I’ll start with a basic description of a typical digital camera sensor. You have the main chip. on top of that you may have micro-lenses which increase the light gathering performance of the chip. On top of the lenses is a Bayer Colour Filer array/grid consisting of a pattern of dots (or stripes) of red, green and blue.
All digital sensors, except Foveon sensors, do not record colour data. They are B&W sensors. Software is used based on the Bayer algorithm to interpolate colour. On top of the Bayer filter is an IR Cut (InfraRed Cut) filter. That is used to reduce the amount of IR energy which the sensor receives.The older the DSLR camera, the more sensitive its sensor will be to Infrared.
The last layer in the sandwich is the Blur filter (AA or Anti Aliasing) which blurs fine detail so you reduce Moire. You also remove a lot of detail with the AA Filter. It usually is the AA Filter which you clean when you clean your sensor though there may also be another glass layer.
The B&W photo above is of the Humber River. It was taken on hot and sunny day in mid July. I used an InfraRed modified Nikon D1X DSLR. Did you notice the huge amount of visible detail in the photo?
Every digital camera can be made to take an Infrared Photo. One way is to take the camera apart and remove some of the filters mentioned above. Get rid of the AA filter and the IR cut filer. Replace then with an Infrared Pass filter. IR Pass filters come is different strengths. Some allow a lot of normal light in. Others are very strong and can limit only IR to reach the sensor.
The second way to make any digital camera shoot InfraRed is to add a filter to the outside of the camera lens. These are commonly called InfraRed Filters, but are really IR Pass filters. They are very dark. On a point and shoot the darkness will not reduce the brightness of your viewfinder view (if your P&S has a viewfinder). It will dramatically reduce the amount of light getting to the sensor. That limits you to shooting on bright days. Your metering may or may not work, same for AF. With trial and error you will find the settings which produce decent pics.
Placing an InfraRed filter on the front of a DSLR lens has the same effect as noted above. Because you use the viewfinder to compose, you will be limited to shooting in bright light only. Otherwise you have no clue what you are shooting. You will also have to raise your ISO or shoot are much lower shutter speeds. Manual Focus can be difficult. Autofocus may not work because IR and daylight have different focus points.
Yes, there are issues, but the filter on the lens is the cheap way to try IR. Also you can remove the filter from the camera and it will work normally. If you operate on the camera sensor assembly and remove the AA filter and the IR Cut filters, replacing them with an IR Pass filter then that is permanent. There is no going back.
There is a huge benefit to modifying a camera to shoot only IR. Your viewfinder view is not darkened. The sensor sensitivity is usually not changed and if it is the shop doing the IR mod will adjust your meter circuit. AF is also adjusted by the shop doing the mod. You will also find that some lenses have hot large IR spots in the centre. Luckily, most do not.
I tried the InfraRed filter on the lens trick first. Burdensome and difficult to use. It is a cheap way to test the IR waters. Bought the filter off eBay. Here’s a trick. Buy the largest IR filter that you find (and can afford) on eBay. Also buy a set of filter step rings. I believe that I bought a 77mm IR filter. With the step rings I can use that filter for many of the lenses that I have. Easy to step down to say 52mm. It looks strange, but works well. This can save you a ton of money by not having to buy many IR filters of assorted sizes.
Got frustrated and started looking on eBay for an IR modified DSLR . I found that a body IR mod would cost about as much as a camera already modified. The older the camera, the more sensitive the sensor will be to IR. When I learned that I held out for an old Nikon.
It took ages, but finally found a Nikon D1X which had been modified by a reputable company. The eBay pics showed that camera was well cared for. Placed a bid and surprise I was the only bidder. I figure that people were bothered by the 6MP and that this was an old model. The rechargeable battery pack is NiMH and may not last long with age.
When the camera arrived it was in nice shape. I did not have to sacrifice a camera body to get modified. The cost would have been the same. Being a Pro body, that was not beaten up, I figured it would be trouble-free.
Huge difference between using the modified camera and using an IR filter on the front of the lens. The modified camera was actually useable. Focus worked because after the modification is made, the Autofocus is corrected for IR.There also seemed to be less of a hot spot issue. I was very pleased.
Back when I acquired the D1X, there were a couple of vendors selling modified camera bodies. The prices were about $200 for a modified point and shoot like the Canon G2, G3, G4, G5 etc. Modified DSLRs would be around $400 and going to $500. I believe I paid $450 and it was from an original owner. Be patient. Watch Ebay daily to get an idea about prices. It took me about a year of waiting for the D1X.
Some of the older Kodak DCS DSLRs based on Nikon F5 bodies could be easily setup for IR. They have a spot inside the mirror box where you could screw in an IR Filter. Great idea. When you want a normal camera, just remove the filter. Kodak DSLRs are rare now on eBay. Might be a tad too old to be reliable for the longer term. Batteries for the Kodak DCS DLSRs might also be hard to come by.
IR works well for foliage. It can also look OK for portraits of females. The result can have a smooth glow. I have also seen some amazing wedding pics done in a park in IR. Very unique pics and quite beautiful. Most of the time you will probably focus on Landscape type pics.
I took the IR camera to a Baseball game. The field shot looked great against a hill with trees in the background. The players at bat did not.
I can also capture colours. Took some shots by the Credit River where it meets Lake Ontario. There is a Marina there. The boat shots look like they could have been shot in California.
It is a really fun camera. There is an IR shot in the galleries that I took of a Mother Swan sitting on her nest in High Park. Love that pic.
You will also quickly notice the “huge” amount of extra detail in your shots, because the AA blur filter has been removed as part of the IR mod.
Was it worth it? YES. After having seen the results, I would buy another modified camera body if mine developed problems. To see more of the IR photos, please visit our IR Photo Gallery by CLICKING HERE.