Infrared Photography with the Olympus E-10 and E-20

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Olympus E-10 with Hoya R72

These were shot with the Olympus E-10 fitted with the Hoya R72 (Wratten #89B) filter. The color images are straight: no postprocessing except for reduction and some re-sharpening. The black-and-white (infrared) ones underwent also conversion to monochrome and equalization (histogram stretching) as described below.

[1] Straight shot: no filter, EFL=35mm, program at 1/400s at F/5.6 [2] Hoya R72 (#89B) filter, 1s at F/2.0. The exposure was 3200 times greater (~11.6 EV).
[3] Image [2] converted to monochrome by reducing the color saturation to zero. The tonal range is quite limited. [4] The final result: image [3] equalized by stretching the brightness histogram.
Click here to view a larger version.

The final picture [4] shows the dark sky and bright foliage, characteristic to infrared photographs. For comparison, see a visible-light, monochrome picture [5] (at the right), obtained from [1] by desaturation.

For many subjects (possibly including this one) histogram stretching should be used in moderation: low contrast may be, indeed, one of the visually pleasing features of pictures in infrared. This is a matter of taste and some experimentation will be necessary until you settle on the right amount (see the next example below).

[5] The straight shot [1], converted to monochrome; compare it to [4] above

In addition, histogram stretching also enhances the image noise, already quite visible in the IR domain. Well, if it cannot be avoided, we can learn how to like it — remember the supergrain technique popular in the Sixties?

Another E-10 example, this time shot in the late afternoon, when the sunlight is relatively richer in red and infrared wavelength.

[6] Straight shot: evening sun, no filter, EFL=70mm, 1/250s at F/4.0 [7] Hoya R72 (#89B) filter, 5s at F/2.8; converted to monochrome and equalized. The exposure increase compared to [6] was 2500x (~11.3 EV).
Click here for a larger version.

Note that the bright foliage (sometimes referred to as the Woods effect) is more pronounced in the last example than in the previous one. This is due to the time of day: the evening sunlight is richer in red.

Problems with some E-10s?

Some of the E-10s (mine in this number) may be experiencing a fogging problem in the infrared. For example, my E-10 has the rightmost 20% of the frame fogged (flushed with light) so that all the pictures shown above had to be cropped to remove the wasted part.

I suspect some internal light reflections here, with the internal black finish inadequate, as the effect varies, probably depending on the light angle and overall scene brightness (it never disappears, though).

I'm in touch with some other E-10 users shooting in infrared, and so far none of them reported a similar problem. It doesn't show on my E-20 either, but if you are buying an this camera with IR in mind, check it out while you can still exchange it for another.

Olympus E-20 with Hoya R72

The E-20, although being optically and mechanically identical to the E-10, has a different CCD chip, also manufactured by Sony. A different chip (and, possibly, different IR filter in front of it) may mean different IR sensitivity, therefore I was eager to check it out.

No surprises here: the sensitivity (and therefore the IR/visible exposure ratio) of both cameras seem to be very much alike. What follows is a number of samples taken with the E-20 equipped with the Hoya R72 filter.

This scene just calls for infrared; it is quite trivial in color, or in visible-light monochrome.

The picture was taken with the WCON-08 wide-angle lens converter fitted over the filter.

(This is an old shack in the Horsehead Wetland Center on the Maryland's Eastern Shore, a great place to take wildfowl pictures.)

By the way, pictures [8] and [10] were taken in the same session; the tonal differences are due to different equalization.

[8] Hoya R72 filter, 4s at F/4.0.
Click here for a larger version.

The following two pictures of the same subject show the difference between shooting on a sunny day and on a cloudy one. Which one is better? Depends on your taste and on the mood you want to achieve. Don't refrain from taking IR pictures on cloudy days; you may be nicely surprised.

[9] Cloudy day; F/4.0, 4s [10] A week later, full sun, F/4.0, 2s (XGA version)
Here is a picture to strengthen the point made above: another scene from the Horsehead Wetland Center, shot on a cloudy day.

It was underexposed by two F-stops to bring out the noise ("grain"), and I am quite pleased with the result (better visible in a bigger format), with the noise fitting right in. The same scene shot on a sunny day had much less impact.

[11] Hoya R72 filter, 1s at F/4.0 (-2EV) (XGA version)

And finally, to wrap things up, two more images of my other standard IR sample subject: the pond in Crofton, MD. Both were taken on the same sunny, late afternoon in May, 2002. The picture at the right, [13], was taken with the TCON-14B attachment on top of the IR filter.

[12] Lens at 35 mm, program at 2s, F/4.0, late afternoon. (XGA version) [13] Lens at 200 mm (TCON-14B), exposure like in [12]. (XGA version)

I'm quite pleased with these two; they actually reflect the character of the place better than straight shots. The pictures are helped by the late afternoon light, and some of the branches are blurred by wind movement during the two-second exposure.


Check also The Beauty of Infrared page in my Gallery section.

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Posted 2001/12/10; last updated 2004/11/11 Copyright © 2001-2004 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak