Aerial photography equipment of Klaus Leidorf from the past 30 years.
“You have started the aerial photography purely for the aerial archaeological documentation. What was and is the flying vehicle of your choice and why?”
My precursor and teacher Mr. Otto Braasch was flying a Cessna 172, so this was the plane I got in contact first and soon learned the advantages.
- It is the most often built single engined light aircraft,
- easy to fly and has a forgiving nature.
- Its wings are positioned above the cockpit and its window can open on the pilot’s side. Perfect for taking aerial photographs!
Further it allows to be flown in a rather slow speed, which is very handy documenting an archaeological site, where numerous images have to be taken.
After chartering a Cessna 172 for about a year I bought my own one, a Cessna 172 M REIMS built in France in 1975. It is still my faithful companion in the air – we have flown more than 8000 hours together. Counting all flying hours I have spent over one year of my life in the air.
“What was the camera equipment you started with 30 years ago?”
The Contax 167 MT and the Contax RTS III cameras were my choice back then, as they were more affordable than Leica but still could use the very qualitative Carl-Zeiss lenses.
As I started the aerial photography for the aerial archaeology and my main customer, the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments asked for small format slide films in colour and black and white, this was my main format.
Regarding the lenses, my chosen brand was Carl-Zeiss with no doubt – a good lens made the image. I always changed between 28 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm and 180 mm. No more zoom, as it was not possible to hold the camera still enough in the jerking plane.
This changed completely with the image stabilisation technology integrated in the zoom lenses. I bought my first one by Nikon with VR (Vibration Reduction) which was a 80-400 mm lens in November 2000.
The films I used were Fudji Velvia and Kodak Chrome ASA 25 with a low sensitivity to light, as I was flying mainly in good weather conditions.
“You also offer some middle format images, how did they come about?”
As in the aerial archaeological documentation the attention to detail is very important, I decided to try out the middle format in 1993. I was very pleased with the results and next to the Mamiya 6 MF with a fixed lens, I also bought a Rollei 6008 where changing the lenses was possible.
Unfortunately the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments did not want the 6×6 format, so I only used them for my other projects such as stock agencies looking for high class quality images. The major disadvantage was the small film roll, to change the film after every 12 images was not very practical in the air.
Nevertheless I used them all along until the digital cameras superseded the film cameras. But even today, the quality of those old 6×6 images is comparable to the very high resolution digital images, finding a good digital scanner to digitalize them is the bigger challenge.
“How was the change from the film cameras to the digital cameras for you?”
It was a major relieve! I started in 2001 with a Canon EOS D30 with 3 Megapixel. The possibility to take a high number of images (depending on the storage card) as well as the option to view them instantly and decide if further images are needed is an extreme advantage when you have the high expenses being in the air and get the chance to make even more of it.
Further the images are available on the same moment, not having to wait for a laboratory to develop them for you. Even better, as I had the chance to optimize the images digitally at home myself. Doing several trials with not wasting too much time and the chance to undo every single step if necessary.
I started with Photoshop and Photoshop Album by Adobe, which turned later into Lightroom, which I am still using today. With the digital optimisation, the lens quality isn’t that essential any more as the distortion can be altered easily.
I have never guessed that the digital cameras will develop as fast as they did. Almost every year until 2015 I got a new and by far better model with even more advantages every time. Further the storage mediums equally evolved and today one storage card is enough for one flight with more than 1000 images, even though the size per images has more than decupled.
To deliver the images to customers all over the world in data format instantly is something I could have only dreamt of 30 years ago!
“What is you current camera equipment?”
The Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments requested the images still as slides and black and white roll films until 2012. Since then my camera equipment was reduced from more than two packed suitcases down to one single camera with one lens. My current equipment is a Canon EOS 5D SR with 50 Megapixel and an image stabilized zoom lens with 28-300 mm.
The Canon EOS 5D SR with the zoom lens – my only equipment nowadays. © Klaus Leidorf
With the digital advantage also the options to take good quality video meterial increased extremely. I sometimes use the DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal to capture some film sequences. The mirrorless Lumix GH5 was my most recent acquisition as well for photos as videos.
“Where do you think the journey of the digitalization can still go to and would that be an advantage for you ?”
Well, it is unpredictable. But I keep my eyes open for any new developments and in terms of camera, I am very satisfied where it has come to. Currently the developments are more in the direction to achieve more images per second, which is not relevant for my aerial photography. What I could use is, the storage of the images instantly on the server whilst taken including the geographic data and automated tagging where possible. The mirrorless cameras will probably supersede the DSLR cameras and they will still improve in quality such as noise reduction, autofocus and automated settings.
“What would you advise someone asking for a brief summary for a good aerial photography equipment?”
The time in the air is very valuable, so you need an equipment with constant and guaranteed quality. A good autofocus and good lenses are mandatory, you want to take quick and spontaneous images at a rather fast speed. The cameras must not cost a fortune but still should be absolute reliable.
Next to the technical equipment it might be cold up there, and taking photos with the window open requires the adequate clothing including gloves which allow tactile control of the camera buttons and dials.
Not to forget are some good noise reduction headphones, I should have started using them much earlier myself.
Thank you very much for the interesting information and your time!
© Klaus Leidorf