Infrared Camera Conversions: What’s the Best Option?

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

I think the easiest but not necessarily less expensive way to capture digital infrared images is with an IR-converted camera.

You can purchase a previously modified camera from eBay or trusted used camera sellers like Roberts Camera or have one of your existing cameras converted. If you’ve been looking for something to do with that old camera that’s sitting on a shelf but still makes great but maybe less megapixel images, here’s the perfect job for it.

As easy (or easier) as using an IR-converted camera is, you face some choices when having your camera converted, starting with where to have it done. Many different companies offer infrared conversion services and I’ve had varying experiences using three different suppliers. A recommendation from a photographer whose work you admire is the best place to start. Keep in mind that not every company will convert every camera model, so check to see if they will work on your specific model.

Your eyes see a range of light from 400 to 700 nanometers aka nm, that’s 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 usually have a low pass filter in front of the sensor that only allows low frequency light, visible the human eye, to pass through to the sensor blocking UV and IR light to maintain color fidelity. During an IR conversion the filter is removed allowing all light to strike the sensor. Then it’s replaced with a filter that only allows infrared light to pass through.

Most of the time I shoot in RAW format, which requires some post processing to make a black & white IR shot like the above but I usually set the camera in Monochrome mode and shoot RAW+JPEG to get a preview of what my RAW file look like when processed later. Otherwise it’s shades of magenta with RAW capture.

Some companies offer a choice of infrared filters. LifePixel offers seven choices (plus HyperColor) 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 for me using the Standard IR filter and a G6 modified with the Enhanced Color IR filter that was used to make the image directly above. If the intended result is a monochrome image, the Standard conversion works great while the Enhanced Color IR filter is better if I’m going to produce a color image.

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 filtration, as the original low pass filter. Not all companies offer this choice but some offer what’s called UV-Visible-IR conversions. Theoretically anyway, this conversion lets you capture natural color or infrared depending on what filter you place in front of the lens.

LifePixel does a great job with IR conversions and have done most of my Canon DSLRs and all of my Panasonic Lumix G-series cameras. This is not a paid or sponsored endorsement, just my experience.

My book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography is currently out-of-print but new copies are available for $29.95 and used copies for $7.99 as I write this. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available from Amazon with used copies selling for $2.44 less than your next coffee at Starbucks.