Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A new tool for infrared shooting

Infrared film photography is an art more than a science... it's difficult to handle the film, tricky to shoot and process, mistakes are expensive, and the results are often unpredictable.

Soon after digital photography made the scene, someone discovered that many of the consumer-level cameras were sensitive to infrared (IR) light, and could be used with infrared filters to make IR images, albeit at fairly low (about 2 MP) resolution. Then camera manufacturers decided the IR was interfering too much with the visible spectrum, so in 2002 they added "hot mirrors" to block most of the IR light from reaching the sensor. Using newer consumer cameras and digital SLRs, infrared photography is possible and can produce beautiful results, but requires long exposure times at high ISO or pricey camera modifications.

Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in IR photography. We've had many customers ask what they can expect when trying to shoot digital IR with their D200 or 30D systems, only to be disappointed when informed it's not quite as simple as mounting an I-Ray filter on the camera and making the shot. In addition to long exposure times, the filter blocks all visible light, making it tricky to frame and focus your shots with the filter in place.

Enter the Fujifilm IS-1 9.0 MP, the first "prosumer" priced camera designed to shoot IR images by leaving the "hot mirror" out so the camera picks up the full spectrum of light from IR to visible to ultraviolet wavelengths. (Note: it is essentially the FujiFilm S9000 without the hot mirror, at more than twice the price.) The IS-1 has a "big brother," the Fuji FinePix S3 Pro UVIR Digital SLR intended for police forensic work at roughly twice the price, and not quite as user-friendly.

When combined with the Singh-Ray I-Ray Infrared Filter, the IS-1 makes it as easy to shoot IR as traditional images. And because the IS-1 viewfinder is electronic instead of optical, you can see exactly what your IR image will look like either in the viewfinder, or on the live-preview rear LCD screen.

The above image was made with the IS-1 hand held, 1/180 @ f2.8, ISO 200 in program mode, then it was desaturated and "auto contrast" was applied. The "normal" color image (bottom left below) was taken with an IR/UV "cut" filter in place of the I-Ray filter at the same settings, except the shutter speed was 1/430. The unfiltered image (top left below) demonstrates why including the full spectrum of visible, IR and UV isn't such a good idea. The IR image (upper right below) shows the magenta color common to unmodified digital IR shots (because the IR light is mainly detected by the camera's red sensors) which most photographers convert to B&W. Click the image below to see a larger set of images for comparison. (All images were shot at 9-megapixels but reduced for the web.)
While the IS-1 isn't perfect (shooting in Fuji RAW format creates significant shutter lag, lack of meaningful software support for Fuji RAW format, and an IR/UV cut filter is basically required for "normal" color photography), it is a huge step forward for those looking to do high-resolution digital IR photography without the obstacles of the more traditional film-based methods.

If any readers are shooting infrared with the Singh-Ray I-Ray filter, we'd be interested in hearing about your experience and seeing some examples. Click the "comment" link below, or send an e-mail to blog (at) singh-ray (dot) com

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