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Converting a camera to IR: What to consider

Nikon D70

 
Converting a camera to IR or full spectrum is exhausting, but also very satisfying. I like making something new out of something old and giving it my own touch.

I’ve learned a few things and also had to pay some lesson money. Here are some conclusions from the Nikon D70 project. I will probably go into more detail on some of them in future posts.

Time, patience, a steady hand and above all a tidy, clean workplace are essential for the project.

I followed this guide from Life Pixel (link).

 
1. on the subject of unscrewing the camera housing: find a suitable screwdriver, otherwise the screws will be mangled, making the whole thing an extremely time-consuming and nerve-wracking procedure. Put the loosened screws in a safe place and remember which one came from where, because they have different lengths.

2. the most tedious part of converting the Nikon D70 to IR was the two ribbon cables that you have to remove in order to take off the LCD panel and get to the sensor board. If the camera doesn’t work after reassembly, a card error is displayed, or the display goes haywire, it’s probably due to mishandling of these delicate cables, which can snap fairly quickly. The tricky part is getting them back into their holders properly during reassembly. The key here is to be patient and not panic. Steady. A toothpick or otherwise a thin, soft (!) tool can help “thread” the cables into their holders, which give little slack.

3. removing the IR cut filter is rather easy, but please take care that it doesn’t fall on the sensor and damage it when removing it (it needs some pressure with your fingernails to make it pop out). So it is best to turn it upside down so that it simply falls to the floor (or onto the table) guided by gravity.

4. be sure to test the camera before you put all the screws back in when reassembling. Quickly put in the battery and memory card, see if the display works, and make sure it can take photos and save them. If it doesn’t (which is likely at first), check the ribbon cables. See if they are inserted all the way.

5. concerning dust on the sensor. These nasty little spots can be a real pain. And since IR/false color photography often has focus problems, you have to shoot at a large f-stop (11 and up) with most lenses, which means the annoying spots become even more visible. Of course, since you’re exposing the sensor when you’re converting a camera to IR, a lot of dust can get on it. First of all, make sure that the environment is relatively wind-free and dust-free. Secondly, it is advisable to have the following three utensils ready: A rubber bellows (you can also get it in the pharmacy) to “blow” the sensor, a kit with special wiping sticks (link) to free the sensor from particularly stubborn particles. At first, just try with the bellows: flip up the mirror, hold the camera upside down and blow into it, wait a bit. If it still has dust, run the vacuum cleaner and hold the suction tube under the camera while blowing in with the bellows. Be careful: don’t vacuum too close, don’t vacuum too hard. If that’s still not enough, then gently run the wiping sticks over the sensor. Always use only once, then throw away. Repeat the procedure if necessary and combine until the images come out clean.

6. converting a camera to IR is one thing, the restoration, so that the camera feels good, is another. Especially the Nikon D70 is known for the fact that after some time material comes off the handle and the whole thing becomes sticky. Here’s what has worked for me: Grab a bottle of vodka or something else neutral high-proof alcoholic, a rag and a kitchen sponge and get to work. Wet the rag with some vodka and run it over the sticky areas. Follow up with a proper rub down with the kitchen sponge. Then wipe again with the vodka cloth. Repeat several times until the stickiness disappears. In the end, clean everything with a damp (water) rag, and generally be careful not to use too much liquid and avoid holes and cracks et cetera as much as possible.

 
As you can see, professionally converting a camera to IR is not that easy. But if in the end everything fits and you have an IR/full spectrum camera in your hands that works, takes clean pictures and feels good, that is very satisfying.

By the way, the pictures above were taken with the converted Nikon D70 (with standard lens 18-70mm). With Aerochrome look (link).

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