Today I was talking to a friend about tripods, ball heads and leveling head/ leveling bases. He was asking if he should get a leveling base on the Feisol tripod he was about to order. From using a Bogen, a Really Right Stuff and a Feisol leveling base for my ball heads over the years, these are the reasons to consider a leveling base.
- Panoramas – Having your ball head pan horizontally in a level position is important if you want to make the most use of your sensor real estate. You can hand hold a pan and a multi image composite, but you will end up cropping more because of the variability in holding. You will also need a high shutter speed and images taken from a tripod always capture finer detail than hand held. I was introduced to a Sunwayfoto tripod head DDY -64mx that David Lawrence has started using. Made in China, it is fabulous quality and has multi indexed stops for shooting pans.. I can mount it on my other ball head and level from there.. No need for a leveling base like this. Thanks David!
- Birds in flight with a long lens (or other objects that move quickly)– Shooting with a gimbaled head ( Really Right Stuff and Wimberly ) makes this chore much easier. But shooting with a gimbaled head on an unlevel tripod means your horizon can become unlevel as you follow your subject. If you use a leveling base before you start shooting, then all is level with the world (as long as you remember to level your camera before you start shooting).
- Video – If you are going to use a fluid video head (which you will use if you want to move your camera during filming), then having a level base is imperative. Well, I guess that depends on the artistic license you plan on using. Maybe unlevel scenes are what you’re going for. If you want your scenes to be level, even when panning with the video head, you will need a leveling base.
I do need to mention that just because you use a leveling base doesn’t mean your shots will be level. You still have to make sure your camera is level within the mount (ball head, gimbaled head, video head). A bubble level or spirit level is the key, but many cameras now come with a built in electronic level. My Nikon D4 has one and it is so easy to use (includes 2 axis ) that I haven’t gotten my plastic bubble level out of the camera bag. Jim Clark said he was going to use his plastic bubble level as a door prize at his next workshop.