A while back, my friends at Singh-Ray filters asked me if I’d be willing to test a new infrared filter. Late last week, I got a sample copy of the new Singh-Ray I-Ray 700nm filter to test and review. Here are my findings.
Why should you choose an infrared filter?
First, let me start by asking why one would want to use an infrared filter instead of converting a digital camera to infrared. There are several reasons why you might want an infrared filter:
- You don’t have an extra camera lying around to convert to IR
- You don’t want to spend $275-$400 to convert a camera
- Filters are easy to pack when traveling, and work with all your cameras
- You have a full-spectrum or dual-spectrum camera which requires filters
Drawbacks of Infrared Filters
The biggest problem with infrared filters is that digital cameras block most infrared light. This feature is by design, to prevent “blooming” artifacts. This means that when you use an infrared filter, very little IR light reaches your sensor and you must use high ISOs coupled with extremely long exposure times (several minutes) to capture an image. Because IR filters are opaque to visible light, you have to compose and focus your shot without the filter. This can sometimes lead to focus problems, as IR light does not focus in exactly the same plane as visible light.
The Singh-Ray I-Ray 700 Filter
Singh-Ray has had a traditional IR filter, the original I-Ray, for quite some time. It has a cut-off wavelength of about 830nm, meaning no visible light gets through it. The new I-Ray 700 has a cut-off wavelength between 690-700nm, meaning it allows some visible light in the red part of the spectrum to pass through. In fact, when you hold the I-Ray 700 up to a bright light, you can see through it just a bit. The filter comes in a standard or thin ring-mount in a variety of filter thread sizes.
Because some visible light passes through the I-Ray 700, you’ll be able to focus your camera using Live View provided you are in bright conditions. I’ve also found that the focus point doesn’t change too much if you focus without the filter, eliminating one issue with traditional IR filters. Secondly, and possibly most importantly is that the exposure times are significantly reduced when using the I-Ray 700. Instead of a several minute long exposure, you can get shots in the 1-2 second range in bright sunlight at ISO 800. While you’ll still need a tripod, this makes using the I-Ray 700 much easier than traditional IR filters.
The I-Ray 700 is not without its drawbacks. First and foremost, it is not the same as using a traditional (720nm or 830nm) infrared filter. You’ll get images that allow some infrared light to create the exposure, but for the most part, the exposure is driven by the visible component of the spectrum. Foliage will not appear as bright as it is in images captured with a converted camera or with a higher wavelength IR filter. However, with the right conditions and appropriate processing, you can get a result that is far better than using faux-infrared processing on standard color images.
Because this filter is very red, you probably won’t be able to set a custom in-camera white balance. Instead, you’ll need to use a custom white-balance in post. If you use Adobe Lightroom or ACR, you can use the procedures I describe in my digital infrared processing tutorial.
Even though you won’t need minute-long exposures with the I-Ray 700, exposures are still on the order of several seconds. That means that you’ll a) need to use a tripod and b) risk subject motion blur. That isn’t always a bad thing; long exposures can be a fun creative technique. Nevertheless, the I-Ray 700 isn’t going to be ideal for infrared portraiture.
I made some comparison shots using my Fujifilm X-E1 (590nm conversion) and my Nikon D500 with and without the I-Ray 700 filter. Both of these cameras are APS-C format, and I used the same Nikon 24-120mm f/4 AFS G VR lens on them to eliminate differences in optics.
I’ll start with the out of the camera color images after correcting for white balance and exposure.
You can see from these images that the foliage isn’t as bright or as blue when using the I-Ray 700 filter (bottom) as it is with a converted camera (middle).
Most people convert their infrared images to monochrome. Here’s the same set of shots processed using Silver Efex Pro 2. In each case, I tried to maximize the “infrared look” of bright foliage and dark, contrasty skies.
In this scene, I was able to do a pretty good job of boosting the brightness in the foliage on the I-Ray 700 image (bottom). It’s not quite the same as the true infrared image (middle), but it’s certainly a big difference from the color image processed with faux-infrared settings. I found that the best results were when I was shooting front-lit foliage with the I-Ray 700 filter. In other scenes, I didn’t get the same pop.
One reason why people like using infrared conversions that include some visible light is that they allow you to perform channel-swapping and create a “blue-sky” effect. I sent my images into Photoshop, where I ran them through my channel-swap action.
Here, the difference between the true infrared camera (top) and the I-Ray 700 filter (bottom) are clear. The foliage appears greenish in the image captured with the I-Ray 700 filter. However, with enough Photoshop prowess, one could tinker with the color balance to get an interesting and creative result.
Tips for using the I-Ray 700 filter in the field
- Compose your shot without the filter, so you can see through the viewfinder
- Focus using live view, with the filter attached. You may need to focus manually, but this is the best way to get sharp shots. You won’t be able to compose your scene through the viewfinder. Alternatively, you can focus without the filter and still get sharp shots.
- Use +1.0 to +2.0 EV compensation
- If you need a shorter exposure, boost ISO to 640 or 800. That should put you in the 2-3 second range, depending on your aperture setting.
- Shoot RAW so that you can correct white balance in post. Chances are, you won’t be able to correct white balance on JPEGs.
- Enable long exposure noise reduction to minimize noise
Conclusions and Recommendation
For the photographer looking to explore the creative side of infrared photography without the expense and bulk of having to convert a dedicated camera body, the Singh-Ray I-Ray 700 is the ideal choice.
Because it lets some visible light pass through it, you can use Live View focusing with most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras. Exposures are long enough to require a tripod, but not so long as to make you wait minutes and deal with long exposure noise. Because you won’t be able to set a custom white balance with this filter, I recommend shooting in RAW and correcting white balance in post. If you use Adobe Lightroom, you’ll need to create a custom camera profile for this filter in order to get the white balance anywhere near correct. While the images from the I-Ray 700 won’t match those from a converted camera, they are still quite compelling and offer photographers a unique creative outlet in an easy to pack solution. For photographers with a full-spectrum or dual-spectrum converted camera, the I-Ray 700 offers you the opportunity to shoot “super color” infrared images.
The Singh-Ray I-Ray 700 filter is available from Singh-Ray Filters, here. Or, simply order by phone at 800-486-5501.
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