The Crown Aerial Film Archive is an incredibly important national taonga/treasure. Toitū Te Whenua’s historical aerial imagery scanning project seeks to digitise these for long-term preservation, historical research, and future use in multiple applications.

The Crown Aerial Film Archive

The Crown Aerial Film Archive is a unique and crucial record of the last 84 years of New Zealand history. It preserves, in snapshots, the changes in the national landscape and, by extension, the story of the New Zealanders who live there.

The Archive comprises 550,000 photo negatives from 7,300 aerial surveys flown between 1936 and 2008, as well as contact prints and other associated materials. Photos were captured for a range of purposes, including photogrammetry and topographic mapping, Defence training, land management, and town planning.

The 1,500 rolls of film in the Archive are stored in an environmentally controlled vault, to minimise degradation of the film. Photos were captured using a variety of cameras, primarily Eagle, Wild (Leica), and Williamson models. Frame sizes vary from 7x7 inch (18 cm) to 9x9 inch (23 cm).

Photo negatives in the Archive were originally held as two separate collections: surveys flown on behalf of the Crown and private surveys flown by New Zealand Aerial Mapping (NZAM). In 2014, LINZ acquired the NZAM collection and added it to the greater Crown Archive. All materials currently in the Archive are under Crown copyright.

The NZ Aerial Photo Footprints, Mainland NZ, (1936-2005) polygons layer on the LINZ Data Service (LDS) contains metadata for each photo in the Archive. Revisions to this layer, with updated metadata for newly digitised surveys, are released every few months. Footprints for surveys originally part of the NZAM collection are also indexed in the Historic Aerial Photos, Survey Footprints, NZAM (1939-2008) layer.

NZ Aerial Photo Footprints, Mainland NZ, (1936-2005)

Historic Aerial Photos, Survey Footprints, NZAM (1939-2008)

Black and white aerial image of Wellington waterfront, 1953

Wellington waterfront, 1953

Scanning the archive

We commenced scanning of the Crown Aerial Film Archive in 2014 and are currently preparing for the final phase of the project, with completion expected in 2022.

As of July 2020, more than 493,000 photos have been digitised and made available, free of charge, under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

Creative Commons

Toitū Te Whenua has contracted WSP New Zealand Limited to digitise the photo archive, using specialised, high-resolution photo scanners. Depending on the quality of each film, negatives are scanned at resolutions of either 14 or 21 microns. As the project progresses, the following materials and products are being made available:

  • High resolution TIFF images
  • Metadata for each photo with the following attributes (if available):
    • altitude
    • camera model
    • date captured,
    • frame size
    • scale
  • Charts for each survey
  • Camera calibration files
Old sample survey chart of Auckland's urban motorways

Chart for Survey No. 1560

Access to the scanned photos

Abley’s Retrolens website provides an interactive search interface for viewing and downloading many of the photos in the Archive. Although these are at a lower resolution than LINZ’s original scans, the downloads are suitable for most general purposes.


Full resolution scans, survey charts, and calibration files may be requested by emailing with the subject line: “Historical Imagery”. 

Photos not yet scanned may be ordered from WSP New Zealand Limited for a fee.

WSP New Zealand Limited

Contact Kōrero whakapā

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