Interview with Slagboom & Peeters

slagboomDutch company Slagboom & Peeters has owned and operated UltraCam systems since it invested in a first generation UltraCam, the UltraCamD, in 2006. Since that time, the company has continued to base its aerial acquisition operations on the UltraCam, adding each new model as it has been released. As a result of its most recent acquisition of an UltraCam Eagle, the company now owns three UltraCam Eagles and two UltraCamXp systems.

In the middle of a busy flying season, Yoeri Slagboom–owner of Slagboom & Peeters–made time for UltraCam marketing manager, Silke Kemmer, to discuss the company’s experience and success with the UltraCam. Transcript of that discussion below.

-Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team

Can you provide some background information on Slagboom & Peeters?

SLAGBOOM: Our company is basically specialized in the aerial acquisition, so we do all the aerial photography with the digital cameras. The company was established in 1961 and when we started with the digital cameras, we were already very active with vertical images and orthophotos based on the analog workflow. And at the moment we are, let’s say, half providing customer with the orthophotos and the other half maybe also for mapping purposes.

Your company has been a long time UltraCam customer, beginning with the UltraCamD. What year did you acquire that system and what drove the purchase?

SLAGBOOM: We bought the first UltraCamD for ourselves in 2006 and one of the reasons was that we knew the camera already from flying it with another customer of yours who owned one of the first UltraCamD cameras beginning in 2005 and they were using our aircraft so we could have a peek at this new technology at the time. I was hoping, to be honest, to skip the first model and go right for the second one, but the pressure from our customer base to move to digital was so great that we were using that first camera and soon we had a requirement to have our own camera system, so we did purchase the UltraCamD. But as soon as the UltraCamX came out, we were in the first group of customers purchasing those as well.

Did you evaluate other digital sensors at that time?

SLAGBOOM: Yes, of course we did look into the other sensors as well from Leica and Zeiss.

Why did you choose the UltraCam?

SLAGBOOM: We felt the technique that Vexcel brought was a better one, especially the line sensor from one of your competitors was not appealing to us and we knew of course from using the UltraCamD that it was giving good results. So we did compare but then we ultimately chose the Vexcel.

Shortly after the first UltraCamD you added a second. Did having a digital sensor open up new opportunities for you?

SLAGBOOM: Well actually the main reason for that was our transition from analog to digital and at that time the footprint of the UltraCamD was actually smaller than what we could shoot with the analog cameras. Therefore you can say you had to replace one analog camera with two digital cameras to have the same capacity. So as we phased out the analog systems, we needed more of the digital ones. This was also the reason we moved quickly to the newer models because of the footprint and the capacity that we needed.

Since the UltraCamD, Slagboom has kept pace with UltraCam product developments, first upgrading to the UltraCamX, then the UltraCamXp, and finally the UltraCam Eagle. Can you tell us about the business decisions that drove this constant upgrading?

SLAGBOOM: What I can say about those upgrades and the fact that we actually never skipped a model—except the smaller models that came out recently—we took all the bigger cameras as soon as they came on the market. The reason for that is two-fold. First, it’s the footprint … we can work more economically. Of course with a bigger footprint you have less flying hours which means savings. Secondly, there is reliability. As the models were getting more mature the newer models were more reliable. Our operation in the Netherlands, I would say, has never been too restricted. If we have a problem with the camera, we can solve it pretty much that day. But we also do quite a lot of work abroad in Africa or Asia, faraway places where we do not have easy access to the internet and technical resources to make a repair and therefore in those projects the reliability of the camera is an important factor. Also we see the same thing for areas which are difficult to access, like near large airports in big cities. It is quite rare that air traffic allows us in those areas and at the time that we are allowed to go in of course we do not want any issues with our camera systems. So reliability is almost the prime factor there.

What differentiates Slagboom from its competition?

SLAGBOOM: It depends, I suppose, to who you will compare us. If I look around at some of the companies I know, I guess we are usually the smaller one but at the same time with more flight capacity. We seem to be large in acquisition. This has to do with the fact that in Holland we have to do our acquisition in a very short time frame, only March and April, because of the leaves that are coming on the trees. So we have a very short season of almost one and a half months with quite a lot of work to be done. Therefore we have this large acquisition capacity and in the summer time we use that capacity to fly for our colleagues around the world. I think that’s where we differentiate a little bit: because our office is quite small, our production capacity for orthophotos is relatively small because we only produce the orthophotos from the data that we acquire in the spring time. And all the summer work is usually processed by our customers in the respective countries. So in that way we are a little bit different than many companies. Another thing might be that we sort of connect to each other … we always target to have the latest technology in use so that we are of interest to other people to hire us. Whenever something new comes out from Vexcel, we are eager to look at it and probably add it to the business.

Is it fair to say that Slagboom finds that staying on the forefront of technology provides the company with a competitive edge?

SLAGBOOM: Yes, certainly.

Slagboom recently purchased a third UltraCam Eagle. What is fueling the success that permits these investments in your capabilities?

SLAGBOOM: The Eagle purchase is an upgrade from the UltraCamXp and as I mentioned earlier the footprint and the reliability are the main factors driving us. The reason we went for the Eagle and not one of the other third generation UltraCam systems is also the fact that it is nice to have a uniformity for our fleet so that we can freely move aircraft from one job to another or deploy several aircraft on one job to get it done. Of course with all the systems being identical we have the best flexibility.

Your first two UltraCam Eagle’s featured the 80mm lens option and with this most recent purchase you opted for the 100mm. Can you tell me about that decision?

SLAGBOOM: When we first purchased the first Eagle the 100mm was not available yet so we had to take the 80mm. Later when the 100mm became available, we looked at which one we really like better. The 80mm has the advantage that it is maybe for a piston aircraft because you fly a little bit lower for the same resolution and this can be an advantage. But in our case, we now have the Eagle 100mm systems in turbine aircraft and one jet aircraft so the flying altitude with regard to aircraft is not really a factor anymore. So then we went for one uniform system with the same focal length.

Do you imagine there might come a time when you would need the 210mm lens?

SLAGBOOM: Yes, I can imagine this might happen. We see more and more difficulty in areas with large airports and there the 210mm might be a solution, so I do think we might move that way one day.

How important is it to you then that the Eagle offers the flexibility of the three different lens configurations?

SLAGBOOM: Well, to change between a 100mm and 210mm lens could be of use. In our case, though, I think we will always try to have enough opportunity to sustain a full camera and not change the lens. If we go for the 210mm lens option, it will be included as part of a complete system and then we deploy it as a dedicated 210mm unit on a suitable project.

How does the Microsoft pace of innovation impact your business?

SLAGBOOM: Well, in a good way, of course. It is very important for us that our supplier is on the forefront as well, if we want to be there. So we look at all the possible techniques that are presented by Microsoft and certainly not all of them fit our business model, but we definitely appreciate the activity from your end in that aspect.

You are not yet using the complete UltraMap workflow. Are there any plans from Slagboom to acquire the whole workflow and is the new Licensing Model of interest for you?

SLAGBOOM: The subscription model could be of interest if we have a lot of work in a certain period and we know this is going to cease later, so we have just a short period of capacity needed. But in general we will most likely always own the licenses as we do now, so we would probably buy them and use them enough to sustain them. But it can be also maybe an advantage to test certain new technologies if you come out with a new software to just run it on a few projects and learn how the results are. We do indeed not operate the orthophotos pipeline at the moment but there are no plans to proceed in that direction at the moment.


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Interview with Keystone Aerial Surveys


KAS logoKeystone Aerial Surveys, Inc. recently purchased an UltraCam Falcon, the “prime” model with the larger across track footprint of 17,310 pixels, with a 100mm focal length lens. [See press release.] This is the third such system in 12 months for Keystone who now owns a total of eight UltraCam systems that also includes three UltraCam Eagles and two UltraCamX systems, making the Philadelphia based company one of the largest UltraCam operators worldwide.

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with John Schmitt and David Day, President and Vice President (respectively) of Keystone, to talk to them about their operations and success that has taken them from a once entirely film-based operation to a leader in digital data acquisition in the U.S. Below is the transcript from that interview.

– Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team

Thanks for taking time to talk. For those who might not be familiar with Keystone, can you provide some background information?

SCHMITT: Keystone was started in 1963 by Joe Mullen and we just passed our 5th decade in business. The company started with five people. Shortly afterward Gill Mallinckrodt joined and became president and owner. Gil was followed by Ken and Mary Potter. When I started in the early days of Keystone, back in 1987, we had roughly 20-25 people and six aircraft that were mostly Cessna 320s, the Cessna Skynight. At that point in time we were just doing film acquisition, eventually flying as many as nine film cameras.  Most of our work was generally from West Virginia through the northeast [USA] and was very seasonal: spring and fall, with spring being the primary season and fall the lighter season. It was primarily for small, photogrammetric engineering size projects. At that time there weren’t really a lot of very large blocks. Some of the projects we would fly in the summer were projects similar to the National Aerial Photography Program (NAPP) for the USGS. We still utilize the nine film sensors but our goal is to replace them with the equivalent number, if not more, in digital systems as we move forward into the future.

What year did KAS purchase its first digital sensor?

DAY: We bought the UltraCamD in November of 2005 and started using it in 2006.

Tell me about that decision. I talk to film flyers still today who struggle to make the leap. Either they are unsure where the work will come from to keep the camera busy or they have trouble getting past differences in technology.

SCHMITT: We knew the age of digital was coming, that we would have to go digital eventually and didn’t want to be one of the last few companies to get into digital. So we thought we would be an early adopter.

DAY: We could see it coming. I liken it to vinyl versus CD. Sure, some people still say vinyl is better but CD took over. Obviously new music is all digital, not even CD based, but we knew the industry was going in that direction and we didn’t want to be left holding a bunch of vinyl records.

SCHMITT: We actually had to do a lot of education on our part with the client, flying projects for free, so that they could compare their film projects with all their established ground control and set up. We’d fly the equivalent with digital so they could compare apples to apples and they could see what they were getting not only with the clarity of the images but more importantly the accuracies.

DAY: Once you go digital, you don’t really go back. We’ve seen a lot of people—sometimes new employees—come in with the attitude that film is much better and when we actually put them in front of digital and have them use it. They realize they prefer digital in the end and never want to go back. There’s a lot of preconceptions and misunderstandings of what to do with digital imagery. But once you can get it into people’s hands and get them started really using it and understanding how to use it in a different way, taking advantage of the computing technology, then they realize the advantages.

Dave, I want to ask you to expound on that a little because it touches on a topic that I have discussed with companies who still have a traditional back office workflow and who are concerned about vertical accuracies because they say they don’t see the vertical exaggeration with digital imagery as they do with film because of base-to-height issues.

DAY: Yes, we’ve had clients who have heard that film inventories are becoming limited and have contacted us with worries about base-to-height ratio and other differences. I explain to them that it is true that if you are doing purely visual compilation and you need to rely on your eye, you may need to use different methods. The issue is in those cases is that film may be slightly more accurate but if you slightly over-engineer the project—meaning you fly at a slightly lower elevation to get a better GSD [ground sample distance] and you take full advantage of the digital process of auto correlation—the base-to-height ratio is not nearly as important.  You are using the redundancy of the computer-aided measurements to overcome and supersede the manual method.  Then you compare the time it takes, if the digital process requires a quarter of the time needed to complete the job manually, and its 98% as accurate, isn’t that a viable trade-off?
Many of the current film superiority ideas were developed when digital cameras and software packages where in their infancy. With the maturity of the technology have come advancements that render mute past arguments.

SCHMITT: The base-to-height ratio is essentially in the eye of the beholder. Since we’re an acquisition company and we provide flights for so many customers, we get to see a lot of the flight plans come over. Sometimes they’re the same flight plan, the same area, but people plan it differently. They’re idea of what is an accurate specification and resolution changes depending on the company. So we might get the same project in from three different companies and there might be three different GSDs. And it’s all dependent on what they feel comfortable with. We also have customers we have flown certain projects for and who are trying to achieve 1 or 2 foot contours and over time, as they have been using digital and becoming comfortable with it, they’re actually going to a coarser GSD as the technologies, cameras and software advance.

Keystone started with film, made the decision to go digital, and has since consistently increased your digital capacity. You’re doing more and more digital flying—presumably now flying more with digital than film. What is the current state of film in your opinion and what do you think the future holds for it?

DAY: Actually this past year for Keystone was the first year the pure flight hours for digital projects were greater than for film projects. I think we were at 60/40 last year. So it has flipped and the state of film right now is very much in question. We’re hearing from some of the manufacturers that availability is getting difficult to assure, especially for the color film.

SCHMITT: All the film from the manufacturers is going away slowly but surely. The folks in the US are the main purchasers of the film. In Europe and other continents, companies just decided “we’re going to go digital” and they just flipped the switch and the next day they were all digital. For us, with the demand from our customers for film and with so many planes and cameras at the time, it would have been a foolish decision to abandon film and our customer base. But the manufacturing of film is going away. I would think maybe 2-3 years, if the manufacturers don’t decide to reinvest in making film again, it will be the end of an era.  How many film projects are there left? What we’ve noticed is that some of the film-based projects that we’re flying for government purposes are slowly starting to transition to digital by saying “let’s try 10% of the project in digital.” Then the next year “How about 20%?” So we see the transitioning. If you look at the USDA—all of the national forests projects—they have all switched from film to digital. There really aren’t that many programs that are looking for large-scale film.

Let’s talk about the PASCO acquisition in 2011. What has that done for the business?

SCHMITT: The financial backing has certainly enabled us to plan a more aggressive transition to digital that we could not have done as Keystone alone.

DAY:  It is nice to have an investor and now an owner who is in the geospatial industry. When we make requests for assets and to expand our capabilities, they understand why. They understand the marketplace and the geospatial world. They understand the capital expenditures that are necessary to maintain a state-of the-art company. On a day-to-day basis, it’s also very nice that—whether it is culturally or just the way PASCO operates—they trust us to make the right decisions.

Has the way you conduct business changed?

DAY: It’s been pretty seamless. The average employee here has not seen any real change in his or her day-to-day life because of the PASCO purchase. Keystone is run basically the way it was run before the purchase. That’s a testament to how well it was run previously but also the trust factor of the ownership in the current Keystone management team that we can continue to run things on our own and make good decisions.  What’s also been beneficial in having a parent company in the industry and a worldwide group of PASCO companies, is the sharing of information, of ideas, and sometimes even resources.
The business model has changed a little but only because we are focused on providing more growth. In the past we may have only been able to provide a certain level of support to our clients. Now, with a larger company in the background, we’re able to meet any demand. Our customers can go after projects that they didn’t think possible before because they know they have Keystone and PASCO behind them. Whatever you ask of us—if it’s a big enough project for a long enough time—we’ll be able to put together the resources to do the job. Now virtually, nothing is off the table whereas before we may have been limited in our capabilities.

SCHMITT: Added to that, when we were flying film we were limited on the products we could supply. We have now been able to branch off and provide more products and services through digital acquisition that enhance our deliverables. This, in turn, is a benefit not only for the larger companies but is a major benefit for some of the smaller firms who want to be able to take on the work but who just can’t because they have limited resources and now know they can team with us on these projects and be very successful.
By increasing digital cameras, it has obviously increased our opportunities. Not just with our customers but also with our competitors. We can now actually work much more closely with competitors on projects of any size. Sometimes they win the projects and we actually acquire the data along with them.

The number of cameras has certainly increased. While many flyers have held off making investments in additional acquisition tools in just recent years, citing the post-recession economy, Keystone has purchased 3 UltraCam Eagles and 3 UltraCam Falcon Prime systems. What is driving your success?

SCHMITT: We’re staying true to our goal and that’s to be an all-digital shop in the future. When certain projects come out that are fairly large, the end client has an opportunity to either pull a consortium together of all different sensors from all different providers, or they have an opportunity to work with somebody with multiple cameras. So I think we’ve been able to find success by working with larger companies and being their sole provider of imagery rather than having a partnership and Keystone just being a single part of the consortium. And I think Keystone’s reputation of being able to get the job done in an efficient manner has added to our success.

Does operating the UltraCam provide you with opportunities, directly or through partnerships, that you might not otherwise have if you were operating a competitive camera?

SCHMITT: I know some companies don’t want to marry sensors together, even though they can. We’ve seen projects where we knew it was possible to use other sensors but they didn’t want to mix cameras and they said “if you can commit multiple UltraCams to this project, we’ll use Keystone exclusively.”

After purchasing three UltraCam Eagles, in the last year Keystone has added the UltraCam Falcon Prime to its arsenal. Tell me about that decision. Is that because you are seeing a different kind of work that the UCFp is better suited for? What’s going on there?

SCHMITT: I think each project has its own special needs. For the larger, big blocks (counties, state-wide work), the UltraCam Eagles are great. When we fly low scale collections, the UltraCam Falcon provides a faster cycle time and a nice sharp image.

DAY: I agree. Because of the cycle rate and that we opted for the 100mm lens, the Falcon gives us more flexibility for the smaller jobs. But then because we specifically bought the Falcon Prime [the larger footprint version of the Falcon with 17,310 pixels across the flight path], the systems are also flexible enough for the county work. So the Falcon is getting close to that 1-to-1 replacement for a film 9” x 9”.

We [UltraCam team] boast about efficiencies because of the footprint of the cameras reducing flight lines and mission time but there are also production efficiencies through the UltraMap software. Dave care to comment about that?

DAY: The enhancements in the post processing software are great for a company like ours where we have a lot of different clients, all asking for their job first. The tools are helping us balance that now. And it is high-level distributed processing that you can manage from anywhere in the world and get constant updates, and target the machines—and even clusters of machine—to take best advantage of the hardware you have. We’re happy with the updates we’re getting from Microsoft. It’s been a great help. I’ve heard through the grapevine that other manufacturers don’t spend as much time updating their software as Microsoft/Vexcel does, so it is just another selling point that keeps us coming back.

What do you think of the new subscription model?

DAY: I think it’s a good idea. It will help us spool up for busy seasons or large projects. And it allows us to consider going after further post-processing products like digital elevation models and digital surface models without having to make that initial large investment. We can find a project that will pay for the subscription period and determine if there will be more work to make the full investment. I’m a big fan of software subscriptions, buying what you need and not buying something permanent that you may not need.   Software as a service and on demand with faster internet and globalization has made this the model of choice for consumers.

Keystone also operates LiDAR devices. What do you think of the concept of point clouds from photogrammetry?

SCHMITT: They each have their own individual positives and negatives. With LIDAR you can derive elevations and see under trees. With photography, it is a bit of a hard to measure near vegetation but in open flat lands and roads, the point clouds are tremendous. I can see software in the future improving so that they will be able to model the trees a little bit better. One thing we do notice when we incorporate the imagery-derived point clouds with ground control on hard surfaces we can get better accuracies than can probably be achieved with lidar – especially in horizontal.

DAY: Lidar’s advantages are that you can collect more frequently because you can fly at night, under clouds, and measurement below the tree canopy, and the vertical accuracy is high. Now, everyone knows that with lidar’s horizontal accuracy you’re only as good as your GPS because horizontal control for lidar is impractical. It’s also very hard to match the density of imagery-derived point clouds. The best lidar, maybe, is 50 points per square meter—the latest models might be able to do that—whereas you can easily get 300 points per square meter from an image. But just based on the mathematics of sight lines and rays, there are more artifacts than you would get from just getting laser returns. The advantages of the imagery derived point cloud is that you can cover a really large area because you can use an UltraCam Eagle for the collection so you have less flight lines and a point cloud is a derivative product from something you may be doing already. You may want the imagery to produce orthos, engineering work, or any kind of planimetrics. Simply adding a little tighter spacing to the flight lines, you now have another product that you can maybe resell to someone or plug into your GIS (that are all going 3D) and get more spatial information than you ever could before. So as John said, each has its own benefits and depending on your need one will be better than the other.

SCHMITT: And most of the time people marry a camera system to a lidar. You need to be able to see a picture to pick out certain things with the lidar. So most of them are usually paired with a small to medium format camera. Here with the DSMs derived from imagery, you have a high-resolution image and a high-density imagery derived point cloud.

DAY: A point cloud that is perfectly registered to the imagery.

Keystone has been at this a long time and you both have been there for a good part of its history. Does the market/industry/profession look much different today?

SCHMITT: I would just say that the digital cameras have opened the door to fly more projects around the US. Back in the early days we operated in a specific geographic area of the northeast US. With our different offices, and the services we can now offer all through the US, we see that opening the doors to teaming arrangements and new clients, and spinoffs from companies that fail into new companies and it’s increasing our work line.

DAY: Satellite and internet imagery providers have changed the dynamic. We’re offering higher resolution, higher accuracy products than can be purchased from satellite or provided for free.  We’re flying a lower and performing different types of collections than when I first started, certainly.

SCHMITT: It seems nowadays the projects are getting larger in size. Instead of small engineering projects, we’re flying big blocks, multiple counties if not states.

What are your thoughts about where the market is heading. Do you see changes coming?

DAY: We’re going to continue going lower and lower. We used to fly at 40K-50K feet with a Lear jet. That was gone as soon as satellites came along. We used to fly at 20-30,000 feet for 1 meter GSD imagery. Obviously that’s gone. Now, satellites can provide 30cm data so a bit of our 30cm business will go away. So we’re going to be flying more at 15-20cm. And more at 2cm if the UAV market increases and more people get their hands on imagery and realize they can get it from airplanes with the Falcon.

What kind of advice would you give other flyers, in particular those who have not yet moved into digital acquisitions?

DAY: Going back to the markets, there are small companies (1-5 employees) all over the country who are still stuck in film and haven’t made the investments in their back room or in their cameras – depending on their business.  As film truly goes away—I think we are in the very tail end, the last 1 or 2 years—they are going to be where John said. They are going to be forced to rethink their business. Do they want to be in this business?  Where will they come up with the capital? That is going to lead to mergers and some people not surviving and some companies joining together with existing companies or forming new companies in order to build up that capital/loans in order to invest. I think there will be a large consolidation. Those micro companies will go away and there will be just a few remaining companies, similar to hardware stores, banking, etc. For people who haven’t gone digital, flying-wise, they need to start planning that investment or start planning who they are going to team with and eventually merge with when film does not become available anymore. Because we are in that tail end of the bell curve and it’s time to get in or find somebody who can get help you get in.

SCHMITT: The end of an era.

Speaking of an end of an era: happily for them but sadly for the rest of us, Ken and Mary retired. Which means new positions for you two. How has life changed for the two of you?

SCHMITT: We’re adapting to the changes and new positions. PASCO has a great deal of trust in us. Keystone is poised for one of the busiest years we’ve ever had. We look forward to taking on all the challenges that are ahead and leading Keystone into its next era.

DAY:  My answer that I tell everyone when they ask this question is that Ken and Mary did a pretty good job of handing off their duties all along so for John and [me] not much has really changed. Maybe 15% of our jobs have changed in the last 6 months. But leading up to that we were doing a lot of the day-to-day and planning for Keystone, so they did a good job of preparing us.


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GSM 4000 added to UltraMount gyrostabilized mounts for UltraCam sensors

UltraMount_GSM4000.444The Microsoft UltraCam Team is pleased to share with you that in partnership with Somag AG Jena we are now offering the UltraMount GSM 4000 gyro-stabilized mount.

Compatible with all UltraCam sensor models, the GSM 4000 builds on the legacy of the GSM 3000 mount used by aerial data acquisition companies worldwide to manage sensor movement during data capture missions but naturally features a number of enhancements that includes:

  • Increased payload: 120kg. UltraCam systems weigh in at between 55kg and 85kg depending on the model and lens configuration.
  • Reduced weight: 29kg. Adds less weight to the overall payload.
  • A simplified control panel makes mount operation more intuitive and easy-to-use.
  • Includes SOMAG tablet and app for parameter setup and management.
  • Downward compatible to GSM 3000.
  • Angles
    • Pitch: 8.8 deg.
    • Roll: 7.0 deg.
    • Drift: 25.0 deg.

Flying season is almost upon us and many of you may be considering updating or increasing your sensor capabilities. Be sure to consider your current mount situation and needs when you talk to your UltaCam rep so that we can plan accordingly!

For more details on this impressive new mount, see the SOMAG GSM 4000 web page.

– Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team

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Microsoft UltraMap Software Now Available Through Subscription

UM graphicIn yet another move to demonstrate our commitment to the changing landscape of the aerial data acquisition and mapping market, the Microsoft UltraCam team recently announced that our UltraMap photogrammetric workflow software can now be licensed via a subscription basis.

This is obviously great news for UltraCam operators but is also a great development for mapping organizations that don’t own and operate camera systems but that nonetheless work with UltraCam data. The new subscription model allows licensing of those UltraMap modules that they need to generate and export high-density point clouds, digital surface models, and orthophotos (both DSM and DTM based) from data collected with UltraCam systems. Subscribers can take advantage of the latest version of the UltraMap software for a monthly fee, using only what the modules they need for the time they need it.

Full press release below. Contact the sales rep for your region should you have any questions.

– Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team


UltraMap Workflow Software Available by Subscription

Graz, Austria — November 20, 2014 — Microsoft’s UltraCam business unit and subsidiary is offering a new subscription plan for the UltraMap workflow software system, in addition to the existing purchase option. UltraMap consists of a suite of modules that provide highly automated processing capabilities to rapidly generate quality UltraCam aerial data products.

To meet the needs of customers who could benefit from using specific UltraMap modules for limited periods of time, Microsoft is now offering subscriptions from 3 months to 60 months in duration. Average monthly costs decrease as the length of the subscription increases, and upgrades are automatically included during the contract period. The subscription plan differs from the purchase option in that there are no one-time upfront costs and no annual maintenance fees to obtain upgrades.

Within the UltraMap suite, the Essentials module is required to convert the raw UltraCam data into radiometrically-corrected and color-balanced image files to be used in further downstream processing and is available for purchase only. The advanced modules available on a purchase or subscription basis include Aerial Triangulation (AT), DenseMatcher and Ortho Pipeline. The AT module uses a least-squares bundle adjustment on overlapping aerial images to generate a precise exterior orientation for an entire image block. DenseMatcher creates high-density point clouds, digital surface models and digital terrain models from level-2 images, and OrthoPipeline generates the final ortho mosaic from all available inputs. A subscription allows the customer to access the modules they need, when they need them.

“The subscription plan is an example of how Microsoft is restructuring our product line to better align with our customers’ requirements,” said Alexander Wiechert, Microsoft Business Director. “The UltraMap subscription is a cost-effective solution that makes the latest software modules available to everyone.”

Please contact your sales representative for pricing.

About UltraMap

The UltraMap workflow software includes the following features:

  • High-density 3D point cloud generation, with a point density of several hundred points per square meter, derived from an UltraCam photo mission
  • Highly accurate and detailed digital surface model (DSM) generation
  • Filtering of a DSM into a digital terrain model (DTM)
  • Generation of DSMOrtho (orthomosaic based on an automatically generated DSM) and DTMOrtho (traditional ortho mosaic) images

About Microsoft’s UltraCam Business Unit

With its operations based in Graz, Austria, and sales and support teams in North America and Asia, Microsoft’s UltraCam business unit brings more than two decades of photogrammetry expertise to Microsoft’s Bing Maps business unit. The division is responsible for the highly successful line of UltraCam digital aerial mapping systems that today include the UltraCam Hawk, UltraCam Falcon, and UltraCam Eagle digital photogrammetric sensors, and the UltraCam Osprey nadir/oblique photogrammetric digital aerial sensor. Also offered is the UltraNav Flight Management and Direct Georeferencing system, designed to maximize the efficiency of UltraCam aerial mapping. Rounding out the UltraCam offerings is the fully integrated UltraMap workflow software system.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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One-Stop Shopping for Pre-Owned UltraCam Digital Aerial Sensor Systems

IMG_1515_small_cutThe Microsoft UltraCam team announced last week that we are now listing pre-owned UltraCam systems for sale on our UltraCam web site. This is great news for organizations that are looking for a cost-effective means of breaking into the digital acquisition market as well as existing UltraCam customers who need to bolster their digital arsenal because it means they can come directly to the manufacturer for a refurbished system that is certified and backed by the UltraCam team.

This new program has some fantastic benefits for the buyer of a pre-owned system as it ensures that they get real value while avoiding the risk of buying a used system from the open market.  The pre-owned UltraCam cameras offered by Microsoft come with one year full manufacturer warranty. They have been fully tested and calibrated and so are delivered with a fresh calibration report. Any necessary hardware updates have also been made. Missing components such as UltraMap photogrammetric workflow software, or UltraMount can be added to the package if needed for a complete data acquisition system. And the cameras can be put under hardware maintenance immediately without any further service or calibration. Installation and training will be received directly from our world-class UltraCam Support team to get you up to speed as fast as possible.

This is also good news for UltraCam customers who have upgraded to newer systems and are now looking to resell their older UltraCam systems because they can work with the UltraCam team to resell those systems through this new program and in turn offer potential buyers all the advantages mentioned above.

In addition to pre-owned system, the “Cameras For Sale” page of our web site will also include brand new older generation UltraCam Systems. (The current third-generation UltraCam line includes the UltraCam Hawk, UltraCam Falcon, UltraCam Eagle and UltraCam Osprey Prime).

For more information, take a look at the full announcement below.

-Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team


One-Stop Shopping for Pre-Owned UltraCam Cameras

 Graz, Austria — November 18, 2014 — Microsoft’s UltraCam business unit and subsidiary has created a new online marketplace that lists refurbished, pre-owned UltraCam cameras for sale. For customers looking for a low-cost entry point to the award-winning line of digital aerial camera systems, or those adding to an existing pool of digital resources, this is the place for one-stop shopping.

To ensure that UltraCam cameras being sold on the secondary market meet Microsoft’s operating qualifications, Microsoft is acting as a broker for pre-owned cameras. As part of its responsibilities, Microsoft refurbishes, calibrates and certifies every camera, and includes a one-year warranty. Brokered cameras are also eligible for maintenance contracts. Besides the benefit of acquiring a quality, fully-functioning, manufacturer-certified digital camera to enhance their aerial acquisition services, buyers have the opportunity to save money on combined hardware and UltraMap software purchased through Microsoft.

In addition to pre-owned cameras offered by the current owners and trade-ins received by Microsoft, there are also brand new 2nd generation cameras available, such as the UltraCamXp and UltraCamLp, which are no longer manufactured but are fully supported under maintenance contracts.

“Microsoft believes that by providing a centralized marketplace for manufacturer-certified pre-owned UltraCam cameras, we lower the risk for buyers,” said Alexander Wiechert, Microsoft Business Director. “We hope to ensure that every UltraCam experience is a good one.”

Please refer to Cameras for Sale on the Microsoft website for a listing of available equipment.

About Microsoft’s UltraCam Business Unit

With its operations based in Graz, Austria, and sales and support teams in North America and Asia, Microsoft’s UltraCam business unit brings more than two decades of photogrammetry expertise to Microsoft’s Bing Maps business unit. The division is responsible for the highly successful line of UltraCam digital aerial mapping systems that today include the UltraCam Hawk, UltraCam Falcon, and UltraCam Eagle digital photogrammetric sensors, and the UltraCam Osprey nadir/oblique photogrammetric digital aerial sensor. Also offered is the UltraNav Flight Management and Direct Georeferencing system, designed to maximize the efficiency of UltraCam aerial mapping. Rounding out the UltraCam offerings is the fully integrated UltraMap workflow software system.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.


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UltraCam Web Seminar: Do You Speak Digital?

digitalFor aerial acquisition companies that still operate exclusively with film sensors, the digital arena can seem like a different world with its own language. Many film flyers approach discussions about migrating from their film systems to digital systems with concerns over differences in base-to-height ratio, focal lengths and concepts such as scale versus ground sample distance.

Join the UltraCam team’s chief scientist Dr. Michael Gruber in this 45-minute webinar that discusses the aspects of aerial data acquisition to be considered when replacing more traditional analog approaches with those based on newer digital technologies. The discussion covers data collection as well as post-processing, and focuses on Microsoft UltraCam hardware and software systems. Come armed with your questions for the Q&A that will follow the presentation. Better yet, send your questions to ensure they are addressed during the presentation:

Visit the UltraCam Events page of the UltraCam web site for registration details.

-Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team

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Beyond Base-to-Height Ratio: Considerations for Evaluating Digital Sensors

When talking to data acquisition companies that are just now looking to transition from film to digital sensors, the topic of base-to-height ratio sometimes still  comes up. This is often because some sensor manufacturers overemphasize b/h ratio to hide shortcomings of other factors in their camera design. While b/h ratio is not unimportant, it is not the only determining factor with respect to vertical height accuracy and has lost its significance in digital photogrammetry. There are other factors in the digital camera world that have an even greater impact:

  • The overall geometric modeling of a digital camera is important. It contains the high-quality geometry calibration and the stability of the camera. B/h achieves nothing if the camera is not calibrated and geometrically stable.
  • The PAN channel radiometric dynamic range is also an important consideration. The more that details are visibly clear and sharp in the PAN channel, the better and more accurate the matching results will be. If the PAN channel has a low dynamic range, it lacks detail and you cannot measure precisely what is not clearly and sharply visible in the image. All UltraCam systems feature adynamic range of 7,600 grey values!

    dynamic range image

    A high dynamic range allows us to get more detail out of areas that are traditionally featureless.

  • A fast frame interval almost completely eliminates disadvantages of a lower b/h ratio. In today’s digital era, you can go to a huge forward overlap (80%, 90%) without additional costs (film, development, scanning, handling), allowing multi-ray matching and the use of more than two images for measurement. This drives vertical accuracy and adds robustness.
  • A PAN channel for the matching. Some cameras achieve matching using an RGB Bayer pattern sensor only. Bayer pattern simply means that the interpolation between individual red, green and blue pixels is already done on the CCD and leads to lower vertical (and horizontal) accuracy in photogrammetric measurements. All UltraCam systems feature a panchromatic channel!
  • Have completely parallax-free images. Parallax introduces geometric error into each image which depends on flight height and the variation of the height in each image. To get parallax-free images you need an accurate camera model which allows fitting the camera geometry into the co-planarity condition. Modern digital photogrammetry solves this through software.  This approach is well-known as software-leveraged hardware.

When evaluating digital sensors, be sure to evaluate the camera with these considerations in mind. At the end of the day you want a system that surpasses, not matches, the film sensor you are replacing.

– Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team

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