Thursday, March 1, 2007

IR For Beginners - What about my Camera?

Will I be able to take IR Photos with the camera I already have, or must I buy a second, possibly expensive camera in order to join in the IR fun? This is probably the first question on any photographer's mind when they decide that they have found IR images just too irresistable to pass up the opportunity to take some of their own. I know from the various forums, it's usually the first question that gets asked.

But, sometimes the first question proposed is something like this:

"I bought an IR filter, and now I can't figure out how to get the great Infrared Photos I see all of you posting! Help me out here!".

Really, this is the approach that many photographers initially take. It's not a really bad decision, but maybe I can help you make a more informed decision as to how you want to approach starting in IR, BEFORE you spend any money.

Here is a link (also in my list of useful links area) to a Yahoo Group dedicated to Infrared Photography both Digital and Film. The group is very professionally moderated by Jules Alexander aka: lulalake. You should sign up with Yahoo to get the most out of the group, but you can still obtain a lot of knowledge if you don't decide to sign in. The best advantage is that you will be able to ask questions of a very able group of people and get reliable answers to your specific questions if you are registered. Personally I already had a Yahoo account, so I was "in" from the get-go.

Yahoo IR Group

One of the first things you should do is pop down to the Group's "Databases" area. There you will find an extensive list of Cameras that people who frequent the list have compiled. You will learn from their experience just which cameras that they consider good IR tools, and which have particluar issues. Most of the issues listed are not fatal to the ability to make an IR photo, but you might have to make some adjustments to your shooting procedure to get a good image. It's always a good thing to be armed with information before you spend $$$$.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and will make a blanket statement. All digital cameras are capable of shooting in IR! Sort of like the turtle who sticks his neck out in order to go somewhere, sometimes you have to take the opportunity to be wrong to make progress.

Having made this somewhat rash statement, let me start adding modifiers. Most of these will seem obvious to you when you think about them.

If the camera doesn't have lens threads to hold a IR filter in front of the lens, it may not be a good choice for your IR work. I guess duct tape solves almost any problem, but I would not want to have to rely on duct tape to hold the filter on my camera.

If the camera does not have Manual settings for ISO, White Balance, and especially Shutter and Aperture settings, it may not be a good choice for IR work.

I'm not going so far as to state that all the pocket size P&S cameras can't take IR shots, because I believe that they can --technically. But you just won't have a good experience if you lack those important features. Duct tape and fully automatic settings are just not going to cut it for you.

Every digital imaging sensor that I know of will record light in the IR wavelengths (remember the first post?). Someone who is completely familiar with image sensors on a technical level may be able to prove me wrong, but my point is, if you are using a digital camera there is a very good chance that you can shoot in IR.

On the Internet, people talk about, and wonder if, their camera is "sensitive to IR". I've grown to hate that phrase, because, as I just said, if it's digital, it will record in IR. It's not a matter of sensitivity. You will also see many references to "testing" your digital camera with a TV Remote to see if the camera can "see" IR. A total waste of time, but if you want to play with the "test" go ahead. You will see what I mean when we get further into these posts.

So, your assignment is to peruse the Yahoo list and discover what other experienced people think of the camera that you own and are going to use for your IR work.

In the Next Post, we are going to start talking about filters, both the ones that won't allow IR light to get to your sensor, and those that allow only IR light to pass to the sensor.

-=- Jerry -=-


KeithAlanK said...

"If the camera does not have Manual settings for ISO, White Balance, and especially Shutter and Aperture settings, it may not be a good choice for IR work."
This are the key drawbacks of supposedly IR-ready cameras like the Sony F717 and the other CyberShots.
Sure, you can get started and "play" with IR, but because manual exposure settings and especially white balance are locked-out in "Nightshot" mode, truly excellent results seem to be denied to us. I'll keep trying, but I recommend that anyone serious about IR invest in a more capable system. I'm holding out hope that the upcoming H9 overcomes these drawbacks. Barring that, a dedicated group of IR fans such as this site might generate could eventually advise Sony of our wishes, with the weight of numbers and experience behind them.

Niek said...

to keithalank:
good point, especially for those who want to do pseudo-color IR work. After removing the DSC-F717 internal hot mirror, you can use all manual settings but I think for color IR the change is not THAT big. One problem is that the white balance adjustment range is limited compared to DSLRs, and of course the 717 does not have RAW. Still experimenting though ...

Check my description for removing the DSC-F717 hot mirror:

For BW infrared photography I think these Sony Cybershot cameras are excellent, even the original versions with their limitations. I have made some great 50x75 cm IR prints with the 717. It is FAR easier to use than a dedicated DSLR; no problems with preview, focus accuracy, exposure etc. And of course a used 7x7 or new H9 is far cheaper than a dedicated IR DSLR with good lens.

Sure hope Sony removed some of the Nightshot limitations on the H9; but I have my doubts regarding the smaller chip and lens quality compared to the 7x7/828 cameras.

Udo said...

>if it's digital, it will record in IR. It's not a matter of sensitivity

But it might be worth to note that some cameras are more "sensitive" than others. The sensor might not be the problem, but many cameras have an internal IR-block-filter that will make the sensor less sensitive to IR light (since it is undesired for visible light fotos). These cameras still can record IR light, but will need much more light (ie. longer shutter times).