How to Convert a Digital Camera for Infrared Photography

Infrared Picture of a Palm taken by a Nikon D70My Nikon D70 has been sitting around unused since I bought a Nikon D300.  To make it useful again I decided to convert it to an infrared camera.  After doing some research, I found that Lifepixel.com will convert your camera for you or sell you a filter to do the conversion.  Feeling adventurous, I decided to do the conversion myself.  Life Pixel's site offers decent directions and assures you that the Nikon D70 is relatively easy to convert.

Digital camera sensors are inherently sensitive to infrared light--they have a low-pass filter that block most of the infrared light from reaching the sensor.   You can take infrared pictures by putting a filter in front of the lens that block the visible light and just lets the infrared light through to the sensor.  The disadvantage of this is that so little light reaches the sensor that you end up with a very long exposure times.  Also, with SLR's you can't really compose using the viewfinder anymore since so little light is going to the viewfinder.  Life Pixel replaces the infrared filter in front of your sensor with a visible light sensor so the camera's viewfinder still works and the exposure times are normal.

Life Pixel offers 3 different Infrared filters, Standard IR, Enhanced Color IR and Deep BW IR. They also offer clear sensor filters and original Low-pass filters in case you scratched your filter and wanted to replace it. I chose the standard infrared filter. The filter replaces the stock low-pass filter that the camera comes with. By removing the Low-pass filter and replacing it with an IR filter, the camera is as sensible to IR as it was for normal photography. The major benefit of this is that you can see through the view finder and easily compose your shots. There is also no need for long exposure times, and no need for a tripod. This is a huge advantage over the standard way of doing Infrared photography. Life Pixel has filters for quite a few cameras. For the complete list check out their web site.

Life Pixel offers directions for replacing the filter yourself on its website at http://www.lifepixel.com/IR.htm.   To replace the filter on the Nikon D70, I got the work area prepared by cleaning off all the dust, getting a HEPA air filter going (a bit paranoid), gathering the tools (small screw driver, anti-static wrist strap, angled tweezers) , and then putting out five bowls.  Bowls?  Whatever for?  Well, I've learned from experience that little screws get mixed up and lost.  It becomes a royal pain figuring out which screw to use when putting a camera back together.  So, as I was taking the camera apart I put each set of screws in an individual bowl--the ones for the backplate in one bowl, the one for the bottom plate in another, etc.  Following instructions I took the camera apart.  The most delicate part of the operation was separating the cables from their connectors.  Life Pixel was right, the camera comes apart relatively easily.

Lifepixel Infrared FilterThe hard part was getting the Life Pixel filter absolutely clean and dust free.  I was wearing anti-static gloves and cleaning the sensor with the gloves on did not work.  After I got the gloves off, using lens cleaning fluid and compressed air I did finally manage to get the sensor clean.  Using a high quality pair of right angle tweezers I replaced the sensor on the camera with Life Pixel's sensor and reassembled the camera.  Again, the camera went back together relatively easily.  The hard part was getting those slim, flat cables into their connectors (the right angle tweezers were a life saver).  After I had the camera put back together I crossed my fingers, and popped the battery in and turned it on.  No "magic smoke", no sparks....snapped the first picture.  I brought the picture on the computer...wow...very red..but I didn't see any dust.  Cool!

After you're done, your camera pretty much functions as usual (with one exception).  The viewfinder works, the meter works.   The most important factor in getting a good image with the infrared modified Nikon D70 is starting out with a good white balance. Life Pixel instructs you to do this by simply pointing the camera at a green grass and setting a preset white balance.

Setting Preset White Balance on a Nikon D70

To choose different settings, press and hold the WB button and turn the rear knob. Look at the top LCD and you'll see the little sun and cloud etc. icons cycle as you turn the knob. Spin the knob while holding WB until you get to PRE. Release the button. Press and hold the WB button again for several seconds until it makes PRE blink. Point the camera at green grass and press the shutter.  If "Gd" flashes the white balance is recorded.  If "nG" (no good) flashes, try again.