Introduction: How to Build a Light Up Camera Level for a DSLR

Have you ever shot in low light conditions and noticed your shots were off level? Well I certainly have!  I have been doing a lot of work lately with long exposure photography and when I am out in the field using a gorillapod I find myself running into this quite often.

I know I can buy a shoe mount camera level, but at night it is very difficult to see.  I clearly needed to make my own, so please follow along in this instructable to see how to make your own.  Here is a quick video walk through showing you what you can build by the end of this instructable.

Parts List:
-Coin Battery Holder (taken from a simple window alarm in this case) - $1 harbor freight
-2x spirit levels with holders - $2 at OSH
-2.5 x 4 inch piece of scrap sheet aluminum
-4 small green LEDs
-slide switch
-small project case - $1 at AllElectronics
-Enamel Coated Wire
-5 Minute quick set expoxy - $1 harbor freight

-Mighty Puddy
-Spray Paint
-Felt Pads - $2 OSH

Tools Required:
-Soldering Iron
-Tin Snips
-Sand Paper
-Drill and Bits

Step 1: Building the Base

In this step we will be building the base of the camera level.  We will be using the scrap aluminum sheet since it is fairly light, and thin enough to fit between a camera and the tripod.

-Take your piece of scrap sheet aluminum and place it on the bottom of your camera to make sure that the aluminum is overlapping the tripod mount.
-Trace out the shape of the base
-Now trace out some patterns for where to mount your spirit levels, and project case which will contain your switch and batteries.
-Fill in all of the parts which you want to cut out with your marker
-Using your tin snips cut out the parts that won’t be used
-Now using some pliers bend the lips you marked out to mount the project case and spirit levels to

Step 2: Mounting the Spirit Levels and Project Case

In this step we will mount the accessories to the base building the majority of the camera level.

-trim up the level holders to make sure they will mount properly to your base
-create a clean level surface to work on
-mix your 5 minute epoxy
-glue the holders to the base on the tabs that are folded out using the epoxy
-mount the project case to the base on the tab created for it, in this case I used a spare hinge I had laying around since my tab wasn’t long enough
-use epoxy to glue the case to the tab
-drill a small hole in the bottom of the case to run the wires through
-drill holes into the end of the level holders (where the light will shine through)

Step 3: Wiring Up the LEDs

In this step we will wire up the LEDs to the switch and battery holder which will be used to light up the spirit tubes illuminating them at night.

-place the led’s in behind the drilled holes and bend the ends toward the body of the holder, make sure the + and – terminals  face each other
-solder the terminal leads together
-now connect both sets of led’s together with the enamel wire and solder so you have a parallel circuit setup to each led
-solder a wire to the + terminal of the battery holder to one of the switch terminals, and run a piece of enamel wire off of the adjacent switch terminal and solder it to the + part of the led circuit
-solder a wire to the – terminal of the battery holder and then solder the other end to the – side of the led circuit
-place batteries into the battery holder and flip the switch hopefully it should light up now, if not verify your connections
-place the battery holder and switch using epoxy to hold them into the project case and seal it up with the case back

Step 4: Finishing Your Light Up Camera Level

In this step we will be finishing the camera level into a working state.

-place your new level under your camera and measure where the hole needs to be drilled to allow for your tripod screw to come through.  Make sure you get this right since this can be very hard to undo.
-Drill the hole for the tripod mount
-Place the spirit level tubes back into the holders

Now you have a DIY light up camera level… but wait it is ugly…

Ok this step is completely up to you and how you do it, but for reference this is how I cleaned up my level so at least it wasn’t horrible to look at.

-take out the spirit tubes from the level holders
-use mighty muddy to fill in the gaps and hard edges in the level without blocking the view of the level.  Mighty Putty is an epoxy putty which you can drill, cut, and sand making it an easy tool for finishing.
-once the putty has dried sand it smooth, and clean the surface free of dust
-spray paint the level making sure you not to paint over the holes where the led light is showing through
-once dry place felt stickers on the base to make sure it can’t scratch up your camera
-place the spirit tubes back into the holders

You now have a finished light up camera level, so get out and shoot some photos!

You can view all of the high res photos for this instructable in this flickr tagset:
Light Up the Night! Contest

Runner Up in the
Light Up the Night! Contest