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Suddenly it happend. I was asked by the Fujifilm Germany to test one of their products that has been around for a while: the Fujifilm X-T1 IR. To be honest I wasn’t aware that this camera is available in Europe at all. I was pleasantly surprised and of course my curiosity was strong.
It is a pity that this camera seemingly is not as prominent in Fujifilm’s marketing as their other products. In the US of A and Japan there are restrictions that don’t allow a private person to buy this camera – maybe that is for military reasons. In Germany you can buy it – no problem.
Now what is the interesting part of the X-T1 IR? Short answer: There is no UV/IR-cut filter.
The longish answer goes a bit into theory at first, although I have to make it clear right in the beginning that I am more of an „emotional“ photographer. I don’t care too much about theory. But in this case theory is important to get a notion about the specialness of this camera and to get good results from it.
A little bit of theory
Light is a part of electromagnetic radiation. Humans can see in wavelengths from 380nm to 780nm. From 780nm to 1000nm you’d speak of „the near infrared“. Usually digital cameras have their sensitivity from 360nm to about 1000nm. They will record more than the human eye can see. In conventional photography that would pose a problem because the cameras would compute strange colors (to the human eye!) from the data they are gathering. To solve this problem you put a „hot mirror“ in front of the sensor. This filter will cut out ultraviolet (below 380nm) and infrared (above 780nm) light.
Mind you, though, that these parts of light are not really cut out completely but are very much reduced by the hot mirror. If you put a filter in front of the lens to cut out everything else but infrared light, you can use your conventional digital camera to take pictures in the infrared spectrum – but you have to raise the amount of light reaching the sensor immensely (long exposures for example). This means using a tripod and so on.
If you take away that hot mirror the camera is now ready for the full spectrum of light. Everything goes straight to the sensor (at least everything that passes through the lens…). If you now use an „infrared filter“ (a filter that lets through only infrared light), you can use your, er, usual exposure times. Here you see a picture coming from the X-T1 IR without any filter attached. So here you get the full spectrum into the camera and this jpg is the output:
The title photo was taken by using an „infrared filter“ by one of the great filter suppliers around. The one that is below is the same scene but without this filter and without any UV/IR-cut filter. The tree in the background had very nice green leaves. White balance was preset with a grey card. Had I used an UV/IR-cut filter that picture would have looked like one from any other X-T1.
Another example: The sun was hiding behind clouds, thus the infrared light was not as much as in the picture of the desert at noon. Thus the color changes are not as heavy as in the former example.
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For the next example I used an infrared filter with the XF35 f1.4 and than the same with an UV/IR-cut filter.
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As long as you use high quality filters, in this case it is made by Heliopan (Elmar from Qimago recommends these.) , you can „rebuild“ your Fujifilm XT-1 IR to a „normal“ camera.
Now the special thing about the X-T1 IR is not that it gets something more in hardware, but that it has something less. This species of camera is called an „undefined infrared camera“. Undefined because it has no filter at all in front of the sensor (which would define it for a part of the spectrum, e.g. visible light). Of course you can see this as a good point speaking for that camera, on the other hand, to get „normal“ pictures out of it, you have to use filters. So usually you would find the photographer fumbling around with filters a lot!
Of course you can also exchange the hot mirror with an „infrared filter“ straight away and get a defined infrared camera with this. The good thing about this is, that you don’t need filters for your lenses. But on the other hand you will always have „just“ the infrared light. You have to be sure that you really want that before modifying your camera like this.
Now, why infrared at all?!
Good question. For your usual photographer the answer is easy – maybe you like the effect. Or maybe you like astro photography – here the X-T1 IR has a great advantage: You will see more stars in your pictures than you can see with your eyes (without the camera, that is). But also for some occupations you could use the IR for your advantage: archeologists, art historians, police and so on. Everybody who wants details that are usually invisible to the naked eye, can have a good use for this camera.
IR-photography originally was developed for military purposes. It will help to find people in camouflage. I think fujfilm had said occupations in their mind when bringing out the camera and not really selling it in the US or Japan. I don’t really see the sense in that restriction because you can rebuild virtually every digital camera into an undefined infrared camera. That this X-T1 IR can be really interesting for photographers became more and more clear to me.
When shooting film was the thing to do, many photographers had their joy with infrared photography. With digital photography this became even easier. I’d even say this is just a matter of taste. The tonality of monochrome infrared photos is really great and even everyday motifs sometimes look surreal.
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Well, you have to like it.
Color infrared photography can supply very interesting pictures too. Here I used an infrared filter that was too strong. The filter I used for all these pictures cut out everything below 780nm. In this wavelength spectrum color photography is possible but not as good as with a 665nm filter.
Now what is the advantage of the X-T1 IR?
That is quite easy to answer. Theoretically you have a fine selection of great Fujinon lenses with autofocus. Usually when you rebuild a „normal“ camera by taking away the hot mirror, you will get autofocus problems because everything in the camera is made for the spectrum of visible light. Usually you will focus manually then. But this also can get you in trouble because you focus in the visible spectrum while IR and UV are just different enough so that your resulting picture can be out of focus (with a DSLR without liveview this is, er, „interesting“ sometimes). The X-T1 offers autofocus that is optimized for the full spectrum.
Now, everything is great, right?!
Unfortunately no. Even Fuji has to submit themselves to physics. A problem right next to autofocus are „hot spots“.
These are ghostly light spots in the middle of the picture. Depending on the lens this can be mild or quite extreme. Lens coatings are responsible for that. Sometimes these are corrected quite well. Here[link!] you can find a list (unfortunately not completely up to date) of Fujinon lenses in consideration for infrared photography.
I can say that the XF16 is very good for infrared, the XF90 on the other hand won’t work well for that. The hot spots are not too strong but visible and you need to correct for it in Photoshop or the likes.
If you want to find out more about infrared photography you can visit the website of Klaus Mangold. He is explaining the whole thing really well and has great knowledge about IR.
Let’s go straight to the point: The X-T1 IR is no camera for everybody. It is something special for specialists, and here I don’t think of different jobs but of photographers who like this kind of pictures. Surreal pictures that clearly show that there is something „awkward“ about them.
You have to know the downsides of that camera.
Additionally to the camera and at least one lens you have to think about filters, that will set you back a lot of money. You can of course get some filters and then more and more or you can use LEE Filters with their special bayonet. As an advantage you will always be able to play with the full spectrum of light and be creative with this. For my kind of photography, street and people, this camera is not the first choice. As a standalone camera that would be nothing for me. As an addition to my X-Pro 2 or my X100T , yes!
Oh, and of course you can use it for portraits…
My skin has never been so soft before… 😉
I took the camera through Berlin, Joshua Tree National Park and Babelsberg (you know, European Hollywood!).
Thanks a lot Christopher from Fujifilm for the opportunity to test this interesting camera! It was great fun!