The Perfect Infrared Camera

I’ve had four digital cameras converted to infrared over the last eight or ten years. This process replaces the filter in front of the image sensor so that the camera […]

Written By Rob Knight

On June 1, 2015
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wpid-infrared-LUMIX-GX7-1.jpg

wpid-infrared-LUMIX-GX7-2.jpgI’ve had four digital cameras converted to infrared over the last eight or ten years. This process replaces the filter in front of the image sensor so that the camera is sensitive to visible infrared light instead of plain old visible light. The resulting photos are made up of mostly magenta tones with some blue, and they produce unusual high contrast black and white images.

I’ve had point&shoot cameras converted and even DSLR’s, but my favorite so far is my infrared LUMIX GX7. The GX7 produces high quality 16mp images normally, and it is even sharper with the low pass filter replaced by the IR filter. The body is small but it has an EVF and a great tilting LCD. It fits almost anywhere in my camera bag with a body cap or a small prime lens. The best part is that I can I use any lens in my bag for great IR photos.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about having a camera converted:

wpid-infrared-LUMIX-GX7-3.jpgIR extends your “good light” for landscapes. The harsh midday sun is terrible for conventional landscape photography, but it is perfect for infrared. The more bright sunlight falls on your subject the more intense the IR effect will be in your images. With an IR camera in your bag you can shoot great landscapes between the golden hours on each end of the day.

Electronic viewfinders (EVF) make shooting IR more fun. When I look through the EVF (or on the LCD) I can see the “finished” black&white IR photo. I can look through the viewfinder to see how a particular subject will look in infrared. Sometimes things you wouldn’t expect look amazing in IR, and sometimes the opposite is true. I shoot my IR GX7 in RAW+jpeg mode, and I have my jpegs dialed in to a high contrast Monochrome. Many times I get a great file out of the camera, but I can also process the RAW file if I need to.

Your lenses may work differently on your IR camera. I found this out through personal experience. The LUMIX 7-14mm f4 lens is usually sharp from corner to corner, even at it’s maximum aperture. When I use it on my IR camera the corners are noticeably soft. Apparently the different wavelength of infrared light doesn’t focus exactly the same as visible light. I never would have thought about that, and that’s the only lens I have noticed the effect on.

wpid-infrared-LUMIX-GX7-4.jpgSpeaking of focus…

There are a few different conversions you can get for your IR camera. There is a basic IR, enhanced color options and usually a black&white only conversion. I read an article about the different filters that helped me make my filter choice for my most recent conversion. The standard filter and black&white filters only allow infrared light to reach the image sensor, so the resulting images are very sharp. The enhanced color options allow IR light plus a small amount of visible light. As I mentioned above, these two wavelengths of light do not necessarily focus at the same point. This can (theoretically) reduce the sharpness from the images with these filters.

I’ve had enhanced color conversions done, and I didn’t see much difference from the standard filter. My GX7 has the standard filter and it is as sharp as a tack, except in the corners of the 7-14mm 🙂

There are several companies who will do the conversion for you. I have used Life Pixel four times now and I’ve been very happy with the results. Converting last year’s model to IR definitely beats trading it in or selling it for $50! You’ll end up with a tool for making unique creative images.

9 Comments

  1. Paul Schleif

    Rob, I’ve heard you speak several times in connection with Cobb Photo Society, and always enjoyed your input. I recall your presentation at a North Georgia Shootout a couple years ago, and made a note on my phone about your GX7. Your comments on this blog again reinforced my interest, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks searching for a good GX7 as a second body. I use an Olympus OMD E-M1 and love it, but was looking for a second, less conspicuous outfit for some street photography. I just ordered a “like new” GX7 at KEH. Thanks for your recent comments.

    Reply
    • Rob Knight

      Glad to hear it, Paul. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  2. Van Hill

    Rob,
    Thanks for the info on IR photography. I have finally sold most of my Canon gear, but I have thought I would keep my 7D and convert it to IR. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Also, have you seen the new GX8 or have any thoughts on it as a companion to the GH-4?
    Thanks in advance.
    Van

    Reply
    • Rob Knight

      Hi Van,
      I don’t know of any reason the 7D would be a bad IR camera. The only trouble is you would have to keep a different lens or lenses for it if you are using a different system.
      The GX8 is definitely my new favorite camera! The hype doesn’t even come close.
      Rob

      Reply
  3. L roberts

    Do you use a different lens on your
    Gx7.you mentioned 7-14 not sharp.
    And have you seen any hotspots

    Explain what you mean as standard filter. 720?

    What did you like about life pixel?

    Reply
    • Rob Knight

      The 7-14mm f4 lens is sharp on the IR camera, just not in the extreme edges. I have the LifePixel “standard IR” conversion on my GX7. It uses a 720nm filter. Life Pixel has converted four cameras for me now. Their work is impeccable and I have always gotten exactly what I ordered in a timely fashion.

      Reply
  4. Ken

    What are the advantages of using a mirrorless like a gx 7 compared to a canon slr for IR?

    Reply
    • Jolanta Birch

      There wouldn’t be any particular advantage to mirrorless or DSLR conversion. It’s a matter of choice. The normal Mirrorless vs DSLR arguments apply here 🙂

      Reply

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