Step 1: Get yourself a crappy digital camera
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
- 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
Step 4: Remove the CCD assembly
Step 5: Locate the IR-blocking filter
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
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
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
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.