USGS EROS Archive - Aerial Photography - Aerial Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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Aerial Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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How do I find a USGS film image over the Internet?

You can search, and download the dataset through the EarthExplorer. With this site you can access the USGS/EROS archives (Landsat, Aerial Photos and other land remote sensing data).


Can I get a USGS film scan today?

Yes, USGS/EROS has digitized over 6.6 million frames of aerial film creating medium-resolution digital images (400 dpi) and associated browse files for on–line viewing and have scanned over 4 million of the same frames at 1,000 dpi. Both the medium and high resolution aerial TIFFs can be downloaded. These files can be downloaded through EarthExplorer.  Film scan requests can be made through EarthExplorer after you identify the frame you need. All billing activities for film scan orders are serviced through the USGS/Reston. They will contact you to complete the order.


What are the costs and payment options for higher resolution film scans?

Customers can request a higher resolution aerial or Declassified image to be scanned for a 30.00 dollars per frame service fee. A 5.00 dollars handling charge will be applied per request. All requests will need to be made on-line through EarthExplorer.

If you have any payment, billing, or account questions, please contact the USGS/Reston:

U.S Geological Survey, Receivables Management Section
Mail Stop 271
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, Va 20192
Phone: (703) 648-7683


I've heard that a majority of the USGS data are free of charge. Why do I have to pay for a film scan?

A segment of the USGS archives remains on film media that has not yet been scanned. Scanning efforts are under way to capture digital data from the film media, but this process will span many years. Users may side-step the lengthy process of waiting for the no cost data by paying a service fee for on-demand scanning requests as a credit card transaction at 30.00 dollars per frame/scene plus an order fee of 5.00 dollars.


Is there a priority service charge available to speed up data delivery of film scans?

No. Film Scanning requests are completed under a first in first out (FIFO) policy. The average turnaround time from confirmation of payment to delivery is 3-4 weeks


I ordered the wrong film scan. Can I get a refund?

No. The USGS service fee for film scanning is non-refundable. Replacement scans can be provided if you select the correct image and work back through the USGS contact the USGS at


I placed my order on-line and I have not responded to calls that I have received from the USGS Business Partner Office. What will happen to my request?

Film scanning requests that are not confirmed for payment through a credit card transaction initiated through the USGS Business Partner Office will be deleted after two weeks. Contact the USGS at regarding your order number and take the final steps to activate your request if you want to receive the data.


Will I be able to see my house?

The High Resolution Orthophoto, National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), and DOQ files provide the most detail. You would probably be able to identify your neighborhood. There is no guarantee that your house would be distinguishable.

The USGS does not have a year to year methodology for acquiring photography on a routine basis. 


How much area does a film scan cover?

Aerial Photography and Declassified Satellite images cover various distances depending on the project. EarthExplorer provides a mechanism to plot the coverage area for each frame on a map and to use Google Earth to see the extent of coverage.


What are the differences between CIR, B/W, BIR, and Natural color film?

CIR (color infrared) film, originally referred to as camouflage-detection film, differs from conventional color film because its emulsion layers are sensitive to green, red, and near-infrared radiation (0.5 micrometers to 0.9 micrometers). Used with a yellow filter to absorb the blue light, this film provides sharp images and penetrates haze at high altitudes. Color infrared film also is referred to as false-color film.

Black-and-white panchromatic (B/W) film primarily consists of a black-and-white negative material with a sensitivity range comparable to that of the human eye. It has good contrast and resolution with low graininess and a wide exposure range.

Black-and-white infrared (BIR) film, with some exceptions, is sensitive to the spectral region encompassing 0.4 micrometers to 0.9 micrometers. It is sometimes referred to as near-infrared film because it utilizes only a narrow portion of the total infrared spectrum (0.7 micrometers to 0.9 micrometers).

Natural color (also referred to as conventional or normal color) film contains three emulsion layers which are sensitive to blue, green, and red (the three primary colors of the visible spectrum). This film replicates colors as seen by the human eye.


What's the spatial resolution of the film?

Film resolution is dependent on film type, camera, lens and flight height. On average black & white film will have greater film resolution than color film. Please use the scale field to help search for the resolution that fits your needs. Scales of 1:500 to 1:24,000 are best for identifying buildings. Scales of 1:20,000 to 1:80,000 work well for agriculture and geologic interpretation. Scales in excess of 1:150,000 provide regional assessment information.


Are the USGS On-demand film scans georeferenced or geocorrected?

No. Film scans are faithful copies of the imagery from the source film. Distortions imposed by the scanners are removed, but no other correction work is done to geo-locate the image scans to ground truth. Value added companies in your area may be able to provide such services, but the USGS does not offer these services to the public. The DOQ (digital ortho quad) and High Resolution Ortho collections may be another data source to consider if you have this requirement.


Are the Medium Resolution aerial download files georeferenced or geocorrected?

No. Images produced by the USGS film digitizing system are not geocorrected. They are pictures of the film frames that were generated with high speed 14 mega pixel cameras to generate browse and provide no cost medium resolution down-load files for over 6.4 million frames of aerial photography.


Are legal certifications available for film scans?

Yes. Information is maintained on-line regarding the USGS policy for legal certifications.

USGS Certification.pdf

Pursuant to 43 U.S.C. 1460, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center hereby certifies that the product downloaded through our web site is an authentic reproduction of an official record of the Government that is in the legal custody of the USGS EROS.


I need to take my USGS file to court as evidence in a trial. What do I have to do to certify my data as evidence?

Go to this website and make a copy of the USGS policy statement USGS Certification.


Is stereo pair coverage available for film scans?

Yes, you will need to acquire at least 2 consecutive digital images from the same roll and then create transparencies or contact prints to view them stereoscopically. Stereo pairs may also be created digitally with the right equipment and software.


What software can I use to view scanned and digitized images?

The USGS does not endorse software. You can use any program that will accept a TIFF image. 


I need a photographic print, not a digital file. What are my options for this service?

Take the USGS download files to a local print shop. The USGS no longer maintains a photo lab to generate paper prints or film copies. Your local business directory may include a list of companies that can take these TIF files and generate prints for you as an additional service. Here is a list of companies that may also be an option to you.


Is there a schedule to scan the USGS film archives?

Yes. Scanning of the EROS film archives is following a plan to capture images from rolls at risk of decay from vinegar syndrome. Science requirements are also reviewed on a regular basis, but a formal, on-line schedule is not available at this time. Please contact if you have further questions.


Are there other sources for film scans?

Yes, Here are some references to consider:

NASA's Gateway to Astronaut Photography
Earth Data Analysis Center
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Aerial Photography Field Office (APFO)


I'm not finding all of the aerial photographs that I previously discovered through the Aerial Photography and Records System (APSRS) or other finding aids. What's going on?

USGS/EROS provides access to image collections that are supported by on-line browse and complete metadata. Other collections may not have met this requirement and are under consideration for such support. Here's a list of other sources that may have photography of interest to you

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
United States Department of Agriculture
NASA Shuttle and Manned Spacecraft 


I'm finding records on EarthExplorer that are not available as on-demand high resolution scans. Why?

In such cases, the film sources are no longer stored at EROS. The USGS has a records schedule that transfers film media for permanent storage by NARA. In such cases, the USGS will only have medium and possibly higher resolution data as the down load option for these records. Once film records meet the NARA schedule criteria and are transferred they become the responsibility of NARA and its vendor companies to provide other user product options.


It looks like the images I want are on rolls held by NARA. How do I gain access to these frames?

NARA maintains a list of private companies that provide service in gaining access to their aerial film collections. NARA takes ownership for USGS film records that are older than 40 years old and are no longer of use by the USGS. Here is the NARA web site for ordering aerial photography

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Ordering 


Will the scanning process generate any artifacts that I need to be worried about?

Maybe. Issues that may affect the quality of the scanned product include scratched film and data capture anomalies. Minor film scratches may have occurred when the film was used for its original purpose. Cover letters describing these issues are provided for on-demand scan requests/orders. Data available for immediate down load are not supported by cover letters since there is no way to fix scratched film. Users are expected to work around minor problems or select another image source.


What's the difference between a film scan and an orthorectified product?

The film scans provided by USGS/EROS are faithful reproductions of the uncorrected imagery that resides on the film. No ortho correction algorithms have been applied to these scans. Ortho correction involves the removal of camera/lens distortions and the applying of ground control point processing to correct the imagery to specific map accuracy specifications. This process is left for the user to do per their specific data requirements.


How do I gain access to the USGS camera calibration reports?

Even though the USGS Optical Science Lab (OSL) was decommissioned in September of 2017 and no longer certifies cameras for use in USGS flight contracts, historical camera calibration reports are available to download for many records contained in the Aerial Photo Single Frames Data Set on EarthExplorer.  Note: The availability of non-USGS camera calibration reports is dependent on the agency or organization responsible for the flight; not all Aerial Photo Single Frame records include calibration reports. 

Camera Calibration reports can also be retrieved by accessing this EROS Cal/Val Center of Excellence (ECCOE) page:  


The EarthExplorer metadata foot prints don't match up to the browse I'm looking at. What's going on?

Metadata for EarthExplorer film collections are not 100% accurate. Collection systems at the time the film was acquired were not as advanced as they are today and the metadata provided to the USGS are as good as they can be for these older collections. Please use the browse imagery to verify your area of interest. In the case of the Declassified Satellite imagery, both the USGS and NARA share the same metadata as provided by the Defense Department.


What do I need to do to officially give credit to the USGS? Are the data covered by a copyright?

No. There are no restrictions on data received from the U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, unless specifically stated in a user license agreement identified prior to or at the time of data receipt. If you want to give USGS credit, please use the citation information provided through the following url:

Customer Service Data Citation


How do I locate the aerial film that was used to make a DOQ?

The header record of the DOQ you have should include a reference to the film used to make the DOQ. There is a possibility that the DOQ was produced with digital imagery not provided to the USGS. DOQ products are contracted through commercial companies for delivery to the USGS. In some cases we may have to refer you back to the original company for this information.


Why can’t I open the compressed AVHRR file I downloaded?

When tar files do not view correctly, check the configuration options:

For example: On the WinZip Menu, under Options/Configuration/Miscellaneous:
Uncheck the "TAR file smart CR/LF conversion" Option
Try WinZip again.


Will I be able to request a Declassified Satellite image to be scanned?

Yes, Declassified Satellite images are scanned at 7-micron for black & white scenes or 14-micron for color scenes based upon previous on-demand user requests.  Once ordered, scanned & archived, the image can be downloaded through EarthExplorer at no cost. EE can be used to search, preview, and download existing high-resolution scans or place requests for scans at $30.00 per scene, plus a $5.00 fee per order transaction. The Declassified imagery are also available through NARA and its vendors:

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)