Panasonic GH2 590nm Review – Part 1


OK, It Starts Again – IR Camera #14 (I think…)

Panasonic GH2

Well… I think this makes camera #14, but I have had so many that I am no longer sure!  This is really a sad state of affairs.  As you all know, I have touted the Olympus E-PL1 as the “King Of Infrared” for a year or so now.  But sadly, the King has died, long live the King!  I am not very sad over sending the color GH2 off to be twisted into 590nm, after all, I am addicted to IR.  Rather I am sad over loosing such a fine COLOR system!

It is true though, that I have returned to my Canon systems for color work, and I am very happy with the results there.  So on with the show!

The body functionality of the GH2 is simply amazing.  It rivals that of the advanced Canon and Nikon bodies but in such a form factor that it makes using it a joy!  I love the fact that it is such a small body.  Add in the fact that it is a 16 megapixel system with both a built in electronic viewfinder and an articulating LCD panel guarantees a true winner.

I sent the camera off to Spencers Camera in Utah and had it back in 3 days!  I decided upon 590nm for this camera rather than Full Spectrum because I find that 99% of the time I shoot in either 590nm or 630nm.  I can change between the two with the addition of a B+W 091 630nm filter on the lens which costs about $25!  This means less to carry when I travel which is very important to me.

The GOLDIE or SUPER COLOR IR Conversion, GH2 Camera

When the camera was returned from Spencers the first thing that I noticed was that I had NO idea how to set the custom white balance.  Spencers had programmed this into the body but I needed to do it again as I am going to use the Panasonic 14-140mm lens on it.  I did some research on the web and discovered how to do a proper WB and no matter how hard I tried I could not get my WB to match Spencers.  So I called them and was informed that they only use a gray card in direct sunlight to WB with!  OK, I will file this data away for later consideration!  For now I have both Spencers WB and mine (green grass) programed into the camera (yes it can hold 4 custom WB settings).

Today I took the camera out and did some test shots using both WB values in a good location that gave the triangle of IR compositional elements:

  1. Sky with clouds…
  2. Reflective Water…
  3. Various types of Green Leaves…

One major difference that I discovered between the 590nm GH2 and the E-PL1 set at 590nm is that the GH2 did NOT over expose the red channel!  The internal exposure metering system handled Infrared poisoned with Red Visible light perfectly!  This really is a big step forward in that I can again trust the exposure meter and concentrate on the subject.

Refresher on 590nm Infrared:

Various IR Filter Curves, Look At the 090 For 590nm

There are some minor issues when using a 590nm filter that you must understand in order to overcome.

  • 590nm is firmly in the realm of the visible spectrum creating visible overexposure from 590nm to 700mm.
  • White Balance is ALL important to getting good color and proper exposure.

The first listed issue really is the most important one to understand.  Our camera’s electronics and algorithms are designed with color images in mind.  When we remove the hot mirror (UV/IR Cut Filter)  and attach a dedicated 590nm or 665nm filter OR a clear glass filter (Full Spectrum) and use a 590nm external filter, we are allowing a small amount of visible light from 590nm to 700nm strike the sensor along with the infrared spectrum from 700nm to 1000nm.  Since 590nm is in the deep red area of the visible spectrum the RED channel is overwhelmed with bright red light and the blue & green channels see more of the 700nm and up light.   This tends to confuse the camera computer and while it will display a normal looking histogram (monochrome), if you look at the separate RGB histograms the red is off the edge and way overexposed!  Usually you can overcome this during the RAW conversion process by changing the exposure down 1 or 2 stops in conversion.  Sometimes the overexposure is so bad that you are out of the range of repair during the conversion process.  So I following the following steps to overcome this in camera:

  1. Proper White Balance to equalize the color Channels
  2. Set the camera histogram to separate RGB channels so that I can directly monitor the RED channel
  3. Check the exposure on EVERY shot and dial in the appropriate exposure compensation.  Normally this is around -1 or -2 but some subject matter like lots of leaves will require you to switch to manual exposure  to go – 3 or more!  A cloudy sky will actually force you to add + exposure compensation.  Just take a test shot and check the red channel histogram then make the proper adjustment.
  4. ALWAYS use your lens hood to prevent lens flare as well as to keep contrast up by stopping light from hitting the objective lens at extreme angles.

590nm will generate very pleasing warm Faux Color images that dip in to Gold tones hence the name “Goldie Filter”!  This can work for very pleasing images that will stun you with their emotional impact.  Yet they will also generate VERY nice B&W images as well in Post Processing!  If you find that you do not care for the Gold tones you can simply reprogram the camera with an external filter to get different results!

  • B+W 091 630nm medium red filters will move you into the Pink/Red toned Faux Color Images and cost around $30.
  • B+W 092 695nm dark red filters will move you into the Red/Copper toned Faux Color Images and cost around $100.
  • Hoya R72 720nm deep red filters will put you into the Coppery toned Faux Color Images and cost around $120.

You can go even higher, 800, 850 ad 900nm but these will require the use of a tripod and they are VERY expensive filters!  Not bad for a dedicated 590nm camera!  You can still change the flavor of it with the addition of an external filter.  The only rule is that you cannot go to an external filter lower than 590nm.

Gray Card Set for Setting Camera White Balance

OK, lets look at some sample images.  I am going to show you 2 sets of 3 images.  First set is with the camera WB set to green grass.  Image 1 will be the RAW image straight out of the camera, Image 2 will be the Faux Color version and Image 3 will be the B&W.  Set 2 will be the same 3 images but with the WB set to a Gray Card in bright sunlight.  You will be AMAZED by the difference that WB can give in your photography after viewing them.   The Gray card used is a simple plastic set that I purchased from Amazon for about $10.00.

OK, here is set #1 with the WB set to the Green Grass:

RAW:

RAW image, WB to Green Grass

Faux Color Post Processed, WB to Green Grass

Notice the lack of gold tones and the shift to orange/red trees.  There is a little yellow grass.  To me this is still a very pleasing image overall!

B&W Post Processing, WB to Green Grass

A very nice B&W image that can still have a lot of work done on it for improvements!  

OK, now set 2, the same basic images but with the WB set to the 18% Gray Card!

RAW:

RAW Image with WB set to the Gray Card

Notice that the colors are WAY off from the image WB’ed to the Green grass!  The sky has shifted towards a greenish/copper and the leaves have shifted towards Aqua  while some of the green has taken on a Yellow glow.

Faux Color:

Faux Color image with WB set to the Gray Card

Here is where we really see a major difference!  NOW the trees have the classic GOLD tone that one expects from the 590nm band!  Some of the grasses are still pink but different plants look different in IR!

B&W:

B&W Post Processed with the WB set to the Gray Card

Even here we see differences between the two different WB’ed images.  This is due to the fact that B&W Post Processing is determined by the range of COLORS of the image that we start with!

So, what I am seeing here with these two sets of images is that WP has a MAJOR effect upon the finished product!  The first set of images actually look closer to what you would see with a B+W 091 690nm filter in place rather than a 590nm filter!  We will discuss this in greater detail in the next post (Part 2) in the next few days.  For now this should give you a lot to think about in relationship to White Balance!

On top of that you have to admit that the clarity and sharpness of this camera/conversion and lens is simply remarkable!  I am very excited about the fact that the exposure is dead on so far.  I will also experiment with the exposure and histogram in the coming days in varying sunlight and different subject to insure that indeed the Panasonic GH2 is the NEW KING OF INFRARED!

What do you think…?

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9 comments on “Panasonic GH2 590nm Review – Part 1

  1. The GH2 is on my list for purchase. It’s a great camera. That one will mainly be used for video though. With the right hacks, it performs right up there with the big boys. I just picked up an Oly Pen E-PL1 for a song. It should arrive here in a couple of days. It will mainly be what I call the purse cam and I’ll hopefully be doing some nice IR with it. I had nice success with my Leica D Lux 4 point & shoot, but wanted a sensor that’s a bit bigger.

    Always enjoy reading your stuff even though I don’t get the chance to come around a lot.

    • Great! The E-PL1 was my favorite IR camera. I had it done in Full Spectrum from Spencers! But I have a track record in IR, and the E-PL1 is gone now and I have a GH2 in 590nm IR. I LOVE the body functionality of the GH2.

  2. Hello Mark,
    Thanks for an outstanding post. This is by far the finest rundown I’ve seen on IR photography. What grabs me is the quality of the images you used to illustrate your text. Incidentally, they are very much like the one’s I’ve been capturing here in New Hampshire with a Canon G11 660Nm conversion. I use an unmodified G11 for my color shots. I also use a Canon S5 full spectrum conversion for long distance images.
    In closing this post of yours will go to the top of my IR data base.
    Many thanks.
    Martin

      • Mark,
        I have no web page but I can send you a montage or a group of several photos. Please note that I post-process mostly by “ear” and don’t keep records of what I do. This makes each photo a new experience. Also, I’ve had great success with the plugins developed by
        Gavin Seim especially the six or seven options in his FREE Light Study package.

        So, Mark, please let me know if you want me to send a few pics via email and if you do please tell me the email address where to send them.
        All the best,
        Martin

  3. Great info. Thanks for all the hard work. I’m still using the E-500, E-510 & E-620 (not yet modded), so I might get different results. Not much “green grass” here so I will try the 18%
    gray card (Zone 6). I have quite a few filters that I will be testing on my full spectrum E-510 –
    some of which I’m certain have never been tested before. 🙂

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