Infrared Photography: DSLR vs. Mirrorless

North Jetty AU12 IR 3

As I have pointed out in an earlier post, infrared photography can be attained on a digital camera by placing an infrared filter on the lens. The problem with this method is that the filter is so dark that it requires long exposures and makes it difficult to frame the picture in the viewfinder. A better but more costly method for doing infrared photography is to have one’s camera “converted” for IR use. Of course, one would not wish to do this with one’s primary camera. But if you have an older model laying around gathering dust, nothing serves to bring it back to life than to have it converted for IR photography. These conversions involve removing the IR blocking filter in front of the sensor, and then implanting an IR filter. By placing the IR filter in front of the sensor instead of on the lens, you free up the viewfinder and make it much easier to frame shots and get the sort of IR shots necessary. Furthermore, with IR bocking filter removing, you no longer require long exposures to get infrared images. The only negative is that the camera can only be used for IR photography.

For the last five years I have had an old 6 MP DSLR sitting around gathering dust. I have often thought of having it converted, but never got around it. The fact of the matter is, I have tried shooting IR with this camera by placing an IR filter on the lens and shooting long exposures. This old 6 MP camera, a Pentax *istDL, has a rather weak IR blocking filter, so you only need about 1 or 2 second exposures to get fully exposed IR images. The only trouble is the camera never produced very good IR images. Resolution was poor; contrast poor; and despite all the PP TLC I inflicted on the IR raw files, I could never get them to look like the best IR images one runs across on the web. So I never could bring myself to convert the camera, since I had no luck using the IR lens filter with them. I have also tried my IR filter with my other two DSLRs, the Pentax K200D and the Pentax K-5. These required even longer exposures: as much as 30 seconds in broad daylight. The results were better, but hardly great. Recently, I tried some IR shots with the Olympus E-PL1 and was shocked at how much better they were.

Here’s a test shot translated to black and white in Lightroom:

You can make a color version by sending it to Photoshop and mixing the channels:

The colors you can get with IR on E-PL1 are amazing:

This makes the E-PL1 an obvious choice for IR conversion. So I’m going to be sending it to Digital Silver Imaging to be converted. DSI is having a sale until the end of November on their conversions. They offer several flavors of IR, from standard to color, extreme color, extreme black and white, and full spectrum.

Incidentally, the advantage of the E-PL1 in infrared is not necessarily to confined to the sensor or white balance or whatever it is that makes it so much easier to attain intriguing IR results with the camera, particularly when compared to Pentax DSLRs. There’s an advantage because the camera is mirrorless, which means that the metering and focusing is done by the same sensor. There’s been reports of focus issues on DSLR’s that have been converted. The only downside of converting the E-PL1 is that it lacks a viewfinder, which is desirable when shooting in sunlight (which is needed for IR photography). But you can buy an accessory viewfinder for the camera. To be sure, the viewfinders cost +$200, but the cameras nowadays can be purchased for not much more than $130, so it might just be worth it. I’m going to try to get away with not having a viewfinder. But if it’s a problem, buying a viewfinder is always an option.

I’ve also experimented with IRs on the Olympus OM-D. This camera also produces better IRs than the Pentax DSLRs, although I still prefer what I was getting with the E-PL1: