Since the beginning of the year, I have received several emails from shooters who want to convert older camera bodies to infrared. They all want to shoot only for black/white so the 590nm conversion is not of interest to them. I was honored they asked my opinion about which nanometer conversion they should choose, but the decision lies in the personal preference of the shooter.
So here are my thoughts and experiences with the 720nm vs 830nm conundrum.
First, you need to decide if you ever want to process your infrared captures as “false” or “faux” color (these files can then be converted to black/white). If the answer is yes, then look at the 590nm and the 665nm lens filters or camera conversions. Note: If you choose to use an external infrared lens filter on your visible-light camera body, you will need a tripod as your exposure times will become longer and longer the farther into the infrared spectrum you go (590nm, 665nm, 720nm, 830nm). Also note, that the further into the infrared spectrum (the higher the nanometers), the less visible light is available to process your captures with any color.
Two years ago I was going through the
hell process of deciding which nanometer conversion to order for my Nikon D800. This decision was almost as hellish as deciding between Canon and Nikon back in 2009.
Since my desire was to shoot black/white only, my choice was narrowed to two: 720nm or 830nm.
I looked at images. I spoke to professionals who shoot infrared now and even IR film back in the day. Finally, I pulled the trigger on converting the D800 to 720nm which, from what I’ve been told, is the closest digital equivalent of the look of most black-and-white infrared films. I love the halation of some types of infrared film! (According to Merriam-Webster, halation is the spreading of light beyond its proper boundaries to form a fog around the edges of a bright image in a photograph or on a television screen).
After about six months of exclusively shooting with the 720nm conversion, I decided what I really wanted (I thought) was the Deep B&W. I sent off another camera body, my Nikon D750, to get converted to 830nm and shot with that exclusively for six months.
Another six months passed and I reverted back to the D800 (720nm) for 98% of my shooting.
Here’s why: while I am a whore to high contrast — deep shadows and bright whites that the 830nm renders — when I went to print the images I was really upset: if I opened up the shadows in post-processing, the clouds were completely blown out. So the dynamic range of the D750 sensor could not handle the totality of the 830nm conversion. Yes, you can bracket and merge layers together or use selections and luminosity masks (only to a point if the highlights are blown out; after that, you are screwed) but on bright, sunny days, the foliage and puffy white clouds are overwhelming in the intensity of the whites. Very high contrast.
However, I do love the 830nm conversion for architecture (such as the Old Sheldon Church and Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina) or landscape in the fog.
Other than that, I want the ethereal, softer, wispy look of the 720nm conversion. This is my personal preference.
The two lead images of the Cape May Lighthouse were shot minutes apart, using the same lens and subject. (Shame on me: both were handheld due to extreme laziness). Can you see the difference between the 720nm and the 830nm? In this particular example, the difference is very subtle. Check the highlights on the shrubs and the sky around the base of the lighthouse. I did very basic processing from RAW and did not touch the exposure, contrast, white- or black-point sliders. The sun was directly behind me, which renders black skies. The 830nm conversion is on the left.
So for now, I am back to hauling 3 bodies: the D810 (visible light body), the D800 (720nm IR body) and the D750 (830nm IR body).
I keep the D810 and D750 bodies in the Think Tank Retrospective Bag with a few specialty lenses (16mm fisheye, 24mm tilt-shift, 35mm prime, 105mm macro). That bag is always in the car, “just in case.” My backpack has the three lenses I use the most (16-35, 24-120, 70-200), the D800, and my Mindshift Filter Hive with all my ND filters and ND-grads.
Postscript… I will confess that last fall, in a fit of
insanity boredom, I sent my D750 back to Life Pixel and had them convert it from 830nm IR to a full-spectrum camera. This conversion seems to be all the rage at the moment. Full-spectrum means that you capture all three spectrums of light: UV, visible, and infrared with one press of your shutter.
What I learned was there is no magic one-size-fits-all pill. I thought I could simply add an IR filter to the lens on the full-spectrum camera. Minutes after installing an IR filter and looking at the captures/histograms, I was plagued with hideous lens flare (and the sun was over the roof of the house!!). That was the deal breaker for me. I experimented / processed / tested and within days, sent the body back to Life Pixel and had it reconverted back to infrared 830nm. FS just didn’t work for me and where my head is at right now.
My current obsession is with infrared black-and-white landscape and I am sticking to pure infrared converted 720nm and 830nm bodies (with my chiropractor on speed dial). However, I reserve the right to change my mind… 🙂