In my previous post, I mentioned that I selected a “Super Color” conversion for my Nikon 1 V1 camera. Today, I’ll dive a little deeper into my rationale for this conversion and provide some examples for why I think it was a good choice for what I do. Considering that most infrared conversions cost between $250-$325, you want to be sure you’re making a choice that you’ll be happy with. Your choice of conversion will determine what look or looks you’ll be able to get with your camera.
I based my rationale for choosing a “super color” conversion, which allows some visible light to reach the sensor, on two key points. First, I like the creative options afforded to me by having some color information. Second, I own Photoshop and Silver Efex Pro 2, and I’m fairly proficient with those products. Had I not owned those two programs, I may have chosen a different conversion style (likely standard IR).
Comparing Conversions: Super Color vs. Traditional IR
I wanted to compare my super-color camera with a more traditional conversion. Unfortunately, I only have the one camera. However, if you have a camera that lets visible light in, you can use a traditional IR filter to block the visible wavelengths. I did my comparison shots with the super-color camera with and without a Singh-Ray “I-Ray” filter. The I-Ray filter blocks nearly all visible light, and only lets IR wavelengths pass. By using the filter, I was able to convert my super-color camera into an IR-only one.
Here are two shots of the same scene, one in super-color, and one in IR only. Both RAW files were processed in Lightroom 5 using custom camera profiles to deal with IR white balance.
As you can easily see in the above images, the super-color image has both orange and cyan tones, while the image captured using the IR filter is pretty much monochrome (blue).
After performing a white-balance adjustment on the two images, I got the following results:
At this point, the super-color image has a distinct blue/orange look, while the image captured with the IR filter is practically black and white. In fact, it looks a lot like the kind of image you’d get with an 830nm (deep black) conversion. If you simply convert to black and white in Lightroom from this step, you get this:
Without any further adjustment, you can see how it’s very easy to get the rich black skies and dramatic clouds from the IR-filter. I didn’t make any additional adjustments on the sample images, but that’s something that I’d do if I were processing these files to completion in Lightroom.
Silver Efex Pro 2
When it comes to monochrome, I don’t usually limit myself to Lightroom’s onboard tools. I use Silver Efex Pro 2. With Silver Efex Pro 2, I’ve found a distinct advantage with super-color infrared files. That’s because SEP2 uses the color information in the original image to adjust tones and contrast. Images that lack color data are harder to adjust in Silver Efex Pro 2 than ones with some color. Moreover, the presence of color data makes using Control Points possible for local selections in Silver Efex Pro 2. I ran both images through Silver Efex Pro 2, and got the following result:
Both images have the deep black sky, but you can see that the foliage is actually brighter in the Super-Color image. This is because I was able to use the blue filter in SEP2 to brighten blue tones and darken reds/yellows. I was also able to use the Color Sensitivity Sliders in SEP2 to further adjust contrast. Both images benefitted from Structure adjustments. I should point out that I think both images look good, but from a processing standpoint, I have more control over the final look with the Super-Color IR image.
Conclusions on Monochrome Processing
Both Super-Color and Standard IR images look great in monochrome. If you know your war around RAW editing and also have Silver Efex Pro 2, you can actually get more creative control over the monochrome image from the Super-Color starting point. The traditional or deep-black IR conversions are much easier to work with if you don’t have Silver Efex Pro 2, as even a straight monochrome conversion looks pretty good with only minor tweaks.
Color Infrared Processing
Of course, the main reason to consider a Super-Color IR conversion is that you can get color images. Obviously, these images will require processing to look their best. In addition, there are certain looks that require additional software (outside of your RAW converter) to achieve.
Traditional Color IR
Here’s a Super-Color IR image that worked out just fine for me with only minor adjustments. The camera was able to capture the yellow flower petals, and I enhanced contrast and color slightly.
Advanced Techniques: Channel Swapping
Let’s go back to my original landscape image that I captured with both Super-Color and Enhanced IR (via filter). If you have Adobe Photoshop (pretty much any version will do), then you can do something called a red-blue channel swap. Channel-swapping isn’t possible in most RAW converters, including Lightroom and Aperture. If you do the channel-swap and then adjust hue, you can get a blue sky effect. Foliage becomes yellow or orange, depending on how you adjust the hue settings.
For me, the Super-Color IR conversion was the best choice. It allows me to create everything from color to monochrome images and offers a tremendous degree of creative latitude. However, this creative latitude comes at the expense of simplicity. In order to gain the creative control I enjoy, I need to have additional software (Photoshop and Silver Efex Pro 2), and understand the workflow implications of those products (TIFF or PSD files). For converting infrared images to monochrome directly from your RAW converter, you might have an easier time with a standard or deep black conversion. If you have the other software products and are willing to take the time to learn them, I find you can have the best of both worlds with a Super-Color IR camera. One other thing to consider: with the super-color conversion you can still use an IR filter to effectively transform your Super-Color IR camera into an IR-only one.