Firstly, let me say Happy New Year to everyone. I hope it’s a great year for you.
Now, if you have been following this blog for a little while you might be aware that I recently purchased a second Panasonic Lumix GX1 body so I could send my old camera for conversion to Infrared. Over the festive season I received the converted camera. Unfortunately it’s been a frustrating period due the weather here being terrible. Most of the UK has been suffering severe flooding and even where it hasn’t flooded, the rain has continued relentlessly.
Last Sunday there was a short break in the rain (although the clouds didn’t really part for more than a few minutes) and I found myself out in the Peak District with my new camera. The weather really wasn’t conducive to shooting infrared but I gave it a go because I was desperate to try out the camera. The results were quite interesting and I noticed a few things that I hadn’t previously been aware of:
When shooting Infrared the dynamic range of the camera seems huge. I could shoot without using any ND Graduated filters. The same shot with my unconverted GX1 needed at least a 0.6 ND Grad to balance the exposure with the sky. I did try using a ND Graduated filter with the Infrared camera but it made absolutely no difference to the exposure or histogram. This sort of makes sense but I haven’t quite got my head around it.
The autofocus worked to some degree. To be honest I had expected it not to work at all so that was a nice surprise. The focus wasn’t however as accurate as I want so I will need to switch to manual focus. If you are old enough to remember film cameras you might be aware of an Infrared mark on your lenses which shows the infinity point of focus when using Infrared film. This is because IR light has a different point of focus and I haven’t yet worked out how I’m going to address this.
The depth of field appears less with the Infrared camera. Again I can’t get my head around why but my usual trick of shooting at f/7.1 and focussing on the near foreground just didn’t cut it. I will need to experiment more.
I was shooting with the camera set to RAW and JPG in Mono. The Mono JPG’s looked OK but I think a true conversion from RAW will be best. Looking at the RAW images they display the usual Red shift with most of the data being in the red channel and little in the blue and green. I need to work out the best approach to converting RAW files to produce the typical infrared look I am after.
Relying on the cameras auto exposure resulted in an underexposed histogram during shooting. It was possible to push this by 1-2 stops without the histogram becoming clipped and this produced quite nice in camera JPG’s. I’m not however sure this technique produced good RAW files for conversion so more experimentation is required.
My 14-45mm lens appeared to suffer from quite a bit of barrel distortion on the infrared camera that wasn’t previously present or is present on my other GX1. My 45-200 lens doesn’t seem to suffer and the 9-18 Olympus lens only shows limited distortion at the widest end. I need to work out the best approach for dealing with this
So, in summary, I have a lot more experimentation to achieve the results I was hoping for but the early indications are good. I now need the weather to improve so that I can use the camera properly.
A few blogs back I discussed my desire to have a digital Infrared camera and weighed up some of the options I was considering as a light weight photographer. The usual approach of photographers converting cameras to IR seems to be to take an old DSLR that they would otherwise sell and have this converted. However the cost of this conversion (certainly in the UK) makes me think this isn’t cost effective and anyway, I don’t like carrying a DSLR around never mind a second body for my system.
In the end I decided to purchase a second GX1 body for the conversion. This was not an easy decision and for a while I toyed with the idea of purchasing a GF1 to convert. What put me off was the cost of the conversion was £250 + VAT (ouch) and I would still have an old 12Mpixel camera. Weighing up the cost of the conversion and the cost of a new camera I thought the GX1 made much more sense.
My initial search for a GX1 was looking for a new model at a good price. This would have cost me around £300 after the cash back offer Panasonic was running (that’s a fantastic price for such a great little camera). I also looked on eBay but most of the imported models were about the same cost. I did find a second hand model for sale but the owner had stuck faux leather on the body and I wondered what that might be hiding.
In the end I found a reconditioned model which had a 12 month warranty and had been reconditioned by Panasonic. The price was just £250 and when it arrived it was like a completely new camera. In fact I can’t believe it has ever been used and all the accessories such as the strap were brand new. Best of all the body is silver and my existing GX1 is black. This will allow me to distinguish the IR camera from the standard one.
Now here is where the fun begins because I decided to send my current GX1 for the conversion given that it was about 8 months old but the new camera now had a 12 month warranty. What happened next has taken me a bit by surprise. When I have been using the new camera I could swear the sensor has a much better dynamic range. Quite often I could shoot without an ND Graduated filter where it would have been needed with my older GX1. The images also appear cleaner and the colour more balanced. I did check the firmware but it was v1.0 as was my old camera.
This experience has lead me to conclude there could be a few possible causes for what I am seeing:
I’m seeing things that aren’t there – but I don’t think so
My first camera could be a poor model or my new one could be a fluke product that is better than the average. I recall Ctein writing on The Online Photographer site about his old printer being much better than a new model and after much testing and input from Epson concluding his old model was so good because of exceptional luck.
Could Panasonic be improving the GX1 bit by bit by including new sensor developments as they become available? This is not as odd as it sounds because they are developing new sensor improvements for newer models all the time. Why go to the cost of manufacturing different sensors of different quality if they are all the same size and probably all cost similar amounts to make.
Anyway, I have rambled on for a while here without telling you where I sent the camera for the conversion. In the end it was ACS in Norfolk because I wanted to keep the camera in the UK. I did consider sending it to one of the leading converters in the US but in the end I wanted to support a UK company and after all costs were factored in there wasn’t too much difference. Once I get the camera back and have a chance to use it I will post some thoughts about the conversion.
As I mentioned in some of my recent posts I have just been up to Whitby with a friend. These trips are great as we talk about all things photography including quite often the new equipment we would like. It was during one of these discussions that I had to admit I would really like an infrared camera. In the past I might have sought to purchase an old DSLR and have this converted but that wouldn’t fit with my new lightweight approach.
After a lot of consideration and debate I think I have two choices. The first would be to purchase and convert an LX5 whilst the other would be converting a micro 4/3 camera. To be honest, I would love to have an infrared LX5; the lens is excellent and the camera fits in my pocket. What puts me off is that I have heard the LX5 suffers from hot spots under some conditions. I would hate to have an otherwise great image ruined by this so I am loathed to go down this route.
Realistically then it’s probably down to a choice of which micro 4/3 camera to purchase and convert. If I chose the GF1 I would worry about the age of the camera and the cost of the conversion in the UK is about twice the cost of the camera. Alternatively the cost of a new GX1 is now down to £315 after £50 cash back. This seems to be amazing value for money but I still need to find a conversion service that has a good reputation.
Now if you are reading this and wondering why I am not doing my Infrared conversion in software, it’s because it’s very difficult to create a realistic effect without introducing a lot of artefacts around edges in the image. It’s very difficult to get just the right look and to be honest I would rather have a converted camera that I can snap away with.
You will hear more about this in the future as I have convinced myself I need an infrared camera.