Nikon, Ants and Infrared
The Ants go marching by, a saga of my D50
This is an old saga (2008) about a fave camera I own and use often (my Nikon D50), but it didn’t start that way! at least not until the ants and my screwdriver and chance Internet search landed me on a page were I could get an IR replacement filter for the ruined hot-filter in my Nikon D50 . . . You see I had stored it in a plastic baggie in my hall closet with some of my other camera equipment, only to discover it had become the new home for a horde of black ants which had eaten a hole in the baggie and moved in. What follows are excerpts from that time up until present day and that little 6 mp D50 which became an awesome Infrared camera I love to take out on sunny days at high noon to capture some of my best digital B&W photos . . . Yep, that time of day when the light SUCKS for almost any kind of photography . . . try Infrared . . . Discover shooting in another light, the light unseen. It is Early January 2008, I write about the event in my journal on Deviant Art under my pseudonym “DigiPainteR” and I open the Journal as follows “Camera eating BUGS“, ” I recently discovered were some ants ate into my storage closet and devoured a lot of FOAM packing (Nikon foam is apparently tasty or these ants have a very discerning taste) and decided to make a nest in my D50 and SB-8a external battery holders”. I later found that this is not an uncommon event as ants apparently have a taste for the greases and wiring covering (plastics) used internally in these cameras, I also found out that the little black ants can chew through the plastic that baggies are made of.
So began a journey into the innards of my D50 camera, one last “Hell Mary” you might say to try and resurrect an otherwise now defunct camera. After all what did I have to loose, the shutter was jammed with the carcasses of dead ants, the Hot Filter over the sensor was etched by ant trails, I might as well learn what the camera looked like inside (something I did often with broken gadgets as a youngster and never gave up as I grew into adulthood) . . After a bit of reading I stumbled upon a website (Lifepixel) that had replacement Hot Filters and more, also they had some FAQ’s and some HOWTO’s that showed me how to disassemble my D50 . . . so onward I proceeded . . . undaunted . . .
Journal entry: sometime early Jan 2008 “As I type this I now have a Nikon D50 and its modules laying on my desk, as I clean and examine the damage to wiring were the coatings were eaten off, other foam and plastic parts of the innards of the camera show where ants munched on it … the shutter was clogged with foam particles & ant bodies . . . but now is happily working …. canned air carefully applied works … so, here I am sitting hunched over at my desk, work lamp close by, with magnifier hood on, tweezers, swabs, tape, cleaning fluids and wads of lens tissue … muttering obscenities &^%$# ants!!! and cleaning bit by bit the camera, it went out of warranty 2 years ago and although I do not advocate taking cameras apart I am a curious type and am mechanically inclined … and … after all the ants had been in there why not me!”
The detective in me was wondering were they accessed the camera body since a body cap was snugly in place and all the other holes in the camera appeared seal tight . . . aha! I was trying to be comedic “Point of access … they came in through the bathroom window “pop-up flash housing” it seems there is a large enough gap in the hinge point for an ant to just walk right in . . . and so they did.
So on went the disemboweling of the little D50, cleaning and washing each part and circuit board to ensure none of the corrosive ant trail (PISS) was removed . . I re-coated wires that were eaten bare, cant let anything short out (liquid plastic worked well), used a DE-oxidzing solution to clean any bare wires or leads and then gave the boards a light coat of clear spray varnish. Then I went on LifePixel and ordered a replacement filter in standard IR to replace the hot-mirror. . .
Journal entry: mid January . . . ” changing the Hot-Mirror to an IR filter,I will call it Frank-N-50 as it will become an IR only camera when I am done (replacing the Hot mirror with an IR filter from Lifepixels) … so the ants just helped me make a decision eh!
stay tuned more to come, I may even take a few pix of the D50 as we change its mode in life”
The wait was on . . “Well I am waiting for parts for the “Frank-N-50” IR project, replacement filter is on order and should arrive before the weekend. Some creative solutions have been thought of to make a Dust free environment in which to change the filter, this is to ensure the sensor remains as dust free as possible during the repair / replacement and post reassembly of the sensor module. A good friend and Camera repairman helped me locate a source for replacement material for the foam around the sensor that was eaten, another person who thinks out of the box … I hope to post a few of the pix with the story soon showing the tools, dust-free dis-assembly / reassembly box, wire repair … coating wire with liquid tape … and a few sources for materials so this should be fun. I am getting antsy! …… scuse the pun …. to get this project done and get the “Frank-N-50″ out of the Tupperware and into my hot hands for some cool IR photography in a most Deviant way possible ….”
It’s Gotta Be Clean: DUST is the bane of the digital world, that is the issue when you go inside a digital camera, That was one issue I had to deal with, I had to make a clean box since I didn’t have a clean room. So I cut the sides and top of a big card board box out, replaced these openings with clear plastic so I could see what I was doing and in both sides I got long rubber cleaning gloves and made it so I could insert my arms in them into the box, also one side of the box was hinged with tape so I could put all the parts inside without having to open the box and get dust in it. I wet a sponge and a antistatic cloth and wiped out the inside of the box, everything was super cleaned, all tools and parts, I also put an anti static cloth in the box after it was sealed and wiped everything again . . . I had my mini clean room on my desktop ready for the camera and parts and re-assembly.
Journal entry: sometime mid January . . “ok … I am excited … parts came in and like a kid at Xmas I couldn’t wait to install the IR-filter … I broke the tip off my fine screwdriver and had to dig up another one when I tried to remove the screws from the top of the camera …. so I nixed going further with the dis-assembly and did the best to get what I could blown out or vacuumed out … so I have a few floaters in the viewfinder … NO big deal … So I didn’t take pix of the project D50 in all its nekkidness and put it back together … if your curious go to www.Lifepixel.com and you can see the procedure for the D50 on their DIY page, and you can decide what path you want to take if you want a IR camera … So back together it went … grrr, BE careful … I broke a flat cable locking tab … but I made it work anyway!”
I was excited and anxious to get it operating . . . I am also one of those type who will finish and entire book in 24 hours . . . . I jumped ahead to testing “Test shots … I put in a card, put on a lens, put in a charged battery and stepped outside, did some menu adjustments and set the white balance, took the reading from the green grass in the front yard.” . . . . “Then I did a few quick shots …. BAG = big azz Grin …. chimped the shots made one adjustment and went across the frozen wet field to the old truck and shot a few pix …. DAMN looked good from the tiny TFT on the back of the camera … and in the past I would have used a HOYA IR filter on the front of the lens … this was a breeze, NO tripod, NO long azzzz exposure … and all HAND HELD! and the nice part, I could frame and compose my shots normally everything works AF ect …. !”
Here is another early test shot of one of the cats that were around the house at the time . . .
I was manic by this time and in shooting mode! so all bets were off at this point about notes . . .much less pix of the assembly or anything else . . . it was lets see what this will do!!! “the 1st picture posted is “ABANDONED” the old International Harvester that rests in the field beside the house …. and NO it isn’t mine I will be experimenting all weekend … Look for some new pix … yeah they’ll most likely be IR ones.
I am off to play … D50~iR in Hand. ”
Being able to shoot IR without a tripod was a big deal and really without live-view a necessity. Also moving the filter from the front of the lens to the sensor meant AF worked, Metering worked . . . . and I could be untethered from the tripod . . . . and compose the shot. The D50 does not have live view, so if I wanted to compose it required me to remove the external filter (IR filters block all visible light) so looking through the viewfinder you see nuttin honey!
Here is what an initial IR photo looked like straight from the camera before any post processing happened, you’ll note the red/pink tones, that’s what the sensor records.
At this point the files were batch processed by first making a working copy and then swapping the red and blue channels as per the methods suggested at LifePixel’s website, this false colors the image to something more pleasing. Next step is to take it into whatever you use for noise control and clean it up a bit, as well as any basic cropping then save it as an in work file.
What you see in the frame is a regular view of your scene, nothing is tinted, it just looks normal. I used the nikkor 18~70mm zoom with the camera and found I achieved the best results at somewhere around f/8, I also found I needed to under expose about a stop to avoid hot spots. the next photo shows a shot with just the red/blue channels swapped, I loved the False colors so I left it as is . . . eerie light, and an almost 3D effect.
And so there I was merrily tripping down the IR rabbit hole, into another world of light, a light that I could not seen directly, but the camera could, and it showed me many wonders . . . and all because of ants. I had dubbed my creation the “Frank-N-50” because I had hacked it successfully I guess, and the results were most pleasing. As I played I gained insight into my newest toy and wrote the following in my journal.
Journal Entry: “I found some nice stuff to photograph both in IR, B&W film and Color film. I hope to scan in a few of those pix when I get time.
So what about the D50-iR the “Frank-N-50” as you can see it is working just fine and is a very capable IR camera, the lens a Nikon 18~70mm kit lens is preforming just as well and about as sharp as it can be in IR, I tend to set the f/stop to 7.1 as this seems to be where the lens is sharpest and that seems to fall off at about f/11 … I start to see a gradual softness after that.
I wish I had not waited so long to convert this camera to full iR , but as you know ol Mother Nature had plans and made my mind up for me. I will add to the story of the upgrade later this coming week, but until then I am off to have some more fun.
I will post a few more Wall Paper sized pix done in iR this weekend….”
Another post to my journal entry “Little black spot” reads “there’s a little black spot on the sun today” lifted from the lyrics of a song by Sting … and partially the title of one of my latest Infrared pictures . . . as I post the following photo
I write further saying . . . “The picture is actually flawed by a typical problem lots of lenses suffer when shooting into or towards the sun, ghosting or flair and affects contrast as well, what I decided to do was use this picture instead of the one taken immediately after to correct the lens flair. I was so pleased with it that other then DE-saturation, toning, cropping and resizing it’s pretty much a straight picture, which has a happy accident that adds to the over-all feel. I enjoy being enamored by my latest venture into Digital IR … it is so enjoyable and easy.
There are a number of ways to do Digital IR with your camera, most are non-invasive as you can use filters and other “in front of the lens” methods as well as software facsimiles of IR, the latter being a poor rendition but has it’s place. The modification of the camera to become a dedicated “IR” only mode was prompted by Mother Natures prod (ants) and I do not regret it (the Nikon D50 has great saturated colors) you Dev’s are lucky I am not swamping my Gallery, I continue to photograph Landscapes normally (sic) and all manner of wildlife as well … this IR SHHHHTUFF has just taken a bit more emphasis at the moment, it is just another tool for me to be creative …
with that said ….. go have fun … think outside the box, color out side the lines …”
So with that last post I wrapped up the saga about those “CAMERA EATIN BUGS” and moved on creatively . . . Things worked out, I played with the camera in various light and found what worked and what didn’t. I do not recommend anyone follow me down that crazy path and gut your camera, I take ZERO responsibility if you do and break it, know this . . . your warranty is totally NULL & VOID after that. Best to let LifePixel do it for you, the few extra dollars are soooo totally worth it, and with that I will leave you with a few more IR photos . . .
There you have it, just some of the fun I have with an old camera that was ravaged by a horde of black ants one day and turned into a totally different tool.
The link for Lifepixel.com occurs several times in my post, if Infrared interests you go read their FAQ’s and tutorials . . I am sure you will enjoy it. thanks for reading and please share this post with others if you liked it . . comments are welcome.
now go forth and make pictures, quit sittin around on your duff! Tim is out of the house . . . . aka . . . “Digi”
What . . . . that wasn’t enough! . . . . ok here ya go 😉