Robots, quality and drones: AFP photo stands at the heart of innovation
Already a pioneering force in robot photography with its land-based and underwater machines, AFP photo is continuing its technical trailblazing with one goal in mind: to improve the quality of our images. "We are never satisfied and we always want to do better," says Francois-Xavier Marit, in charge of photography at the technical department, also noting progress made in the testing laboratory. "With our tracking system, we can synchronise robots in different places to follow a subject chosen by a photographer," explains Photo Director Marielle Eudes. This is a very useful function in sport as these machines can recognise objects, figures and faces.
The same goes for the performance of our cameras. The Agency's photographers have cameras that allow a perfect focus on an athlete who is first over the finishing line and this is because the technical chief editors have taken up the challenge, says Marielle Eudes. "The idea came from our experience on the ground. We rolled out a lens modified for this type of photo thanks to support from our partner Nikon. For 10 years, we have had a trusted relationship with Nikon: we tell them what we need and Nikon develops the technical solutions." says the Photo Director. "And there are several surprises still in the pipeline," promises Francois-Xavier Marit.
There are regular meetings between AFP and project managers at the Japanese firm. "We exchange ideas with their specialists in connection, focus and optics. We bring them ideas that they can develop," explains Marielle Eudes. "It was with them we developed our robot photography technology. We push them by voicing our needs and they follow us." This is true to such an extent that Nikon has now become a leader in this field and has even bought a company (MRMC), which specialises in robotic technology for cinema.
Another notable tie-up is with Aviwest, a specialist in mobile transmission solutions. At AFP's request, Aviwest adapted its systems to enable us to send photos in real-time, using 3G/4G networks. "Its technology cuts up photo files to transmit them using several 4G networks and reconstructs them before re-injecting them back into our system." The result is that photographers covering an event like the Tour de France can transmit their photos in real time while still following the race.
« With our tracking system, we can synchronise robots in different places to follow a subject chosen by a photographer »
– Marielle EUDES –
Alongside these technological advances, our image specialists are also working on using drones to capture aerial views. While other agencies buy content from elsewhere, AFP tries to get its own production, despite difficulties in terms of permission and training, especially in France. However, "this year, our staff trained in the use of drones have had no difficulty getting permission to fly," says Antonin Thuillier, a photo member of the technical chief editors department. Journalist Martin Bureau was able to fly a drone over Rungis market in the run-up to Christmas. This was the first time this had been done and was made possible by an authorisation from the Civil Aviation authority in France.
In terms of equipment, AFP has captive drones (attached to a wire) in Europe and the US where regulations are very strict. For other regions, we use classic drones (without wires). "We are gradually equipping our offices around the world. New Delhi, Mexico and Hong Kong already have one. All types of drone have evolved greatly in terms of stability, functionality and wind resistance. They are performing better and better. You only have to look at our aerial images from the US-Mexico border," says Marielle Eudes.