Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Infrared Photography with Digital Infrared

By Diane Berkenfeld

Are you looking for a new direction to venture in with your photography? Want to get more creative with your images? If you could photograph the invisible, why wouldn’t you? Or do you simply miss shooting with Infrared film? You can shoot B&W and even color Infrared (IR) photography with digital cameras that are converted to be able to record the Infrared portion of the spectrum. Infrared photography captures the near-Infrared portion of the spectrum.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the first B&W Infrared film photographs taken by Robert W. Wood, to illustrate a paper for the Royal Photographic Society Journal in 1910. The Wood effect, named after Robert Wood is the dreamy appearance seen in B&W IR photographs and false-color characterized by color IR photographs.

Precision Camera offers more than just camera repair services—they’re also experts in Infrared (IR) Conversions. Unlike the days of shooting film, when you could put a roll of Infrared film in practically any camera, attach the requisite filter to the lens and begin shooting, digital IR needs a dedicated body. Most folks will use an older camera—P&S or interchangeable lens—that they’ve put aside when they upgraded, for this use. Mark Soares, Sr. Strategic Markets Manager, Precision Camera, says this isn’t always the case though. “We do have customers who specifically buy cameras for the purpose of converting them to IR (especially true for the Micro 4/3 format).”

mark soares infrared image for picture-soup.com article

"Tracks" taken with a camera at the 665NM Conversion. Photograph © Mark Soares.

Folks are converting all sorts of cameras, from Point & Shoot models to DSLRs. High-end P&S cameras such as the Canon G series or Micro 4/3 cameras like the Panasonic Lumix G and GF series are popular cameras being purchased by photographers specifically to be converted for IR photography.

DSLR and EVIL IR Conversions

If you check out the Precision Camera website (www.precisioncamera.com), you’ll see that the company requests a lens be sent along with the DSLR body that is being converted. This is because they calibrate the focusing of the lens to the IR focal plane of the camera.

“We typically recommend a lens with a focal range of 14-80mm, as we find that we can perform focus adjustments that will work within that range. Most photographers report being able to use the camera with numerous lenses with no problems whatsoever, however, we have seen slight focus shifts when an oddball lenses is mounted on the camera,” Soares notes.

Remember when we shot IR film, most lenses had the IR marker on them that we would use when focusing? Well lenses don’t have that marker anymore, so the body has to be calibrated to the lens. Soares says, “We will do this service as part of the conversion at no extra charge because we want to ensure the camera is ready to shoot when the photographer gets it back in their hands.”

This is only necessary for DSLR cameras. P&S models and most of the Micro 4/3 type cameras are made so their imaging sensors control the AF and can compensate for these small focus shifts.

mark soares infrared image for picture-soup.com article

"Tree" taken with a camera at the 715NM Conversion. Photograph © Mark Soares.

“A new trend is the conversion of Micro 4/3 cameras or ‘EVIL’ (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lenses) cameras. The reason they are so well suited for this modification is because the imaging sensor in the camera actually controls the autofocus (contrary to a DSLR’s separate AF assembly) and as such a wider range of lenses can be used with them without affecting the focus. The lenses produced for these cameras are also fantastic for IR. We recommend these cameras to anyone serious about IR who is willing to invest in a dedicated IR body,” adds Soares.

Which Wavelength Do I Want?

visible spectrum from nasa.gov website for picture-soup.com

The visible light spectrum. At one end is the invisible Ultraviolet light, and at the other end is the invisible Infrared light. Image courtesy NASA.gov.

“We offer several types of filters—Full Spectrum (clear), 665nm, 715nm and 830nm. By far the most popular one is the standard 715nm filter, which is reminiscent of the typical IR filter used in the film days (R72 filter). The 715nm allows for authentic IR images to be produced, however, it lets through just enough light to allow the user to produce low saturation color images with it. The end result is a converted camera that can produce low saturation color IR images, and can be used for the more traditional B&W IR look. It is a very versatile conversion,” explains Soares.

What if you want to shoot across the IR spectrum? Soares recommends getting the Full Spectrum conversion and investing in filters to place in front of the lens. “This would be far cheaper and more versatile then converting several cameras. The only drawback is that if you are using a DSLR without live view, the viewfinder would be black since the IR filter placed in front of the lens would be blocking all the light.”

“An 830nm conversion for example may produce high contrast and pure IR images, however, the difference when looking at the images is essentially in the amount of contrast in the picture,” he says.

Soares adds: “It takes very simple post processing to make a 715nm image look like an 830nm image (just desaturate and increase the contrast). In fact, one of the advantages of the 715nm is that because it lets in a little visible light, it actually fills in the highlights enough to have detail in them, whereas the 830nm, as punchy and captivating as it may be, would often have information in the highlights lacking.”

mark soares infrared image for picture-soup.com article

"Wedding" taken with a camera at the 715NM Conversion. Photograph © Mark Soares.

“The 665nm image would be at the other end of the spectrum where there is quite a bit of visible light hitting the sensor, and as such it is primarily used for color IR work—attempting to emulate a 715nm or 830nm conversion from these 665nm images would not be successful because there is too much visible light to remove from the image in order to match a higher wavelength conversion.”

Digital or Film

Contrary to popular belief, most of the people who are having IR conversions done these days, had never shot IR film. Soares notes that they have seen examples of Infrared photography and want to try it themselves. “Most customers are simply captivated by the IR look and surprised by the ease of use of these converted digital cameras,” he adds.

mark soares infrared image for picture-soup.com article

"Car-Comp" taken with a camera at the 665NM Conversion. (l. to r.) custom white balance, false color effect done in post processing, B&W effect done in post processing. Photograph © Mark Soares.

In the days of shooting B&W Infrared film, you had extremely long exposures, usually needed to shoot with the camera on a tripod, which might have been limiting to where you could shoot. And if you’ve had any darkroom experience with B&W Infrared, you’ll remember the loading and unloading of film into the camera and developing tank in complete darkness, as well as very, very dense negatives, which required long exposure times in the enlarger. The outcome was always beautiful, but took a lot of work to accomplish.

Digital IR photography on the other hand is much simpler and less labor intensive to do. It is also more convenient.

According to the Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrared_photography) about Infrared Photography, by 1937 there were 33 different Infrared films available to photographers. Eastman Kodak discontinued its B&W Infrared film in 2007, due to a lack of sales.

Freestyle Photographic, (www.freestylephoto.biz) specializing in all things B&W, imports Maco and Rollei brand true Infrared films from Germany. They also import an extended sensitivity film from Ilford Photo, based in England. The Maco B&W Infrared film has a sensitivity up to 850nm. The Rollei B&W Infrared film has a sensitivity up to 820nm, and is also produced by Maco. The Ilford SFX200 B&W film is not considered a true Infrared film, but has an extended red sensitivity of up to 740nm.

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Comments

  1. greg says:

    Good article, I was unaware of the 4/3rds focus advantage. I have converted a number of my cameras, maybe I will do one of these next time. I am really looking forward to being able to get a good focus using Live-View which you could do w/ all the new generation dslrs.

    I hadn’t heard of Precision before, wish they listed their rates. There are many companies doing this conversion, I am sure your readers would be interested in the others as well, I have used http://www.maxmax.com/IRCameraConversions.htm and http://lifepixel.com/

  2. Rainer says:

    I am just about to get my Camera converted but I like to make sure I get the filter that allows me to get the most dynamic range in creative finishes.
    It was recommended to me to go for the 665nm but in contrary on two write ups I read that the 720nm is better for this. I will go for the 720nm – 715nm.

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  2. [...] Incidentally, the Canon PowerShot G series of cameras is one of those often chosen for Infrared conversion, as we found out when we researched a recent article on the 100th Anniversary of Infrared Photography. To read that article, click here. [...]

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