NZ Rail Maps: Research Notes: Retrolens.nz Site

First published on NZ Rail Maps

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If you have an interest in old aerial photos of New Zealand, you’ve probably come across the Retrolens.nz site. This site houses a large collection of the bulk of the Crown Aerial Film Archive, which holds around 550,000 aerials flown between 1936 and 2008. The originals are held by Land Information New Zealand (Linz) which acquired the collection from NZ Aerial Mapping when the company closed in 2014. Linz has been scanning the CAFA negatives ever since and has now completed practically all of the photos in the collection. Although most of the collection of aerial photos have been put onto Retrolens at a lower resolution than the original scans, not all of them are there. It can be frustrating to be looking up a collection of aerial photos on the Retrolens site and then realise there are gaps in the collections for unknown reasons, and there is no way of contacting the site’s operators (Abley).

The answer to this is to contact Linz directly if you want to use some aerial photos that aren’t available in the archive. Linz have an online database of footprints of the aerial images taken, which can be imported into a GIS to find exactly which images cover a particular area of interest. Contact Linz and they will give you the details. They can also supply you directly with images from the surveys. The images themselves are free, but you may have to pay a charge to have them sent out to you. NZRM has used the Retrolens site since it was launched in 2017 and estimate the project has thousands of images that have been downloaded one at a time from Retrolens. This can be slow and time consuming for big surveys covering a large area, such as the TSBNZ project that is presently working on the city of Christchurch. So for those areas, getting a whole survey on disk may be faster and more convenient than going through the Retrolens site to get one image at a time. If your need is only for a small number of images, you may be able to have them emailed to you which is cheaper than having them sent out on a disk.