Infrared Camera Conversions: Which Option is Best?

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

For me, an IR-converted camera is the easiest way to capture digital infrared images. You can purchase an previously modified camera from eBay and used camera sellers like KEH or have one of your existing cameras converted to IR-only operation. If you’ve been looking for something to do with that old camera sitting on a shelf but still makes great but maybe less megapixel images, here’s the perfect job for it.

snow.platinum.IRAs easy as using an IR-converted camera may be, you face some choices in having your camera converted starting with where to have it done. Many different companies offer infrared conversion services and I’ve varying experiences using three. I said to let Google be your guide I think a personal recommendation from a photographer whose work you admire is the best place to start. Keep in mind that every company will not convert every camera model, so check to see if they will work on your specific model. (Read my sad EM-10 saga.)

Your eyes see a range of light from 400 to 700 nanometers aka nm, a metric unit of length equal to one billionth of a meter. A typical digital camera sensor sees light from 350 to 1,000 nm. Digital cameras typically have a low pass filter placed in front of the sensor to block unwanted higher frequency light from infrared and ultraviolet spectrums. This filter only allows the low frequency light visible the human eye to pass through to the sensor and blocks UV and IR light to maintain maximum color fidelity.

Choice #1: During a camera’s IR conversion this filter that stops IR and UV light from striking the camera’s sensor is removed allowing all visible and invisible light to strike the sensor. Then it’s replaced with one designed to only allow infrared light to pass through.

Tip: Most of the time I shoot in RAW format, which requires some post processing to make a black & white IR shot but I usually set the camera in Monochrome mode to let me see what the image will look like on the LCD. (Otherwise it’s shades of magenta for RAW capture.) Since the camera’s LCD only displays a JPEG, choosing RAW+JPEG gives me a preview of what my RAW file look when processed later.

meadows.tree.IR

Choice #2: Some companies offer you a choice of one infrared filter to be installed during conversion but others offer more choices. LifePixel offers seven choices including their standard filter that’s equivalent to Hoya R72, Kodak Wratten 89b, or 720nm filter. They also offer an Enhanced Color IR filter equivalent to 665nm, Super Color IR equivalent to 590nm, and a Deep BW IR equivalent to 830nm filters. LifePixel converted a Lumix G5 using the Standard IR filter and G6 modified with the Enhanced Color IR filter. The Standard conversion works great if the intended result is a monochrome image while the Enhanced Color IR filter is better if I’m going to be doing more processing to produce a color image.

Choice #3: You can also have the conversion company replace the filter in front of your camera’s sensor with a piece of plain glass of the same size and optical characteristics—except the filtration—as the original low pass filter. Not all companies offer this choice but some offer what’s called UV-IR conversions. The surgical process is different and some will use plain glass while other replace the original low pass filter with a custom full spectrum filter. Theoretically, this allows you to capture natural color or infrared depending on what filter you place in front of the lens.

IR.book Tip: Try infrared by having an old camera that’s gathering dust converted to IR-only operation. You can save a few dollars when converting your camera to infrared, by using the coupon code “farace-IR” at LifePixel.

Joe Farace is the author of the out-of-print “The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography” that’s available used from Amazon.com for a very affordable price right now. Get your copies while supplies last.