INFRARED PHOTOGRAPHY

WHETHER TO CONVERT, OR NOT...

 

  • Non-Converted

  • Infrared Converted

  • Full Spectrum Converted

1. Just Add A Filter - The easiest and cheapest way to try out infrared photography is by simply adding an infrared filter in front of your lens. ** Unfortunately it's becoming increasingly common that this option does not work due to modern internal hot mirrors blocking all IR (to improve colour accuracy). Try to google others trying it with your camera before buying a filter (My Sony A7 requires a conversion to shoot IR) **. If this does work on your camera - a 720nm IR filter is recommended for unconverted cameras (either side of that will most often not work).

 

* This shutter speed you see above is based on results witnessed from a Nikon Z6. Although most cameras will not require such a long exposure you will certainly still need a tripod for clean (low ISO) results. These long exposures are due to the light being blocked heavily at both ends of the spectrum (both by internal and external filters). 

pros:

  • The cheapest & easiest option to shoot IR

cons:

  • Mostly only B&W IR possible / Color separation difficult or impossible

  • Long exposure times / Tripod usually needed

  • Motion blur usually unavoidable, not suitable for portraits

  • DSLR viewfinder unusable with IR filter

  • DSLR phase detect focus will not be correct

2. IR Conversion

Converting your camera to IR will allow you to in that wavelength at normal shutter speeds. This process involves removing the camera's internal hot mirror and replacing it with an infrared filter. The tricky part here is choosing which IR wavelength that you wish to stick with*, but if your internal conversion has a lower wavelengths (590nm) then higher wavelengths can also be achieved using external filters. A logical extension of this is to not block anything internally, see option 3 (full spectrum - below).

pros:

  • No need for external filters

  • Normal exposure times with IR

  • Potentially improving image quality & vignetting

  • Shoot IR with super-wide lenses

  • Can shoot higher wavelengths with external filters

cons:

  • Can no longer shoot color / Will need another camera to shoot color

  • Cannot shoot lower wavelengths

  • External filters on DSLRs will cause the optical viewfinder to be unusable

3. Full Spectrum Conversion

Converting your camera to full spectrum involves removing its hot mirror and replacing it with glass (so that it doesn't block anything).

 

This is the most flexible option. It will require external filters to shoot anything other than full spectrum, which can be tricky and expensive (see 'Filter' Section for help), but only needing one camera can be extremely powerful (and light for travelling).

Pros:

  • Any wavelength / combination of wavelengths between 300-1200nm now possible

  • Normal exposures with any wavelength

  • Shoot color with the same camera (using additional hot mirror)

  • Can shoot UV

  • New Multi-band filters like Kolari's "IR Chrome" allow color IR results to be seen in the displays in real-time (no processing required)

Cons:

  • Can be expensive due to the need for filters

 

CAMERA TYPES

WHICH TO CONVERT & WHY

This section demonstrates the pros and cons of converting different types of camera technology. 

1. DSLR

Converting an old DSLR to IR has been a common option for IR enthusiasts, but the process often isn't cheap, so I would advise anyone considering this to think hard about the pros and cons, as DSLRs have a lot of down sides. Also consider buying pre-converted cameras (new or second hand) because a different model / type might suit your needs better. Some prefer the look of a an optical viewfinder, but it doesn't have any specific advantages over an EVF (electronic viewfinder) for infrared.

DSLR Advantages For IR (OVF):

  • None

2. Mirrorless

Converting a mirrorless camera to IR or Full Spectrum is a significantly more compelling option compared to a DSLR due to the advantages are completely opposite to that of a DSLR.

Mirrorless Advantages For IR (EVF):

  • Accurate AF at any wavelength on any lens / focal length

  • Accurate metering - not calibrated for visible light (cannot see what the sensor does)

  • Full spectrum + external Hot mirror looks normal through the viewfinder

  • Full spectrum + external IR filter shows the effects of the wavelength in the viewfinder

  • Histogram visible in the viewfinder

  • Looking into the sun through the viewfinder will not damage your vision

  • Mount is adaptable to most old SLR mount lenses, allowing some great IR lenses to be used

  • Cameras and lenses are mostly lighter

3. Compact Camera

Non-interchangeable lens cameras are becoming less common as smartphone cameras continue to improve, but they are still very useful for infrared conversions. In a small package they can restrict your need for filters, thus make a relatively reasonably priced option for full spectrum and just a couple of filters. They have all the mirrroless benefits without the spiraling complexity and bulk of mirrorless and adapted SLR lens options. The trick here is to find one with a lens range & speed that you like, which doesn't suffer from hotspot in infrared.

Edward Noble

  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Flickr Icon
  • White YouTube Icon
  • White Instagram Icon