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05-10-2010, 09:33 AM   #1
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Photographing high rise cityscapes from a helicopter. Lens choice?

A very kind person I recently met has invited me up in their helicopter.

Any suggestions regarding lenses for this kind of thing? I'm thinking wide, and not wanting to miss anything having to change lenses, I'm also thinking zoom.

Is the 16-45 what I want?

I've heard so many praises for it (including "like having multiple primes", "hated zooms but I love this" etc). Is it really that good? Or is it just great for the price?

Recommendations / advice much appreciated!

05-10-2010, 10:23 AM   #2
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Where would the flight take place(rather in what kind of landscape). Wide seems like a good idea, but if you're high above the ground, I suppose having a bit extra reach wouldn't be bad. Some opinions on Photo.net suggested ultrazooms for daytime shooting, which shouldn't be a bad idea when able to stop down some.
I have no experience with it, but would probably use a 17-70 and a 50-150/70-200 tele zoom if I could bring two, and use the one which worked out best.

(Good flight! )
05-10-2010, 10:57 AM   #3
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Helicopter windows will give you distortion and reflections that will cancel out any lens quality issues. And flying without windows, I would definitely think twice about changing lenses.

The 16-45 sounds like a good selection from what I own. Something wider depends on the helicopter and the window issue. A helicopter designed for tours is likely to be better than an ordinary one. More telephoto and you're more subject to camera shake. I might think about a 17-70 instead in case a telephoto shot presented itself, and beyond that just crop.
05-10-2010, 11:00 AM   #4
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If suggest a mid-range zoom like the 50-135, as I think chances are you'll need something longer than shorter to shoot though the window.

05-10-2010, 11:01 AM   #5
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Thanks for the advice.

This would be in Hong Kong. So harbour / coastline with very tall buildings and mountains behind (though the buildings seem taller than the mountains these days).

Haze (nice term used here for air pollution) can also be an issue (I'd bring a polariser).

The only lenses I have right now are the kit, 55-300 and 50/1.4.
05-10-2010, 11:43 AM   #6
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If you click on this and go to "Flight Services", you can see a shot I really like. It's the one with the building Batman jumped off. As did Angelina Jolie in the last Tomb Raider (when the building wasn't yet completed):

Heliservices (HK) Ltd. Over 30 years of Aviation Excellence.

The red-framed buildings upper right are 40+ floors (I worked there in 1988 when they were a similar height to the tallest buildings of the time).
05-10-2010, 01:40 PM   #7
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I went up in a helicopter a couple times when I was in Antarctica last year. On a film camera my K50/1.4 and K55/1.8 worked best. Just make sure you use a Polarizer to cut down the relfections from any glass you are shooting through. My shoots turned out really good. Alos do not rest your lens againts the window, as the vibrations will affect your shot. Phil.
05-10-2010, 02:28 PM   #8
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A polarizer is an absolute must.

If you must buy a lens, consider a manual focus lens. Almost all of your shots will be at infinite focus anyway so auto focus is practically useless. Consider the A 35-105mm f3.5 and a nice fisheye. The 35-105 is very sharp and the colors are great. I love primes but you don't have time to change lenses on a helicopter so a zoom is probably the best choice.

05-10-2010, 02:30 PM   #9
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I don't know the geography there, but if you can go up around dusk and the sun position is favorable, that's a special kind of light.
05-10-2010, 02:42 PM   #10
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Also, don't borrow Hangu's 85 1.9 Takumar if he offers it to you.

It sucks.
05-10-2010, 03:48 PM   #11
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I've done aerial photography work in the past and I can give the following suggestions. First, it is important to establish if one is taking snaps inside with the chopper or if it is a proper aerial shoot. Casual snaps through the windows and you'll have to contend with reflections off the plexiglass. Passable results if you don't get any distortions off the plexiglass, but that's not what I'd consider proper aerial photography. In a dedicated aerial shoot (with windows down or door open), you'll find that you have very little time to fiddle with a polarizer or or adjusting focus manually. A good chopper pilot will descend in a wide spiral around the subject (building/structure/ship/landmark) which means that you have to work quickly to compose and shoot. Prior planning is a must to determine shooting angle and position of the sun relative to the subject. As the chopper flies around, you'll often have to deal with fast changing light conditions so getting exposure spot on is crucial.

Choice of lens is dictated by the size of the subject and how close the pilot can get to it. You can't use an ultra-wide because you'll be capturing the rotor blades, nice for effect but hopeless if it is a paid assignment. Moreover there is plenty of vibration, which means shooting at faster shutter speeds at high fps. Atmospheric haze, cloud cover also makes using a tele a challenge. So the best lens is actually something like a fast 50mm to 85mm. Pray the light is good and weather is fine and have fun. Time is money when flying, so make the most out of your flight.
Just interesting to read some of the suggestions from some who I guess have never shot from a chopper before. :ugh:

Last edited by creampuff; 05-10-2010 at 03:54 PM. Reason: spelling
05-10-2010, 04:30 PM   #12
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Here is a shot I took last year from a helicopter in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica. The windows were clear plexi-glass and my lens was about an inch from the closed window. We were packed in like sardines and had almost no room to maneuver. We were also wearing life jackets and headphones.


Lens: K55/1.8 focused to infinity. Not sure on the aperture, would have been around f16?
Camera: Pentax KX film body. Shutter speed was 1/1000, which is max for this body.
Polarizer: B+W Kaeseman Linear.
Film: Fomapan R100 B&W slide film pushed to 160ASA.

05-10-2010, 04:47 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by creampuff Quote
Just interesting to read some of the suggestions from some who I guess have never shot from a chopper before. :ugh:
DON'T FALL OUT! AND PLAN WHERE THE SUN WILL BE IN RELATION TO YOUR SUBJECT, LIKE I SAID ABOVE!

And I never shot from a chopper before.

Do you mind posting some of your shots here?
05-10-2010, 04:50 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by gofour3 Quote
Here is a shot I took last year from a helicopter in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica. The windows were clear plexi-glass and my lens was about an inch from the closed window. We were packed in like sardines and had almost no room to maneuver. We were also wearing life jackets and headphones.


Lens: K55/1.8 focused to infinity. Not sure on the aperture, would have been around f16?
Camera: Pentax KX film body. Shutter speed was 1/1000, which is max for this body.
Polarizer: B+W Kaeseman Linear.
Film: Fomapan R100 B&W slide film pushed to 160ASA.

Did you find yourself cleaning the glass inside and out before you took off? Because it sure doesn't look like you shot through anything that obstructed anything.
05-10-2010, 05:25 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ira Quote
Did you find yourself cleaning the glass inside and out before you took off? Because it sure doesn't look like you shot through anything that obstructed anything.
Nope didn’t have time. (It was pretty clean though) The four of us basically had time to jump in, buckle-up and put the headphones on. Then we took off from the ship in the picture. (The landing pad is at the back of the ship) I could barely move as three of us were crammed in the back row, lucky I got a window seat on that trip! (Very small window, like an airplane but different shape)

On another trip I got the front row seat with the pilot and that was much better. More room and a much bigger window.

Phil.
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