What is a Transit Level?
Transit levels are necessary for identifying contours in the land and surface area used for buildings and construction projects. Builders, architects, civil engineers, and everyday homeowners all use transit levels to measure their work. Specifically, a transit level is a type of optical instrument (such as a telescope) with a built-in leveling tool (like a graduated vial) and base. Workers use transit levels for surveying, building, and finalizing their construction and engineering plans.
Why You Need a Transit Level
Transit levels identify the sites on land that need to be evened out or “level off” prior to erecting a building, bridge, or any other type of construction. A transit level is important for checking grades, leveling, and turning angles. The reason you need a transit level (in addition to a standard builder’s level) is that transit levels take more accurate vertical measurements (also known as plumbing or plumb measurements). Whereas a builder’s level focuses primarily on flat or horizontal measurements, a transit level can help provide a more accurate picture with vertical angles.
Benefits of Transit Levels
Foremost, transit levels help prevent serious measurement errors in construction. This can help prevent long-term problems (like foundation damage). In this way, the tool may help you save money in the long run.
Other primary benefits of transit levels include the following:
- Optical magnification typically higher than other leveling tools
- Helps determine vertical angles and basic grades
- Ensures accuracy on turning angles
- Allows you to choose a flexible working range
- Assists with checking alignment and plumb during construction jobs
- Helps determine slope and other steep jobs (suitable for vertical alignment tasks)
Guide To The Best Transit Levels
Different Types of Transit Levels
Automatic – Also known as “self-leveling,” the purpose of an automatic transit level is to remain accurate and level regardless of ground vibration, environmental changes, or rough handling. While traditional instruments use graduated leveling vials that can produce slightly “off” results due to ground vibration or temperature, automatic levels use compensators that stabilize the line of sight. This makes automatic transit levels a great choice for structural framework like foundations and floors as well as large-scale surveying on difficult terrain.
Speed Line – A type of transit level beneficial for rough angle turning as well as fine tuning measurements. These levels may include clamps or tangents that stabilize the instrument and enable easy setup. Some models also include vertical arcs that work in conjunction with horizontal circles to help measure angles accurately.
Universal – The kind of transit level designed for use on any type of horizontal or vertical sighting (e.g. localized building projects as well as large surveying or agricultural jobs).
When to Use Transit Levels
You should use transit level to determine straight lines and accurate measurement at the start of any major construction or surveying job. A transit level measures the exact distance of surface or target height over the visible line of a project. While some people assume you can just use global positioning systems (GPS) for surveying or forestry projects, transit levels are necessary for measuring the grade or slope in any hands-on construction or engineering task.
How to Use Transit Levels
Ensure the base has a stable surface. Line up the transit level telescope over the leveling screws to find your base positioning. Next, rotate your telescope 90 degrees until the instrument reads center. Once you have established this baseline, move the instrument through 360 degrees (in 90-degree increments) to begin leveling. Since different brands have additional features, refer to the user manual for specific details.
Best Practices for Transit Levels
Operation – While operating a transit level is relatively straightforward and safe, most brands recommend wearing gloves and finding a stable ground surface before you begin using the product.
Safety – Keep your transit level in an identifiable case to prevent damage or breakage on construction sites.
Storage – Most transit levels come with hard carrying cases for storage between use. These cases are essential for protecting the instrument from damage in rough construction environments. Between projects, store the tool in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Best Transit Levels and Reviews
Product Features: David White LT6-900 is a precision tool suitable for both home improvement and large-scale surveyor jobs. This instrument has a 22x optical magnification for crisp, clear images at a distance of up to 200 feet (60 meters) away. The tool also has a leveling accuracy of 0.25 inches per 100 feet (or 6 millimeters for every 30 meters). David White LT6-900 has a horizontal circle with single-degree gradients with a horizontal lock and tangent screw for exact measurement control.
- Famous for precise measurement and movement control
- High 22x optical magnification to produce crisp images
- Transit level working effective range of up to 200 feet (6 mm per 30 m)
- Leveling accuracy rate is 0.25 inches per 100 feet
- Central, horizontal circle measures in single-degree gradients and reads by Vernier-direct (15 minutes); also uses locking mechanism for precise reading
- Vertical tangent or angle may produce inaccurate measurements
- Vernier gauge may loosen easily
The Verdict: Known for precision in movement, the David White LT6-900 is a great choice for handymen and women as well as professional surveyors.
Product Features: The NWI NSLP500B is a classic layout tool for on-site construction jobs. It has a 20x magnification for easy-to-read images from up to 200 feet away. Along with this effective working range, the instrument has an accuracy range of 0.25 inches per 100 feet. With its tripod, plumb bob, and professional-grade aluminum rod, the transit level is a practical measuring tool for any location.
- Durable setup ideal for construction jobs, home architecture projects, and farming or agricultural jobs
- Transit level has an effective range of up to 200 feet away with 20x magnification
- Instrument has an accuracy range of 0.25 inches per 100 feet
- Includes a classic builders’ tripod and ninth-grade rod
- Comes with a construction-grade carrying case, plumb bob, and official instruction manual
- Weighs a sturdy 13 pounds for stable setup and easy portability
- Some users consider this instrument clumsy or slow for time-sensitive jobs
- Due to range limits, this tool is unsuitable for jobs like archaeological mapping that require more precision
The Verdict: The NWI NSLP500B is easy to use for most big, “on the site” construction projects. Construction professionals refer to this transit level as an industry staple for building jobs.
Product Features: As a professional-stage transit level, the AdirPro is an automatic transit level designed to yield fast and accurate results. It provides clear 22x optical magnification in both horizontal and vertical directions with an accuracy of 0.25 inches per 100 feet. The AdirPro has a standard maximum working range of up to 200 feet away, but it also has a special 4.5 feet short-range focus to ensure precision on smaller projects.
One of the most striking features of this leveling tool is the aircraft-grade aluminum telescope. The telescope’s achromatic-coated lens and built-in sunshade reduces light glare and sharpens the image (even when using the telescope at the highest magnification setting). With its sliding lock levels and aerodynamic design for mounting onto a tripod, you can easily use the telescope along with the transit level’s one-degree vertical arc to establish pitch and posts for any construction job.
Compatible with horizontal and vertical applications with a working range of up to 200 feet
Uses an aircraft-grade telescope with achromatic-coated objective lens and built-in sunshade to supply 22x optical magnification; focus knob included to prevent breakage
Instrument has measurement accuracy of 0.25 inches per 100 feet
Includes special 4.5 feet short-range focus setting for smaller jobs
Uses one-degree vertical arc to verify pitch and set posts
Coated with chip-resistant, yellow construction paint to ensure visibility on the job
User manual can be difficult for non-professionals to read and understand
Does not provide clear degree points or minute-second notation
The Verdict: With its telescope, razor-sharp magnification, and horizontal-vertical applications, the AdirPro is a solid choice for professional jobs.
Product Features: As the name implies, the NWI NCLP32 Contractor transit level is a popular choice for independent workers and contractors. It employs an automatic level with 32x optical magnification and an effective range of up to 400 feet, allowing you to work on large spaces with ease. The instrument has an accuracy of 0.0625 per 250 feet, and the package includes a tripod and professional rod for accurate measurements on the job. In addition to its excellent magnification and working range, this tool comes with a hard case, plumb bob, and instruction manual.
- Automatic transit level with 32x optical magnification and working range of up to 400 feet
- Measurement accuracy of 0.0625 per 250 feet for large-space surveying and grading
- Contractor horizontal transit level can check ground elevation, measure horizontal angles, and help determine distance
- Includes a contractor tripod, aluminum rod, portable carrying case, plumb bob, and user manual
- Carrying case only holds the level
- Not suitable for vertical applications
The Verdict: The broad, horizontal measurement capacity of the NWI NCLP32 makes this instrument a practical choice for general contractors.
Product Features: The CST/Berger 54-200B is a unique product that can perform both horizontal (level) and vertical (plumb) measurements. This instrument can operate effectively at a distance of up to 200 feet, and it has an accuracy range of 0.25 inches for every 100 feet. Equipped with stadia and vernier, this product enables you to level the surface ground, formalize pitch, and then mark posts using the vertical measuring tool. You can also use the 15-minute circle to scope out rough angles. This tool is lightweight and easy to transport to your on-site location.
- Unique ability to take both vertical and horizontal measurements
- Leveling (horizontal) and plumb (vertical) measuring ability has an effective range of up to 200 feet with 20X magnification
- Both horizontal and vertical measurements have an accuracy range of 0.25 inches per 100 feet
- Includes a built-in, 15-minute circle that allows you to set and adjust rough angles
- Comes with a portable, hard case great for transport and on-location construction sites
- Lightweight (four pounds) size and product dimensions makes it easy to carry
- Some users find the settings difficult to operate
- Does not provide engineering calculations
- Incremental minutes and seconds do not function as well
The Verdict: The ability to perform leveling and plumb operation equally well make the CST/Berger 54-200B a must-have for most projects.
Product Features: The David White LT8-300P Universal transit level is a rugged, sturdy tool suitable for everything from surveying to landscaping. This instrument has a working range of up to 400 feet (120 meters), and its leveling accuracy clocks in at 0.1875 at 150 feet. It has a horizontal circle and vertical arc that each have a lock and tangent to finalize pitch for work. In addition, this tool has an optical plummet attachment for visual accuracy.
- Rugged construction with balanced horizontal and vertical applications
- Includes optical plummet for visual accuracy
- Has an effective range of up to 400 feet (120 meters) and a horizontal accuracy of 4.75 millimeters at 45 meters
- Primarily suitable for medium-range leveling (no short-range feature)
- Locks may require more effort to operate than other brands
The Verdict: This model’s broad, universal application makes it a great choice for those who need a transit level that can function in any environment.
Product Features: Contractors and laborers who need a compact instrument with cutting-edge technology may consider the David White 44-8872 LT8-300LP Universal transit level. It features a stocky design that holds a powerful 26x optical magnification lens for a crystal-clear picture. In addition, the leveling telescope has a laser plummet for easier upward usage. Like other David White transit levels, this model has an effective range of up to 400 feet (120 meters) and horizontal accuracy of 0.1875 at 150 feet. The product comes with a rain hood, plumb bob, lens cap, and portable carrying case for the job.
- Compact design for field work
- Powerful 26x optical magnification telescope lens with laser plummet for easy upward use
- Working range of 400 feet (120 meters) and leveling accuracy of 4.75 millimeters at 45 meters
- Horizontal leveling circle with lock and tangent; vertical plumb arc with lock and tangent
- Product includes rain hood, plumb bob, telescope lens cap, and case
- Compact size may not be as durable as other models
- Primarily suitable for medium-range leveling (no short-range feature)
The Verdict: For a compact, visually powerful tool great for distance measurements, the David White 44-8872 LT8-300LP is a popular option across multiple industries.
Product Features: If you need an automatic transit level that is truly lightweight and portable, the Nikon Ac-2S is a suitable model for you. Weighing only 2.8 pounds, this instrument provides optimal measurements for field jobs like surveying and forestry. This tool features durable metal outer shell with magnetic-dampened compensators that can withstand extreme weather conditions, making it perfect for leveling on diverse terrain. With a 24x optical magnification telescope, built-in bubble mirrors, and sighting lines, the Nikon Ac-2S can keep you feeling equipped in any environment.
- Lightweight and portable automatic transit level (2.8 pounds)
- Durable metal housing and magnetic-dampened compensators for easy use outdoors
- Designed to withstand the effects of rain, wind, extreme temperature, and dust
- Can mount to both flat-head and spherical-head laser level tripods
- Features a 24x optical magnification leveling telescope
- Does not provide clear degree points or minute-second notation
- Primarily suitable for measuring horizontally or downward (unsuitable for vertical applications)
The Verdict: If you plan to work in extreme climates, tight spaces, or steep slopes, the Nikon Ac-2S Automatic is a practical tool for your supplies arsenal.
Product Features: The Bosch GOL26 is a compact automatic transit level that is as powerful as it is portable. It features a 26x optical magnification that allows you to work within a range of up to 330 feet. With an accuracy of 0.0625 inches per 100 feet along with horizontal and vertical crosshairs, this instrument allows you to take precise measurements in any location. Perfect for travel, the tool features UV-resistant housing and a self-leveling compensator that automatically locks into place during transport. Once you on-location, the transit level’s 90-degree prism enables quick setup and accurate alignment for your surveying needs.
- Compact, portable automatic transit level designed for travel and on-location jobs
- 26x optical magnification with effective range of up to 330 feet and accuracy rate of0.0625 inches per 100 feet
- Suitable for horizontal and vertical applications
- Includes self-leveling compensator that automatically clamps into place to prevent damage during travel
- Features a 90-degree alignment prism for easy setup
- Some users find the compact travel design unsuitable for permanent or long-term jobs
- User manual does not include details on how to use the self-leveling compensator
The Verdict: Laborers or independent contractors who travel for work can benefit from the travel-friendly design and generous working range of this tool.