Don’t try to convert your camera to infrared unless you are confident in your electromechanical abilities. Otherwise, there are businesses that deal with this sort of thing. If you don’t know what I am talking about read on, I will explain everything.
Does it ever bother you that we can’t see radio, or gamma waves? It sure bothers me, especially since what I do see is about 5% of the known radiation spectrum which means there are literally millions of ways to see the world that are just outside of my reach.
On one side we move closer to x-rays, used in medicine that tend to penetrate soft objects, and radio waves on the other side that we used for communication. Infrared is the part of the spectrum just beyond our visible range, called that because it seems to extend and grow from the wavelength we perceive as red.
Special sensors have been devised that can record infrared i.e. heat signatures even after the heat source is no longer present, and these cameras have long been used for military, scientific and security purposes.
The camera however, sees the same light spectrum as the human eye does, or at least seems to because it has been limited to correspond to our vision. In reality the system is somewhat complex, but the biggest difference and possibly letdown is that the sensor of the photographic camera does not really capture heat emissions.
The infrared camera conversion hardware changes we will make in this article bring us closer to IR, but not all the way there, meaning the proper term to use would be near-infrared.
In this way we will still enlarge the sensory range of the camera by at least as 50 and as much as 300%. This will depend on the camera’s sensor, as some are more sensitive than others.
The actual infrared camera conversion:
So, enough with physics lesson, here on out I will list conceptual steps to make your camera into something less mainstream. Most important thing is not to rush because you could scratch the circuitry or tear a cable, which would very quickly cause more problems than it would solve.
Tools for IR conversion:
You will be dealing with a wide variety of bolts and screws, clips, and computer circuitry from motherboards and processors to cables and fine soldering.
For this you will need quality fine-mechanics screwdrivers, and pincers that should be as precise as possible. Depending on the camera you might also need soldering equipment, making sure it enables you to solder on very small scales.
You will need ample light to tell you exactly where different parts are, and where they go. I suggest sorting screws by groups in chronological order of being taken out, and putting them into bottle or jar caps at the edge of your workspace, minding not to push anything off the table.
Before you start work, make no mistake – you will never put your camera together as exactly as it was originally. Best thing you can do is make sure the sensor is still the same distance from the lens and that the chasis is not putting pressure on the circuitry. Also know that more times you take it apart the likelier that small mistakes will accumulate.
Every camera model has a different mode of disassembly. Usually we start with bottom screws, then moving to the side and finally taking the back plate off. Once that is done we remove layers of circuitry until we come to the sensor.
Using the widest flat screwdriver we separate cables from the clips when we need to remove a layer of circuitry unless we can remove it as a complete piece.
If your camera sports an inside flash you must take additional care not to damage its power supply, as the batteries can explode with surprising force considering their size.
The sensor will usually be held in place by a pair of screws, and another pair will hold a piece of glass, which will be overlaid over a piece of Cyan glass.
That glass is called a hot mirror, and is the sole reason your camera sees color correctly. My Nikon had its glued onto the frame of the sensor and was hard to displace – careful application of heat should soften the glue. If not you can try to pry it off with pincers and any screwdriver that will fit but be warned that you will likely damage the glass.
Once you have removed the glass I suggest you put it someplace safe and clean. Depending on what you want to do now you can either insert a piece of IR filter that you bought online, a few strips of overexposed color negatives (means opaque!
Also, who would have thought film would still be useful, eh?), or just leave the sensor bare. The last option gives you an opportunity to switch front element filters between a larger variant of a hot mirror, an IR or proper UV filter.