Editor's note: This month only – Use the code july5 at checkout to buy the 5 Steps to Better Black & White Photography and 5 Steps to Better Exposure ebooks for just $5! Click the links to learn more. Thanks for reading, Andrew.
In 2014 I bought a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 camera. I was so impressed by it that I also bought an X-T1. Since then I’ve hardly used the X-Pro 1, which was relegated to the status of backup camera / second body.
I had the idea that I could use the X-T1 and X-Pro 1 in conjunction, each with a different lens, and switch when needed. But the cameras operate so differently that it’s hard to move from one to the other. Plus, the extra body adds weight. I prefer to travel as light as possible.
I thought about selling the X-Pro 1 body, but even before the X-Pro 2 was released the resale value wasn’t very high. Then it occurred to me – why not convert it to infrared? It’s an idea that I’ve had at the back of my mind for many years. I’m glad I never tried it with an old Canon camera, because the X-Pro 1 has a few features that make it more suitable for an infrared conversion.
Benefits of mirrorless cameras for infrared conversions
The X-Pro 1 turned out to be a good choice for an infrared conversion.
- My main interest in infrared is for black and white photography. With the X-Pro 1, I can set the camera profile to black and white and the camera displays the image in monochrome in the electronic viewfinder. This makes it really easy to visualize the result, especially in infrared where the tones look nothing like they do in real life.
- I also like to use the square format. When I set aspect ratio to 1:1 the camera displays the cropped scene in the viewfinder.
- The X-Pro 1 displays a timer on the LCD screen for bulb exposures, showing how much time has elapsed. It makes long exposure photography very easy.
- The X-Pro 1 uses contrast detection autofocus. This means that it can focus accurately on infrared light as well as visible light. Unlike digital SLRs, there is no need to adjust the focus point of the camera.
These benefits apply to most mirrorless cameras, not just the X-Pro 1.
How do you convert a camera to infrared?
Digital camera sensors are sensitive to visible light (that which can be seen by humans), ultraviolet light and infrared light. There are filters in front of the sensor to block UV and infrared light, so that only visible light reaches the sensor.
The infrared filters on most cameras let some infrared light through, but so little that it doesn’t adversely affect the image.
An infrared conversion removes the infrared filter so that infrared light reaches the sensor. It replaces it with a filter that blocks visible light, so the sensor can only see (and record) infrared wavelengths.
You have several choices for your infrared conversion (these vary depending on the options offered by company that does it).
Full spectrum conversion
The UV and infrared filters are removed so that your camera can see all three types of light wavelengths. You place a filter on the camera to control the effect. You can buy different filters to let different amounts of visible and / or infrared light through. The advantage is in flexibility, especially if you like to experiment. The disadvantage is that filters add to the cost, and also block light, meaning you have to use higher ISOs, slower shutter speeds or both.
The sensor is fitted with a filter that blocks all wavelengths under 720nm (nm = nano-meter and is a unit of measurement equivalent to 1/1,000,000,000 meter used for measuring wavelengths of light) . This means that infrared light only reaches the sensor. This is what I had done on my camera. It is the most suitable for landscape photography and portrait photography in infrared. It gives you a color image that’s easy to convert to black and white.
The sensor is fitted with a filter that blocks all wavelengths under 830nm. This gives a more intense type of infrared effect, with very little color.
The infrared conversion on my camera was carried out by Protech Photographic in the UK. All the photos in this article were taken with it.
Can’t I just buy an infrared filter for my camera?
Yes you can. The Hoya R72 filter is popular and blocks all wavelengths under 720nm, just like the conversion I had done to my X-Pro 1. The advantage of this is that you can buy the filter to experiment with infrared photography without committing to an infrared conversion (which only makes sense if you have a second camera body you can spare).
The disadvantage is that the combination of the filter and the infrared blocking filter in your camera means that very little infrared light reaches the sensor. The exact figure varies depending on your camera and the strength of its filter, but you should expect a light loss of ten stops or more (some sensors may not be sensitive to infrared at all).
This means that you have to use a tripod and expect shutter speeds of a minute or more in most cases – making it a useful technique for landscape or architectural photography but not much else. It’s basically long exposure photography.
Are there any other considerations?
Yes there are. Not all camera lenses are suitable for infrared photography. You may see a hot spot at the centre of the frame, and its more prevalent when using older lenses and at wider apertures. There is a good list of suitable lenses here.
I’m very happy with my infrared conversion. Instead of sitting unused in my camera bag, my X-Pro 1 has got a new lease of life. It’s like having a purpose built black and white camera, but one that is sensitive to infrared rather than visible light. The conversion was a much better choice than selling the camera.