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01-18-2014, 11:45 AM   #1
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Nikon D70 Full-Spectrum IR Conversion

I wanted to try out some infrared photography. First, I purchased some filters from eBay. I was somewhat successful with 15 to 30 second exposures with the cameras maxed out. Then I dissected an old Sony DSC camera to remove its filter. It came back to life with rose-colored vision, and just about as limited as it was before with its uni-lens and limited ISO.

I found instructions on Lifepixel for how to remove the filters from various cameras. Not wanting to mutilate my Pentax K-50 or my Canon EO-S 70D, I had to find a suitable carcass. I set out to find the cheapest functioning digital camera on eBay that had instructions on Lifepixel. I got a Nikon D70 for $80. It doesn't have Live View. Its menu was set to Korean and the seller didn't know if it could be changed. The rubber coating had turned to goo. But he included battery, charger, and a 18-70mm lens with 67mm filter thread. So, $80 for a Nikkor lens with a free obsolete camera included.

I cleaned the gooey rubber off the camera with acetone. It worked pretty well. I don't advise doing this to a camera you like, but acetone won't eat the polycarbonate body. It will eat any other plastic it finds.

I tested out the D70. Its a nice camera. No Live View, so I had to revert to looking, focusing, and composing through the viewfinder. I just met this camera, but suddenly we're like old friends. No artificial TV video screen to come between us until after the shot. Maximum 47 RAW image files on its 256MB CF card. Can't get the original batteries for it, only the European surplus issue. Okay, nostalgia is over.

I ordered the "optically clear" glass filter replacement for the D70 from Lifepixel. It was expensive. Add that to the price of the D70 and it comes out to what people are charging for already-converted cameras on eBay. Fair enough. At least I know what I'm getting and I don't have to pay someone to do the conversion. Their clear glass filter looks like half of a microscope slide, but just in case there is more to it, I bought it.

I did not document the surgery with photographs. The instructions on Lifepixel have photographs with arrows. I followed those. They are accurate. They also have a disclaimer that if you screw up your camera, its your own fault for not sending it to them. I am an Electronics Engineer with plenty of experience working on very tiny, very expensive devices, but not cameras. The only camera I have ever taken screws out of previously was the Sony DSC a couple weeks ago. It still works, and it turns out, it was more difficult to reassemble than the Nikon D70.

When taking the D70 apart, I drew a diagram similar to the one on Lifepixel, but I put numbers next to the screws. They aren't all the same length. I put them into an ice-cube tray one at a time so I could get the right screw back in the right hole.

Reassembly had two issues. First, the ribbon cables which get disconnected need to be reconnected correctly. The first time I finished, I had a screen that lit up all white and did nothing more. The second time I finished, the screen worked, the shutter worked, but the camera would not write to the CF card. The third time it worked like a charm. Don't tighten the screws until you test. Second issue was the rubber USB port cover. It has a tail which extends into the body of the camera so it doesn't fall off when you open it. This tail has to be inserted into a void between two components on a circuit board which is under another circuit board. So you can't just slide the bottom of the camera back on like a cap. You have to do the USB side first, stop halfway, wiggle the rubber tail into its spot, then wiggle the camera bottom the rest of the way on. It snaps into place when you get it just right. It squeezes and creaks and won't mush together if you don't get it just right.

Autofocus works. Metering doesn't work correctly. I started with ISO 200, 1/125, f3.5. Second picture is f16. Third is f22. With some tweaking in Gimp, I can get that over-saturated, over-exposed 70s 126-film Fox Photo print-look that Instagram is based on.

Now I have the camera and a stack of filters of various wavelengths and densities. Its time to take the tripod out and experiment. I will post more photos here as documentation of this experiment.

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