ES 555 Small Format
Conventional aerial photography
Aerial photographs have been taken since the mid-1800s, beginning with manned balloons. Many innovations and experiments
were undertaken in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Balloons, kites, and powered aircraft
were utilized to lift cameras above the Earth's surface. These early airphotos changed
the way people viewed the landscape from both practical and aesthetic points of view.
Since World War I, aerial photography became standardized with large, geometrically
precise cameras designed for resource mapping and military applications. The science
of photogrammetry developed for transforming airphotos into accurate cartographic
measurements and maps. Standard aerial photography today is based on the following.
This conventional approach is expensive--$10s to $100s of thousands to acquire airphoto
coverage. This cost can be justified for major engineering projects and extensive regional
surveys of the type often undertaken by provincial or national governments--soil survey,
environmental monitoring, resource evaluation, property assessment, topographic mapping,
and basic cartography.
- Large-format film: Panchromatic b/w, color-visible, or color-infrared film that is 9 inches (23 cm) wide. This is the largest film in production and common use nowadays. Large-format digital cameras are becoming more common nowadays.
- Large cameras: Bulky cameras weighing hundreds of pounds with large film magazines. Film rolls contain several hundred frames. Standard lenses are 6- or 12-inch focal length. Taking photographs is usually controlled by computer programming in combination with GPS locational information.
- Substantial aircraft: Twin-engine (or larger) aircraft are commonly utilized to
carry the large camera and support equipment necessary for aerial photography. Moderate
(10,000-foot) to high (40,000-foot) altitudes are typical for airphoto missions.
Small-format aerial photography
Small-format aerial photography (SFAP) is based on light-weight cameras with 35-mm or 70-mm
format film or compact digital cameras. Images acquired with such cameras lack the geometric
fidelity and ground coverage of conventional air photos. However, the case for SFAP is based
on cost and accessibility.
Low-cost availability of cameras, film, and lifting platforms is a combination that makes SFAP
feasible for many people and organizations. Manned platforms include small airplanes, helicopters, ultra-light aircraft, balloons, and blimps. These are necessarily more expensive and require specialized training in contrast to unmanned platforms, such as kites, balloons, blimps, model airplanes, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Within the field of aerial photography, much innovation is taking place nowadays with all types of UAVs and imaging equipment. As a specially within remote sensing, SFAP fills a niche of observational scale and height between the ground and conventional aerial photography--a range that is particularly valuable for detailed site investigations of environmental conditions at the Earth's surface. SFAP is employed in various applications ranging from archaeology, to precision agriculture, to real-estate development and commercial applications.
- Low cost: Cost of acquiring SFAP is typically in the range of a few $100 to $10s
of thousands for missions of limited scope or specialized nature. This cost puts SFAP within
the financial means for projects that could otherwise not afford to acquire conventional aerial
- Accessibility: Low-height, large-scale imagery is feasible with manned or unmanned platforms. SFAP may be acquired in situations that would be impractical or risky for operating larger aircraft.
Return to SFAP schedule.
ES 555 © J.S. Aber (2016).