Introduction: Infrared Digital Camera - the Real Way

Picture of Infrared Digital Camera - the Real Way

Are you tired of at looking at the world in boring, ordinary colors? Upset about the limitations of your eyeballs to perceive light between 400 - 700 nm? Odds are you have a perfectly good infrared imaging device sitting around and you don't even know it. Here's how to modify your average digital camera to unleash its full infrared capacity. All you need are some lighting filters, a small screwdriver, and steady hands. In no time flat you'll be taking dreamy, surreal IR pictures.

Step 1: Get Yourself a Crappy Digital Camera

Picture of Get Yourself a Crappy Digital Camera

So here's the thing about infrared. The CCD on your average ordinary digital camera absorbs infrared light quite effectively, so much that camera manufacturers try their hardest to block IR from ever reaching the detector. Digicams have an IR-blocking filter behind the lens that mops up most (but not all) infrared from getting through. Therefore, possible ways to take an infrared picture are (1) exploit the low IR sensitivity of an unmodified digicam by placing a filter in front of the lens that blocks out everything *but* infrared, or (2) enhance the IR sensitivity of the camera by taking it apart and physically removing the IR-blocking filter.

Option (1) is certainly easier, and a number of instructables use that principle:
Infrared Ir Webcam
Take Infrared Pictures With Your Digital Camera
A better diy infrared filter

But there are some drawbacks to using an unmodified camera. Typically the exposure times are so long (1 second or so) that you need to use a tripod. Option (2) is more effective and you can take better IR pictures, if you're willing to take your camera apart.

Here's the catch. This project isn't difficult per se, but it involves handling a lot of small and fragile camera parts. There's a very real chance that one little slip up could turn your nice digicam into a very shiny brick. So don't try this on a camera unless you're willing to accept the risk of breaking it. I got this used VuPoint 3.1 MP camera at Ritz on the cheap. Used cameras also tend to be very inexpensive on eBay. If you have an expensive digital SLR you want to convert, you might consider paying a professional (like this place) to do it for you, which costs ~$300.

You will also need a lighting filter to block out all visible light except for red and longer wavelenghts. For this I am using "Congo Blue" (Lee #181 or Rosco #382) available from B&H for about $10 after shipping.

Step 2: Open the Case

Picture of Open the Case

Pick up that screwdriver and start taking screws out. The ultimate goal is to access the IR-blocking filter that's right in front of the CCD. The exact components you'll need to take out in order to get there will vary from camera to camera, so I will only offer some generic tips:

- get a plastic container (I used an ice cube tray) to put the screws in as you take them out. There are a lot of little screws and you will never remember the order you took them out unless you organize them somehow.

- take pictures as you remove screws. This will help when you go to put the camera back together. Again, there are a lot of screws and it is incredibly helpful to have a photographic record of what went where.

Step 3: Start Removing the Boards

Picture of Start Removing the Boards

On my camera there was a separate board in front of the main one that had the lens/CCD assembly. I had to take out 6 screws in order to get it off. Take a picture every time you remove a screw. Oh and watch out for the big capacitor that is full of electricity.

Step 4: Remove the CCD Assembly

Picture of Remove the CCD Assembly

After separating the main board from the case, I had to remove the LCD display in order to liberate the lens/CCD assembly. Be careful with the ribbon cable that is especially fragile.

Step 5: Locate the IR-blocking Filter

Picture of Locate the IR-blocking Filter

Once you've gotten to the heart of the camera and located the CCD, you're almost ready to get down to business. We want to locate the IR-blocking filter and remove it. I've seen this procedure done on 3 different cameras, and on each the IR-blocking filter was in a different place. So I can't say exactly where it's going to be on your camera, but it's pretty easy to spot. The IR-blocking filter is a thin (~1mm or so) piece of glass that gives a nice blue reflection depending on the angle you hold it.

On my camera, the IR-blocking filter was embedded in the lens assembly. It was the last optical component of the lens before the CCD. On the other two cameras I have seen dismantled, the filter was directly in front of the CCD. This is the point of no return. Once you take out the filter you will not be able to restore the camera back to normal. It took me a minute to convince myself I had located the right component, and like I said the faint blue color is the best giveaway.

Step 6: Take Out the IR Filter

Picture of Take Out the IR Filter

Remove the IR-blocking filter by any means necessary. Unfortunately, this ended up being a real pain on my camera, because the filter was embedded in the plastic lens assembly. First I had to remove the lens from its enclosure by unscrewing it (I drew a line down the threads so I could reassemble it correctly). Then I cut away part of the plastic with a knife in order to pry out the filter. In the process, I cracked the filter and it came out in pieces. It ended up not mattering since none of the lens optics got scratched, and the filter is going in the trash anyway.

Hopefully it will be easier to take out the filter on your camera. I have seen others where the IR-blocking filter is right in front of the CCD held in place with glue, and it's a piece of cake to remove it.

Step 7: Install Congo Blue Filters

Picture of Install Congo Blue Filters

Now we want to install a filter that will block out all the light of the visible spectrum, only allowing infrared to reach the CCD. We do this by putting 6 layers of the Congo Blue filter gel behind the lens. Cut the filter gel into a bunch of little squares that will fit snugly inside the lens assembly. Pick out the 6 best ones, and install them inside lens before mounting it back in place in front of the CCD.

The material the filter gel is made out of is kind of fragile, and has a tendency to pick up scratches and dust. In my experience it's also really static sensitive, which is annoying. I wore a pair of latex gloves to avoid getting any fingerprints on it, and I handled the squares with tweezers. Even so, it took 15 minutes to wrestle them into place.

Another point here, with some cameras (especially nicer onces that have zoom), removing the IR-blocking filter can mess up the autofocus. Other sets of instructions I have seen recommend installing a piece of ordinary glass about the same thickness as the IR-blocking filter that you removed. I didn't do that, since my camera was fixed focus and not very good to begin with. But if you want to, the easiest way is to cut a microscope slide with a glass cutter to the right size, and install that behind the lens.

Step 8: Reassemble Your Camera and Go Use It

Picture of Reassemble Your Camera and Go Use It

Now that you've got the IR-blocking filter removed, and the Congo Blue filters in place, you're almost ready to start taking pictures. Reassemble your camera by doing everything up until now in reverse. You were taking pictures of all the screws you were taking out, right??

Once everything is put back together, cross your fingers and turn it on. With any luck it will power up and be ready to use. Go outside and take some pictures! Outdoor scenes with lots of trees and grass look especially cool. I took a trip to Point Reyes National Seashore and took some sweet pics, in this flickr photoset. Also a trip to the Russian Ridge open space preserve in this photset.

Thanks/props goes to Zach S. for helpful tips found on his site.


The Porsche Fan (author)2011-01-13

Do you have any Congo blue filter film that you'd be willing to sell? It's a bit pricey for the small amount that is actually used. I'll buy your extra off of you if you're willing :) Thanks

You can get a free gel sample kit from either Rosco or Lee. And you get all the extra colors along with it.

Free = $2.50 for item + $3.50 for shipping

evelynmclear (author)2015-11-24

I've been looking for the camera you've used, and I can't find it in stock anywhere. Is there another camera you could recommend to do this with?

fastback570 (author)evelynmclear2016-09-09

Kodak Easyshare M1063 10.3 megapixel camera has the filter right in front of the sensor.

BigAndRed made it! (author)2016-03-03

To get better 'colour' in your IR photos, set a custom colour balance by taking a reading for 'white' off a well lit up patch of healthy green grass. The chlorophil in the grass reflects alot of IR light.

IR filters are available at ebay for about $10, screw in to lens or square gelatin filters.

I have a Pentax K10 modified to 720nm IR, the autofocus, sensitivity and colour balance has been modified to suit the longer wave length of IR. Here is a sample.

RonL14 (author)2015-08-10

Looking to convert to 85onm wave length. Can I substitute the blue filters or do I buy an IR filter?

veltresnas (author)2015-05-18

Great! I used a dark piece of old camera film and works great, the skin and eyes looks awesome! The idea of convert the photos to b&w helps a lot.

ruppaw (author)2015-04-25

Hey, I have converted a few point and shoots for problem. Recently I got a d3000 to try and convert to full spectrum but the screws were all locked in to tight and I stripped the ones the held in the hot mirror, so I re-soldered it and sold it. trying to figure out where to go from here. Does anyone have an experience with d3000’s, could it have just been a problem with mine? are there other cheap nikons that are easier to dismantle?

arduinoe (author)2009-06-03

now this is DEFINITELY shopped , kitchen towel isnt reflective loooooool

Caironater (author)arduinoe2014-05-03

That's not a reflection, it's actually light shining through the lense and onto the towel. If it was a reflection, you'd be able to see the black lense casing as well.

Insomniac55 (author)arduinoe2009-07-13

It ain't shopped... CCD's look odd even in real life, and the towel isn't reflecting... it's got a spot of red light shining on it which is reflecting off the IR filter (they are almost like mirrors to the red wavelengths).

coffeegeek (author)Insomniac552011-06-02

I use my spare time convincing people that real-life objects have been photoshopped...

beneficence (author)2013-12-19

I really enjoyed this tutorial. I have been meaning to do an IR conversion for some time now. So, thanks for the reminder and the detailed instructable!

I do have a question... are the dark spots I see on some of the photos due to a dirty sensor on your camera or is that a result of the IR conversion? Were those there before the conversion? Perhaps the sensor got dirty while converting...

atomiclizard (author)2013-08-10

If I take nothing else from this, very well put, Instructable thank you for the ice cube tray idea for screws. I fix computers and laptop repair sometimes leaves "extra parts" This is extremely useful and genius! Keep up the good work!

ReneediCherri (author)2013-02-25

Way cool! I love IR.

nvnusman (author)2013-02-05

So, wondering why you used blue filters instead of red? Doesn't deep blue fail to pass reds? (Um ... yeah ... my Remote test showed one remote's LEDs as blue ...) I expected a recommendation of dark red filtering ... Back in the 70s I bought some of that infrared Ektachrome; the slides were, well, "trippy." Can't find they anymore or I would post.

giocad (author)2013-01-20

it's fantastic. I think I'll do the same thing with my old camera

zacker (author)2012-09-24

To get rid of the red/pink hue, cant you just cxonvert it in Photoshop into a black and white? or use the HUE / SATURATION tool to remove the red hue?

If one removes the IR filter inside, behind the lens, and uses the blue lenses on the outside, infront of the lens, would it matter?

N3v3rm0r3 (author)2010-09-03

"Big dcary capacitor".... Well, 80uF is not THAT big... In some cameras I've found caps of 120uF... These DO hurt most than other, smaller ones

Lokisgodhi (author)N3v3rm0r32012-06-21

In my auto technology classes we used to amuse ourselves by tossing charged capacitors (BIG ONES) to each other, saying 'Catch!'

The loser was whoever actually caught one. ;-)

Damn I miss the 1980s.

rrrmanion (author)N3v3rm0r32010-11-11

more painful than that is a 10F super capacitor, OUCH

N3v3rm0r3 (author)rrrmanion2010-11-19

I hope I'll never "try" that out! Lol! Where you found that capacitor? And in which voltage(I need a capacitor like that, so...)?

rrrmanion (author)N3v3rm0r32010-11-21

can;t find it now, but it's from rapid electronics, it's 2.5v, hence can be charged from solar cell, so now you can tase someone the eco-friendly way.

Blexcroid (author)2012-01-11

Just picked up a Sony DSC-P200 point &shoot for $20 at a pawn shop. It included the battery, charger, cables, & manuals. Nice & inexpensive with which to try an IR conversion.

wizzle89 (author)2011-05-18

does this work at night for night vision

372752 (author)wizzle892011-08-13

No it wouldn't actually you would need a IR flashlight I have an instructables on this it's reall simple actually

DanYHKim (author)2011-05-04

Marking the lens assembly is a great idea. I've neglected this step in the past, and it's a pain to work out the focus by trial and error.

rangerjoseph (author)2011-02-20

lol, abbout the big scarry capaciter. yeah. dont touch it...
made the mistake one when cleening sand out of my optical zoom.

SirStokes (author)2011-02-13

If you touch the capacitor with a plastic handled screwdriver until it sparks you should be fine. It would discharge and, unless the batteries are still in, it will stay discharged.

rafikiand3601 (author)2011-01-22

is there an advantage to using multiple filters?

pietzeekoe (author)2011-01-13

IM having the hardest time finding a camera that crappy enough LOL
Can some one link me to something like an ebay link?
Also i live in europe so the closer to europe the better cause P&P can get pretty high.

wobbler (author)2010-09-19

You can make an IR filter with only two layers by using a blue gel layer and a red gel layer. Now to make this, all I need is some red gel and some blue gel. Oh yes, and a camera. Other than that, I've got everything I need.

Lorellai (author)2010-08-31

I finished reading Issac Asimov's 'Nemesis' last night... Nemesis is a red dwarf star that bathes the planet Megas and it's moon Erythro in a pink light (as opposed to our Sun's yellow light). These pictures have helped me to visualise such a work perfectly - Thanks!

Datashifter (author)2010-04-04

I used five pieces of the Rosco 382 gel, thinking that the camera might be better at accepting IR low light situations with 5 instead of 6 pieces.  I need to test it in daylight, but from preliminary testing inside tonight, I think I maybe should have gone with six pieces.  The mod went well for my camera though (Samsung S700 Digimax).

The most difficult part for me was cutting the Rosco 382 gel to the right size - not too small, and not too big - all the while, not getting fingerprints on it!  Cotton gloves might have been handy...

Congrats on the great instructable!  Even if it probably doesn't match the disassembly of anyone else's camera, the general idea is all which is needed!

For what it is worth, my camera has zoom and autofocus, but I have not experienced any focus issues at all after removing the IR filter and installing the Rosco 382 gel.

driids (author)2008-04-25

After removing the batteries, if you hold down the power button for a few seconds (say 6 to be safe) it should drain the capacitor for you.

ccyg8774 (author)driids2009-12-10

That really depends on the design of the camera. The capacitor is for the flashlight and may not be drained by hold down the power button in some models.
I still remember the pain of getting the electric shock when was trying to hack a camera. I was old enough to know that it is a capacitor, but still too young to know the size of  capacitor matters, alone with the voltage and the capacitance......

ngc7293 (author)2009-11-04

I got into Near InfraRed Digital Photography a different way.  I searched via google and found some how-to pages.  Chiefly, they suggested using older cameras vs. taking appart new cameras.  I have an Olympus 2020Z with a Hoya R72 filter.  I got two cameras off of eBay; one for parts and one that was slightly broken.  The camera is sensitive enought that I don't need to replace the pass filter.  Other suggestions are the Nikon 950 and some SLRs.  Here is a link to an infrared webpage I have used

lilpepsikraker (author)2009-11-02

You might want to consider HDR processes along with the IR photos with that crappy camera.
HDR will balance the lighting, but it only works if you can change the exposure or at least bracket. Try EV compensation -2, 0, and +2.

ghostguard7 (author)2008-05-01

Any good inexpensive filters (IR) that I could screw onto my D70? I found one, but they wanted $78, and even with 30 second exposures with 100 to 1200 ISO, and an open aperture. I can't risk any damage on my camera, but I want to be able to take digital IR shots. Film was so much easier, as I would usually used just a red filter (and polarization dark-room techniques to produce great pictures). I just don't have to room in my garage/shop to setup my dark-room (and chemicals can get quite pricey for these). Using the IR film I was using around 8-11 years ago, we rarely would have the proper development chemistry. Most of my best museum prints were involving Infrared photography, or just very abstract and complexity prints. If anyone has an idea on cheaper removable IR filters (for DSLR's), please let me know. Thank you guys. Great Instructable!

spookee (author)ghostguard72009-08-26

A decent inexpensive filter is a Hoya R72. If you're using the Kit lens for your D70 (18-55mm focus, 52mm diam), the R72 filter for the end only runs about $20-$30 US.

Zaius (author)ghostguard72009-01-09

If you can get the end of a roll of slide film that was processed but not exposed, it works as a cheap IR filter.

djin (author)Zaius2009-02-24

would taking pictures in complete darkness and developing those pics would be the part of the film I'm looking for (without having to hunt for the end parts ;P) it's just that I bought a new film and I don't know if I can just rip it out and use it (it's already black like that) or take pics, develop it, and theeen use it..

Zaius (author)djin2009-02-24

The slide film needs to be processed, but you don't need to actually shoot the film. If you talk to a store that processes slide film I'm sure you could get a piece for free.

djin (author)Zaius2009-02-24

thanks a lot =) I'll go there tomorrow!

...just to be sure, when you say "slide film" that's any photography film, right? for example a Fuji ISO 400 color film... _°

Zaius (author)djin2009-02-24

No, slide film is color reversal film like Kodachrome or Fujichrome. The unexposed area stay black. I don't know if regular film will work, but to make it black the film has to be overexposed. The photo store can help you.

djin (author)Zaius2009-02-24

I see.. okay, I will ask then for this type of film instead. Thank you! (I'll post here my results hehe)

Hyphener (author)2009-08-23

Finally someone did a real IR camera tutorial! I did the same thing a while ago but used just 2 layers of that blacked out film negative from the end of those negative strips, that can make the whole process free. Unfortunately with old, bad digital cameras it is hard to set the white balance well enough so we are stuck with taking these pink tinted or pink changed to B/W photos, still, they look awesome

imkwl12345 (author)2009-07-13

so, if i was to just take out the ccd filter, and not put an IR one in, would this mean if i took a picture in a dark room with IR lights in it, you could still see stuff?

wenpherd (author)2009-06-12

this is really cool, all those photos look like a picture from mars

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