The Sleeping Giant's Sea Lion

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I'm investigating the possibility of converting a DSLR (Canon T2i) to a infrared-only body. I've seen several websites that offer this service, but man, considering they are tearing your camera apart right down to the sensor, this is something I'd want to ensure was done by qualified people in a cleanroom-esque environment.

I'd like to hear the experiences of people who have actually had a DSLR IR conversion done? How do the various companies compare? I'd also like to know if you had a IR-passing filter installed (or just had the IR-block removed) and what wavelength you decided upon.

I'd also be interested if your TTL AF and Exposure meters work ok after the conversion.

Also, I'd also love to hear experiences of anyone who has converted their camera themselves.

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It might help if you mentioned what country you live in unless you're planning on sending the camera abroad. –  Matt Grum Mar 1 '11 at 10:18

2 Answers 2

I've done my own conversion on a Nikon D80, including cutting my own rectangular filter from a hoya 720 nm 77 mm round filter.

I did something a bit unusual and went so far as to remove the IR filter from the AF sensor module and meters, as well as the CCD itself.

Really, The pure CCD filter swap is pretty easy.

Pulling the filter on the metering sensor is a bit involved.

Removing the filter on the AF sensor is a nightmare - You have to take pretty much Every other component out of the camera, as well as cut-apart several glued-together parts millimeters away from delicate circuitry.

Retuning the AF is also pretty simple. Basically, there are three screws which adjust the distance and tilt of sensor mount. It just is a bit slow, takes a lot of exposures, and is rather fiddly.

On the other hand, I have an IR camera that AFs perfectly in IR every time.

The meter seems to work pretty well as well. I have to dial in a bit of exposure compensation, but I don't think I have actually changed it since. I believe that adding visible-light filters to the metering sensor (rather than just removing the IR filter, as I did) would probably fix the metering.


Really, IR photography is really one of the most enjoyable things I have done.

It seems to bring some of the art and imagination back to photography. You really have to think and imagine what your exposures will look like, since you can't really review them untill you get to a computer, to do some white-blance corrections.


Update:

I took photos of the conversion process, including the internals of the camera: http://www.imaginaryindustries.com/gallery3/index.php/album_006/album_002
Note that the sensor filter is accessible very early in the photoset (_MG_1030.jpg, about 15 images in), and the process generally just involves taking the back of the camera, unscrewing a circuit board, and then unscrewing the sensor. The rest of the set is what is involved getting to the AF sensor (Namely, removing EVERYTHING from the camera body. It seems the AF sensor is one of the first parts installed during assembly).

I also tore down a Sony alpha A-200, though I wasn't able to do a IR conversion on it, since the filter is deposited directly on the CCD cover glass. The pictures are also on the above link, or here.
I thought about decapping the sensor (removing the glass), or trying to lap the filter off (it was clearly vacuum-deposited on the surface), but I decided it wasn't worth the effort, and wanted to try a Nikon camera anyways. I still have a bag of cerium oxide around from experimenting with glass-polishing for the lapping process.

Results:
enter image description here

It's my understanding that the really striking false-colour photos, as in Matt Grum's answer, generally take a 900+ nm filter (and lots of post), rather than 720 nm. Also, the photo above has had no processing, excepting a simple click-white white balancing. The faint blue colors are from the sensor itself.

Anyways, I recently bought a Canon 5D, upgrading from a Canon 30D (The Nikon was an experiment, I decided I like Canon's UI much more), so I am probably going to convert the 30D to IR soon, since I have a lot of Canon lenses, while I have only 1 lens for the Nikon.

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Thanks for that account! What lenses do you shoot with? It seems like after going to all that effort it would be awesome to have a lens optimised for IR as well, but the only ones I've heard Zeiss ZF-IR series which doesn't seem to have a release date. –  Matt Grum Mar 2 '11 at 9:29
    
@fake name: you, sir, are either brave or insane. did you do this on your kitchen table? or do you have a cleanroom in your basement? –  Kevin Won Mar 2 '11 at 18:38
    
can you recommend any links on the AF adjustment process? –  Jon.Griffen Mar 2 '11 at 19:39
    
I use a AF Zoom-Nikkor 35-70 mm f/3.3-4.5, which seems to perform pretty well in IR. –  Fake Name Mar 3 '11 at 10:38
    
As for the conversion, I work at a university, so I was able to exploit a laminar-flow dust hood for the actual process. However, with some care, I don't see why you couldn't do a conversion at home. –  Fake Name Mar 3 '11 at 10:39

I had a Rebel XSi converted by ProTech in the UK, and could recommend their services. I went for a 720nm IR pass filter so I don't need anything on the lens. I'd recommend this wavelength for your first IR camera as you can produce both colour and contrasty B&W images:

It's not that difficult a procedure actually, Lifepixel sell kits for people to do this at home! Autofocus still works though I tend to manually focus with liveview when DOF is shallow as IR light focusses differently. Likewise metering works but can be unreliable due to the nature of IR.

Sensor cleaning didn't work after (they told me this in advance) as they had to cut the wires to the peizos which vibrate the LPF assembly. I wasn't bothered this feature is pretty useless.

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thx for info. How does the exposure metering fare? does metering do OK in various lighting conditions (cloudy vs full sun, etc)? –  Kevin Won Mar 1 '11 at 18:55
    
Exposure metering is unreliable as the metering sensor is designed for visible light. I usually set the exposure compensation to plus one stop and adjust it per image after looking at the histogram. Infrared shooting is a little trial and error, I'm afraid. –  Matt Grum Mar 1 '11 at 19:23
    
You went with a 720nm, I think that's the best choice because I think you can still add a filter on your lense (like 900nm or 1000nm) to reduce the IR wavelength if needed, no? –  ruffp May 15 at 21:10

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