May 05, 2021

My First Session with an Infrared Converted EOS R5

When I first began the transition from working with film to working with digital cameras, one of the biggest questions was "how can I let go of working with infrared light?" Since 1990, infrared film had been an increasingly important part of my creative process, so this was certainly a concern. All my doubts were set to rest in the fall of 2004, when I made my first set of digital images with an infrared-converted Sigma SD-10; the results were thrilling (though only 3.1 mp in resolution), and this paved the way for more than 15 years of digital infrared photography, between then and now.

Infrared digital original

Since 2004, I have had five DSLR cameras converted to be infrared sensitive; but with my latest upgrade, I moved to a mirrorless camera design, the Canon EOS R5. Switching from DSLRs to mirrorless provides two distinct advantages when working with an infrared converted camera. The first advantage is to be able to see the infrared image through the viewfinder. With my previous DSLR cameras, when looking through the viewfinder, the image viewed is the world in front of the lens (as DSLR cameras permit the photographer to view directly through the lens, as opposed to a digital video image). 

Infrared digital original
For conventional photography, being able to see the real world through the viewfinder is often considered an advantage (especially for sports or action), but with infrared photography, being unable to see what an image will look like before it is made is a real handicap. The only workaround has been to work with LiveView; this shows a video image of the composition on the back screen of the camera - and this was certainly a game-changer with the Canon 5D MKII (which was my first DSLR with liveview), but it also imposes some pretty significant limitations on process, making a tripod pretty much mandatory for most sessions, and making viewing the image challenging on bright days. All this has changed with the mirrorless camera, which clearly displays the image, in all its glorious "infraredness" before I even touch the shutter button.

Infrared digital original
The second advantage is related to the first, but in some ways, even more significant. With a mirrorless infrared camera, for the first time, auto focus works accurately (as the camera focused with the light falling on the sensor (contrast detection), as opposed to the more traditional DLSR method of phase detection. For someone who loves working with large apertures, this is a game changer! Coupled with the incredibly fast and accurate focus of the EOS R5 (including eye focus), this makes working in infrared suddenly much faster and more accurate than ever before!

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