What is infrared photography? I explain why I got a mirrorless camera converted to IR and discuss two of the adapted lenses I bought specifically for the job.
I’ve been watching a few YouTube photography vloggers recently. I enjoy the likes of Brit Thomas Heaton, who travels around in his camper van to various photography locations, bringing to life otherwise mundane English countryside. Then there’s Canadian Kyle McDougall, currently living in the UK, who is a big proponent of medium format. But it was Heaton’s video on his Fuji X-T3 conversion to infrared that really piqued my interest in this genre of photography.
I’m not going to go into the details of what infrared is because there is a plethora of information out there, but if you do only watch one video on the subject I can recommend Wanderlust Imagery’s Zoom lecture. It’s long at two hours but not only does it give a great explanation of what infrared photography is, it is accompanied by some truly inspirational photography.
ADAPTING A DIGITAL CAMERA
In the days of film, infrared photography was achieved through special IR film and/or a lens filter. The downside, however, was long exposure times often running into seconds, even for an image taken in the middle of the day.
Today’s mirrorless and DSLR cameras, on the other hand, provide a convenient way of by-passing these obstacles.
A digital camera conversion is achieved by removing the RGB filter from the sensor and replacing it with an infrared one, allowing your sensor to see the infrared end of the colour spectrum that the naked eye cannot see.
This procedure can be done at home but I’d recommend getting a professional to do it (see end of article). Also it’s permanent, so you’ve got to be pretty confident you want to commit to the conversion. There are cheap converted cameras on eBay if you’re unsure and just want to try it out. As an example I found a converted point and shoot for £50 and a Nikon D70 for £135.
THE INFRARED LOOK
It’s a stylised look and not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, yet there are different types of infrared effects depending upon the kind of filter you use and the post processing done to the raw image.
Infrared is measured in nanometres, which is shortened to ‘nm’, and is defined by how far along the colour spectrum you go. I got my Sony A7R converted to 720nm, but you can go higher if you’re interested in capturing more colour. I wasn’t, I wanted to use infrared to create black and white images.
THE SONY A7R FOR INFRARED
I picked up my second-hand A7R from MPB, which was advertised as being in ok condition and £200 cheaper than all the other A7R models for sale. Apart from a scratch on the screen and a dent on the tripod mount it was a bargain and suited my needs perfectly. Since I already own the A7C, various Sony lenses and a bunch of adapted legacy glass, it made sense to stick with the Sony system. However, I bought the camera when I was in the UK and didn’t bring many lenses with me. What I really wanted was a good wide angle, and that’s when I stumbled across the Sigma MC-11 adapter.
SIGMA MC-11 ADAPTER: CANON TO SONY
This marvelous piece of engineering allows you to attach Canon EF lenses to a Sony E camera, retaining electronic functions, which includes Sony’s fast autofocus. You’re benefiting from the excellent L glass from Canon on Sony’s great digital body. But why would you want to do this? Why not buy native glass for the Sony?
GREAT CANON EF GLASS, FOR LESS
The simple answer is, it’s cheap. The excellent Canon 17-40 f4 L is considerably less expensive than a new Sony GM wide angle. There are of course disadvantages to buying older glass, not least the technological advances made over the last twenty years (the 17-40 was introduced in 2003), but I couldn’t justify handing over a lot of money on equipment that, let’s face it, is not going to be used every day. That said, I wanted something half decent that could produce great results, and with the MC-11 adapter I’m now open to other EF lenses to add to my arsenal.
Another lens I picked up off eBay for a song was the Canon 100-300 f5.6 L. This glass is deceptive. It’s 35 years old, has the old-school push-to-zoom barrel and is a bit plasticky. Appearance wise it shows its age. Also autofocus via the MC-11 on an infrared camera is slow (AF on infrared can be slower anyway, but it’s a lot quicker on my ‘normal’ A7R). All this said, it is ideal for landscape as is it is tack-sharp throughout the range with little aberration. It is worthy of its L status, even now, and gives me a great zoom for little investment.
BRIGHT SUNLIGHT, BLUE SKIES
This summer I was blessed with the weather upon my return visit to the UK. It was the summer everyone was talking about but for infrared it was perfect. Infrared loves cloudless days and bright sunshine, the kind of conditions that landscape photographers hate. Blue sky renders as black and green foliage as white.
I actually bought into the infrared look with sailing in the tropics in mind, but the UK’s summer lent itself to some great weather for me to try out my new gear.
THE BLUE SPOT PROBLEM
One of the common issues with infrared photography is the dreaded ‘blue spot’. This is normally a result of flaring when looking towards sunlight, but some lenses handle this better than others and they’re not necessarily the lenses you’d expect. Aperture can play an important part in controlling the blue spot problem but you normally have to open up instead of closing down to limit it, and that isn’t always ideal, especially for landscape photography. Fortunately the kind people at Kolarvision have put together a peer-contributed database of lenses for use with IR that’s well worth consulting before investing in glass for your IR camera.
WHERE TO GET YOUR CAMERA CONVERTED TO INFRARED
If you are looking to convert a digital camera to infrared there are two companies in the UK that get highly rated. There’s Protech Photographic, based in Brighton, who were helpful and responsive to my email enquiries. In the end I went with Alan at Infrared Camera Conversions, who has a lot of experience and even set up my custom white balance so I could hit the deck running.
I mentioned Kolarivision, who also do conversions if you’re not in the UK, otherwise just hit a photography forum for some local knowledge.
MORE INFRARED PROJECTS TO COME
The images I’ve included here are a bit random so I have a number of infrared projects I’ll be posting up in due course. This article was really about using two adapted lenses on an adapted camera. I hope the results speak for themselves.