Monday, March 26, 2007

IR For Beginners - Maybe I Should Have My DSLR Modded!

We have discussed the pros and cons of shooting IR with a DSLR in its factory configuration. IR Shooters generally refer to that as “Un-Modded”, or if the camera has been modified for IR Photography, “Modded”. So, let’s take some time to talk about just what “Modded” really means.

We are going to concentrate on DSLRs.

I will write up a separate section about all the other Digital Cameras, usually known as Prosumers, specifically, cameras that have non-interchangeable lenses, an Electronic View Finder (EVF) as opposed to an Optical View Finder (OVF), and a Real Time LCD.

So just what does the “Mod” entail? Basically, the camera is dis-assembled to the point that the Internal Blocker, or Hot Mirror IR Block Filter can be removed from the camera. It is located right on top of the sensor. Even tho you can see it covering the sensor in dust clean mode, the filter is not removable without taking the camera apart. This is a task best performed by a professional, or an owner with above average skills.

Immediately, you are looking at 2 significant issues when you have an IR Modification done.

1. A professional will charge somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 to $500 US, depending on the camera model.

2. Your camera warranty, if you still have one that is in effect, will be immediately voided.

So, you face these decisions right off the bat. Most IR shooters have a second or older generation body modded rather then their bright shiny new DSLR. They already have a nice collection of lenses, and there are still a lot of miles left in the previous generation DSLR body. Some bodies can be purchased in good used condition for a very reasonable price. Warranty is hardly ever an issue with a used camera body. It has usually expired long ago.

The physical change to the camera is not all that significant. The professional takes the camera apart, removes the IR Block Filter, replaces it with an identical thickness piece of glass that is an IR Pass Filter. The thickness of the glass must be exactly the same as the original that is being removed in order to retain focus. Depending on the professional, adjustments may be made to compensate for the different focal point of IR vs Visible light wavelengths, and the camera is re-assembled and tested. All the while, in the process, the camera is kept clean internally and great care is taken with parts and connections.

In the “un-Modded” discussion, we used a screw-on IR Pass Filter on the lens. Now we have removed the “fighting filter” and moved the IR Pass inside the camera. You will no longer need an external IR filter. You will be able to use all of your lens collection, no matter what thread size, you will not be limited to the requirement of having a Pass Filter to fit each one. This fact alone could save you a considerable amount of money.

So you get your camera back in fine shape, and you are ready to put a charged battery in your baby and go out and impress the world with your newly purchased IR skills. In point of fact, it’s almost that easy.

There are a few issues that you will still have to deal with in order to get that great IR shot. It’s a pretty short learning curve.

1. You will be composing your shot thru the OVF in Visible light. You will not be able to preview the IR image. You will have to take the shot, and review the exposure, composition, and IR result after the fact on the LCD. The camera will be able to set a fairly close exposure for you in the auto or program modes, so you will not face the level of experimentation described in the “Un-Modded” write up. You will find that you still need to review your histogram, as the mono-chromatic image you see on the LCD will not give you the familiar exposure clues that you are used to seeing in Color. As you gain experience, you will begin to “see and think in IR” and be able to predict your IR Image results.

2. Shooting in Aperture Priority and beginning at F8 is also probably a good place to start until you learn how your camera focuses in IR. You might have to make some focus compensation, but likely you won’t.

3. You may want to bump ISO or EV up just a bit to adjust the exposure that the camera picks with its meter. Increasing EV by a stop is usually a good starting place until you have experimented enough to predict how your exposures will come out.

4. White Balance adjustments can make a big difference in your initial out-of-camera image. I would suggest that you do some initial trial shots in bright sunlight, cycling thru your camera’s entire set of WB settings to see which gives you a result that you like. The image varies greatly between manufacturers and between sensor types as well.

5. Many IR Shooters prefer setting a Custom White Balance to the in-camera WB pre-sets. Find some plant life that strongly reflects IR light, such as tightly packed leaves on a tree, or healthy green grass. Fill the frame with the foliage, manually focus, grossly out of focus, to even out foliage and gaps or shadows, and record your CWB.

6. As in shooting Color, shooting in RAW will give you the most adjustment control in Post Processing, but if you prefer to shoot JPG, I think you will still be very successful.

Your modded DSLR will give you back full control of Aperture and Shutter Speed settings, which will overcome the long exposure requirements that you had prior to the Mod. You will essentially be able to shoot as you would in Visible Color Light.

It goes without saying that you will now only be able to shoot in Infrared. Visible Light Color Photography will no longer be possible unless you were to have the camera modification reversed to re-install the IR Block Filter. Since this is expensive, it is not a very practical thing to do. You may wish to keep the IR Block Filter just in case you decide for some reason to have the mod reversed.

So, with your DSLR’s innate controls and features, and a wide choice of lenses, the creative juices can begin to flow freely.

-=- Jerry -=-


Anonymous said...

Amen. Well said and explained.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Andrea, I very much appreciate your response.

-=- Jerry -=-

nitzus said...


Since my EOS 400D is still under warranty, and i don't intend to void it, are you saying that IR can still be achieved by using the external filter? And how's the result compare to the modded one?


Infrared Photography Buzz said...


I don't blame you for not wanting to void your camera's warranty.

Read the installment above this one, "My DSLR is Not Modded" and pay attention to the "Cons" near the end of the Post, for issues you will encounter shooting with a screw-on filter and a un-modded camera.

Short answer is, Yes, you can achieve good IR images with your 400D and a screw-on IR Pass filter. Canon DSLRs, especially the newer models have a very aggressive filter in them that blocks the IR light you are trying to capture. That means, using a tripod, and long exposure times.

As in shooting Visible Color, long exposure times limit you to subjects that don't move. Trees for instance will have a lot of motion blur. You will also tend to get digital noise, just as you would in any long exposure shot. If you bump the ISO up to reduce the shutter speed, the noise will tend to increase.

The issues are really the same as in the color shooting you are doing now.

But, Yes you can get good quality IR images, you will just have to work a bit harder for the exposure, and probably spend more time and effort in you editor in Post Processing.

Hope this helps.

Ask specific questions if you have any.


-=- Jerry -=-

David said...

Hey Jerry, I really appreciate your in-depth descriptions. I have a secondary Nikon D70 that is currently siting on the shelf since my last purchase of my Canon 40D. I recently came across a company called Life Pixel Infrared Conversion ( they seem to be very professional with their process. I was reviewing their examples of different types of IR conversion that they do, and came across the Full Spectrum Clear Conversion which they say has the advantage of shooting all types of IR. Do you suggest the Full Spectrum Conversion if I am comfortable enough to manually operate my camera, as long as I use the Hoya R72 Filter? I am quite interested in being able to shoot Full Spectrum as well...


Infrared Photography Buzz said...


Join this forum and you will be able to ask the numerous questions that you will have about "Full Spectrum" IR conversions. There are a number of issues that you should investigate.

Your DSLR, not having a live-view capability on the LCD will require that you compose and focus in visible light, using a tripod, and then screw on the IR filter to take the IR shot. You will be able to shoot at all shutter speeds, and aperture settings, but you can't do composition and focus with the filter in front of the lense because you can't see thru the IR filter.

Full Spectrum is still a good choice, just be sure that you will be able to shoot IR as you expect before you select the type of mod you want done to your camera.

LifePixel is a good choice for the modding process.

-=- Jerry -=-

Anthony said...

first of all thanks for writing this blog! its very informative.

my question with the cameras that are modded (IR blocking taken out), wouldnt that let visible light through? thus mixing the two lights? you have a picture of it on the fighting filters page.. would every picture turn out like this? or to get just IR light would you have to put a filter on to take out visible light? (because you said you can use your regular lenses)

Infrared Photography Buzz said...

It depends on how you have the modification done. If the camera is modified, they HAVE to replace the blocker glass with something glass to maintain focus.

Clear Glass = All light reaches the sensor, there is no blocking of any wavelength.

Various "IR Filter" glass can be used, an equal to the Hoya R-72 is common, which will block most visible and allow most IR wavelenghts.

There are numerous choices now as to what replaces the IR blocker when it is removed. Talk to the company who is doing the modification for you.

Anonymous said...

Very good write up though one thing. It will not void your warrant, though that is not to say that any damage that is caused by doing this will be covered. If you have any issues that are unrelated and are not a result of taking the IR filter off you can have repaired under warranty. They may not honor the warranty in which case I would suggest calling the company. Most will be willing to work with you and may wave the repair cost if it is found to be an unrelated issue.

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