160515 Coolpix AIR - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

My Nikon Coolpix A returned from being modified to see infrared light last Friday, so I've spent some time this weekend doing what everyone in downtown Toronto with a new camera does: I've been photographing streetcars.

My Coolpix AIR, as I've named it, sees from around 590nm and up. This is a bit more permissive than the classic 25 Red contrast filter, so compared to the more traditional infrared-only conversions it lets through a lot of visible light in addition to the infrared. The basic colour out-of-camera results, frankly, are a bit ugly. But with just a few tweaks to colour curves and saturation it improves to almost being usable. 

This streetcar, 4403, has been in service longer than any other Flexity. It preceded its older stablemate, the original 4400, out of the Sussex portal when revenue service first started with the new vehicles on August 31, 2014. And at some point knowing that will be the deciding factor in a Toronto Transit Trivia competition. 

The real appeal of the 590nm conversion, aside from being able to work under fluorescent lights, is that the extra visible light makes it easier to create false colour images. These have the red and blue channels swapped, and with a little more tweaking, they can be fairly decent. I still have a huge amount to learn about post-proccessing IR images, including trying out a new raw converter instead of relying on Lightroom, but the early experiments are encouraging. 

While it's not quite as stark as the IR-only conversions, the colour+ spectrum still allows for excellent black and white. And my previous experiments with infrared photography means I already own both mild-IR R72 and hardcore 093 filters, which I'll be able to adapt to my Coolpix A for the best of all three worlds.

I'll have more to say about the technical performance of the A-IR when I've had a bit more time with it, but already I'm very happy. The biggest risk with any IR conversion is that the lens will have a 'hot spot', a bright IR reflection in the image, that's impossible to predict from its visible-light performance. The A's lens doesn't show this, so already that's a huge relief. The focusing system works fine in the new spectrum, and overall sharpness seems good as well.

Most importantly, these monochrome photos capture what's currently the newest Flexity streetcar in the TTC's fleet, 4419, and the second-oldest CLRV, Swiss-built prototype 4001. And no, I don't think railfanning my own transit system is odd.

Well, not that odd, anyway.


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