How to Make an Infrared Camera

We’ve published a few pieces on infrared photography before, and we’ve mentioned how it’s possible to modify a cheap or junk camera to be sensitive to infrared light. But you might be wondering, “Just HOW am I supposed to do that?” This video can walk you through the process:

The camera he converts is a Canon Powershot A490, and he describes every step, down to where the screws are and how to access the lens. Even if you have a different camera, though – maybe your old point-and-shoot (I did it with a decade-old 3MP CyberShot) – the same basic steps apply to almost any compact camera.

Before you start, you should have:

  • Tiny screwdrivers – both a Philips head and a flat head.
  • Tape – to hold the loose screws, and to fasten the filter on the lens.
  • The end piece from a roll of colour film.
  • A camera you don’t mind destroying.
  • Patience and a steady hand.
make an infrared camera

Pointing out the camera’s IR filter, in front of the sensor.

The Steps:

  1. Remove the batteries and memory card.
  2. Remove all screws on the exterior casing, and keep them in a safe place (stuck to the tape, or in a small container). Detach the casing, prying it apart with the small flat screwdriver if necessary.
  3. Inside, there will be a circuit board; remove the screws holding it in place. Don’t poke around at anything you don’t understand, and like he says in the video, be VERY CAREFUL of the flash capacitor. Don’t underestimate its power – camera flashes are used in home-made tasers and stun-guns (this is not recommended).
  4. Remove any necessary ribbons as he describes at 6:30 min. Be gentle, and don’t damage any wires.
  5. Remove layers of machinery in this fashion until you come to the image sensor.
  6. There are a few ways that IR filters are configured. In the video, it was simply a removable piece of plastic. On my CyberShot, it was a small piece of glass with a coating that I had to scrape off. You’ll be able to identify your filter because of its position in front of the sensor, and its shiny orange-red hue. The sensor is the most delicate part of the whole camera, and the utmost care should be taken when dealing with it. However you can, remove the IR filter without damaging or dislodging the sensor (tweezers might be useful for this).
  7. Reassemble the camera the same way you took it apart (taking notes is never a bad idea). Before reattaching the casing, insert the batteries and test the camera to make sure that you’ve reconnected everything properly.
  8. If it works, put the casing back together and tape a piece of exposed colour film over the lens to block out the visible light, allowing only the infrared to pass through to the now unobstructed sensor.

Some cameras will be accessed by the back, like the video’s Canon A490, but some will come apart from the front, which usually makes it easier to locate the sensor. Be very ginger with your movements, and never force anything that doesn’t want to budge – instead, examine it closely and try to identify where the obstruction is. Take it slowly and use common sense when dealing with delicate electronics!

Tip: If you have trouble putting in the screws, run a strong magnet along the length of your screwdriver a few times. This will align the molecules and magnetize the metal, causing the steel screws to cling to it.

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