I'll be shooting from a helicopter in about 9 days and am wondering what the consensus is concerning the use of a gyro with my Mamiya 645 or Canon 1dsM2. Will I get sharper results or is the problem more a vibration issue. What's the slowest recommended shutter speed (for both camera's)? I shoot from these craft about once a decade and would appreciate some advice. Thanks, Jim
I have used gyros from boats, planes and helos with my Contax 645 MF system and lenses up to 210mm. They most definitely help with image quality, but require very specialized techniques. The Kenyon people have a lot of good information about how to use them. I also agree that you should use a one-step up larger size. I am assuming you have chartered the helo, have it to yourself and can control the flight plan. (ie, no tourist rides--the gyro would be way too bulky for that situation).
If you use your Canon, you can go for a less expensive option by using IS lenses and the techniques I discuss below. However, I believe the gyro adds even more benefit, and using the gyro plus IS together is the ultimate.
The Kenyon gyros resist movement in all directions. This means no fast pans or re-compositions, you must work deliberately.
The key is to let the camera/gyro combo "float" in your hand with NO contact to any surface of the aircraft and minimal contact with your body. No tight gripping, no eye/forehead touching the camera, use a cable release instead of holding the grip and pressing the shutter. These things are heavy and will wear you out, but they are fabulous at damping vibration.
I put a quick-release plate on the post coming up from the gyro. I then made an open-fist circle around the post/plate and let the camera base rest on the top of my open fist. The gyro also tends to be self-leveling and this is a big help. I look through the finder but don't allow my head to touch the camera. I use a cable release so my other hand does not touch the camera either. You must move the camera slowly or the gyro will resist the motion with sharp jerks. The overall motion of the aircraft will not trigger this, only if you try to move your hand too fast. Your arm will get tired, trust me, but if you are only up for an hour or so it should be OK.
Kenyon used to also have instructions for a bracket using bungee cords to "float" the camera, but I never used this.
You still need to strive for the highest shutter speed possible, but if you are using polarizers and lower ISOs for max quality you will not get very far on the shutter speeds (for aerials my standard practice is focus at infinity and stop down to f/8 this pretty much provides all the sharpness/depth of field you will need. I do not recommend using autofocus). With digital you can use ISO 200/400 with still good quality for large prints, with film I use Velvia 100 pushed one stop.
I would also recommend that you get the gyro one day ahead and practice with it. A expensive helo is no place to have a learning curve. In fact, I would call them today to begin getting information.
If you are going for big prints or money shots, they are worth every penny. My only regret is that I could not afford to buy the thing.
There is nothing like aerial photography--I love it!
Hope this helps. By the way I have no affiliation with Kenyon just rent their products at my own cost.
There are a couple of aerials on my website, www.guyharrisonphoto.com
, in the Alaska gallery, all shot with these techniques.