Infrared Strikes Back

As you doubtless know if you follow me on twitter, tumblr, or flickr, I have returned to infrared with a vengeance. For many months, my IR usage has diminished, for a variety of reasons — the main one being that I don’t have darkroom access presently and have not yet set up for film development at home or made other arrangements for black and white.

Given this, and given that even the lesser tier of IR film stocks is thinning, it made sense to finally go back to digital infrared in a more thorough way. (I’ve shot a lot of digital IR using unconverted cameras, with often acceptable results, but it’s a somewhat frustrating way to work when you don’t want to use a tripod — and my progress with IR is tending strongly toward the handheld and to IR flash street shooting.)

Complicating the matter slightly is my love for the 2.8cm f/3.5 H — a lens that is around half century old, cost me about $30, and has become totally definitive for me as the way to see the world in infrared. And using it with the Nikkormat and no ability to see through the viewfinder, I’ve pretty well trained myself to a certain angle of view…which I was reluctant to give up by going to a DX format converted camera.

So, after much poking around online and no shortage of hand-wringing, I bought a used Canon 5D and shipped it off to Lifepixel for conversion. (Using the “standard” option, which is the closest to the 72R/89B filtration I’m accustomed to.) I went with the 5D because it’s cheap (relatively), and because there are issues with the D700 for IR under some circumstances, thanks to some sort of shutter monitoring gizmo Nikon introduced.

New IR Kit

For most IR users, a 5D MkII would have been a better choice, because Live View will offer much improved flexibility and precision for IR focusing. In my case, that was irrelevant, since I’m interested almost exclusively in one lens and I only ever intend to scale focus it.

Lifepixel was fast and did a great job with the conversion, but I ran into two slight speed bumps:


Using an F-mount lens with an adapter on the 5D means that focus sales are off. This isn’t that big a deal — I just had to do some testing to figure out what the shift was. In the case of my lens/adapter/camera combination, it moves the IR index to a spot just to the left of the left-hand f/8 index on the DOF scale. For now, I’ve got this marked out with a bit of gaffer tape, because gaffer tape makes everything better.

2.8 cm f/3.5 H

More problematic: on some Nikon lenses, and the 2.8cm f/3.5 H is one of them, there are back-protruding bits that prevent the lens from mounting properly on the 5D. This is unrelated to the AI/Non-AI/AIS standards, and seems to be specific to certain lenses. I did not know this at the time I bought the 5D, or it would have given me serious pause.

In the end, I girded my loins, taped up the lens, and used a metal file to remove a couple of MM from that protruding part. This was very, very stupid on my part, and the correct procedure would have been to remove the back portion of the lens before modifying it, to prevent any filings from migrating to the interior of the lens. It seems to have worked out okay for me, but I certainly do not advise anyone else to do it this way.

The result: an IR kit that is a fairly close digital approximation of my old IR kit. Same (wonderful) lens, same flash (with same options of using hotshoe or side PC connection), with vastly higher working ISO options available — which means more flexibility and greater working range with the flash — and the ability to look through the viewfinder when I feel like doing so.

I haven’t gotten fully accustomed to it yet, and I don’t know it as well as I knew Rollei IR400. But it seems to be more or less a Sunny 11 situation, exposure wise, and the auto mode on the SB-24 seems to work well enough without much (if any) compensation for most situations.

I’ve already shot quite a bit with it, and been pleased with the results. It will take a while for me to know quite how to process the files, though — while the filtration is similar to what I’m accustomed to, 5D’s sensor is not going to behave in quite the same way as film.

Lake Merritt

Lake Meritt Channel

Betsy Ross Flag

Flood Control Station Tour

Unfortunately, in the time between when I more or less topped shooting with the Nikkormat and when I got the 5D kit set up, I seem to have lost much of my 28mm no-viewfinder composition mojo. Hopefully that’s reversible. In the mean time, well, we’ll just have to I’m canting photos for aesthetic reasons.

Stars Headband

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