Photo of the week
First a quick rundown of Infrared or IR film photography. Sir Frederick William Herschel, a German-born British astronomer, discovered infrared light on 11th February 1800. While using a variety of colored filters to view sunlight, he observed that some colors passed more heat than others. Directing sunlight through a glass prism to produce a spectrum, he measured the temperature of each color with a thermometer. From the violet to red parts of the color spectrum, the temperature increased. Herschel then decided to measure the temperature beyond the red-colored light, where there was no sunlight. This area had the highest temperature reading of all, despite being invisible to the naked eye. Thereby concluding that there must be another type of light beyond the visible spectrum.
IR photographs were first produced in 1910 by Robert Williams Wood, but IR film did not become commercially available and more widely used by the scientific community until the 1930’s with five manufacturers producing various films. It wasn’t until the 1960’s though that IR film gained wide spread appeal with the public. In the ’60s commercial photographers used IR film for it’s psychedelic feel, including on the album covers of noted musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. These films were used until the rise of digital substitutes. As a consequence of digital photography Kodak stopped producing IR film entirely in 2007, with only a handful of manufacturers producing IR film today.
The visible spectrum of light is between 400 and 700 nanometers (nm). Near infrared light is between 700nm and 1,400nm and it can only detect reflected infrared light. There is also far infrared light which is 15μm-1mm region of the electromagnetic spectrum and can be used to detect heat sources, making it useful for thermal imaging. IR films have different sensitivities to IR in addition to visible light. IR film choice is crucial because of it’s effect on the final photograph. The different films on the market have different depths of infrared sensitivity which will effect the strength of the IR effect. Films that lack an anti-halation layer will display halation (glow) in the highlights. Depending on the effect that is desired this may or may not be what is desirable for the final photograph and will affect film choice.
My interest in IR photography has been somewhat different. I have been interested in IR photography for several years now, and I started trying to seriously pursue it about two years ago. My original plan was to use my Canon 40D with a Hoya R72 Infrared filter. After some experimentation, I found that this set up did not yield photographs with sufficient IR effect which I was after and required exposure times around 30 seconds. This led me to IR films, so I purchased a second hand Canon 1N and three types of films, Ilford FSX 200, Rollei Infrared IR 400 and Efke IR820 AURA. I have yet to use the Efke IR820 AURA so I won’t be offering any thoughts on it yet.
Ilford SFX 200
The first film that I used was Ilford FSX 200 which is sensitive down to 740nm and it has a anti-halation layer. However, it is not a true infrared film, but instead a black and white film that has extended red sensitivity. According to the Ilford website SFX 200:
“is a medium speed black and white camera film for creative photography. It has extended red sensitivity and is especially suited for use with a filter to create special effects. By using a deep red filter skies can be rendered almost black and most green vegetation almost white. Its unusual tonal rendition ensures interesting results for a range of subjects, including portraits, landscapes, townscapes and architecture.”
More information including a detailed fact sheet can be found at the Ilford Photo website. SFX 200 35mm film is available in 36 exposure DX coded cassettes and is also available as roll film in 120 lengths. Unlike true infrared films, SFX 200 does not need to be loaded in total darkness, but it is sufficient to load into the camera in subdued light. When I loaded the film into the camera I went into a room with drawn curtains and the lights off. I did not see any fogging or haze on the film or photos as a consequence.
Rollei Infrared IR400
The Rollei IR 400 is a true infrared film which is red sensitive to 820nm, giving it a wider range than that of the SFX 200. It too is available in 36 exposure DX coded cassettes and as roll film in 120 lengths. Like the SFX 200, the Rollei IR 400 can be loaded in subdued lighting conditions, and does not require complete darkness. I loaded this film in the same way as the SFX 200 without any adverse effects. The first roll loaded easily into my Canon 1N, but the second roll had some difficulty and I ended up having to rewind it and reload it. This film is definitely more difficult to load than the SFX 200 because it seems to be more sensitive to the way it’s being loaded. I’m not entirely sure whether it has an anti-halation layer or not, but with longer exposures halation does occur. More information including developing times can be found from the Rollei fact sheet. Both the films can be developed using regular black and white chemicals but should be developed in complete darkness. As with other film, both the SFX 200 and Rollei IR 400 should be kept cool and dry, but it is even more imperative because high temperatures can potentially fog the film.
I took some similar images with the two types of film to see what the effects were. Below each photograph is a description of how it was metered and shot. Remember that metering may be different between cameras and filters, especially when metering through the filter with the built-in camera meter. Here are some sample photographs for comparison.
The Rollei IR 400 definitely shows more halation and shows a greater IR range. I also found that the Rollei was sharper with more contrast.
Again the Rollei has more contrast and shows a greater amount of halation.
I think it is scenes like the one above that are well suited to displaying the full IR effects of the Rollei IR 400.
For my purposes the Rollei IR 400 is better suited. It is more difficult to work with and seems to want to scratch a little bit easier than the SFX 200. It is also a little bit more expensive and more difficult to obtain. However, the better sharpness and contrast, along with the wider red sensitivity makes it worth the higher cost and trouble. The fact that both films need careful storage, can be developed with normal black and white chemicals, and be loaded in subdued light removes those as considerations. Ultimately the choice comes down to how much IR effect is desired in the final photograph and how it suits the final vision of the photographer.