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The Optical Level Fights its Corner - But Will It Win?

Updated on January 22, 2010

The Optical Level or Dumpy Level as it is sometimes referred to is constantly being pushed into a corner by the digital and laser options. However there are a significant number of benefits to having an Automatic Optical Level as a standard piece of site equipment.


typical optical level
typical optical level

Oops It's A Knock-Down

One of the main problems with these levels in the past has been their fragile nature. Lets face it they are a precision optical instrument that has to survive the hostile construction site environment. It is so easy to knock or even drop the optical level which in the past would often render it useless.

Optical Level - Designed to Last

The modern range of optical levels like the NA700 series from Leica are extremely robust and designed to withstand vibration, short drops to the floor and even emersion in water. If you accidentally drop it you just pick the optical level up, dust it down and carry on working!

This is not always the case for theodolites, digital levels and other survey equipment.

The Leica NA720 Automatic Optical Level
The Leica NA720 Automatic Optical Level


The optical level or dumpy level is typically used for most types of leveling work by:-

  • Site Supervisors
  • Foremen
  • House Builders
  • Civil Engineers
  • Ground Workers
  • Architects
  • Construction Companies


and many more.

The modern optical level has an endless fine drive for rotation in the horizontal plane. This helps to reduce targeting times. Modern precision optics ensure that you are aiming accurately at the target and can be used in extreme lighting conditions.

So why choose an Automatic Optical Level over a rotating laser level or total station? Well I think the strongest driver is price. Typically an optical level will cost 1/3 of the price of a basic rotating laser level like the Rugby 100. If you want a grading capability then optical levels are about 1/6 of the rotating laser level equivalent.

Now it really depends on what you are doing and clearly there will be advantages in many instances for using the higher tech devices. If you are running spot checks on run-off angles or pads for steelwork. Then there is always a good case for using the optical level.

There are also some other advantages of keeping an optical level on site.

With a price tag of under £200 ($340) these optical levels are less likely to be stolen compared with a rotary level, a total station or other survey equipment items.

Another important factor that is often forgotten is that the optical level does not require electricity to function. So no more worries about battery life or locating the spare.

So whilst there are clear advantages in using high tech laser levels. Don't forget that you can often 'dig yourself out of a hole' by keeping an optical level ready for action.

Why not check out SCCS for all your survey equipment needs.

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