Haven`t we all wondered at those infrared images that only the very experienced or dedicated photographers can achieve? I know I did , so decided to have a look at what was needed and just how much patience was needed to just obtain something of an image. I had had a brief attempt in my very early film days and to be quite honest I just wasn`t impressed at all and never touched it again in more than thirty years.
I then came across this site in the USA http://www.lifepixel.com/
who give a fairly decent explanation of what is available and some images of the differing conversions available but of course you do have to let one of your cameras be converted a thing that is in this day and age a lot easier than it used to be when you look at the second hand value of your gear.I have just recently sent my Canon 450D to Lifepixel and am awaiting it`s return. Don`t forget that apart from the cost of sending your camera both ways you will also be liable for import duty and VAT when it arrives back in the UK. Whether you think it worth while spending the extra money will be up to you but as I stated my camera was returned with no dust, the WB was calibrated and the AF was adjusted for a 50mm 1.8 lens. They will calibrate any lens apart from the 50mm (which is standard)provided you send it along with the camera.
I`ve been very happy with the Canon 20D conversion and there are some images below but I needed something with a touch more resolution for submitting to stock libraries hence the 450D route.
So what are the main options? You can buy a screw on filter like the Hoya R72 which will give you images that are 95% infrared but will also let a small amount of visible light (the light your actual eye sees) through to the camera sensor that will enable you to play around with the few colours that come through or desaturate the images and get black and white infrared images. There are also other screw on filters that allow even more visible light to give some unusual effects that some photographers really like but for me it`s a good black and white image with good tones in mono. These screw on filters can range from anywhere between £100-£150 and are about 1/3rd of the cost of a full camera conversion and of course you do still have a camera that can take normal coloured images as they did before. Great! I hear you say! Well, not quite, because the camera hasn`t been converted you will still have the original filter in place over your sensor (it`s all part of the AA filter) and apart from other things it`s job is to block infrared. Now when you screw on lets say the Hoya R72 you will now have two very strong blocking filters that are sort of working against each other and you`ll land up with a reddish image that have some visible light so you can play around with the colours or convert to black and white. Now where the problem comes with this type of IR shooting is that the combination of those two filters increase the exposure times considerably to anywhere up to maybe 20 or 30 seconds in bright conditions at F8 which makes a tripod a must and you will not be able to see anything through the viewfinder when the filter is in place. The procedure is to compose and focus without the filter in place and then screw on the filter without disturbing the focus and shoot the image completely blind. It does work but spontaneous photography is out and in anything but a very still wind is very difficult. A touch of wind movement to add interest in an image is great but with flowers and grass blowing around for 1/2 a minute needs no explanation from me.
So! to get the enjoyment from your infrared photography really means to go the whole way and have the camera converted, it will be worth it, trust me. The most mundane subjects can look very good indeed.
The camera has to be stripped down completely because although you can clearly see the infrared blocking filter over the sensor( the one you have be cleaning to get rid of dust) it can`t be removed through the lens throat, it has to come out from the rear which is why it`s a strip down. Don`t worry too much because these people work in special cubicles that are 99% dust free and are dab hands at soldering.
Once you have decided to have the camera modded it doesn`t mean that it`s final because it can be converted back again but of course at a similar cost. You can also purchase the filter and carry out the work yourself but a number of people have had to send the filter that they purchased and their camera in to have the work done anyway which works out more expensive and very time consuming and that`s provided you haven`t damaged anything in the attempt. Dismantling a modern camera and re-soldering all those internal contacts is definitely not a thing I would take on and I consider myself pretty good at these sort of things.
So! the benefits of the modded camera are being able to walk around and shoot images hand held if you wish or use your tripod in the normal way. Your view through the viewfinder will be exactly as before because the filter is behind the mirror and with a bit of trial and error using manual metering you will be getting decent results very quickly. You will be able to focus manually if you want to but I`ve found that AF with a reasonable F stop (say F8) gives enough DOF when using a wide angle lens to cover up any slight difference in where infra red light rays focus as opposed to visible light and as I said if you send your most used lens in at the same time they will set it up spot on for you. Lets face it, most of your infrared images are probably going to be shot with a wide angle for impact so no real problems along those lines. If you use manual focus lenses and some AF lenses then this is where the small red infrared mark on the lens focus scale comes in. Just a note on the later cameras with live view, you will be able to see the image and have the ability to fine focus by magnifying the preview image on the lcd screen. Just another thing worth a mention is that diffraction comes in slightly earlier with infrared (maybe one f stop) so limit yourself to maybe f11 as a maximum.
You`ll have a choice of varying filters and some companies offer a wide range. There are three basic conversions. 1. A filter that gives only black and white images ( some colour might creep in but easily corrected in post process, usually a dull red) 2. A filter that allows some visible light through so gives you some colours which can easily be reversed from red to blue etc in photoshop channel mixer and can be very unusual as can be seen on the above website I listed. 3. A clear filter that allows virtually everything through that would be controlled by you fitting a screw in filter to block or allow to your requirements but of course the cost of buying maybe two or three different filters will be more expensive that a modded camera but the plus side is that you will be able to take IR with varying colours depending on the filter fitted as well as black and white or normal RGB images as if the camera hadn`t been modded. So the choice is yours.
A note on exposure and sharpening. The key is to watch the histogram and aim for a mid peak rather than what we have all been taught over the last few years which was to expose to the right. The images will stand some added exposure better than normal RGB images and with a lot of white rendered foliage around you don`t want to blow it out. I`ve found that you can add a good amount of sharpening to the images if required because the very nature of the IR image is not as detailed as a normal RGB image so doesn`t show so many artefacts. You will have to keep an eye on noise which can add to an IR image but can also creep in when you don`t want it especially in plain areas of sky but is fairly easy to control in post so keep your ISO setting as low as you dare when hand holding and you will have the choice to add noise if you so wish.
As you will see from the dates of my images, I`ve only really been seriously shooting IR for a few weeks but did do a lot of reading beforehand and from that this article should save you a lot of time.
AN UPDATE to using a camera with live view for better manual focussing in bright light.
Some might have read my recent post regarding moving up from my 20D to a 450D and having it converted for full infrared B&W.
Great step up mainly because of the live view function, lifepixel couldn`t offer lens AF calibration for my mainly used 10-22 lens.(becuase they just couldn`t get it right through all focal lengths)
OK, no problem and I understand the reasons. Today with half decent weather I ventured out for the first images with the 450D and it performed very well as expected from my previous lifepixel conversions. When the sun did come out I ran into the age old problem of seeing the lcd in bright conditions. This is bad enough when you want to just chimp and you can shield the screen with your body but when you are trying to manual focus a lens and the sun is behind you (as it might well be for IR stuff) Not so much of a problem with the new 5D2 but with the older lcd`s it is a pain.
Anyway, I got to thinking about it and fell back on my hoodman loupe, basically used on my 1dsmk3 for using my MF lenses when on a tripod. I have figured out how to use it hand held. (this is a 450D with battery grip)You grip the camera with your left hand by spreading your little finger and the next two digits around the body, your thumb and forefinger then hold the loupe against the screen (rubber feet so no scratching) and semi support the lens with your right hand around the focus ring. Now with live view + 10x mag selected you get a tunnel view of the screen in complete shade with a small amount of magnification for a better view of the screen and the hood is fully adjustable dioptre wise to match your eye (or like me , keep your specs on and just rest against the built in rubber eyecup.)
It works 100% better than squinting at the screen and you can be a lot more accurate with that all important focus with IR where AF is a bit hit and miss.
Here is the loupe I purchased for anyone not familiar with them http://www.scottkelby.com/blog/2007/archives/283
They sell various sizes but mine was the slightly earlier 2.5" rather than the new 3" although to be quite honest it covers 90% of the screen and the bulk is kept down. Actually, picking up the camera again just this minute I think that a larger loupe that covers the whole screen might not work quite so well as your supporting fingers would be nearer the edge and might not have as much grip.
They are very well made and the optics are really good. you can even take the shot like that but I tend to let the loupe drop on the supplied landyard around my neck and then compose and take the shot in the normal way.
Does it make any difference to the awkward IR focussing? 100%
hope it helps soemone else.