160410 Infrared - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

My first "serious" camera, a Sony F828, could photograph in infrared. Like most things connected to that cameras' sensor, it was flawed, although the actual camera design remains one of the best I've used. It was in service from mid-2004 to the middle of 2006, even though I had added the Olympus E-1 SLR to my collection in 2005, and I held on to it for a few more years before I finally sent it south for its retirement. It's still in use with my friend Keith down in Texas, where it continues to provide infrared photos.

2008 Matthew Robertson

I kept the Sony F828 for so many years because I always thought I might send it out to be converted into a proper infrared camera. This involves replacing the built-in filter that blocks IR light with one that lets in IR and blocks visible light, and isn't a completely cheap procedure. But before I could do that I found a second-hand IR-converted Panasonic superzoom that cost less than having the conversion done. That was back in 2008. IR never became part of my core repertoire, but it was fun and occasionally produced good results.

copyright 2008 matthew robertson

Photographing in infrared changes how things look. Skies get dark and foliage brightens, but artificial materials behave much less predictably. Black synthetic fabrics can turn white, many pigments disappear, sunglasses turn transparent, and lights go out. I took a photo of my bike bag once – the black nylon turned white, but the black elastic mesh pockets stayed black. There's no real way to know what something will look like without taking the photo, which is half the fun of doing it.

copyright 2009 matthew robertson

I used the IR-FZ18 for a couple of years, and still have it, as I tend to do. But it was never a great camera, and eventually its battery wouldn't hold a charge any more. So I've been essentially infraredless for half a decade, but today that took its first step toward changing. I've applied to have my capable but unloved Coolpix A converted to a 590nm+ 'deep colour' IR camera, which is about the same part of the spectrum that my old superzoom could see. These photos, with tobacco-orange skies and pale blue trees, are typical for the colour-plus-IR look. It can be converted into a blue-sky false-colour image fairly easily, and the vestigial colour gives it good flexibility in monochrome conversions as well.

copyright 2009 matthew robertson

There's no disputing that the Coolpix A has very good image quality. It's an ungainly and uninspired box with bad controls, but the sensor is excellent – something of the inverse of the F828 that I started out with. And as long as its lens doesn't produce an IR hot spot it will be perfect for the job, with a big sensor, lots of exposure latitude, and a simple contrast-detect autofocus system that won't be confused by the different spectrum. While a 28mm-e lens isn't my favourite focal length, it should work well for city scenes and the occasional landscape. And now the A will finally have something to distinguish it from my Ricoh GR, which is otherwise a better camera in every way.

Of course I shouldn't get ahead of myself. I haven't even sent the Coolpix in to be converted yet, and it will take a while to make it to Salt Lake City and back. But by the time I have it in hand again there should be leaves on the trees and fluffy clouds in the sky, which will be perfect.


Powered by SmugMug Log In