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Choosing a Camera for Infrared Photography

Choosing a Camera

The first step in choosing a camera for infrared photography is deciding what type of camera is best for you. There are three major varieties of digital cameras, point and shoots (pocket and fixed lens type), DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras. Recently some manufacturers have started making fixed lens cameras with APS-C or similar size sensors, such as the Sony R1, Fujifilm X100, Sigma DP1, and Canon G1X. In this discussion they will be included in the same group as mirrorless cameras, because they have the same benefits except with a fixed lens.

You can scroll to the bottom for a concise summary.

The Point and Shoot

The point and shoot camera is a great starting point for infrared photography. They are small and cheap, a perfect secondary camera for someone starting out with infrared photography, or who will only shoot infrared photos occasionally. They are ideal for keeping in a pocket or along a bigger camera in an equipment bag.

The Pros:

With an infrared converted point and shoot, the camera will have accurate autofocus through the entire zoom range of the lens. Since the camera uses just one sensor, it will expose properly, every time. You can also preview the way the scene will look directly in infrared on the viewfinder. Another benefit is that adding another infrared filter in front of the lens still allows you to compose, focus, and get proper exposures, even if the filter is visually opaque.

The Cons:

The biggest downside to a point and shoot camera is their small sensor, and with it smaller pixels. These small pixels have higher noise levels and smaller maximum true resultion. Infrared photography can have increased noise, which will be more evident with a point and shoot. Below is a 100% crop from a point and shoot left (Lumix FH20) and a DSLR right (Nikon D40x). Both were taken at base ISO in bright sunlight.

Another issue with point and shoots is the resolution. While manufacturers advertise a larger megapixel count, it is important to understand that this is only a measure of the total pixels, not the resolution. At the size pixels need to be to fit on a tiny sensor, they are smaller than the photons available. There are only so many light photons that can fit per sensor area, giving a limit on resolution possible, regardless of number of pixels there to record the information. That site also provides the true resolution for many camera models so you can get an idea of what resolution you will actually get.

So, why is this important for infrared photography? Infrared light has a longer wavelength than visible light, so the amount of infrared information available is even less per a given area. In some compact cameras, this will result in a slight decrease in real resolution when shooting infrared. The cameras that will have this effect are those that already have a smaller true resolution than the advertised MP rating, otherwise the pixels will likely be big enough to accommodate the larger size of IR light.

Point and shoot sensors can also have reduced color sensitivity for infrared digital photography compared to larger sensor cameras.

Many do not come with filter threads to mount external filters, requiring adapters to do so.


DSLRs can produce very good infrared images and converting a DSLR can be a very good way to bring new life into an old camera.

The Pros:

DSLRs produce very high quality infrared images. They do not have the resolution or noise issues of point and shoots and can be used for very vivid color infrared photography. They offer the flexibility of using multiple lenses and more manual control options.

The Cons:

While image quality is better, they have their own set of problems for infrared photography that stem from using a separate sensor for auto-focus and exposure, and imaging. Glass will bend different wavelengths of light different amounts, so consequently when shooting in the infrared wavelengths lenses will exhibit a focus shift. For a camera to auto-focus properly in infrared , we use replacement glass filters with a thickness to compensate for the infrared focus shift. While this works very well for point and shoots and mirrorless cameras, it does not work for all lenses in an IR converted DSLR. The reason for this is that because different lenses use different numbers of glass elements and different types of glass, they will not all have the same degree of focus shift between visible and infrared light. Since DSLRs focus with a different sensor than the imaging sensor (which still focuses to visible light after a conversion) the camera has no way to compensate for a lens with an irregular IR focus shift. Using this lens would then require stepping up the aperture, manual focusing, or having the camera calibrated for that lenses focus shift.

DSLRs additionally use this secondary sensor for exposure controls. The 720nm filter usually requires an exposure consistent with visible light, and provides properly exposed images. Sometimes, particularly with other filters, the visible and infrared light in a scene isn’t the same, and an exposure value (EV) has to be dialed in to compensate.

Yet another problem with infrared photography is using an opaque filter on the lens. This prevents the use of the viewfinder and causes problems with auto exposure and autofocus, which all utilize visible light.

If the DSLR has live view however, all of these problems can be avoided. When using live view, the camera uses the imaging sensor for autofocus, exposure, and preview, resulting in flawless infrared photography performance.

The Mirrorless Camera

Mirrorless cameras like the Micro 4/3 system or Sony A7 system combine the best features of point and shoots and DSLRs for infrared. Very large sensor point and shoots share these same benefits.

The Pros:

The camera will autofocus and expose pictures accurately. External IR filters can be used on the lens without affecting any of these features. Additionally, these cameras use a large sensor which do not have the noise or resolution problems that some point and shoots have.

The Cons:

One of the drawbacks of these systems are in the fact that they are new formats, and have less lenses that work natively with them. Certain models also do not have sensors that are quite as large as DSLRs, and may also not have as good color performance as DSLRs.


Point and Shoot DSLR Mirrorless
Autofocus Issues? No Some lenses (when not using Live View) No
Exposure Issues? No Occasionally (when not using Live View) No
Noise Performance Can be poor Good Good
Reduced True Resolution? Sometimes No No
Can use external IR filters easily? Yes, if they can be mounted No (unless using Live View) Yes
Color IR performance? Poor to Very Good Good to Very Good Good to Very Good
Physical size Small-medium Large Medium
Price Low-medium Medium-High Medium-High

Related articles:

DSLR and Compacts Color Performance, Choosing a filter, When to go Full Spectrum, CDHK

12 Responses

  1. I’m a pro architectural shooter and I want to offer IR exterior shots to my clients. I currently use an unaltered Sony 828 with a ND 8 and IR 850. I also own a 720 IR filter. Results are okay, but not top notch. I want to raise the bar. I have an old Nikon D-70 and a Lumix FZ-200 which I don’t use any more. Are they good candidates? If you have some ideas about what architectural and landscape shooters are using, I’d like a recommendation. I can probably buy a used Nikon D-80, D-90, D-200, or other prosumer body. I cannot afford a high end converted body, nor do I want to switch systems to Sony or Canon because I have so many Nikon lenses. Thank you in advance for your great information!!!! P.S. I teach at 2 local colleges and occasionally do workshops for Nikon School in Europe. I get a lot of questions about IR, so I’m interested in getting educated about it.

  2. Thank you for the information on choosing a camera, here and on other pages .
    I wanted to convert a Nikon D7100, but I won’t use that camera, now. Yours is the only conversion site that fully explains the white balance issue with that camera. I don’t shoot raw and don’t use Photoshop. I just don’t want to spend a lot of time on the computer, processing images. The Gimp tutorial was good.

  3. I want to start doing infrared. I am thinking of using a NIkon D8000e for conversion and wonder if that is a good choice. Also want to do astral conversion for D810a but am curious if the firmware for the d810a can be obtained from Nikon and loaded onto the D810 so I dont have mess with the white balance.

  4. I have a Canon EOS-40D that I am considering having converted for infrared use. My primary lens for this would be a Canon 17-40. I have a couple of questions. When converted will I need an external IR filter? IF so will I be able to see through the finder to frame and focus? If an internal filter will I need to do any exposure adjustments? And overall what are your thoughts on using this camera for IR conversion.

    1. Hi Kelly,

      IF you convert your camera to infrared, you will be able to use the 17-40 without the need for an external filter. You will be able to use the viewfinder, and the autofocus system will work.

      In my experience, the internal exposure system tends to work fairly well when shooting in daylight, incandescent light, and speedlights. Those are all “black body” sources that put out about as much IR as they do visible light. LED’s and other narrow-band sources will often produce incorrect exposure.

      Note that with a DSLR, the viewfinder will show you visible light instead of the IR image actually being recorded. To see the IR photo, you need to use live-view.

      A mirrorless camera will allow you to do a full-spectrum conversion. You can use lens filters to change the kind of IR you shoot. With a DSLR, it’s often best to choose an IR filter for the conversion.

      I hope this helps!

  5. This is a very helpful site! I want to convert either a Nikon D5600 using a 16-85 lens that has been recommended or a Nikon D610 (not sure what everyday lens would be best with this one). I would either convert to 720nm or 850nm. Do you have any suggestions on the best choice?
    Thank you

  6. Please note the mirrorless Sigma sd Quattro and sd Quattro H cameras have a removable “dust protector” filter just behind the lens mount. This is an IR blocking filter. To enable the camera for full spectrum use, it is only necessary to remove this filter. It is fragile, but removable, so you can go back to normal photography simply by re-installing this filter. No need for special IR conversion or full spectrum conversion.
    Older Sigma DSLRs also have a removable “dust protector” filter. They also convert easily to full spectrum.

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