Infrared-Converted Panasonic FZ18

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: This might be a one-of-a-kind.

The Long Version: Infrared photography has a long and distinguished history, being almost 100 years old. But like many things, digital technology has made the whole thing easier - with a big caveat. Digital camera sensors are perfectly capable of taking photographs in IR, but this skews the colours in regular photography, so the manufacturers need to add a filter to cut out (most of) the infrared part of the spectrum. The most common way to take digital photos in IR is to add a filter that cuts out (most of) the visible part of the spectrum. So between two filters that try to negate all of the light in the world, there's just a little wiggle room that lets an exposure squeak in. Expect tripods, high-iso, and long exposures.

Then there's the other way of doing it: get someone to seriously void the camera's warranty by replacing the built-in filter that blocks the infrared light with one that blocks the visible light. Voilà and hey presto, all of a sudden the camera sees in infrared but still acts like a real camera, with reasonable shutter speeds and a usable viewfinder. Compact cameras will focus and work normally, and DSLRs with imaging-sensor Live View can use contrast-detection AF or manual focus. For cameras without an LCD preview, you're going to need to find an older lens with IR compensation marks, because the focusing distance isn't quite the same as the visible spectrum.

All told, compact cameras make really good candidates for permanent IR conversion, and the conversion masks some of the inadequacies of their smaller sensors. Not all of them, but some. The Panasonic FZ18 is a versatile camera that shoots raw with manual controls, so when I saw this used one for sale for less than what a new one cost, with the added value of the IR conversion, was too good to skip. The expense of the modification makes the added longevity of DSLRs good investment, so they're really good candidates for conversion, too. It's just a matter of choosing how much you want to commit financially and practically to the new endeavor.

The FZ18 is an older camera - the DPReview analysis is a mere 16 pages long - and it certainly has its flaws. But the lens performs well for infrared, which is never assured, and the need to convert most of its output to B&W anyway tames its noise. For the best bright leaves, it can have its custom white balance set on a lawn; easy aperture control and exposure compensation are done via the little control toggle that reminds me of the NSFW nickname for IBM's laptop mouse replacement. All told it's a fun camera, and it has made me like the FZ family enough to make me think about adding another camera to my collection.

One of the quirks of infrared is that synthetic fabrics are often very bright, and this camera renders them an otherworldly purple. That's at least partly because this camera has had an IR-lite conversion done, and still lets through some visible light. It doesn't quite give the customary black skies and white foliage without some help from Lightroom. Naturally, if you're commissioning a conversion yourself, you can choose a harder cut, but I like it this way. It gives me the option of adding something like a B + W 093 filter if and when the spirit moves me. The two-step process increases the expense, but isn't that what photography's all about?


Post a Comment

Thewsreviews only permits comments from its associate authors. If that's you, awesome and thanks. If not, you can find the main email address on this page, or talk to us on Twitter.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

contact me...

You can click here for Matthew's e-mail address.