PetaPixel

DIY: How to Turn an Old Nikon D80 Into a Permanent IR Camera in Four Easy Steps

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Here’s a DIY project for infrared photography enthusiasts who have a few hundred dollars and some time to spend this weekend. Instead of taking the typical routes when it comes to taking IR photos — i.e. using an IR lens filter or making the magic happen in post — why not DIY a dedicated IR camera of your own?

At least that’s what Instructables user Zoltan Acs decided to do, because buying an IR cam of your own is often expensive, and both the filter and post-production options come with decided disadvantages. So instead, he bought a used Nikon D80 online and turned it into a permanent IR camera in just four steps!

All you need to do to start is get your hands on a D80 (he got his for about $175), a cheap 50mm or larger IR lens filter, a small phillips head screwdriver and a pair of tweezers (and yes, that is already one step of the four):

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Now it’s time to take apart the trusty DSLR and expose the sensor mount so that you can remove the built-in IR filter. That filter is there to block IR light rays (as opposed to the filter you purchased, which is there to block everything else) and needs to be removed and replaced with the filter you bought.

Opening the casing is very simple, but there are a few screws you’ll run into once the external case is opened, so if you want detailed pictures that show every screw and the order they need to be removed in, head over to the full tutorial.

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Once you’ve exposed the sensor, remove the IR filter bracket (also screwed in with just a few screws) and take out the built-in greenish filter glass. Keep the bracket though, that’s what you’re going to be mounting your filter in.

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The second to last step is to cut the filter you bought to the correct dimensions and mount it inside the camera. Acs measured the recessed grooves around the sensor and found that he needed the IR filter to be about 29.5mm x 25mm to fit properly.

If you have access to a water-jet machine, now would be the time to use it. Otherwise, you can cut the filter by hand or send it out to a local water-jet company to cut for you. The choice is yours.

Once cut, the lens filter should fit decently well in the old filter bracket (although it is thicker than the built-in filter). All you have to do is attach the bracket back into place, close everything up in the reverse order you opened, and you’re done!

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The last step is to go out and test your new permanent IR camera. According to Acs, “the plain shots from the IR camera look monochrome red,” so “some setup is required to achieve nice results.”

For him, that setup meant setting the white-balance “to the minimum” to offset the red, setting the ISO to 100 to keep the noise low, and making sure he was shooting RAW so he had some control in post-processing. Here’s what turned out:

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It’s certainly not the most simple DIY we’ve ever shared, but it’s still fairly basic. If you’re into infrared photography and you want a dedicated IR cam, this is a relatively cheap high-quality solution.

For the full step-by-step breakdown and a lot more pictures, head over to the full Instructables tutorial.

DIY Permanent Infrared DSLR Camera [Instructables]


Image credits: Photographs by Zoltan Acs


 
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  • Tim

    Once you remove the internal IR block filter, why couldn’t you just use the lens-mounted IR filter on top of a normal 50mm lens? That way no glass cutting is involved.

  • Localtyrant

    I find these pictures extremely hideous. Why would anyone want to risk ruining an expensive camera for this?

  • Richard709

    This way you can actually see through your viewfinder. As well, the camera can autofocus and function like your normal camera. Nothing’s worse than unscrewing and screwing back on a filter every time you want to take a shot.

  • johnc

    does this camera have live view? that way you could still mount the filter on the lens and manual focus and not worry about the viewfinder i guess?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/zackhuggins/ Zack

    That’s why he bought a used D80 for $175 specifically to convert to IR. Not exactly breaking the bank.

  • Localtyrant

    Yes, my bad, I first read D800…True, $175 aren’t that much money. However the photos simply aren’t aesthetic in any agreeable sense.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/zackhuggins/ Zack

    Hahaha yeah, that would make a pretty big difference in price point on this DIY ;)

  • theart

    The autofocus won’t really work like normal, because it’s still reading visible light, not IR.

  • ThatGuy

    Wow. Maybe he’s currently working on a photo essay for you so you can approve of this post. It said how to turn an old camera into a permanent IR camera, not look at my year long IR project. Douche.

  • JasonR

    No. it doesn’t have live view. Even if it did, It’s hard to see through a 720mm IR filter.

    It’s a great camera, but has 3 drawbacks when compared to modern models: can only go up to 800 ISO before massive noise, doesn’t meter with older/manual lenses, and no live view. That being said, if I can find a way to cut a cheap IR filter to size, I’m absolutely doing this to my old D80.

  • Dov

    Well its not ruining your re-purposing, even if you were to use a more expensive and newer camera like a D600 or a D7000 if you factor in cost of infrared film and processing not to mention scanning if your going to bring any of the images into the digital realm then the price is actually pretty reasonable if you amortize it over the time of any projects you may be doing in infrared.

    A friend of mine had a multi year project shooting some Alt kink scene cultures using infrared and just ball parking how much she spent this would have been a cheaper route.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I don’t leave my IR shots in color (I’m not a fan of the look), I convert mine to B&W. Pluck a couple off this page and desaturate them, they look much better!

  • Tyler Magee

    guess whose buying a D80

  • Alex Krylov

    For those who askink about it: this method works with livevew and autofocus as well. I’ve converted a few cameras myself, including Canon 1000D, point-and-shoot Olympus and Fuji 5700. I prefer the cokin p007 ir filter and of course the photo should be heavily postprocessed. Channel swapping for example.

    And for the artistic value, there are plenty of pretty good IRs around the internet. Search and see. The purpose of the article is to show the tech, the art you can do yourself.

  • Alex Krylov

    Sometimes it’s not only inconvenient but simply impossible. Fisheyes for instance.
    But if it is not an issue, yes, you can. Somebody even prefers to shoot in full spectrum without any filter. The view is even more surrealistic.

  • http://www.Azety.fr/ Azety

    Next step : try to do intresting photographys. Not selfies.

  • Steve Grob

    ^^^ This guy? (me too lol)

  • Ned Gerblansky

    Will this trick work on a D70? I’ve got one laying around.

  • Erik Christensen

    anyone tried IR with a D70?

  • Michele B

    Can it be possible this change on a D90?

  • Alex Van Black

    exactly, you need a very good lens that works for IR. I heard that the 18-55 is a good infrared lens

  • theart

    Two different issues here. One is that some lenses have major hot spot/vignette problems in IR. The second is that even if you lens works well for IR, longer wavelengths focus at a different distance. It’s why old manual focus lenses had IR compensation marks, so you could focus with visible light, put on the IR filter, then re-adjust the focus. Now, you might get lucky with a mod like this, because replacing the hot mirror with a piece of glass that’s not the same thickness and refractive index will also throw off the focus, and two wrongs might come close to making a right.