Our first experience with bubble levels is usually in the woodworking or machine shop, but in the photography world they also have a place. I didn’t realize the importance of these little things until I started producing virtual tours, where the whole camera setup from tripod mount to camera needed to be perfectly aligned.
This meant bubble levels on the tripod, mount attachment, leveling head, camera bracket, and the camera itself. This was probably overkill, but it did ensure near-accurate results. Bubble levels optimized for camera use usually fit on a hot shoe, but they can also come in various shapes, sizes and fittings, depending on where they are placed.
A good quality bubble level will get you a near-accurate level on most surfaces, but that accuracy will really depend on how minutely level your needs are. If you’re leveling needs are down to microns or percents of a degree, then you will probably need to invest in more expensive equipment. But, for general leveling purposes, a good quality bubble level will fit most needs.
Another point to bear in mind is that high-quality tripods may include a bubble level and most modern cameras have a leveling device built-in. There are also options like leveling bases, which also have a built-in bubble level, but those are really out of the scope of this article. Therefore, we will have a closer look at more general bubble levels for photography, which can be fitted to the most popular cameras.
The LensCoat 3 Axis Hot Shoe Bubble Level has only one way to fit on a standard hot shoe, but also levels on three planes. A simple plastic block has been used in the design, featuring three bubble levels which are clearly seen from all directions. This means that a camera can be moved from landscape to portrait view without the need to remove the bubble level.
This little unit is reasonably priced and features a well-thought-out design.
The Polaroid Hot Shoe Three Axis Triple Bubble Spirit Level is marketed for Canon and Nikon cameras, but should be able to fit a wide variety of hot shoes. This small cube is solidly made and provides leveling on three axes, while also being quite a tight fit.
As an overall global level solution, this unit works as intended, with the only small downside being the rather sharp edges. In all other respects, it’s an inexpensive solution that will work great for things like architectural photography and virtual tours.
Following the all-in-one cube design, the Vivitar 3 Axis Bubble Spirit Level can fit a regular camera’s hot shoe in multi-directions and provides a clear view of each bubble level.
The cube design looks larger on camera than most bubble levels, but as far as basic workings go, it does what it says on the tin and very accurately. This bubble level may not be the cheapest, but as usual for camera gear that stands the test of time, it’s always a good idea to buy branded versions.
This simply designed global level from Foto&Tech goes with a circular design, rather than the large blocky two- or three-axis versions. This little attachment also doubles up as a convenient hot shoe cover.
The build quality is quite solid and durable. The circular design may initially feel trickier to center than a two- or three-axis version, but with a little practice, it’s a convenient way to level a camera in multiple ways in one go.
Generally, this bubble level is a well-priced and feasible option for Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Olympus, Pentax, or Sigma cameras.
Another offering from Foto&Tech is the three-axis Hot Shoe Spirit Bubble Level, which adopts a cube design. This bubble level measures on three axes in an enclosed design and features the usual bright green liquid (unless you opt for the clear version) which won’t evaporate over time.
The level comes with it’s own velvet storage bag and while some people have complained about it being a tight or even loose fit on some cameras, it fits seamlessly on a Nikon D5300 and Canon 5D Mark III. In total, this level is very sensitive and a very quick way to level your camera at a moment’s notice.
7. ProMaster 3-Axis Bubble Level (Budget Winner)
Well priced and accurate, the ProMaster Bubble Level features a well-made design which is simple to use. Fitting most camera, and even camcorder, hot shoes, this little cube can level on three planes with a good degree of accuracy.
Although this bubble level works more or less the same as other cube designs, each of the three levels has standout black lines, which makes it easier to spot the bubble in the central position. This may only be a small feature, but every little bit helps on such a tiny unit. Also, as this bubble level costs less than $10, there’s no reason to not have one in your kit bag.
Summary of the Best Bubble Levels for Photography
Owning a bubble level that can fit straight onto your camera is very affordable, even when it comes to big brand name units. These handy little tools offer a quick and simple way to make sure your camera is always level. There are a variety of different designs on the market, but which one you choose comes down to your individual way of working.
In my opinion, the cube designs work the best as you can concentrate on one axis at a time, making sure everything is straight before moving on to the next. The circular all-in-one bubble design may seem simpler to use on the surface, but it always feels far trickier to get that bubble centered on all axes at once. Basically, with such a cheap entry point, there’s no excuse to not have bubble levels for photography in your kit bag.