Project: Creating a multispectral camera

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Those of you who also follow the site’s Facebook page will have noticed some images posted of late by a mystery camera, one un-purchaseable, and un-available to the general public. (And no, it’s not the new Leica M 240 or a Hasselblad Lunar.) You’ve oohed and ahh’d at the tonality, and wondered why the output was solely monochromatic. Several people speculated that it might even be from a Phase One Achromatic medium format back! The camera is in fact a Sony NEX-5, with the kit lens. The images you saw were almost un-processed; just shot RAW and desaturated.

Sometimes, I get donated photography-related things by generous readers. One of the more generous things I’ve received was this cameras: mint, almost-new-in-the-box and hardly used. Originally, the donor suggested I run a competition to give it away; though a generous offer, I’m pretty sure the camera wouldn’t interest too many of my readers – being nearly three years old and all. So, I hatched a plan: why not make it into something a little more interesting? I’ve been paying a lot of attention to black and white tonality both in the past, and of late in conjunction with my serious re-exploration of film; there’s something about the way film responds that gives it wonderful quarter and three-quarter tones. The look is achievable in digital, but it requires a lot of post processing simply because sensors do not natively respond to light in that fashion.

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The why

In fact, almost all sensors are optimised for accuracy of colour reproduction in the visible spectrum; this is a quantitative, tangible thing that can be done through measurement and iteration. It’s fairly consistent: accurate colour is the way most of us perceive things, to within the limits of our output media. Black and white, on the other hand, is hugely subjective: some people like mega grain and huge contrast with no midtones, others won’t settle for anything less than an over-HDR’ed mess that’s all mid tone and not much else. Personally, I’m a big fan of Ansel; it’s just that it requires a lot of work and careful exposure to achieve. But what if you could have a camera that made wonderful B&W images without much work, and better yet, had a bit more sharpness and sensitivity to boot?

Returning once again to the rationale for me shooting film – more upfront thinking, less work, something in the tones – I decided to see if such tonality was really possible natively out of a digital camera. I recall the Leica M8 creating raw files which were excellent candidates for B&W conversion because of their luminous quarter tones – this was thanks to the camera’s weak native IR filtration. These files too required some work, but not as much as heavily-filtered cameras. I wondered if there was something of a nugget here. Not only would you get more luminous blacks, you’d probably get a bit of a sensitivity boost, too – given that the sensor would be seeing light in UV, IR and the visible spectra.

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The how

Infrared, and to a lesser extent, ultraviolet, photography have been done for some time. There are companies out there which offer (not cheap!) conversions to either or both; there are even companies which offer services removing the anti-aliasing filter – though oddly, not both. But to create what I envisioned as the ultimate black and white camera*, all of this would have to go: no UV or IR filters, no AA filter. Just bare naked sensor. After several days of monkeying around with dozens of tiny ribbon connectors, and breaking one (caveat: the camera of course still works, but that connector will never be able to be opened/ released again) and nerve-wracking moments with various sharp implements, I’m pleased to report that this particular Sony NEX-5 has no filtration at all in front of the sensor, except for the Bayer filter, which is part of the sensor itself and thus cannot be removed. It’s about as close as you’re going to get to bare silicon – in fact, what you see when you take the lens off is the bare silicon of the sensor surface. Note that silicon is a very hard material – it’s used in portions of mechanical watches that require extreme precision and zero lubrication, and move/ interact against other parts at 8Hz or higher (the escapement) – but I still wouldn’t recommend touching it. This sensor has been properly cleaned, but may have a small dust bunny or two on it from swapping lenses. Use a blower.

*I admit I was disappointed when I learned that the Leica M-Monochrom retained its UV and IR filtration, but it turns out that decision actually makes a lot of sense, as does the 50/2 APO-Summicron – I’ll explain why later.

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What you don’t see in this shot are the hundreds of little screws, connectors and oddly-shaped parts that somehow go mesh together neatly to hold things in.

The NEX-5 is a very densely packed camera indeed; there isn’t a single cubic centimetre of free internal space for any additional components. For the most part, it’s quite well designed, and there are even some bits that are quite over-engineered. Some of the connectors are incredibly tiny indeed; I wonder how long it takes them to assemble one of these things. The first time I took it apart, it was a very cautious three hours – about an hour for reassembly. By the third time**, we were down to fifteen minutes in-and-out. The machining tolerances for this thing must be extremely tight indeed: not only are there no shims in the mount, but there are only (thankfully) three very small washers between the sensor board and the main frame of the camera itself, which is magnesium. The lens mount bolts directly to the other side of this – it doesn’t really get a lot more rigid.

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UVIR and AA filter pack, removed. Also, damaged – they used some insane glue to stick it to the sensor frame.

**The reason why it took three tries at all was because the camera didn’t work after the first one; it turns out I forgot a very small ribbon cable that got trapped under the main board which controlled the shutter timing. The third time was to do with focusing: the rather thick (nearly 1.5mm) filter pack was glued to the sensor heat sink frame with some very tenacious adhesive. What I didn’t realise was that this component was part of the optical formula of the system, and the lenses do not have enough additional focus travel to deal with the missing bit of glass; as a result, it was impossible to achieve infinity focus. The solution was to move the sensor closer to the mount; and here I’m thankful that there were those three little washers between sensor and internal frame, because if there wasn’t, then we’d have a serious problem – the Sony engineers did not provision a way to reposition the sensor (they must have been pretty confident of alignment and machining tolerances). Curiously, those washers were precisely the optical thickness of the filter pack (it’s almost as though they intended for something like this to be done), and the camera now focuses to infinity with all lenses.

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Results, notes and cautions

I’m going to be blunt here: the camera doesn’t hit full marks across the board. From a tonal viewpoint, the results are fantastic – just shoot raw and desaturate, and that’s all you have to do for almost every situation. All of the images in this post have had almost no work done on them at all – just desaturate. They came out of the camera 99% there, with this wonderfully filmic quality – even at high ISO. Is the more dynamic range? Not really. Skin tones are smooth yet delicately textured; deep shadows have that glow thanks to IR reflectance; and the detail is definitely better than a standard camera – I owned one for several months, and never saw this degree of sharpness. I wouldn’t use JPEG though, simply because it doesn’t retain as much information as the RAWs, and this will certainly affect tonal subtlety and resolution, to a lesser extent.

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Yet where the camera falls down is also resolution: it’s not because of the sensor; in the centre of the frame, there’s clearly a great degree of fine detail. The edges, however, look like crap. (Bear in mind the only E-mount glass I have now is the kit lens that’s bundled with the camera.) This is not because of the sensor: it’s because of the lens, which although it resolves quite well in the visible spectrum, is clearly nowhere near apochromatic enough in the corners; they look like a smeary mess in some cases. The smearing is caused by UV and IR spectrum image forming rays from the subject – cut out by the filter pack, normally – being registered on the sensor at a different physical location to visible light. There is still more visible light, of course, which means that focus is mostly where autofocus puts it, but not for all subjects – warm subjects in low ambient light – people indoors, for instance – tend to be a little back-focused because of this. Outdoors, things are fine (visible light > IR again).

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Results are better at the telephoto end of the zoom, stopped down, and of course with better glass. I’ve got a few adaptors lying around from my NEX days; unfortunately they’re discount Chinese items off ebay, and they perform as you would expect: crap. My M-adaptor doesn’t focus close up and has planarity issues; my F adaptor won’t focus past a couple of meters. (It would seem that their tolerances aren’t enough to deal with short flange systems.)

In my preliminary testing, the Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar, ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon and ZF.2 2/28 Distagon are all excellent performers – even into the corners. Surprisingly, the old Noct-Nikkor does very, very well from f2 onwards, and is quite passable with a little IR-induced glow even at f1.2. The Nikon 85/2.8 PCE and 45/2.8 P are also excellent, even if the former is rather impractical because of its tight focusing helicoid and inability to be stopped down without electrons. You’re probably wondering about the M-mount glass: forget the wides, they’re lousy on any mirrorless camera not optimised for them (i.e. anything that isn’t a digital Leica M). I don’t have anything telephoto. I suspect the 50/2 APO ASPH would be the lens to use on this camera, with its true optical potential seen outside the visible spectrum; and now it makes perfect sense why the Leica M-Monochrom retained its UV and IR filtration: without it, the other lenses – especially older wides – would appear very soft indeed, thanks to their property of focusing non-visible light at a different distance to visible light.

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So how would I describe the tonal characteristics of this camera? In a nutshell, it produces B&Ws that are warm and rounded, if there’s such a thing. The sharpness is there but it’s not biting; the tones are rich and deep. If used with better glass, I think it would really sing – especially for portraiture. Skin looks baby-soft. Don’t use it in colour, it looks horrible due to pollution of the blue and red channels by UV and IR respectively. However, note that with a visible blocking filter over the lens, you could shoot either IR or UV without issue. The camera also gains some sensitivity – about 1-1.5 stops depending on the situation – because of the extra light it’s collecting. With the right filters, it might be an interesting tool for astrophotographers or voyeurs, for instance. Of course, you can always use one of the B&W or Leica UVIR filters and then have a regular NEX-5 again, but this time without the anti-aliasing filter.

An interesting experiment? Undoubtedly. Would I do it again, with a more interesting camera, better sensor, and something I have better glass for? Sure, why not? Though I think mirrorless makes an ideal candidate because a) you don’t have to mess around with a mechanically complex camera, and the attending realignment issues associated with disassembly (mirror, AF system etc.); b) the LCD/ EVF gives a great live B&W preview, so it makes it easier to visualise how the results will appear after conversion – the colours really are pretty funky – and c) these are just cheaper to experiment with.

Now, if somebody would like to donate a D800E to the cause, I think some very interesting results might ensue…in all seriousness though, if anybody would like to donate a camera to be experimented on (you will of course get it back afterwards, but no guarantees that it can be done) then please send me an email. MT

Note: We’re still giving this camera away. Tomorrow, I’m going to explain how – there will of course be a photographic competition involved! Update: Full details on how to enter here.

Coda: since I was asked by a couple of people over email and in the comments, here’s how the color images out of the camera look: heavy pink-magenta casts due to IR and UV pollution in the red and blue channels respectively. I suppose some (of the hipstagram persuasion) might like the look…

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  1. Hi Ming,

    I came across this article and as I have a Lumix GF1 laying around, which I was thinking about getting converted as you did with the NEX 5.

    Considering the nature of M4/3 lenses (I would try to avoid smeary corners) and the relatively limited dynamic range of the GF1 do you think that this would be a worthy conversion?

    I am currently using these native lenses:
    Lumix 14mm / Lumix 20mm / Olympus 45mm (1.8)

  2. Hi,

    I also have a Sony NEX 5 and I’m trying to remove the filter which is glued on the sensor frame. However, I’m not able to peel it of. It rather breaks in little pieces without coming of. How did you do it? I’m afraid to use more force not to damage the sensor or the circuit of the sensor.

    Many thanks for your feedback!
    Kind regards,

  3. B. Y. Hee says:

    Thinking of getting a sony NEX. Do u still do the mod? Price?
    My email:

  4. Good work Ming,
    Looking at the quality, from what I can see, shows how good the Nex is.
    In fact, thoughtfulness means that results close to the best I have seen are now available from effectively a much lower cost base.
    It does make you think about whether the M’s, 1&5Ds and D4/800s are really worth the premium anymore, in terms of relatively stationary subjects.

    • The difference comes when outputting at larger sizes. And yes, it’s definitely there, but as with everything: the equipment is only as good as the operator.

  5. Have you considered any of Sigma SD14, 15, or SD1. Its UV/IR filter is designed to be removed. Takes a minute to remove/install. I picked a used SD14 for around $300. I haven’t actually tried b/w with the filter removed.

  6. Hi Ming,

    As always, I’m way behind your prolific posting rate, so forgive the late comment. All I have to say, actually, aside from “Cool!”, is to add some completist-type factoids: 1) The other camera optimized for wide rangefinder lenses is the Ricoh GXR M module (no AA filter either). I’ve read that the NEX 5n, 5r and 6 have offset microlenses as well, and that they’re more friendly to symmetrical wides than previous NEXs. and 2) For those who prefer SLRs and want to experiment with IR/UV, Fujifilm once produced a UVIR version of it’s Nikon-based S3, which show up on the used market from time to time; alternatively, the IR filter on Sigma’s SD range of SLRs are in front of the mirror box and designed to be removable (also no AA filter).

    • I’ve got one reader’s 5R incoming for modification, so we’ll see if the offset micro lenses help. I remember seeing a test last year comparing wides on the NEX7 – the native Sony/ Zeiss one did much better than the Leica 24 summilux, even though the latter is known to be excellent.

  7. Great pictures!

    I’d love to buy a D600 with a lot of actuations and have it converted, so that I’d have a reasonably priced B&W camera in addition to my casual D600. But in the comments it sounds like such a conversion is not really possible with D600/D700/D800. That’s very unfortunate. 😦

    • Yes, apparently not – I was going to do the same thing with my D700, but it seems like it’d be a bad idea due to the IR diode on the shutter monitor.

  8. I wonder if a similar result might be possible with the X-Trans sensor on the Fuji X-Pro 1…? But without modification. It lacks the AA filter natively, and does not use a Bayer sensor array to begin with. Hmmm… Don’t think you’ve reviewed this particular camera, though.

    • No, I haven’t reviewed it because I have to buy the cameras I review – Fuji here won’t lend me one – since this isn’t my job, and reviews definitely don’t pay for the products covered, it’s impractical. However, though the AA-less result isn’t the same as one lacking in UV and IR filtration. The X-Pro has to have both of these covered else it’d turn out some extremely strange colors.

  9. Hi MT,
    I’m new to “multispectral”, i got 2 questions:
    1) does the post processing same for an image shot under sunlight and one under artificial lights ?
    2) I must have “Photoshop” to process the raw image ? (i don’t own a Photoshop)
    Teoh YC

    • 1. It doesn’t change, you still have to look for contrast and light to create a good image. The postprocessing will be the same.
      2. You could shoot JPEG, but as always it’ll be a compromise compared to raw.

  10. Would be interesting to see what your modified camera does with the one multispectral lens that is superbly apochromatic and will focus all wavelengths at the same focus – the Jenoptik CoastalOpt 60mm f/4, UV-VIS-IR SLR APO Macro.

    • I’d love to find out too! I did email them to ask about a review sample some time ago, but they stopped replying after a while. I’m certainly not plonking down that kind of money on a lens without having tried it out first…

  11. This looks fantastic. I wonder if the same could be done to an E-P1 — I’d love to get mine converted to a dedicated b&w camera.

    • It probably could, but not having taken one apart it’s hard to say. Might make a very interesting combination with the 15/8 body cap, especially seeing as you gain some sensitivity making f8 less of an issue – not to mention no AF lag…

  12. Thanks for an interesting article. I love the grain in the picture of the hand

  13. Really nice work, and great info — thanks! I shoot a lot of low light black and white, and I know exactly what you mean regarding quarter and three-quarter tonality. This is great food for thought.

  14. Some 2 years ago I modified a Nex-3 for full spectrum usage. My main interest is in IR, but also UV and multispectral photography. The Nex series is good for this due to liveview, larger sensor than m4/3 making adapting optics easier and there was a good discount. I replaced the filter pack in front of the sensor with a custom made clear glass, with the intent of getting lens focus ranges correct and to facilitate sensor cleaning. The conversion from start to finish took about 3 hours, with the ribbon cable connecting the LCD and the glued filter pack being the most difficult things to handle. It’s clearly one of the more difficult cameras to modify; some cameras take only 15-30 mins on the first try.

    I’ve been generally happy with the camera, although I’m a bit lusting after the latest Sony 16mpix sensor in the Nex-6, but I’ll probably skip one generation since I’m an amateur and have no donors 🙂
    The weak quality of the edges with wideangles is also present when a filter glass is used. A camera without glass might be a bit better, but based on your description, it’s not. I’d be interested in some example, however. Anything over 35 mm doesn’t seem to present a problem, however, and corner problems are much mitigated by using a band pass filter; clearly, the problems happen due to IR and visible light not being chromatically corrected in relation to each other. From a photography viewpoint it’s tricky to solve; good SLR lenses tend to be huge compared to the Nex, the filters sizes are huge too (an issue for me) and Sony’s lens selection is limited.

    What I found particularly interesting, however, was that you went pursuing better BW through an IR-modification to the camera. The rationaly isn’t bvious to me; the sensitivity of modified digital cameras to IR is far higher than any film and thus from a physical perspective, the spectral response of your modified camera doesn’t correspond to BW film. Of course the results count and if the images you are getting correspond to what you are after then the approach is clearly a success. But I was just intrigued about it all from a technical perspective, particularly since I feel that the images used to illustrate this post do not have something that I would consider a “classic BW look”, although I realize that such a look is a bit hard to define and not nearly as universal as we might think.

    PS. I’ve modified cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony and in all the AA and IRUV filters are in the same filter pack, so companies advertising “IR modification” will essentially remove the AA filtering in the process. Another intriguing bit is that removeing AA from a low-res camera (less than 10mpix) has much more nasty side effects than from a high res, but luckily we have plenty of high res cameras to work on nowadays.

    • thank you, Oskar. I am not an engineer and greatly appreciate your explanations. question: what sort of images do you routinely capture? portraits, still life, reportage, etc? any night time or long exposure results with your modded gear?

      • Hi Jeffrey,
        I mostly work with landscapes, cityscapes and found objects in IR. I do an occasional portrait, but I think it’s not easy getting the colors look good (I mostly work in false color). For BW portraits I tend to prefer old school unmodified cameras with an emphasis on the green channel, so not the same path as Ming has taken here. I have done some longer exposures, but not night time photos with IR; for astrophotography it would be very suitable, but I don’t do astrophotography. For regular night photography I’m not sure if IR is particularly interesting, but it’s hard to tell; the difficulty is that one cannot see IR and there are many ways to make either a false color or BW image with IR, which means that there is plenty of opportunities to explore and experiment.

    • The weak edges are because of different focus distances for the different wavelengths of light, and lenses that simply aren’t designed to be truly apochromatic. I don’t see these problems as much with a good SLR short tele or higher – the Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro Planar and Nikon PCE 85/2.8 are both pretty good in the corners; even the telecentric Zeiss Distagon wideangles aren’t bad – but they’re all completely impractical on the NEX, and enormous. You can’t even use a tripod because the tripod mount is on the camera, and very small…

      My rationale for better B&W through removing IR filters was to get more luminosity in the shadows, which corresponds with what I see from my film negatives; I suppose I was after a nonlinear response on what would be a normally linear medium…

      • I agree that those lenses are impractical on a Nex, which is sort of good since a Distagon 21 is expensive and doesn’t really suit my selection of focal lengths either 🙂
        One must really use and adapter with a tripod mount, the tripod mount on the Nex is not sturdy enough for heavy lenses.

        I have to try to look a bit for the BW look you talk about. Since I have essentially the same sensor and camera, it shouldn’t be too hard to do some comparisons. I don’t often shoot BW with digital (used to do much more with film), but agree that getting good BW requires a bit of thinking and adjusting.

        • In this case, it also requires the right presets in your raw converter – once you’ve figured these out, you don’t need to do too much work afterwards.

    • I hear the 5N has better dynamic range then the 6 and can be had for under $400.00 on occasion due to the huge sale before it was dicontinued. Perhaps the 6 is better but I have head otherwise…

    • Hi Oskar!
      Do you by any chance have pictures or any other instructions how to carry out the modification? I have a NEX-3 in the drawer with very little use. I modded my old D70 a couple of years ago but the main problem was finding hotspot free glass for it. With mirrorless cameras the amount of usable MF lenses is much bigger.

      • Hi Timo,
        Unfortunately no; I did my conversion based on some photos another guy had taken from his Nex conversion. I lost the link to the photos when I switched computers a while back, but the photos might still be on the net. I didn’t make complete notes since I didn’t expect to do another conversion of a Nex-3. In any case, the conversion is a bit complicated since in addition to a mainboard, the camera has several connections to the controls on the back panel and some auxiliary boards that needed to be disconnected (IIRC). Finger dexterity and some basic tools are required. It’s a bit of a contrived conversion, but quite doable if you have prior electronics experience.

  15. Congrats Ming, you now have a Full Spectrum camera, for a little while at least. I’ve been shooting full spectrum with one camera for close to a year. Fun stuff. You can return the camera to shooting normal color by employing an appropriate hot mirror filter to block UV and IR. Some hot mirrors work better than others. I found one I like, It’s the ultimate vacation camera. One camera body plus a soft case for filters and I can shoot full spectrum, IR, UV, and normal color.

  16. Quite a fascinating and informative article – you’ve really outdone yourself! (The color samples look like some of my old family slides…)
    These mods with the current state of the art in dynamic range could make for some really sumptuous captures!

    • Thanks Jeff. There might be both a NEX-7 and NEX-5N incoming, which both have much better sensors than the 5 – we shall see…the only issue now is finding sufficiently good glass for it.

  17. jeffrey sklan says:

    Now, that was a fun article. Thank you for letting us experience your boundless curiosity. And for clarifying the scientific reasons why I am almost never satisfied with the B/W versions of my digital shots .Your newly posted images have an undeniably emotional content, which trump any (perceived) technical shortcomings re sharpness at the margins, etc…Over the past holiday, I used every last roll of med format transparency in my freezer. It was all macro work of flowers, and I considered it all to be a large experiment in light, form, and color.No expectations. Somehow, there was an odd roll of Acros 100 BW in the mix, left over from a paid shoot in the summer. Naturally, it ended up producing my favorite set of images from the ten day span……the year started off, literally, back to basics. Perhaps they all should, sort of like any warm up exercise.

    Now, as to that D800…hmmm.

    • Thanks Jeffrey. Personally – very much enjoying 100% DIY B&W medium format, but for the occasional developing snag…

      As for the D800 – apparently the Nikons have a shutter diagnostic timer that involves an IR beam and sensor, which could land up in foggy images. This agrees with what I’d heard and read about the self-correcting shutter: you either get the exactly speed you asked for, or none at all. I’ll have to look into this before hacking one apart…

  18. I’ve got a GF2 collecting dust around here, if you want to give it a whack just let me know.

  19. Charlie Z says:

    Nice work!
    Your next assignment is to hack a DSLR with a good LV to swing down and line up, switch selectively, UV, IR, and AA filters. Color, IR, B&W. 😉

  20. Hi Ming, nice job… can you pls clarify one thing: a NEX modified by e.g. Spencers cameras is still having the AA filter, right? So not exactly the same thing as the one you have made? If so, I seriously plan to ask you to convert my 5n… with the new SEL 35/1.8 it should be a perfect street bw camera (and I already have the Zeiss 24/1.8)

    • I’ve removed all of the filter packs I can remove, but the Bayer array is still in place. There is a visible increase in sharpness in the center, which is due to the removal of the filter. However, it’s not as much as you’d expect because the lens is not focusing all of the different wavelengths of light in one place, so it appears to be a bit ‘smeary’. Spencers may well do the same thing, I have no idea. None of the conversion services are an option where I live, so I had no choice but DIY.

    • (another) Tom says:

      Spencer’s also offer something called Clear Spectrum conversion. This is exactly what Ming did. (I had Spencers do this on my Nex, along with a cooling modification).

      If you do this and want to take regular pictures, keep in mind you have two options;
      a) do a custom white balance every time you are in a new environment (by taking a snap of a white wall for instance). It works Reasonably Well, but not perfect
      b) Get a special filter for your lenses – It is typically called a hot-mirror filter. It is basically doing exactly the same as what the filter in front of the sensor used to do. There are good ones and bad ones – it should be clearly green in color. Depending on size, it can run $50-$150.

  21. Hello Ming Thein

    Would the D800 conversion would result in some foggy images as explained in this video (“Nikon shutter monitor IR leak”) whereby it happened to the D700 due to its built in electronic shutter?

  22. wow. great article. I have pulled apart PDAs and laptops in the past, but never a camera, and frankly would be too scared that I would permanently damage something.

    how does the response of the raw sensor compare to more standard film stock? is the tonality you associate with b&w film due to sensitivities in the UV/IR? And if not, why can’t normal digital cameras achieve the same sort of tonality with the filters intact?

    • Thanks. The only reason I did it was precisely because the owner didn’t mind if we permanently damaged something…

      Hard to say re. comparison with normal film; I’d say probably higher, but I’m not sure. It’s the non-linearity of shadow response which I was trying to achieve with a digital sensor (and that film does quite easily). You *can* get pretty close with the filters intact, but it requires a lot of work on the shadow areas and use of the dodging and burning tool…I was trying to speed up this process.

  23. Congratulations to your conversion. This technique is well known in the (small) UVIR community and has been done since years to allow for pure UV, IR and also multispectral imaging using highly specialized filtering methods. The “colors” in UV and IR anyway don’t exist per definition, so they can be adjusted in many ways, usually using certain white standards, which is not trivial at all. Also the processing of those images needs attention. Aside from artistic use, this method is being used by biologists to simulate how bees and butterflies, some birds and fish see the world (Bees and butterflies see also UV), as well as for forensics to make falsifications visible, for aerial archaeology to find buried sites, for medical purposes to make skin alterations visibly and many other methods. Read about in in my BLOG

    • Thanks Dr. Schmitt. Not being particularly interested in non-visible photography, I came at it from a different aim…specifically B&W tonality. But yes, I’m aware of various plants and animals fluorescing under different wavelengths of light to attract or repel pollinators/ predators. How would you use it for aerial archaeology?

  24. Very interesting indeed and something I was wondering about. Let’s just hope it won’t spur a new pink-magenta trend.

  25. Heh – great notes, informative and entertaining, thanks for sharing. I have taken apart watches (and P&S) in the past, and it’s indeed fun as long as I don’t mind losing the whole thing or my pride ;D I do recall that there are a couple commercial outfits who do remove the AA filter off DSLR’s, maybe they are the right marketing conduit for retrofitting NEX and other cams to Monochrom versions. Indeed a long shot. Even with Photoshop notes/ actions for proper conversion.

    Still I think some camera makers (Fuji in particular) must have this in mind. All that is needed to flatten the amount of light information across any image light intensities would be to have additional sensors to recall local light brightness ( this is what Fuji did way back with extra sensors). I think this is something feasible hardware wise in the design stage – but has not been pursued so hard because marketing says resolution and high megapixels sell better.

    • Yes, there are some companies that do it – but it seems they take off UV, IR, or AA, but not all three – can’t think why. It isn’t a cheap exercise though, seems to be in the $300-400 range – not surprising given the amount of work required (and high chance of some part or connector going ‘ping’ in a permanent and bad way).

      You could even have a switching filter in front of the sensor to give you any combination of UV, visible and IR…now that would be interesting.

  26. Great article Ming. I’m curious about what a color shot from this cam looks like…could you maybe please post one “for scientific purposes”

    • Absolutely bloody horrible – very high pink-magenta saturation (moreso pink) due to the IR pollution of the red channel! Since you asked, I’ve added a couple of images to the main post as a coda.

  27. Faruk Senoglu says:

    Thanks for this article Ming. Looking forward for a video where you show how you do it ?! That would definitely keep me from selling my Sony Nex 5n Body! 🙂

    • There isn’t one. If you want it converted…you’ll have to send it to me 🙂

      • Faruk Senoglu says:

        Hey Ming! Take care what you’re writing! I’d do this! :-))

        • I’m serious – the 5N isn’t a problem to do because it’s the same internally as the 5, so if you want it done, I can do it and it will work (and probably produce better results than the 5). Shoot me an email if you’re interested.

  28. Amazing experiment with amazing results. 15min per camera? Why not buy old NEXes, do the change, replace the SONY label with MT1 (Monochrome Tonality) and sell for, let’s say $2000? Seriously, one wonders why the camera industry doesn’t see that (niche) market.

    • 15min only after doing it twice previously…the learning process on a new camera would be steep.

      I suppose I could make a business out of the conversions, but would anybody seriously pay that kind of money for a modified NEX? I personally wouldn’t.

  29. Very fun read. Thanks for sharing!

    • And a lot of work too…

      • Hello Ming,

        thank you very much for this project. Great to see innovative people doing useful things in general.

        However, I have a little problem, inconsistency with the color photo you added below compared to the BW version above. I mean the lady with the cup BW vs the purple version. I saved both of them, loaded into LR and desaturated the color version.

        BUT I just got a regular, foggy, boring BW picture. Not such a clear, contrasty and sharp picture as the BW above. Plus, I even found out, that it is probably not two versions of one photo, but two shots, because when switched between them, there were changes/movement visible..

        So how much exactly is the BW version straight out of RAW, just desaturated, when I wasn’t able to get it from the according color version?

        With thanks and regards,


        • It’s the same image but there was perspective straightening done in the BW version – this obviously doesn’t affect tonality. The difference in contrast and tonality is almost certainly because your raw converter settings are different to mine. You do have to ‘calibrate’ the defaults once first – and this includes some channel mixer tweaks. However, this profile stays consistent for all files.

  30. I followed the two Facebook threads, and would never have guessed the right answer. Thanks for doing this fascinating experiment! Your post does beg the question: how would one go about trying to get this kind of glowing B&W images with normal digital cameras and postprocessing? Perhaps a topic for a future post if one hasn’t been done on it already?

    • That’s more of a demonstration question rather than a written one – I’ve got a couple of posts on B&W processing methods and it’s thoroughly covered in my workflow DVDs – there is quite a bit of effort required, though. One of the aims of this project was to see if the same look was achievable without quite as much effort – akin to the tonal response of film, but digital.

  31. Dear Ming

    You make every camera look good.


    • Haha, this one required very, very little work in postprocessing – practically none at all, actually. One of the best out of camera file sets I’ve seen, especially for a small sensor.

  32. Another excellent and thought provoking article. Your articles can certainly come out of left field. Unfortunately, I only have one D800E and I’m not quite willing to hand it over yet.

  33. FYI, your pics cannot be viewed on Flickr (they are labelled private).


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