The Image Doctors #230

Do you need a backup camera?

This week, we took a field trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens to do some infrared photography, and then we’ll discuss the need for having a backup camera. Do you need one, and if so, what’s the best backup option for you?

Support The Image Doctors Podcast

Become a show patron at imagedoctorsphoto.com

The Image Doctors #229

It’s Infrared Photo Season!

The leaves are popping and that means it’s time for infrared photography season to kick into high gear. We both enjoy infrared photography, and our editing workflow continues to evolve. We’ll share some tips on how to get the best infrared shots. We’ll also revisit the topic of Camera Profiles in ACR/Lightroom, and talk about how using them can really work magic with certain shots.

Support The Image Doctors Podcast

Become a show patron at imagedoctorsphoto.com

Infrared Photography with Micro 4/3rds Cameras

Surprising results from a tiny system

Late last year, I decided to shop around for a micro 4/3rds mirrorless camera to convert to infrared. Mostly, I wanted to have a camera that was compatible with my OM System OM-1 kit, as it has become my primary camera body. Carrying two systems while traveling is a pain, especially when one of them uses large lenses. My full-spectrum infrared Nikon Z6 is excellent, but the size of the body and compatible lenses makes it prohibitive to pack as a second system for my photography workshops. I like to have a compact infrared camera for traveling, preferably one that I can use with lenses that are either already in my bag or that take up little space.

Infrared Body: Olympus OM-D E-M5ii

After shopping around and consulting my colleagues, I settled on purchasing a second-hand Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark 2 body. While not packed with the features of the newer cameras, it still sports 16 megapixels, has excellent IBIS, and face/eye detection AF. That’s more than I need for my style of infrared photography. The E-M5 is solidly built, has easy to use controls, and IMO happens to look beautiful in silver. Another benefit of the E-M5 is that it uses the older contrast-detection AF system, which isn’t susceptible to the banding artifacts that you can sometimes see with newer mirrorless cameras. I had the camera converted to full-spectrum infrared by Kolari Vision.

Choosing Micro 4/3 Lenses for Infrared Photography

The real test of an infrared camera system isn’t the body, it’s the lenses. You can convert just about any camera to infrared, but if the lenses you use create hotspots, it’s futile. Hotspots are the bane of every infrared photographer, and mitigating them usually requires shooting wide-open and attempting to fix them in post; something that isn’t always easy. A potential advantage of the small M4/3 sensor is that it produces 2x the apparent depth of field as compared to 35mm full-frame. That means, I can shoot an f/4 lens wide-open and have the same DOF as using f/8 on a FF body. Many lenses start to show hotspots at f/8 or higher, so this was something I was curious to see.

Wide-angle lenses are typically the problematic for infrared photography, as much of their power comes from optical coatings that simply aren’t designed for infrared wavelengths. The result can be images with extreme corner shading, and very soft (or even mushy) corner sharpness. My first infrared camera was a Nikon 1 V1, and its 10-30mm zoom lens was so bad at the wide end that it looked like someone had smeared a ring of petroleum jelly on the lens (the lens was fine with visible light).

I’ve tested a large range of Nikon lenses with infrared, and I have now done the same with OM System/Olympus Micro 4/3 lenses. I found a few articles discussing Olympus lens performance with infrared, and some of those lenses are available on the used market at extremely reasonable prices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the newer “Pro” lenses fared worse in my testing than some of the older designs (probably due to differences in coatings). In the end I settled on a trio of Micro 4/3rds lenses that are absolutely great for digital infrared photography:

  • Olympus 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6 ED MSC: This wide-angle zoom lens is a nearly perfect performer, even when stopped down past f/8. This lens performed better than any of the wide-angle Nikon Z lenses I tested, and offers an 18-36mm FF equivalent range. It uses 52mm front filters, which are modestly priced. This lens is the most expensive of the three I list here, but you can find them used for around $225.
  • Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ power zoom: This is my go-to lens for infrared photography with Micro 4/3 format cameras, as it delivers the 35mm equivalent of a 28-84mm lens. It is absolutely tiny due to its collapsible design, and it is so compact that it can just stay on the camera without taking up additional space. It performs extremely well in infrared up until about f/8, which is well past the normal aperture range I usually need. It uses 37mm front filters, which are fairly inexpensive. If you had only one lens for Micro 4/3 infrared photography, this is the one to get. It’s also available on the used market for under $200.
  • Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6R: While I don’t shoot a lot of telephoto shots in infrared, this lens is tiny, lightweight, and nearly perfect across the range. It offers an equivalent angle of view to an 80-300mm lens on 35mm format, and is remarkably good. Even better, you can find this lens in excellent condition for under $100 (I got mine for $75).

There are many other Micro 4/3rds lenses that perform well with infrared, including many of the small primes, and the 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. The result is that I have lots of choices for infrared photography with the Micro 4/3 system, and many of the lenses are tiny.

Despite the excellent performance of the OM System Micro 4/3 lenses I tested in infrared, there is one major difference between the M4/3 kit and my Nikon Z6. Unlike with my Nikon I was unable to get a set of clip-in (rear-mounted) filters to use with my E-M5 Mark II body. That means I have to use front filters when using my full-spectrum converted Olympus camera. If you have a fixed conversion, this isn’t an issue, but I like having the option of using a variety of filters, including the Kolari IR Chrome filter. While clip-in filters are a little clumsier to change in the field, they allow you to use any lens with your infrared camera, regardless of filter thread.

Because each of the lenses in my arsenal has a different filter size, my solution was to purchase a set of 58mm filters to use across all three of my primary lenses. I use step rings to mount the filters to the wide-angle and standard zooms. I keep the step rings on the lenses, and I picked up some inexpensive 58mm lens caps to use with them. Fortunately, the 58mm filters aren’t particularly expensive, and they aren’t awkward to use with the lenses in my kit. You can also adapt them to fit the small primes with 46-58mm step up ring.

Pros and Cons of a Micro 4/3 System for Infrared

In a perfect world, I’d love a one-lens infrared solution in the 24-200mm range, but the Olympus/OM System and Nikon Z lenses in that range both produce unacceptable hotspots. Nevertheless, for my style of shooting, I find using a Micro 4/3 camera for infrared to be extremely pleasant. The small form-factor of the body and lenses makes using it as a second body extremely simple. The lens performance is excellent, too, and there are focal length options that allow me far more choices than I had with my Nikon Z infrared kit. For example, I can use the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens and 60mm f/2.8 macro lens with my Olympus infrared camera, but their Nikon counterparts produced unacceptable hotspots. Moreover, adding one of the M4/3 primes to my kit is painless, as they take up very little space in my bag.

Benefits of Micro 4/3 Infrared Cameras
  • Small form-factor of cameras and lenses
  • Availability of lenses on the used market at extremely discounted prices
  • 2x effective depth of field makes it easier to avoid hotspots by shooting wide-open
  • Older cameras with contrast-detect AF avoid banding artifacts
Drawbacks of Micro 4/3 Infrared Cameras
  • Requires the use of front-filters and step-rings*
  • Higher-ed PRO lenses (like the 12-45mm f/4) produce hotspots, especially on the wide-end
  • Fewer megapixels than larger format systems
  • Older cameras don’t offer subject-detection autofocus options

*I’ve recently been made aware of a company that produces clip-in infrared filters for M 4/3. I hope to test them soon.

The Image Doctors #228

Our Workflow for High ISO Images

Newer digital cameras do an excellent job with handling noise at higher ISOs, but they are not noise-free. When you shoot action like sports or wildlife, especially if you’re not using fast (read: expensive) lenses, you can easily find yourself shooting well over ISO 6400. The good news is that modern AI-based software tools for noise reduction can handle these shots and deliver results that look like you were shooting at low ISOs!

This week, we’ll share our fundamental workflow for high-ISO photos, and we’ll be doing a demonstration for our show sponsors in an upcoming bonus video.

POTD: Oh, baby!

This great egret chick isn’t ready to leave the nest, but it was curious about all the photographers surrounding it at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, FL. I just got back from my Florida Birding Workshop, where we spent four days working to get the best possible camera and processing settings for bird photography. I still have openings to join me in the field this summer and fall!