Getting your horizon straight is an important factor for your landscape compositions. Whilst there are tools for straightening up in post-processing software, as always at EOS magazine were advocates for getting it right in-camera. And recent cameras have a handy tool in the viewfinder – the viewfinder level.
Recent years have seen Canon experiment with a range of electronic levels visible in the viewfinder. These have the advantage of not requiring you to move your eye away from the camera eyepiece to adjust the composition horizontally or vertically. This means it's also possible to use the camera without a tripod and press the shutter release when everything is lined up.
EOS 80D, 77D, 70D, 800D, 760D
These cameras are the first to introduce a unique electronic level icon into the viewfinder. Go to the EOS 80D, 77D, 800D or 760D Viewfinder display > Electronic level menu (yellow SETUP menu), or the EOS 70D Viewfinder level menu (red SHOOTING tab) and select Show.
When you partially depress the shutter button, the electronic level will appear at the bottom of the viewfinder. Lines appear around the icon to show when the camera is horizontal, or the degree of horizontal tilt. This system operates in both landscape and portrait camera formats.
The EOS 6D uses the exposure compensation scale as an electronic level. This only works with the camera in a landscape format. It is not displayed when the camera is rotated to a portrait format. First you need to go to the Custom Functions tab and select C.Fn III-5. This brings up the Custom Controls screen. Here, you can assign the VF electronic level to the depth-of-field (DoF) button. Pressing the DoF button shows the degree of tilt in the exposure compensation scale. The aim is to have just a single arrow showing.
EOS-1D X, 5D Mark III
These cameras use the existing autofocus (AF) points to create an electronic level. Press the depth-of-field button on the EOS 5D Mark III (opposite side to the lens release button on the front of the camera), or the pre-assigned button on the EOS-1D X, and you will see squares around one or more of the AF points (left). The aim is to move the camera so that the only visible square is over the centre AF point. This is not difficult and has the advantage of using a display already available in the camera. Works in both landscape and portrait formats.
EOS-1D X Mark II, 5D Mark IV, 5DS, 5DS R, 6D Mark II, 7D Mark II
These cameras take the electronic level a step further by showing horizontal and vertical tilt. Go to the Viewfinder display in the setting (yellow) menu, select the Electronic level item and set Show. When you partially depress the shutter button, a group of arrows (top left) will appear at the top of the viewfinder. The aim is to adjust the angle of the camera until all the black rectangles along the horizontal and vertical lines disappear, leaving just the black square in the centre. This system also works with the camera rotated to a portrait format.
Margin of error
In all the Canon EOS instruction manuals it says that there is a margin of error of approximately ±1° with these electronic level systems. Will you notice one degree? Probably not, but it'll depend on how much margin your camera displays – for the entry level models like the Canon 800D, the level can only display either 1º or 2º or more, More advanced cameras like the EOS 5D Mark IV show one degree marks up to 7.5º or higher.
The surest way...
If you need to be sure of a level horizon, then a hot-shoe spirit level is your answer. It's a relatively inexpensive accessory and won't take up much room in your kitbag either.
About this article
This article excerpt has been taken from the July-September 2016 issue of EOS magazine called 'Viewfinder info'. You can get a copy of this issue via EOS shop.
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For perfect horizons, a sturdy tripod is just what you need.