I bought an X-T1 a few weeks ago. It’s lovely.
But one thing I wondered about was what to do with my X-E1. It’s a lovely camera, and the second hand resale on it isn’t great. So I began to think about getting it converted to shoot infra-red.
One of my favourite photographers of all time is Sir Simon Marsden. After reading the book “Ghosts“, which featured his images, I went on to buy “Ghosthunter: A Journey Through Haunted France” shortly after. Sadly, Marsden passed away in 2012, but his iconic photography remains and will always have a place on my bookshelf. His dramatic use of infra-red film to capture his subjects was almost a trademark, and the use of infra-red gives his images an ethereal, other-worldly feel, totally in keeping with his subject matter. Infra-red photography on a film camera is a tricky business and for me this really shows Marsden as a talented image maker.
As a beginning amateur photographer, and an ex-goth (!), I found it fascinating to try and recreate his “look” in photoshop. Not having access to an infra-red camera, or film, I made do. And I don’t think I did too bad a job of it. The essence of “normal” conversion to Infra red is all about pushing the greens and pulling the blues in a straight up colour to black & white conversion. A bit of dodging and burning goes a long way, but it wasn’t completely capturing the essence of the medium for me. The image above is one of my earlier attempts from a colour image and it suffers from blown white clouds.
The digital photographer has two real choices for shooting infra-red. Either a standard on-the-lens screw in filter, or a full conversion of the camera. Modern digital camera sensors are sensitive to infra-red light, so manufacturers put a filter in front of the sensor. The simple screw on filter therefore blocks out the visible light and lets only IR through which is then blocked by the in-camera filter. Consequently, exposure times are huge and can be a bit hit and miss.
Modifying the camera though removes that problem and also allows the photographer to put any lens on the front of their camera. You don’t need a 55mm filter and a 62mm filter etc etc. I had a spare body sitting idle so it was a simple decision to get it converted fully.
The first question, is who to get to do it. My wife tells me I’m clumsy – and she’s totally right, so the idea of me doing it was a no brainer. Best leave it to professionals! In the UK I could only find two companies that perform this service, and as a modern consumer, I went straight to Google to find out which is best. However, there are not that many reviews of either companies. Both companies had reviews from customers who had received a poor service (as well as good), but all the reviews I found were quite old.
Advanced Camera Services are based in Norfolk and their website is a bit sparse. They only do “strong” IR filters which are great if you just want to do black & white photography. The stronger IR filters block more light, so the images are typically sharper but you have less flexibility with colour ranges. 830nm is a strong black & white filter ranging down to 720nm which is considered “standard”.
Protech Repairs are based in Uckfield and their website is… colourful! It’s better than ACS, but still requires a bit of brain matter to navigate. They offer filters from 590nm (considered “super colour”) through to the stronger 830nm.
Prices for the two companies are relatively similar. It’s different depending on the camera so I won’t go into that here. the links above give you enough information to figure it out yourselves.
I sent out exploratory emails to both companies with some basic questions – including whether converting an X-E1 to infra-red was something they did as their websites didn’t specify my camera. I generally do this with un-reviewed sources as a matter of course because it’s a decent measure of their online responsiveness. If I get good, friendly help via emails I always feel better about parting with money, and an IR conversion isn’t cheap. To begin with you have the cost of your camera, and you have to add the conversion costs on top of that.
ACS never replied to that mail unfortunately and Protech did. Hmm… So from here on in, I’m going to talk about Protech.
Jo replied very quickly (same day – a Sunday) with helpful answers to questions as well as links to further reading. She also advised me of issues with the X-E1 and hotspots on zoom lenses. Not a worry for me as I use the 23mm and the 14mm for my landscape work. This was a nice touch and reassuring that Protech weren’t trying to sell out of the gate. They appeared to want an informed consumer which really went in their favour. Jo also advised that it’s possible to go stronger with screw in filters, so choosing a 590nm sensor filter would still allow me to put a circular 830nm filter on the front of the camera. It’s not possible to go the other way though for obvious reasons.
Protech were very patient with all my questions over the course of a week, and so I decided to pack up my X-E1 with a battery and send it off. Jo said it would take about a week.
And a week later, it was done! So for me, Protech did what they said they were going to do which is another bonus. I paid over the phone and the camera was sent RMSD next day. It arrived well packaged and wrapped up safely. The only moment of panic occurred when I turned the thing on and nothing happened… This was due to a) the on-off switch flicking to “on” in transit and draining the battery and b) the camera being reset to use the viewfinder so no rear screen came on when I switched on. Once I got my menus set up again, I discovered that Protech had also kindly set a custom white balance for me and that the camera was working fine.
So that’s a huge thumbs up to the people at Protech and a solid recommendation from me. To be transparent, I need to state that I get/got no revenue or financial reward from them for endorsing the service. They did a good job and I think it’s important to review good as well as bad.
One thing I think they could improve on would be to perhaps just ship the camera with an info sheet detailing how to get the best from your images. I’m not going to repost the content here, but I found the following article at Luminescent Photo to be extremely helpful in getting my IR workflow sorted out. I use Lightroom and Photoshop though so I don’t know how this would work for other software.
Currently, using the above tutorials, I have a custom profile set for my X-E1 now which auto white balances the shots at import meaning they just need exporting to Photoshop for a channel swap as a finishing touch.
Now all I need is a bright blue sky and then I’m off to the local churchyards to revisit my old stomping grounds.
Thanks for reading!