The 3 Faces of Infrared Conversions…


Or, which way should you jump?

Different Spectrum Choices...

Recently, I have been asked several times in emails and via reader comments on which Infrared camera conversion is the best for someone who is planning on jumping into IR!  So, it is time to address that small question…

There are three ways to go when considering Infrared Photography:

  1. Normal color camera with external IR filter.  This is the cheapest way to try your hand at IR photography.  You simply adda 720nm filter to your lens.
  2. Internal conversion to Infrared. This is the cheapest easy way to get into IR.  The internal IR blocking filter (hot mirror) is replaced with a IR pass filter.
  3. Full Spectrum conversion.  This is the best way to get into IR, but the most expensive.  The hot mirror is replaced with clear glass and you put IR filters on the lens.

Let’s discuss each option..

  • The first, normal color camera with a 720nm external filter will work great, but it does have some major issues to overcome.  The exposure times are greatly increased due to the fact that you have limited the amount of light reaching the sensor with the addition of the external filter plus it must overcome the internal hot mirror built into the camera.  The results in exposure time around a minute long and no ability to compose (unless you have live view) because your eyes cannot see through the 720nm external filter.  Focus is off and must be adjusted for IR as well.  Still, it is a good way to see if you even like IR work!
  • The second, internal conversion is a really good way to go.  It requires no special camera functionality (you do not need live view) and will give the ability to shoot normal hand held exposures. It works well in all camera types.  They only issue is the decision on which filter to choose!  I usually tell people to go with a 590nm conversion (Goldie or Super Color) because it gives the best combination of Faux Color and B&W work.  There is another consideration to the internal conversion, it is that you can change the flavor of the conversion by adding an additional filter on the end of your camera lens!  You can only go down in frequency  (up in nm) from whatever your internal filter is but it can be done allowing a different flavor for your camera!  Remember when you hit 720nm or lower you loose the ability to use your optical viewing path so you MUST have a camera with some sort of live view system for this to work! I have a Panasonic GH2 at 590nm, a Canon 20D at 590nm and they both work great.
  • The third option, Full spectrum gives you the most versatility but with added costs.  The hot mirror is replaced with a clear piece of glass and you then program the camera with an external filter!  This opens up an entire world for you to explore.  The camera will see everything from UV to FULL COLOR to INFRARED!  You simply tell it what you wish by your choice of external filter.  If you only are interested in 590 nm, 620 nm and 665 nm then any digital camera will be fine for you.  But if you wish to explore some of the alternatives, like the Super Blue (in camera Faux) or  UV+IR (UG1) or the deep IR filters like 720nm (standard), 850nm (deep IR) and lower then you MUST have a camera with live view or full time LCD display!  The reason for this is the fact that normal DSLR camera systems use an OPTICAL image path that goes from the viewfinder thru a prism, bounces off a mirror and out thru the lens and filter!  If your filter is dark then you cannot see to compose although the camera will still focus!  Live view will allow you to overcome this problem.  There are some REALLY interesting filters out there like the UG1 (UV+IR) and the 047B (Super Blue in camera Faux) that will only work with an internal or Full Spectrum conversion but need a live view with the Full Spectrum Conversion!  Now, the additional costs are the prices of the external filters to fit your lenses.  The darker the filter the more they cost!  Oh, did I mention that with a Full Spectrum Conversion you can convert the camera back to normal color by adding a UV/IR blocking filter (expensive)!!

Spectrum choices

UG1 – UV+IR  This is an interesting filter that mixes UV and Infrared to give ultra white colored leaves and a dark blue or purple sky!  You will see a lot of this posted around the net but very little in the galleries!  It is not for everyone but still can be very pretty and interesting.  The filter is very expensive!  It is around $120 for 58mm.

Hoya 047B Super Blue

Super Blue – In Camera Faux Color.  This filter is becoming more popular as you can shoot normal Faux Color IR images right in the camera with no post processing. It is highly dependent upon good white balance but gives very good Faux Color images.  For B&W it is not so good… The cost of the Tiffen 047B is around $70 in 58mm. Lifepixel now offers a Super Blue internal conversion service.

B+W 090 Super Color 590nm

Super Color (Goldie) – 590nm.  This is (and should be) usually the filter of choice for most IR shooters.  It gives great gold toned Faux Color images and stunning B&W images as well.  For Faux Color special post processing is required in Photoshop and the Red and Blue channels must be swapped which is VERY difficult in Elements but simple in Photoshop CS5!  The cost for a B+W 090 590nm filter is about $25 for 58mm.

B+W 091 Pinkie, 630nm

Pinkie – 630nm.  This is my personal favorite filter for Infrared work.  Instead of golds it gives pinks and reds in Faux Color and stunning B&W work.  No on offers this filter as an internal conversion so the only way to use it is with a Full Spectrum conversion.  The same post processing rules that apply to 590nm apply to 630nm.  The cost is about $25 for 58mm for the B+W 091 590nm filter.

Enhanced Color – 665nm.  This is very close to the 630nm filter but with more reds than pinks.  B&W is stunning and this filter can be had on both the internal conversion and the Full Spectrum Conversion.  The cost is slightly higher at about $50 for 58mm. You will find a lot of P&S cameras on EBay with this conversion.

Hoya R72 720nm Standard IR Filter

Standard – 720nm.  This is called standard for good reason, most IR conversions out there are at 720nm which really does not make any sense to me! It gives very LIMITED Faux color but great B&W!  The filter is black to normal vision and while it works great as an internal conversion it is not so good with Full Spectrum unless you are using it on a camera with live view or full time live view like a Micro 4/3, P&S or any of the other mirror less systems out there.  With a DSLR with live view it works great in Full Spectrum.  The cost is expensive at around $100 for a 58mm version of the Hoya R72.

Deep IR – 850nm.  This filter is totally black.  It gives ZERO Faux Color but beautiful rich and deep B&W images.  This is for the person who only wants to work in B&W.  Even with an internal conversion there will be about a 3 stop hit in exposure do the the limiting factors of the filter.  With a DSLR with live view it works great in Full Spectrum.  The cost is expensive at around $150 for a 58mm version.

LDP CC1 UV/IR Blocking Filter

IR Blocking – Normal Color.  This filter has a aqua appearance that blocks the UV/IR spectrum which will convert your camera back to normal color AS LONG AS YOUR CAMERA IS A FULL SPECTRUM conversion!  This is VERY expensive around $200 for 58mm for the LDP CC1 Filter. I have found that if you couple this filter with the B+W 486 UV/IR blocking filter that you get a better return to normal color.  The reason is that it blocks slightly more on the UV end of things.  I usually dissemble the 486 and install it in the CC1 filter ring along with the CC1 filter.  Again, this is expensive at about $125 for a 58mm.

As you can see, there are a lot of choices out there for you.  The Full Spectrum Conversion has much more options but requires a live view capable camera system.  I have both internal conversions and Full Spectrum conversions and like them both.  I really like playing with the Super Blue you must remember that it does not do well with B&W work!

There are endless examples of images created with each of these filters spread out in this blog.  Go take a look around to see the examples of each to help you decide on which way you might jump!

Please let me know what you decide upon!

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46 comments on “The 3 Faces of Infrared Conversions…

  1. If you are going to have a IR conversion give LifePixel a serious look. They converted my Panasonic GX1 with the standard 720NM and it works like a charm.

  2. Hey, I have converted a few point and shoots for problem. Recently I got a d3000 to try and convert to full spectrum but the screws were all locked in to tight and I stripped the ones the held in the hot mirror, so I re-soldered it and sold it. trying to figure out where to go from here. Does anyone have an experience with d3000’s, could it have just been a problem with mine? are there other cheap nikons that are easier to dismantle?

  3. Great article. The spectrum choices is something that I have not seen compiled into one article anywhere else. It really does in depth.

    I am having thoughts of going into IR photography. I have a Nikon D5100, period. No other camera. I was told by various conversion places, including LifePixel and an authorized Nikon repair center not to mess with my only camera. I was hesitant at first as I thought that by going full spectrum I would still have the option to take “normal” (visible light) photos, but they warned me that the colors would be off. They all claimed that there is no add on hot mirror filter for the lens that would match the built in hot mirror from my Nikon. They even said that Nikons have a different, might even be a slight but nonetheless different built in hot mirror filter for each Nikon. So by going full conversion, and purchasing an add on, I will get close to normal, but never actually factory normal images. This is what stopped me from converting to full spectrum on my only DSLR camera.

    So, I am now searching for used, older model cameras and will consider a dedicated IR conversion with the 590 and perhaps a 720 for the lens. I do have live view so focusing with the 720 shouldn’t be a problem.

    I noticed that in your focusing section above, you did not mention that although there may be front or back focus issues, setting a smaller aperture (higher number) could compensate by increasing the depth of focus.

    One thing I am still confused about is how one would calibrate focus to work on ALL lenses and on all focal points throughout that lens on a converted camera. I do not understand in which situations one would have to calibrate ONE lens for proper focusing? Is this will full spectrum, dedicated IR? How/When it is that all lenses would focus properly?

    Thank you,

    • Tony, you can buy converted IR cameras on Ebay for next to nothing. Join a club and you will have choices there also!

      Focus for IR is different than for color for phase focus cameras (DSLR) which is why focus must be shifted. 99% of the time shifting the focus internally for 1 lens fixes all lenses as long as you are doing it to a IR converted camera. If you are using a mirror less camera system like the Fuji’s or micro 4/3 systems they use a contrast focusing system so there is no focus adjustment necessary for IR or color!

  4. Thank you so much for the free informative and educational material you offer through your excellent website.

    I’ve learned so much through these pages as I continue my infrared journey with a full spectrum Lumix G5 upgrade.

  5. Hi Mark, I have just had an Olympus pen EPL2 converted to 590nm infrared but I am having problems getting a one shot white balance. I have had no problems in the past with other Olympus models, C5050, 5060, 7070 as well as my converted Nikon D70s.I use Aperture for most of my post processing, colour swapping in Gimp and also use Viveza . The best that I can manage so far is setting a custom white balance at around 2200 k which does not seem very satisfactory, hope that you can help.

    • Hmm, I had a EP2 at 590nm and did not have any issues with WB! I cannot begin to understand why you are having issues. Let me think this over and perhaps I can come up with something to help.

      • Hi, thanks for the reply. I tried it again this morning without any problem at all. Strange as at first it just would not accept the setting, perhaps it was too contrasty. The camera is now packed and will be off with me to the Maldives in the morning, so let’s hope I can get some interesting infrared images, regards, Geoff.

  6. Hi Mark. Thank you for all of the useful information. I have been involved with IR photography for the past few years and will receive my first full-spectrum converted camera (Panasonic G5) back from Lifepixel next Thursday. Quite excited but it is still too early here in Michigan for IR photography. In a previous article you compared the 047 and 047B filters and commented about a green light leakage issue with the 047B filter. Which of these two would you recommend today? Thanks!

    • It is tough to find the 047 so you will likely be forced to the B version! I have them and rarely use it because Faux Color is so easy to do in post processing that I really done need it out of the camera! Good luck with your system! Consider one our our IR workshops (Charleston is coming up soon) where we will teach you all of the Faux Color secrets!

  7. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if
    you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  8. Hello Mark,
    Somehow I got dumped from your mailing list. Is it possible to put me back on? Hope so.

    This presentation explaining IR is superb. I think it’s the best I’ve read. Congratulations.

    I’m in the market again for a IR converted (590 Nm) point and shoot digital camera. I’m fond of Sony, Canon, Fuji, and Lumix cameras.

    If you can tell me of a good place to shop for an already converted P&S IR camera, I’d be grateful

    All the best to you and yours,

    Martin Young
    youngmartin76@gmail.com

  9. Hi there ! Thanks a lot for the blog.
    SO interesting, i bought 10 minutes ago a FULL SPECTRUM 300D EOS on ebay.But what i really want tot do is work my photographic skills on especially a 655nm filter. I saw some marvellous results in this range and i was looking for filters. i dont find these. Any shggestions ? Thanks again, keep going it please!

    • Congratulations! I would get the following:

      590nm B+W 090 from Amazon for about $30
      630nm B+W 091 from Amazon for about $30
      665nm Xnite-665nm from maxmax.com cost ???
      665nm Heliopan Series 8 Infrared Blocking Filter (665nm) from B&H for $175

      As you can see the higher in nm you go the more expensive it gets! The 630nm is not far removed from the 665!

      • Yeah, but wooow.. 165€ for a filter (the 665 one). Didnt expect it so expensive! Much than the 072 Hoya, which is higher in nm !
        And, i wondered: id like to use my old m42 takumar series with it, should i ask the seller to recalibrate the focus ? I have a UGA 10-20, would it be ok too ?
        Thanks again Mark

  10. Hello, in your opinion what it is better to choose for a practical IR application with the EXMOR-R sensor of the SONY HDR-CX130E videocamera not hacked?
    Infact I would like to shoot as much as possible clearly and in the sundaylight the “unkown” IR images with an external filter.
    I ignore if I have to choose just one way of shooting/recording (black & white typical IR images only) or maybe both (if possible and useful)!
    I am worried that buying a wrong filter may result in a totally useless piece of glass (nothing to see in IR) or a confusion of colors etc. (overuse in visible spectrum)…
    The only thing I can say about the EXMOR’ sensivity about IR light, just to help you understand the SONY item, is that it can record the TV-remote signal, as good as to see it through the side LCD of the videocamera.
    And the SONY HDR-CX130 has a specific LowLux or Low-Light function to record images in very dark conditions…

  11. Dear Mark, I have been considering another camera for conversion, the Olympus EPL3. The reason for this is my style of shooting which is almost always from a tripod set at waist level. This camera offers the use of the VF2 finder (which I always use) and has the flip down screen which, when used on a tripod, makes review of image data a pleasure as one can just continue to look down and not have to readjust the camera or torque one’s neck to see the the image.

    As I have been reviewing your site and others, I have been thinking more critically about the best conversion for my style which is BW. I have experience with several converted cameras including a Nikon D50 R72, Nikon D70S 87C (RG830), Nikon D200 R72, Olympus EPL2 Full Spectrum. I find the D70S 87C can give excellent results with ideal bright sunlight, but it suffers at reduced light and does not desplay subtle grays. It almost gives too much contrast for really good BW prints. I have found the UG1 filter on the EPL2 FS gives excellent BW results along with the lighter reds such as 590-665nm’s. This is especially evident in using BW software in Lightroom and NIK Silver Effects Pro2. In other words, I feel that one can achieve as good or even better BW images by selecting a conversion in the area of 630-665nm, and using good software in refining the RAW images. Your BW 665nm conversions demonstrate this to me, but I would appreciate any further dialogue on this critical analysis before proceeding to another conversion. Part of the reason for wanting a specific conversion as opposed to another Full Spectrum is that I want to be able to use the Lumix 7-14mm UWA lens which does not use filters. But again, one could use darker filters on other lenses with, say, a 665nm conversion to achieve more direct contrast, if so desired.

    I hope this subject might stimulate some more thinking for those who are not only considering what type of camera to purchase, but also what type of conversion that suits them.

    • John, I went through the same mental exercises as you. I went through 15 camera conversions in my search. I have had at least 1 over every type of conversion out there! I realized that after all of my searching 2 important facts.

      1. Camera functionality was very important to me. I really liked the E-PL1 with the external viewfinder but found that the camera was lacking functionally! I am now using a GH-2 and the functionality of the body rivals the 1DMK3! It is light and easy to hold, has a good selection of lenses and just plain works well. I do not know much about the E-PL3 but as in all things Olympus it must be a real winner!

      2. All of the filters I have used and experimented with lead me to the 630nm B+W 091! I love this filter and as you say, it gives GREAT B&W! But I converted the GH-2 to 590nm knowing that I can add an external 630nm but if I went with the 630nm conversion I could NEVER go down to 590nm If I needed. I am very happy with this.

      Most of the smaller P&S cameras out there have an optional filter adapter. Did you know that you can get GEL filters at 590nm, 630nm and 665nm for the BACK of the 7-14? I have large sheets of them so let me know and I will send you a swatch. You do need to create a cutting template for the lens!

      • I just want to reiterate a little more about my objectives regarding the functionality of shooting from a tripod and filtration for black and white. While the GH2 appears to be an exceptional camera with its flip out screen and high quality built in EVF, that doesn’t offer the functionality of being able to view through the EVF at waist level on a tripod. Also the flip out screen is a little more awkward on the left side, again, on a tripod. I can verify this as I have a G1 that is very similar in its design. And although the EPL3 does not have a built in level gauge, I often use a bubble level to maintain a level horizon. The camera that may be even better than the EPL3 is the new OMD EM5 that also incorporates a flip down screen and, not only a built in EVF, but the ability to use the external VF2 so one can view down at waist level. If this was available on the GH2, I would consider it superb. So if one is so inclined to use a tripod for landscape shooting (which I would highly recommend for maximum sharpness and more careful composition) then the EPL3 or new EM5 are highly recommended especially in lieu of critical focus through EVF.

        As far as filtration is concerned, my major objective is high quality black and white images. Again, my recent thinking is that many conversion sites recommend 800+nm conversions for pure bw shooting. While this may be somewhat ok for JPEG shooters, I find that almost always, some post processing is necessary for quality bw images. True, the 800+nm filters eliminated color hues, but also blow out whites and give a lot of unwanted contrast at times. They just don’t deliver subtle gray tones for exceptional bw prints. And Mark, as you have said, you can’t go backwords to lower “nm’s” for less contrast or for better color tints. Therefore, my conclusion, primarily for pure bw, is to opt for a filtration around 665nm to achieve the best bw tonality in shooting RAW and processing the image through software. In this way one can still create the look and drama of IR with the purity of fine gray tonalties for exceptional fine art prints. And, again, one can still add a stronger filter if so desired.

      • John, did you know that LDP (maxmax.com) is offering a true B&W conversion? I don’t know much about it but it might be worth taking a look at it. They somehow actually remove the RGB filters from the sensor!

        I understand about the viewfinder on the Oly being able to move up and down. This does make it easy to view at different heights.

        I still like the 630nm & 665nm for both color and B&W work!

  12. There is a free option for channel swaps, http://www.irfanview.com/
    I love this little program and use it all the time. The interface is bare bones, and some functions are a bit quirky, but it’s amazing what it will do considering it’s freeware. It reads raw files and can even use some PS plugins. (You do have to install the plugins pkg which is also free.) To do a channel swap, click on the “Image” menu, then near the bottom is “Swap Colors”, and RGB-BGR is the second choice. For whatever reason, undo doesn’t work on this, so if you need to undo it, just do the color swap again. Hope this is helpful.

    • Thanks Gail, Infranview has been around for years. The trouble is that it only works on windows systems. This is an issue when we are trying to promote software that is not platform specific.

      Another choice is Corels AfterShot Pro. This is a raw converter with free plugins. One of them is a really powerful channel swap. Being that you can do this during a raw conversion it gives a lot of bang and costs about $90.

  13. Hello and thank you for the information. I have bought myself a Bowen 720nm filter (77mm) for trying it out on my Canon DSLR. I tried it on the T2i/550D and 5D mark II. I am not sure if I can get the exposure right because the photos look just like a b/w photos with a red tint over them.

    Is there any setting that I have missed?

    Thanks,
    Regards,
    Ed

    • Not to worry Ed, this is exactly as it should be. The trick here is to generate the proper WHITE BALANCE in your camera with the

        filter in place

      .

      This is tough to do with a normal color camera with an external 720nm filter installed because there is

        just not enough light

      usually.

      You need to set a CUSTOM WB by aiming the camera at green grass to do the WB on in bright sunlight. IF you can do it (Do you have Live view to see thru the lens with the filter installed?) then the images you take and then display on the LCD screen should have a bronze colored sky and leaves and grass more bluish/monochromatic.

      If you cannot get the WB correct don’t worry because you can still correct things in Post processing. Return here and read the posts on post processing 590nm IR because the same recipes apply to 720nm. What editing software are you using? I hope Photoshop CS5 so that you can run actions which will make you much happier. Lightroom is impossible for Faux Color (720nm can do this) and photoshop elements is just TOO DIFFICULT to work in as it has no channel swap. Aperture is also useless.

  14. Mark,

    I found a freeware plug-in that gives Channel Swap and Curves functionality/ability in older versions of Elements (v 5.0 and lower). I personally use this freeware and will vouch for its effectiveness and to the best of my knowledge it contains no malware/spyware. I have been using it for several years with no ill effects. Here’s the link:

    http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototips/photoshop-elements-curves.html

    Elements users can now Channel Swap as easily as CS 5 users!

    Have fun,

    Eric

  15. Hi there, I convert various models of camera to FS Full Spectrum and Infrared and sell under the name of Infraready on ebay. I would be delighted if I could use an extract from the above blog in my listings to educate my buyers what filter choices thay have. Would you have a problem with that?

    regards

    Andy

  16. what about buying inexpensive filters on ebay without going through camera convertion? Ive just checked massa 850nm for $10. is it worth of trying as a beginner, just for the start?

    • You have to be careful of filters on Ebay, the general rule is you get what you pay for. BUT $10 is not much risk! Try and find one at 720nm instead though, it will make for shorter exposures at about a min where as the 850 will have about 6 more stops of light loss…

  17. This is great sumary of IR options but it is not a complete analysis to make the determination as to the best way to go….since you did not mention the workflow required with each filter/nm converstion. That to me is a big issue. What whitebalance setting and Photoshop steps would help me decide what direction to go.

    • Not at all as long as you give credit and a link back here to the blog. I would like to know a little more about your service and if it looks good I could even promote you here where I have a HUGE following.

    • While this is true, I have dozens of posts here that take you completely through the post processing and tell my readers to refer back to the older posts for recipes on exactly how to do this. Why don’t you take a look through the older posts and specifically look at posts named with 590nm or 630nm in their titles. You will be surprised at the amount of detail there!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and question! I hope that this has been of some small help.

  18. I’d like to do Full Spectrum but most of my lens for my Epl’s are odd filter threads. So I’m beginning to think internal is the way to go for me. Is there a way to have an internal 590nm conversion and then set up with external filters to 630nm? Thanks and great job on your site. I love it!

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