Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Cameras - Canon G9 (Converted to infra-red only - 720nm)

Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/400th, f/5, iso80

After shooting the odd infra-red photograph with my Nikon D2H for a couple of years I found out about converted IR cameras. This fascinated me and I eventually bought a pre-converted Canon G9 from an American company called: Max-Max back in 2007. There are several companies who can convert a camera if you send it to them, but actually selling infra-red cameras directly to the consumer is unusual, even now. Most conversion companies only deal with DSLRs because their sensors are easier to reach. In America the most popular company for this is Life-Pixel, but there are many. In the UK I only know of ACS and Protech Repairs.

These were the images that I used to sell the G9 on eBay in 2008

The main attraction of having a camera converted to full-time infra-red are:

  • Faster shutter speeds, thus no need for a tripod
  • Higher image quality / Less noise

Higher shutter speeds allow for shooting moving subject without capturing excessive motion blur. In fact they shoot at speeds very similar to normal cameras. Motion blur can be a desirable effect on occasion, like with running water, but in general faster shutter speeds are a good thing. Not requiring a tripod is always a positive thing. Freeing you up to travel further, shoot quicker and capture a great range of subjects. The higher image quality from lower noise levels is very useful too. Noise tends to get amplified when processing infra-red images.

The main features I wanted from this pocket IR camera were: Good image quality, a flexible lens & good manual controls. In this regard I was happy with the Canon G9, but today you can find similarly sized cameras with much larger sensors (better IQ) like the Canon G1X or ILCs like the Fuji X-series. Another reason I chose the G9 was that it could shoot RAW and ultimately this was my favourite feature for infra-red. When it comes to processing IR images the extra flexibility you get with white-balance and exposure control is invaluable. Yes, you could say the same thing about colour photography, but infra-red requires a lot more manipulation of individual colour channels and dynamic range.

Vonelpark, Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/160th sec, f/4, iso80

A lot of the infra-red images that I took with the G9 were simply processed into black and white, although the camera did capture colour information. By default the images come out a mess of pink mess, but the channels can be manipulated to get some prettier results. Here's one I processed using the 'false-colour' method. This brings back the blue sky and one other colour (depending on how you process the image). This other colours generally responds to the subjects that come out differently in IR (leaves, grass, human skin etc.). 720nm filters are the best for this colour IR effect, but not all 720nm filters are created equal. The most popular is the Hoya R72.

Slotervaart, Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/320th sec, f/4, iso80

This storm cloud and rainbow (right) didn't come out with any colours. I simply processed it as a simple black and white, but I do like the tones it has. I'm glad that I've forced myself to shoot a variety of scenes, weather and subjects in infra-red, because some of the more obscure, or unusual things have produced some of the more interesting results. Although this image has the classic IR subject matter (trees and water), winter had destroyed the effect somewhat. As you can see the grass and trees are showing their typical bright tones, but other elements, like the water and reeds, are providing some nice contrast.

My favourite aspect from this image is the falling rain, lit up in front of the dark clouds behind. This contrast and dynamic range in the clouds seems to come out much better with infra-red photography, where a normal colour image would struggle to capture these tones while being exposed for the landscape.

Central Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/60th sec, f/3.2, iso80

Here's an example of the high contrast you can get when the conditions are good. A clear blue sky creates a very dark tone with infra-red, mix this with the bright tones of well lit trees and it creates a very dynamic image.

Central Amsterdam - Canon G9 - 1/320th sec, f/5, iso80

Amsterdam was great for having a lot of water around the city, but it did rather lack in dynamic landscapes. It was, however, also great for street photography. People there were very comfortable having their pictures taken. You might think this is true of any capital city, but London is oh so not the same! There seems to be a much more laid back atmosphere in Amsterdam and no, I don't think it has anything to do with the drugs. Having an IR camera that can take fast enough exposures to capture people without motion blur is a huge bonus. Generally speaking you need to have a converted camera for this although there are some exceptions to this. Older cameras like the Nikon D70 and D2H were good for this, but even some recent ones, like the Fuji X100 (more about this one later).

North Amsterdam - Canon G9 - 1/400th sec, f/5, iso80

Here's an example of the colours you get directly out of the converted camera verses a heavily processed version ('false colour'). To achieve this result you first need to manipulate your white-balance to get the optimum levels for each colour channel. Once you open the image in your editing software you'll need to swap the red and blue channels around. Finally each colour channel will need a bit of tweaking to balance the colours (I usually use curves) and get the desired effect.

After I've done a post for each of the cameras I've used to take IR images I will dedicate a post to describing the 'false-colour' process in more detail.

North Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/250th, f/5, iso80

As you can see by exif data of the images shot from the converted Canon G9 there is no issue with slow shutter speeds. In fact on many occasions it was possible to shoot faster settings with this than with a normal colour camera. This seemed to happen mostly with evening shots where the sun was going down. Trees can often still look quite bright and interesting during these conditions, so perhaps it rather depends on the subject matter that you're shooting.

Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/320th, f/5, iso80

Skin tones come out bright and clear with infra-red. The china doll-like effect is considerably more more pretty than what happens when you shoot in the UV spectrum. It's even prettier than the tones you get from turning a normal colour image black and white too. There are a couple of odd things to watch out for however. Eyes can look rather freaky, teeth can look dark and veins sometimes appear more prominently than you'll expect.

If you're using the false-colour technique skin tones come out a rather unhealthy blue hue as well, but in general the tones you'll get are pretty flattering. On a side note - it's not necessarily a bad thing, but some tinted glasses can appear completely transparent. The same effect happens with Coke too, but that's something for later.

Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/25th, f/2.8, iso80

This image is looking through the viewfinder of a Yashica Mat 124G. This was my friends camera and he let me borrow it for this experiment. The lens that I'm looking through here is an 80mm f/3.5 I think. The shallow depth of field effect is pretty decent (although not quite as wide an aperture as the one it takes the photograph through). It was very nice to be able to see a shallow depth of field while seeing infra-red, since the G9's sensor didn't allow for much depth blur at all.

North Amsterdam - Canon G9 (IR) - 1/500th sec, f/5, iso80

Bright sunlight reflects well from grass and plants. This, in turn, lights up objects around it. One big down side to IR is that foliage which is often multi-coloured in visible light usually looks pretty flat in infra-red. You can get interesting depth & detail here too, although it's really helped along by strong shadows and this can be hard to see in visible light. When shooting with a non-converted SLR this is pure guesswork and experience, but with a converted camera that all changes. When you can see the effect of the infra-red colours & tones live through a converted display it really speeds up the learning process of IR photography. For me this didn't kill any of the magic, it only heightened my interest in the spectrum and my IR projects continued...

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