Tag Archives: infrared photography

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.

Ultimate Infrared with Lightroom

Skip Photoshop and Process Your Raw Digital Infrared Images Directly in Adobe Lightroom

With my custom profiles (included in this class), you’ll be able to perform channel-swapping on raw infrared photos without using Photoshop!

What if I told you that the limitations of Adobe Lightroom for processing digital infrared images could be completely removed, allowing you to make all of your creative adjustments to infrared raw files without having to resort to OEM software and Photoshop?

Well, over the last two years, I’ve developed a set of custom profiles and presets that allow me to do just that. I’m now able to process infrared images from my full-spectrum camera directly in Lightroom. Whether it’s the muted look from 720nm infrared, or the bold colors of a channel-swapped 590nm filter, I can do it all without going to Photoshop.

Join me on Zoom Thursday, April 11th 6-8pm US Eastern Time where I’ll be teaching this approach to processing infrared photos

Topics Include

  • Fundamental processing workflow for editing infrared raw photos in ACR/Lr
  • How to set proper white balance in Lightroom with a custom camera profile
  • Performing channel-swapping on color IR images directly in Lightroom (blue sky effect)
  • Creating 1-click presets for all types of infrared photos
  • 720nm infrared looks
  • 665 and 590nm color infrared processing
  • Monochrome conversion from color infrared photos
  • Creating glow effects in Lightroom
  • Using Masking tools to enhance infrared photos
  • Fixing problems like banding, hotspots, and vignetting

Bonus content included with this class

  • Preset for creating infrared DCP camera profiles using Adobe’s DNG Profile Editor software
  • My special channel-swapping profile for ACR/Lightroom to use with infrared photos
  • My ACR/Lr presets for enhancing infrared photos

Optional: I’ll create a custom set of ACR/Lightroom profiles for your infrared camera

If creating profiles and presets sounds like something you’d rather not attempt, you can choose the option to let me build you a custom set of infrared profiles and presets for your camera (one wavelength). You can then install them directly and use them right away without any trial and error.

Register Now

The Badlands in a Different Light

Infrared Photo Safari June 2-5, 2024

Photograph the Badlands and more with me during an immersive infrared workshop, June 2-5 2024

Calling all infrared photography enthusiasts! Enhance your skills and take your photography to new creative heights with me in South Dakota. During this workshop, we will delve into the mesmerizing world of infrared photography. Learn how to capture stunning and otherworldly images by harnessing the power of invisible light. I will guide you through the process, providing hands-on training and sharing invaluable tips and techniques.

But that’s not all! In addition to the photography aspect, we will also cover two essential software tools for every photographer’s toolkit – Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic. Discover how to enhance your infrared images and make them truly stand out with these industry-leading editing programs. From adjusting the tones and colors to creating eye-catching effects, you’ll gain the skills needed to transform your images from ordinary to extraordinary.

This workshop promises to be an engaging and interactive experience. Not only will you have the opportunity to learn and improve your photography skills, but you’ll also have the chance to network and connect with like-minded individuals who share your passion for capturing and creating stunning visuals. The casual and friendly atmosphere encourages open discussion and fosters a sense of camaraderie among attendees. Bring your questions, ideas, and curiosity, as this workshop is intended to be a collaborative and supportive environment.

Don’t miss this chance to expand your photographic horizons and explore the captivating world of infrared photography. Reserve your spot today and join me in Wall, South Dakota for a memorable training, workshop, and networking experience that will leave you inspired and ready to push the boundaries of your creativity!

Register before Feb 15, 2024 and save $100 off the workshop fee.

The Image Doctors #178

Is a Full-Spectrum Infrared Camera Right for You?

This week, we’re back from our travels and we’re discussing full-spectrum infrared conversions. A full-spectrum conversion allows you to use your camera across a variety of infrared wavelengths, plus as a standard visible-light camera. There are pros and cons of these conversions, but we are very happy with our recent full-spectrum conversions by Kolari Vision.

Infrared Photography From Start to Finish

Master Class in Tucson, AZ Feb 23-26, 2023

Master the art of digital infrared photography with Jason Odell & Rick Walker Feb 23-26 in Tucson, AZ

Join me and Rick Walker in Tucson, Arizona for an infrared photography master class that goes far beyond the basics and teaches you the skills to truly master infrared processing. This workshop includes field photography sessions in the Tucson area, where we will photograph subjects that are ideal for infrared capture, plus in-depth classroom time to learn how to work with digital infrared images.

Learn how to create channel-swapped, and “blue sky” infrared images directly in Lightroom Classic on your digital raw files!

Rick and I have spent the last year developing a unique processing workflow for infrared digital images using only Adobe Lightroom Classic and, to a lesser extent, Adobe Photoshop. In this class, you’ll learn our secrets for processing raw infrared images exclusively in Lightroom/ACR, including channel-swapping and color infrared.

What You’ll Learn

  • How to set up ACR/Lightroom with a custom camera preset for your own infrared converted camera
  • How to adjust white balance on digital infrared images using ACR/Lightroom Classic
  • How to adjust infrared images from cameras with different spectra (590-720nm)
  • How to correct hot-spots in infrared images
  • How to perform channel-swapping directly in ACR/Lr
  • How to create the “blue-sky” effect on raw digital infrared images directly in ACR/Lr
  • How to create dramatic monochrome infrared images in Lightroom and using Silver Efex Pro (Nik Collection by DXO).
  • How to fix common artifacts including banding and noise
  • How to create unique creative infrared styles using plug-in software

What’s Included

  • Field and classroom instruction with a student-teacher ratio not to exceed 5:1
  • Custom camera profile for processing infrared images in ACR/Lr that is specific to your personal camera that includes our unique channel-swapping settings
  • Custom ACR/Lr presets
  • Custom Photoshop actions

Workshop Itinerary

Required Materials

  • Infrared-converted digital camera (We recommend a converted camera from LifePixel or Kolari Vision)
  • Laptop computer
  • Current (2022 or later) versions of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic installed
  • Nik Collection plug-ins by DXO (you can use a trial version if desired)
  • You are expected to have a fundamental understanding of editing raw photos in ACR/Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop.

Register by Nov. 1, 2022 and save $100 off your instructional fee.