Commentary # 43: September 2010
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Dreaming of Doing Infrared Photography?

I Highly Recommend Lifepixel for Your DSLR Conversion

September 2010

- by Craig Wassel

The summer months have been the busiest ever for me (in good ways), and I am just now getting back to the keyboard after a couple of months. Part of what kept me off the streets and out of trouble was planning and preparing to move into some digital infrared photography work; part of that plan entailed eBay-ing some good lenses that I just was not putting to good use so that my delve into infrared would not hit my pocket book heavily. That all went very well and as I hoped. I managed to sell one wide zoom and one specialty lens, buy one new 105mm prime for portrait work, and still had enough left over to get an infrared conversion and still be at even dollars.

The next step was to actually choose someone to do the conversion, and take the plunge. It's a little like having elective surgery. The chances are everything will go well, but there are no guarantees. As I usually do before laying down my money, I did a lot of research and reading. Ultimately, I chose Lifepixel to do the work, and I am absolutely thrilled with the results. In fact, I decided to become an affiliate of theirs, which is the first time I have done so with any vendor. Below is a review of my positive experience. I hope that if you chose to convert a DSLR with them and you find my endorsement re-assuring you might consider doing so through the link you see.

FAQ's and Information: An online buying experience begins with a vendor's website; does it tell you what you want to know and lead you to make your purchase? I liked that is very informative yet very easy to navigate. They have several different filter options, and their FAQ and example pages show you exactly what to expect. Anyone familiar with infrared or near infrared filters knows that their are several kinds - Wratten 89b, Wratten 89c, Hoya R72 - and each captures a different wavelength of the IR spectrum. My passion is for monochrome infrared and not color infrared, and I also wanted to do as little post-shoot work as possible, so I chose their "Deep BW IR 830 nm" filter.

Ordering: From easy to use drop down menus, you select the make, model, and serial number of the camera you will be sending to them, and what conversion/filter you want. There are no hidden charges or suprises, and once your order is processed (mine took only a matter of minutes), you receive an email with detailed instructions of how to ship your camera. You pay for shipping your body to them, so factor in an additional $25.00 to ship via UPS with signature confirmation and insurance. In addition to UPS signature confirmation, Lifepixel's service system also notifies you via email of receipt. Return shipping via insured UPS is included with your purchase.

Turn around time: Lifepixel's email confirmation of receipt estimated a turn around time of 10 to 15 business days. Since they received my body on August 2nd from the Chicago area, I estimated that the very earliest I could expect it back was August 23rd, and that was if I was if I was counting return shipping days in the turn around time. Like a kid waiting forever for Christmas, I circled August 23rd on my calendar, but really did not expect it back until the 28th. I received another email on Friday, August 13th notifying me the conversion was complete and the camera was being shipped; the UPS box arrived on August 19th. This was very satisfactory turn around time.

The condition of the camera upon its return: To do the conversion, Lifepixel opens the guts of the camera, removes the IR blocking hot mirror in front of the sensor, and replaces it with your filter choice. This exposes the sensitive innards of the camera to dust and contaminants. Lifepixel states they work in a class 5 clean room; and that is supported by the fact that my camera was spotless upon its return. They also offer those who want to do their own conversion a do-it-yourself kit at a reduced price. Before you boldly go it on your own, though, be advised that getting your sensor dust-free without the aid of a clean room is much harder than you can imagine.


Filter: As I mentioned above, I chose their "Deep BW IR" filter since I prefer monochrome IR and want to spend as little time as possible processing images. I can say after two weeks of shooting with my converted body that Lifepixel's claim is accurate and true about this filter choice; the images are pure monochrome straight out of the camera (note that I added sepia to the image you see on the right). Obviously I have not tried Lifepixel's other filter options (Standard Color IR, Enhanced Color IR, and Super Color IR Filter), but this gives me confidence in these other conversions they offer.

Focus: For those who have never done infrared film photography, know going in that infrared light focuses at a different depth than visible light. Lifepixel includes focus re-calibration based on a benchmark lens. For example, they calibrate Canon SLR's using a Canon 50mm F/1.8. For an extra $125.00 they will calibrate using a lens you send in with your camera. I skipped this option and simply tested and marked my lenses with my own infrared focus marks, and I am not having any trouble getting focus. However, if this is your first adventure in IR and/or you intend to photograph moving subjects that are changing focus planes, I recommend spending the extra money.

Hotspots: The very nicest suprise in this whole postive experience with Lifepixel is that none of my lenses are suffering from the notorious infrared "hotspot" (a large, bright glare spot in the middle of your photograph) problem that is not uncommon in infrared photography. Two of my favorite prime lenses were widely reported to be poor infrared performers (the Nikkor 24mm F/2.8D and the Nikkor 50mm F/1.8), I could find little IR usage information on another one of my primes (the Nikkor 105mm F/2 DC), and reports on my telezoom varied (Nikkor 70-200mm VR). I accepted that I would probably have to invest in an additional lens or two just for IR use, and I actually bought one ahead of time. After one full day of successful testing without any hotspot issues with my current lenses, I sent the new lens back to Amazon without even opening the outer box. The only hotspotting I experienced was if I pointed my non nano-crystal coated primes into the sun. I know my lenses well, though, and this is no different than they perform with non-IR photography. As Lifepixel states, no camera/lens combination defracts light exactly the same way, so they cannot guarantee you will never have hotspots. However, the filter they put into your camera is the same thickness as the hotmirror they remove. I have to believe that is critical in minimizing the hotspot problem. If the filter is a different thickness, that would change the angle of incidence and refraction of light striking the filter, and that would not be good (understatement).

Photographs: To see work I have done in infrared with with the conversion, visit my new site - The Fox Valley Photography Project

Tutorials: To top it all off, Lifepixel offers free tutorials on their site that show you how to quickly and easily bring out the captivating light and contrast from your infrared images.

So there you have it - my shameless promotion and gushing over Lifepixel's conversion work for the purposes of gain through my new affiliate status with them. Seriously, though, I truly am completely pleased with the work they did, and I have been carrying around my IR DSLR every day since I got it back. It's like a seldom-used backup body being turned into a brand new camera.

For those of you like me who have had a hand at infrared film photography, a converted DSLR from Lifepixel will liberate your IR shooting. Sure, the challenge of loading IR film, and nearly opaque filters, and blind composition and focusing, and long exposure times tying you to a tripod is fun for a while, but an IR DSLR lets you put your efforts into creativity, and reacting to good light and subjects quickly.

" . . The best light and the best shot happens when I least expect it . . "

~ Peter Kervarec ~

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" . . . The next step was to actually choose someone to do the conversion, and take the plunge. It's a little like having elective surgery. The chances are everything will go well, but there are no guarantees. As I usually do before laying down my money, I did a lot of research and reading. Ultimately, I chose Lifepixel to do the work, and I am absolutely thrilled with the results . . . "

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