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Author Topic: Night aerial photography  (Read 2245 times)

pentaxitin

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Night aerial photography
« on: February 20, 2021, 02:28:45 am »

Hello everyone,

I did two aerial photography sorties on an Asian city last year using the Pentax K1 with 77mm f1.8 Limited and Pentax 645Z with 55mm f2.8 and 90mm f2.8 SR lens. The Asian city is, unfortunately, not as awash with light as most big European or American cities are in the night.

The Pentax K1 with the 77mm Limited f/1.8 gave me decent images at 6400 ISO at about 1/45 sec with K1 IBIS on, but only in situations where the experienced pilot managed to inch forward slowly while keeping the helicopter vibrations low to the extent he could. These images are sharp enough, so the IBIS of K1 seems to work. The Pentax 645Z images, shot at ISO 12800 were pretty dark as they were all shot at 1/250 to 1/500 due to the lack of IBIS in the Pentax 645Z.

I got a few images from the K1 printed recently. The PP was done by someone good at it. Some images are reasonably good upto 8x10 size. I can't share the images as yet due to the confidentiality clause.

I believe the Fujifilm GFX 100 or the new 100S with IBIS upto 5.5 stops and coupled to Pentax 645 55mm f/2.8 or 90mm f/2.8 might produce better images than the K1 with IBIS or the 645Z without IBIS. However, will the Pentax 645 55mm f2.8 or 90mm f/2.8 resolve adequately on the 100MP sensor of the Fujifilm GFX 100S?

How would be the high ISO performance of the Fujifilm GFX say at ISO 6400? If I can shoot at that ISO with shutter speed upto 1/100 with IBIS on and lens wide open, I think I can get pretty decent images even in the low light levels of the city in the night, going by my experience with the K1, which isn't really meant to be a high ISO performer.

The thought of using the new Fujifilm GF 80mm f1.7 on GFX 100S for night-time aerial photography (because of the 1.5 stop advantage compared to the Fastest Pentax 645 lenses) is very tempting, but for the cost. To reduce the cost, but to get another extra stop of light, the Mamiya 80mm f1.9 seems another choice, but again will it stand up to the 100MP sensor of the Fujifilm GFX 100s? And is the f1.9 of the Mamiya more like f2 or like f1.8? I would like to know how many additional stops of light I will get compared to the fsstest Pentax lenses at f2.8.

Finally, what about the Sony A7S iii? Meant to be an excellent performer for low light photography, would it be better than the Fujifilm GFX 100S at ISO 6400? What about its only 12MP resolution? Ideally, I would like to print the images to 20x30 size; in the worst case, at least 16x20 size.

Also, Just to add, I managed to get a good copy of the Pentax 50mm f1.2 on ebay. It is reaching me in end of March. So I will get an additional stop of light compared to the 77mm Limited f1.8. Every bit of extra light gathering capacity of the lens would help to bring down the ISO or increase the shutter speed. I hope that the Pentax 50mm is as good as the Pentax 77mm wide open.

I would be thankful for the kind advice of the forum members.
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Harold Clark

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2021, 01:30:06 pm »

I do a lot of aerials, but only bit of night experience. I used a Gyro stabilizer but didn't have IS on the camera or lens. A Gyro might improve results even on IS equipment, it is worth a try.

I had an older photographer friend, no longer with us, who did a major spread for a Time Magazine feature on American cities at night about 1959. He used a 5x7 camera and fixed wing aircraft. The technique was to have the pilot stall the plane, and just before they dropped into a spin there was a brief moment when they were nearly motionless, allowing him to make the exposure. He was able to borrow an experimental 210mm F1.0 lens from the National Research Council in Ottawa for the project.
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Peter McLennan

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2021, 02:44:20 pm »

just before they dropped into a spin there was a brief moment when they were nearly motionless, allowing him to make the exposure.

Wow.  I never considered that maneuver.  :)

I share your love of Ken-Lab.
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aviv1887

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2021, 03:29:37 pm »

I love that 1959 story.  You're sure it wasn't the Chuck Yeager from "The Right Stuff"?
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Joe Towner

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2021, 04:21:25 pm »

I've done a bit of heli with the 645z, and other MF bodies. The 55mm/2.8 & 90mm Macro Pentax lenses are limited on the GFX 100.  Lack of any electrical connection means no VR & no aperture lever means shooting wide open.

I'm pretty happy with the 75mm, 120mm, 300 5.6 & 400 5.6 lenses on the GFX100, but am still moving to native lenses when possible.

What type of heli did you go up in - I'm a huge fan of the Robinson R44. The gyro trick I've seen other heli photographers use, but haven't done it myself.
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Harold Clark

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2021, 11:07:58 am »

I love that 1959 story.  You're sure it wasn't the Chuck Yeager from "The Right Stuff"?

The photographer was George Hunter, born in 1921 and an institution in Canada. I met him in 1980 when my strobes blew up on a location shoot one evening. I was new in town and knew he lived nearby so I called him. Come right over, he said, and had strobes waiting for me when I arrived. I had the pleasure of travelling with him in the 90s, when we both shot for travel companies in places like Mexico, Cuba, Italy, Malta and Tunisia.

George had photographed in over a hundred countries, and had a wealth of stories. He covered a murder trial as a young news photographer in Winnipeg, and ended up being invited to the hanging. He had nine lives, surviving falling out of a plane while doing aerials, saving himself by grabbing the struts. The pilot asked if he could hold on until he landed, but George suggested he would probably be filling out paperwork for a year if he did that, and instead had the pilot roll the plane the other way so he could drop back inside.

He once stepped out of a helicopter only to have it explode behind him, and another time was on a commercial flight that ran out of fuel. His own Cessna once ran out of fuel after maintenance forgot to replace the cap and the tank siphoned dry, but he made it to the nearest airport. For aerials in the early days he used a collection of five 5x7 cameras with varying focal length lenses fixed at infinity.

In the beginning he did a lot of mining photography with 5x7 film, Kodachrome 10 ASA and flashbulbs, no meters or polaroids in those days. He flew to the sites and landed his plane on mining roads. George told me about being chased down back roads by gunmen in Libya after he stopped to take photos of a festival, and said it wasn't unusual to duck into a doorway in Havana in the 1940s as a gunfight broke out in the street.

I asked him if he ever took a vacation. He was shooting a new plane for an airline in 1972, and they flew it to the Bahamas for the shoot. However, the tarmac was too crowded for good photos, so George told the crew he knew of a better location in Hawaii, so they refuelled and off they went. After the shoot he stayed in Hawaii and took three days holiday. He worked until a couple of days before he died in 2013.
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Peter McLennan

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2021, 11:26:22 am »

Amazing stories, Harold.  Thanks!
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pentaxitin

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2021, 11:40:34 pm »

Harold.... What an amazing story! And what an awesome guy Mr. George Hunter must have been. Really enjoyed the anecdotes. And also reminded myself to be careful about not falling out of the chopper.

Joe... I am flying in 1960s vintage Alouette French-designed choppers. Which adapter are you using with the Pentax lenses on Fujifilm? Are you happy with its performance? Do both Pentax 645 55mm and 90mm remain wide open on Fujifilm? Is there no way to change the aperture or keep it fixed to a particular one?

Unfortunately I have no access to the gyro stabilisers. But advice from a few experts makes me believe that the Sony A7 iii coupled with the Sigma 35mm f1.2 will be the best possible combination under the present circumstances, allowing me to shoot at a respectable ISO 6400 with lens wide open. The IS of the Sony is good.

I am waiting to buy this combination in the next few days.
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Joe Towner

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2021, 02:51:24 pm »

Joe... I am flying in 1960s vintage Alouette French-designed choppers. Which adapter are you using with the Pentax lenses on Fujifilm? Are you happy with its performance? Do both Pentax 645 55mm and 90mm remain wide open on Fujifilm? Is there no way to change the aperture or keep it fixed to a particular one?

Nice bird - I take it they move a bunch?  I've got the Fotodiox Pro P645-G adapter.  The adapter is ok, haven't had an issue with it.  Yes, the non-FA lenses stay wide open - you can do the stop down/detach trick with a Pentax body & it'll stay at what ever aperture you set it to.  But I'd rather just shoot the Pentax at that point & be able to change it a needed.

https://www.ken-lab.com/ has gyro ideas - check with a local video equipment supplier

-Joe



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pentaxitin

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2021, 04:33:45 am »

Thanks Joe
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pentaxitin

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2021, 10:16:46 am »

Hello friends,

Finally bought the Sony A7 iii with Sigma 35mm f1.2. Will be trying them out soon in the night. I will let you know if the results improve.

I waited for a long time for the K3 iii. Unfortunately, it is not yet launched in India. As and when I get it, I will pair it with say the DFA 50mm f1.4. This will give two good Focal lengths to use - 35mm and 75mm. I found that the 77mm of the FA limited is an excellent Focal Length for aerial photography from around 1000 ft height.

I also found the Topaz DeNoise an excellent tool to reduce noise.

Now my problem is: My 2009 vintage iMac and 2010 vintage macbook can't manage the Topaz software. DeNoise AI at least works on small JPEG files, but the Sharpen AI just can't be run.

What would be a good PC/ MAC to run these Topaz software including Gigapixel AI, and also for stitching Pentax 645Z RAW files (upto 8)to create panoramas and editing 4K movies from the Gopro 9 and Sony A7 iii? Will the latest iMac 27 be good enough? Or should I go in for a PC? Of course, I want it to be a fast machine to speed up my workflow. Any thoughts on the necessary hardware configuration without going for the overkill (because unnecessary extra RAM and VRAM both cost a lot of money)?
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Joe Towner

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2021, 11:57:43 pm »

I did a number of massive stitches on a 2011 MBP w/ 16gb & SATA SSD, so anything 2014 on will work for stitching.  The big thing is getting to a SSD or NVMe flash drive.
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pentaxitin

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2021, 04:54:40 am »

Thank you Joe
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pentaxitin

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Re: Night aerial photography
« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2021, 09:01:54 am »

An update.

The Sony A7 iii was no good in the vibrating chopper. The older Pentax K1 has a better quality of stabilisation in the chopper. But at ground level, they both seem very similar.

So all IBIS aren't the same for same format cameras. That was a revelation and it came at a cost.

I bought the Pentax K3 iii with supposedly the best IBIS amongst all Pentax cameras so far and the DA* 55mm f1.4 lens. Compared to the film era FA 77mm f1.8 on Pentax K1, I am, in theory, expected to get better results from the K3 iii with the 55mm. I haven't had the opportunity to try it yet though. Hopefully I will get a night aerial sortie in January.

I might be getting closer to buying the Kenyon Gyro KS 6X6. A Pentax K3 iii with excellent high ISO performance at ISO 6400, with the gyro mounted on it, might allow me to shoot at shutter speeds upto 1/60 sec at f1.4 and still produce reasonably sharp images. That is the hope.
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