Everyone's crazy about bubble levels. You're kind of looked down upon by the masses if you don't have one -- or worse, say you don't need one. So we decided to take a look at some of the more popular levels out there and see if they're worth the money. We'll take a brief look at each of the brands below and see how they measure up.
The procedure was simple: order 3 units from a third party so that no cherry-picking could be done by the manufacturers. [the only exception to this was the Send-It level because they volunteered to send us a couple of their units in exchange for a brutally honest assessment] We used a scope level base from Badger Ordnance as our base, whether it was a rail attached level or ring/scope mount version. This allowed us to establish a solid baseline with a known level base. To go even farther, we ordered a digital angle indicator from from SmartTool with an accuracy of 0.1 degree which is far more accurate than any bubble level. The whole idea was to capture data denoting how much bi-lateral movement each level has and the average of that movement between the 3 identical units. Then calculate how much horizontal deviation (in theory and it doesn't take into account the vertical component -- this is just for illustration purposes only) is possible, on average, and what that amounts to at 1000 yards.
It's important to note that there are two kinds of spirit bubble levels: cylinder and barrel. The shape of each is self-explanatory. The difference is that barrel types are inherently more accurate because of how the bubble moves within the device. If you want to know more about this aspect, Google it. There are a few articles out there that go into deep detail about the how's and why's. For the purpose of this experiment, we were rather surprised by the lack of the use of barrel type spirit bubbles. Or in as far as we could tell by using a micrometer to measure the diameter of the tubes wherever we could.
The first one we looked at was one of the levels included with the Wheeler Reticle Leveling kit. We keep it on the bench for all kinds of needs where we need a rough idea of where level is.
It's handy. It's small. It's magnetic. So it gets used quite a bit. What we learned from this study was that it's a good thing we don't use it for precision work. It has a 0.60 degree variance from line to line (0.30 degree bi-laterally). So if you're using this to level your scope reticle and you're not being absolutely 100% triple-checked careful, it could mean that you're as much as 5.23 yards off target at a grand. Nope. No thank you. Next. Bye Felicia.
One of the ring options we use for our rifles, specifically for the LRP precision hunting model, is the Ultralight Rings from Hawkins Precision. Mountable on any picatinny style scope rail, they're super lightweight and they include a nice little bubble on top of one of the rings for reference. Solid rings. We use a ton of them. But how do they measure up?
This data is assuming that someone other than the people at Bass Pro Shops mounted your scope and that they are tightened evenly and the gap is even as well. They have a 0.50 degree movement between the lines. This is actually pretty good considering that most bubble levels in general have a 3.0 degree movement. But they're still not the most accurate thing we tested. With a 0.25 degree lateral movement, it could yield a horizontal deviation of 4.36 yards at 1000. [note: we simply used the Pythagorean Theorum to calculate that deviation -- weaponizing math!] All things considered, in the hands of a knowledgeable and skillful hunter, these are still go-to rings and we encourage you to try them.
Because we all know that person, or persons, that will buy the most expensive rifle, the most expensive optic and then become a cheap punk ass bitch when it comes to their ring choice, we opted to include a "budget friendly" option. Insert the Burris scope bubble here. It's a bubble. That's about all we can say positive about it.
First of all, it's not the easiest thing to mount to your scope tube. And when you do get it there, it wants to spin and slide and generally just be a squirmly little toddler that doesn't want to take his nap. The numbers: 1.40 degrees between the lines, 0.70 degrees lateral movement, deviation potential = 12.22 yards at 1000. By far the worst thing we tested. And it promptly got an 8lb hammer applied to it!
Arguably the most popular choice is the scope mounted level from Vortex Optics. In fact, when we announced that we were going to do this study, more people said they were interested in the findings for this model than anything else. So fret no more. Here's what we found.
Again, these numbers are the average taken from the results of three different, but identical, models. This level experiences 0.70 degrees movement between the lines, or 0.35 degrees lateral shift either way. That translates into a potential deviation of 6.11 yards at a grand. This is good enough for 6th place in our study. It's easier to mount, albeit from the side, and it tends to stay in place much better than the Burris. Our only concern with this style level is that you really need to make sure you're using another known reference for actual "level" when placing this where you want it.
An odd find when we started looking for options, was the Rail Mount level from Knight's Armament (#30855). In terms of spirit bubble levels, its ultra small, low profile and the most expensive option coming in at just under $60. Being a minimalist, I really wanted to see how this one stacked up. As you can see from the picture above with the Badger Ordnance Dead Level base, it's something that you probably have to go looking for when you need it. And we're pretty sure, being that it's from Knight Armament, it's solely designed for use on an AR platform. But if you have a pic rail, it doesn't matter what kind of gun it's on, right? Plus, it's kind of Baby Yoda cute.
How did it perform? Actually, it was the second best option we tested. It has 0.30 degrees between the lines, or a lateral shift of 0.15 degrees side to side. And that yields a potential POI shift of just 2.61 yards at 1000. We'll take 2 please! For you hunters that want to keep things low and tight so you don't snag stuff, this is a great option.
Matt from HopticUSA does a lot to support our needs here in the shop. So it was a natural selection to put his levels in this study. We like them because they're small, compact, rail-mounted options and they're just "right there" when you need to find it. But, personal feelings aside, we needed to run the numbers and see where they land.
These levels actually tied with the Hawkins Rings. So we have to give this bubble the edge when it comes to economy of motion and the ease of finding it. The numbers are: 0.60 degree movement (0.30 degree laterally), potential POI shift = 5.23 yards. Still a solid recommendation. And we need to note that Matt has recently started using a new supplier and we're going to test some of the new ones when available because he promises that they're better.
As previously mentioned, the guys from Send-It jumped at the chance to send us a couple of their digital level devices. They found us on IG and quickly posted that they were pushing some our way immediately. Shortly before we started this study, one of our friends from Modern Day Sniper (Caylen) had just finished field testing this device and he was totally in love with it. But we needed to find out for ourselves.
We got two. One black, one brown. First, if you go this route, know two things: 1) they're the most expensive option at more than $100, but less than $200; and, 2) don't just rip open the box and go to town with it. You'll actually need to read the instructions. Yeah, totally not a guy thing. But doing it right the first time saves you time and money, promise! These devices use 3 digital accelerometers so they can measure in 3 planes. Yes, they even work when mounted vertically. They can be mounted directly to your pic rail or to your scope by way of a special scope ring/pic rail assembly. The only problem we had, once we figured out how to read the instructions, was that one device's knob broke when we turned it on and therefore couldn't be adjusted for sensitivity or turned off. When asked about this in terms of how many failures per thousand units, we were told (and shown by the supporting data) that it's a less than 1 per 1000 average. If you know anything about electronics manufacturing, that's almost an unheard of success rate. Bottom line: yes, they live up to their 0.20 degree sensor claim, and with the second smallest potential POI shift of just 3.49 yards at 1000, you can feel comfortable spending your hard earned beer money on this device!
We hope this blog post shed some light on the fact that all bubbles are not created equal. And we hope that you'll heed some of this information when you start buying and installing your choice of spirit bubble level (or digital).