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Cheaper " Professional " aerial photographer
( always described as
" State of the art digital camera equipment"! )
worth around £800
experienced up market pro aerial photographer
worth around £4500
purchasers of aerial photography know little about cameras or
photography so a few pound price difference can be a deciding factor
but the later wish they had paid a little bit extra for a top quality
To help you make an informed decision here is my kit which I use on all
premium jobs, together with some user
notes. NB Economy jobs may be taken on completly different camera
equipment, this is just for my premium work.
Prices are Canon recommended retail price on 14th May 2009
For 90% of my flights I carry all of this equipment . The 17-40mm top left in the photo has now been replaced by a Zeiss Distagon 21mm . I use nearly everything above bar the zooms on every flight. I almost always fly a 4 seat aircraft because with a 2 seat one and all this equipment we would not be safe to get off the ground. You won't see one of those big lenses in a microlight !
My kit :
Main Camera : Canon 1DS mk III RRP £8600. A demanding camera to get the best out of but in the hands of a skilled professional, with top grade lenses, it produces aerial photographs of the highest quality money can buy. Many of the worlds top photographers use this camera. A few use the cheaper Nikon D3 which is easier to use but Nikon don't have lenses to rival Canons f1.2 lenses so I'm staying with Canon. Click here to see what Canon says about it and here to see what users say about it.
Canon 5D £1860.00. On the whole its a good camera but not as good
as the 1DSmkIII.
I use it for economy jobs and premium jobs in difficult areas eg
if I have a job very close to a major airport where I
may get only one orbit. For jobs like that I use 2 cameras with 2 zoom
lenses, the 24-70 and 70-200. That way I have a full focal range and
can get the best shot in a situation where I may only have a few
seconds to get the key shot. I also do something similar when I am
working from an aircraft or helicopter with the door removed and
swapping lenses is not so easy.
Kenlabs KS-8 Gyro
stabilizer $4000.00 ( only available in
the USA so that's +vat, +import duties + shipping ). At 1500 feet there
are no tripods so all work is hand held. Cameras could be mounted to
the aircraft but that would be worse as it would pick up the vibrations
and movements from the aircraft. The normal solution is to use a high
asa and a fast shutter speed, typically 1000th of a second, to take the
image much quicker so there is no movement blur. The trouble with that
is you need either a high asa which means grainy images, or a wide
aperture which at best causes soft edges and at worse can lead to the
whole image being out of focus. The solution for aerial photographers
working at the very highest level is a Kenlabs Gyro stabilizer. Inside
the metal ball are two heavy tungsten disks which spin round at 20,000
RPM producing a gyroscopic effect. This means as the aircraft and
photographer bounce around in the sky, the camera and lens stay
relatively still. The military use similar technology to stabilize
guns. Sometimes you can see on TV a Challenger tank driving fast over
undulating terrain but the gun barrel stays pointing at the target as
if by magic. that's Gyro stabilization ! Its this Gyro that makes it
possible to do my night photos and my super long telephoto images, plus
it makes general work much better quality overall. Just before writing
this page I was working on a 600mm lens photo taken from 1500 feet up
at 100mph and it was pin sharp but taken at only 400th of a second. I
have even shot at night at 30th of a second with a 300mm with this
Gyro. This is highly specialized stuff and you won't be picking one of
these up from your local camera shop. I only know of two other
photographers in the UK who are using these and your more likely to see
one on a Hollywood set than your local aerodrome. Kenlabs do a range of
different sizes and naturally I only ever by the best so I have a KS-8
which is the biggest that can be hand held and has two spinning discs
so is effectively the same as two KS-6s. Obviously this level of
equipmet is reserved for customers who want the very best quality
and is not used for economy jobs. More info at the manufacturer: www.ken-lab.com/
Canon 300mm f2.8 £5299.99. This isn't just a lens, this is the god of aerial photography! I call it " Thor " and I paid for it more than most " professional aerial photographers" pay for all their kit together. Its hard to put into words why its special, it's simply one of the best camera lenses ever made and produces close up bright sharp images that nothing else can match. It also has 2 stop image stabilization which really does work, in fact its so good I shot this image at 30th of a second : cb43184.jpg For more info click here for Canons spec page and here for owner reviews. There are also full sized samples lower down the page.
Canon 85mm f1.2 mkII £2489.99. This is the sharpest lens Canon make, there is nothing to compare with it, Nikon don't make anything even close to f1.2. This lens produces images sharper than a banker negotiating a pension ! Using this lens I can get a good sharp photograph in any weather where I can see the ground. Low distortion makes this lens ideal for 3d modeling and cgi work. This is the main lens I use at night. I would sell family members before parting with this lens ! For more info click here for Canons spec page and here for owner reviews.
Canon 50mm f1.2
mkII £1799.99. On the whole this is
a fantastic lens. Reviews are a bit mixed because auto focusing can be
problem but after a bit of getting used to the focusing issues can be
overcome and the lens is capable of some stunning images. Low
lens ideal for 3d modeling and cgi work.
For more info click here
for Canons spec page and here
Canon 35mm f1.4
mkII £1799.99. This is Canons best
wide angle lens and mine performs faultlessly, pin sharp all over and
very reliable focus. I use this lens on all the scenic wide angle views
you will see all over my website. For more info click here
for Canons spec page and here
Distagon ZE f2.8. £1800.00. New for 2010 and not in the above photo.
One of the first examples of this lens to take to the air in the
UK this stunning lens is sharp from corner to corner, on a par with the
85mm f1.2. Click
here to see a sample
Canon 70-200mm f2.8L £1449.00. As zoom lenses go, this is as good as it gets. The image quality is very good, especially on a bright sunny day, but not as good as a pro grade prime lens, especially with edge sharpness, so I only use zoom lenses where I have to. Usually I use it when working with the door removed, or for some quick stock shots, or in situations where time is limited and I have to do a dash and motor wind blast such as shooting next to a major airport. Things all start to go down hill when it goes dark or rainy which renders this lens pretty hopeless and it stays in the bag. If I am shooting a cheap economy job myself then this is one of the two lenses I usually use. For more info click here for Canons spec page and here for owner reviews.
Canon 24-70mm f2.8L £1449.99. Same comments as the 70-200 really, as zoom lenses go, this is as good as it gets. The image quality is very good, especially on a bright sunny day, but not as good as a pro grade prime lens so I only use zoom lenses where I have to. Usually I use it when working with the door removed, or for some quick stock shots, or in situations where time is limited and I have to do a dash and motor wind blast such as shooting next to a major airport. Things all start to go down hill when it goes dark or rainy which renders this lens pretty hopeless and it stays in the bag. If I am shooting a cheap economy job myself then this is one of the two lenses I usually use. .For more info click here for Canons spec page and here for owner reviews.
Canon 17-40mm f4L £899.99. In the photo but since replaced by the Zeiss 21mm. This is a professional grade lens but its not really very good in the air . If I keep it really stopped down to f16 produces a usable result but f16 is more suited to tripods than aerial work. When I first bought it I swapped it 3 times with lenses from 2 different shops before finally coming to the conclusion its just not a good lens. Zeiss have just introduced a 21mm Distagon lens this year and I have bought one of the first copies in the UK to replace this lens and the difference is astounding. For more info on the Canon 17-40mm click here for Canons spec page ( Take it with a large pinch of salt and when you read "Superb optical performance throughout the zoom range" please remember its written by a marketing department. For more down to earth and accurate appraisals click here for owner reviews.
1.4x and 2x extenders £399.99 each . I occasionally use the extenders on the 300mm, usually the 2x.
Arctic Butterfly £50.00. I was skeptical about this before I bought it due to the high price, but it really does work making most of my photos free of sensor dust.
B&W filters £50.00 to £100.00. usually I have a UV on every lens plus a polarizer and a neutral grad although the zooms were naked at the time of the photo above. One is a HOYA pro but I've settled on B&W as they are the best and are made by Schneider-Kreuznach . Some are tricky to get hold of in the UK so I have bought one or two things direct from the agent in Wuppertal Germany. The right filters can make a big difference to the end photograph so its well worth investing a little. Little things tot up to a lot as I have just worked out there are over £500 for 6, that's more than some aerial photographers spend on the lenses!
Laptop and moving Map GPS £1000.00. I never thought I would use GPS as I know most places from memory but I do find it useful for precision navigation, especially when working close to controlled airspace. My main aircraft has its own fitted GPS as well. Most aerial photographers have a gps now but usually just the walkers type not a full CAA chart. As a fully qualified pilot and navigator I usually do the NAV and leave the radio and flying to the Captain. Splitting the work reduces stress and allows us to function better. Even when the pilots know where they are going it's still nice to have a reminder when coming up to controlled airspace of danger sites. Looking after my pilots licenses is every bit as important as making my customers happy.
Compact Flash cards and SD cards £300.00. Not in the photo but some are in the cameras, I have loads of these. Top cameras need top cards to keep pace with the large and fast file sizes so I have a number of 16 and 8GB.
above up and you get £33,198.92
To show you what all my expensive kit can do, here are some large samples of the 2008-2010quality
Mega Pixels and
Mega Bytes, an explanation
Mega Pixels is the width of an image x the height of an image in pixels.
eg my Canon 1DS mkIII produces images that are 5616 pixels wide and 3744 pixels high so 5616 x 3744 = 21,026,304 Pixels, ie when rounded 21 million pixels. Mega just means million but sounds better ;o)
Mega Bytes is the size of the file on your computer. Unless compressed the two are proportional, and image with more MegaPixels will make a file with more Mega Bytes, however the two figures are not the same thing so a 50 megabyte picture is not better than a 21 megapixel image and may in fact be less than half as good!
Most people quote megabytes because it is a bigger number, but quoting megapixels is more honest.
I've been very reluctant to quote image sizes in MegaBytes (MB) as it can be very misleading as the same image can be different sizes of megabytes depending on compression. Its normal practice amongst picture agents to quote the uncompressed size and then supply a compressed JPEG thus the offer is 60MB but what you get is a 10mb download. There is a logic to this in that the difference in quality is negligible (although if you make lots of changes to an image change it to a tiff and only convert it back to jpg when you've finished altering it) To give you a guide I have just taken a 21 megapixel image I shot yesterday and converted it to different file sizes the results of which are:
21 Megapixel image
|Original RAW file||
|16 bit Tiff||
|8 bit Tiff||
|Highest quality JPEG||
|High Quality JPEG as normally supplied (Quality setting 10 from 12 )||
|Low quality as I sometimes use for web samples ( JPEG 3 from 12 )||
To confuse you even more, when working with JPEGs the size will vary considerably depending on what is on the image. Large areas of a single colour such as sky make for a smaller number of Megabytes.
The images I supply are usually high quality JPEGs as they are easier to download and store. ( Many computers will not open a 16bit TIFF ) Where needed, for a huge mural print I will supply a TIFF at no extra cost if available ( NB Some images are shot as a JPG and some as a RAW )
Webb Aviation, "Villa Minimus" 14 Laleham Green, Bramhall, Cheshire SK7 3LJ
Tel (0044) (0)161 439 5197 Mobile 0776 968 8748