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Dr Mike J Smith

Plymouth University

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Cameras and settings for aerial surveys in the geosciences: optimizing image data

Fri, 03 Mar 2017

James O’Connor, Mike Smith, Mike R. James (2017)
Progress in Physical Geography


Aerial image capture has become very common within the geosciences due to the increasing affordability of low payload (<20 kg) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for consumer markets. Their application to surveying has subsequently led to many studies being undertaken using UAV imagery and derived products as primary data sources. However, image quality and the principles of image capture are seldom given rigorous discussion. In this contribution we firstly revisit the underpinning concepts behind image capture, from which the requirements for acquiring sharp, well exposed and suitable image data are derived. Secondly, the platform, camera, lens and imaging settings relevant to image quality planning are discussed, with worked examples to guide users through the process of considering the factors required for capturing high quality imagery for geoscience investigations.

Given a target feature size and ground sample distance based on mission objectives, flight height and velocity should be calculated to ensure motion blur is kept to a minimum. We recommend using a camera with as big a sensor as is permissible for the aerial platform being used (to maximise sensor sensitivity), effective focal lengths of 24 – 35 mm (to minimize errors due to lens distortion) and optimising ISO (to ensure shutter speed is fast enough to minimise motion blur). Finally, we give recommendations for the reporting of results by researchers in order to help improve the confidence in, and reusability of, surveys through: providing open access imagery where possible, presenting example images and excerpts, and detailing appropriate metadata to rigorously describe the image capture process.

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