a Bogen 3233 (black version of the 3033) legset which has its own bubble level, and I'd imagine there are other models that have this feature as well.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), December 20, 2001.

I just switched from an Arca B1 in favor of the Linhof 3-way levelning head (hard to find, about $400 grom Badger Graphics). It's compact, precise, and VERY flexible. I use it for 4X5 field camera work and contort it for vertical shooting with a Pentax 67.

-- Paul Shambroom (pshambroom@mn.rr.com), December 23, 2001.

"Linhof 3-way levelning head (hard to find),"

Since this is a stock item, 003663, many stores in the US selling large format (Ken Hansen, Samys, Foto Care, Gassers, Bear Images, K&S, Glazers, etc. stock it and any camera store (we have over 900 dealers) can order it.

It isn't at all hard to find. You just ask a camera store for one.

-- Bob Salomon (bob@hpmarketingcorp.com), December 23, 2001.

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