Splendid acquisitions that easily replace more famous or expensive photography gear.
All of the photos below were shot through the magnificent, sharp Tokina's full frame lenses, with the majority of photos with Hoya R72 filter
I have been dealing with Black & White art, let alone shooting in this genre for quite a long time. As you may already know by now, I had the opportunity to use various tools and cameras - some of them specially modified - in order to yield my artworks. The last one of those new cameras was one beautiful Sony full frame mirrorless. Now, I know that my followers along the years know that I am not affiliate to any manufacturer other than Tokina, Hoya Filters, and Kenko; however, since I get some increased interest from people all around the world asking about how I create my artworks, I reckoned that I should write a word or two about other manufacturers that I am truly impressed with their gear! I reckon that being fair with professional gear makers or camera modifiers never hurts anyone, and hence, even without any affiliation - I hereby would like to give some good words/review on two different items that sparked some interest when I was shooting with.
1. Modified Camera
This time I got my last one (last year) from a European business (rather than American with which I used to use until that point of time). I reckon that once the job is done perfectly, the issues to consider are whether the price tag is fair. The American counterparts indeed do charge dearer. So, the conversion of my current modified camera has been done through the rather self-explanatory business name: “Infrared Camera Conversion” (I'll give all the links below).
Initially I was a bit hesitant to make the first contact to be honest, as camera conversions do require some good and clean practices, let alone the professional knowledge and ability of the technician to absolutely not impinge on any circuit or element that the camera has inside, while the latter is opened up. Conversion requires opening the camera and voiding the warranty, so I assume that you - like myself - genuinely want the entire job to be performed with the best practices and tools. After all, you pay for this and the last thing you are prepared to gain is a lemon!
Compared to previous, much more expensive modified cameras that I purchased in the past, the one that I ordered from the above business shows absolutely identical desired results! One can argue that results are dependent on the sensor quality, technology and the like. This argument is indeed very true; however, in my checks I do compare between similar technologies and sensor sizes, megapixels and so on, and as I do have rather good experience with other modified cameras in the past, I assume that I can genuinely compare between the cameras along the years.
Some General Info
Well, as in regular non-modified photography, for the ‘ordinary’ hobbyist, any camera these days that has sensors counting between 10 to 24 megapixels would be more than enough. Allow me to give some general information in this regard. Pay attention that for any given sensor size, less megapixels-count means (by-and-large) a BETTER low light photo ability. This article is not one intended to be totally thorough and deep as one of my workshops, so without going too far out of topic, I would just say that when we examine each pixel for its own, bigger pixels get cleaner and better light gathering. Thus, shots taken through a 10, 12 or 16 megapixels (again, by-and-large) have better light-to-noise ratio. In general, it means that the photo would have LESS image noise, compared to sensors with larger pixel count and the same sensor size.
Once we approach to the 24 megapixels, on any given sensor size, we talk about smaller pixel measurement – and accordingly, some lower low light capability; however, the higher pixel-count indeed gives the photographer the ability to crop the image later on in post-processing without degrading the image quality (up to a certain crop, that is!) So, like in life itself, there are always advantages and shortcomings in any choice we make when we choose our camera. One simply needs to ask themselves what shortcomings they can better live with.
What is so important when we come to buy a modified camera?
And here we go back to what is important when we choose a modified camera. For a regular daylight black-and-white composition that does want to show some better contrast than normal colour (RGB) photography, I’d recommend to start with cameras up to 16 megapixels, especially when the photos are meant to be posted primarily on your Facebook/other social media platforms or on your PC screen (as opposed to large prints).
Once you got honed-up in photography and are ready for the next step, I do recommend to go for the larger pixel-counts, and if possible - newer camera models. The sensor size does play a big game in here, as the image quality tends to always go with the bigger sensor (and I will not start any arguments here about BSI, new technologies etc. that can assist even in APS-C sensors. Let’s leave this aside). One must not forget that a larger sensor size also requires a larger image circle (the area where the lens projects your exposure onto the sensor is actually a circle that is a little bit bigger than the length of the rectangular sensor inside your camera). If you use a hobbyist/enthusiast cameras (usually those have cropped sensor, or as they are known APS-C sensors), then you probably have lenses with smaller image circles. Those are APS-C lenses. The stepping up to a Full Frame sensor size (which is substantially larger than any APS-C sensor) will require you to also upgrade further to those larger lenses, that are in turn usually dearer and heavier!
Usually, Full Frame cameras are priced accordingly. They may be more technologically advanced or having advanced capabilities. For the most of you, who are not going to print your images in large prints, paying dearer prices for Full Frame cameras may be less recommended. No, I do not wish to eliminate the winds of your sail, but this is actually what I do recommend to many students of mine who truly need to experience a bit more in photography before committing to pay larger amounts of money on the Full Frame gear involved. Many simply post on the internet and the difference between APS-C and Full Frame is minimal in this regard. So, if you are short in cash, but still would like to get into photography, let alone modified camera photography, I really encourage you to start off with an APS-C camera.
What do I need to look for when picking the specific modified camera?
Well, many are attracted to infrared photography. I will not get in this article into frequencies of light or any other information about the physics of the electromagnetic radiation (that light is part of it). I can merely advise that infrared is beyond the visible RED light. The 'distance' between the RED and the infrared is not measured in one spot but gradually, and hence, in between those two, there is another “colour” called Near-Infra-Red (abbreviated “NIR”). So, modified cameras for infrared photography are actually mostly touching on the NIR, rather than on pure infrared (that we, humans, cannot see naturally). Indeed, some modified cameras do get deeper into the real infrared, but for the most of the people who come to this niche of photography, the NIR is more than sufficient.
Being more specific, a modified camera sensor with a “standard” frequency of 720nm (nm = NanoMetre) is the right address you would like to go to. The photos that are created through this type have better contrast than the regular colour cameras, almost on the border of black-and-white. The faint yellowish colour wash that you get in those images is divine. Suddenly you are able to get rid of all the distraction made by the colours, and genuinely concentrate on your composition. This is genuinely a whole different world that opens up to you now. Certain colours that our eyes may see as dark (like the shades of green), will be seen totally different – white! Remember, once the camera is modified to InfraRed, the camera sensor can get only the NIR/infrared's NanoMetre frequencies, and other colours will look paler. Fantastic, isn’t it?!
Other options on the table
Those who are interested in capturing other naturally-unseen colours, can choose to modify their cameras or to purchase a new camera with a UV, as opposed to infrared. UV is the abbreviation to UltraViolet. The energy of the UV is much weaker, hence any other colour of the spectrum easily overcomes it. And similar to infrared, we humans cannot see this colour range either. But modified UV cameras do!
Since the UV radiation is so faint, even a dedicated UV modified camera requires most of the times to add special lens filters. Those filters block the visible and infrared radiation, and leave the way only for the UV radiation. As opposed to the infrared modified cameras, the UV cameras and the required additional gear that may cost more. Much more!
How to modify?
As I noted above, the modification process may (just) seem to be simple: simply void your camera warranty, open up the camera, release several small screws inside, disconnect the electrical wires there (watch out not to get electrocuted on the way!), disconnect the sensor from its location, disconnect the filters that the manufacturers have glued onto the sensor, and replace with a different filter that fits to your style. Oh, on the way, you must also be super careful that the exposed sensor would not acquire even a micro dust/hair strand, as it will definitely show on the images. While and after assembling all the camera parts back (hopefully successfully) you need to make sure that the auto-focus does its job when you mount your lenses onto the camera. And yet, this is another skill you need to acquire.
So, yes, this may seem like a simple task (for those who do feel adventurous and do not mind to pour money on possible failures), but many times the job simply ends up with a camera that does not work as needed, or worse – a useless one that does not work at all! To make such job one needs to be very skilled and make sure that the work is done where no delicate components are damaged. One especially needs to make sure that the workstation is extremely clean in order to prevent any impurities to get onto the sensor when it is exposed.
Let's find competitive prices for great job!
I did not want to ruin my gear so, as I noted above, my usual past choice was to get my modified cameras from some American modifiers. Yes, they were not having competitive prices (at all), but they did the job well. Along the years many asked me about similar modification quality that does pose a competitive price, and that's where I started to dig a bit deeper to find a possible modifier that fits that space.
That was where I decided to check other options and then took the plunge and made a contact with that lovely European modification business. I did not make the life of the business owners easy with my questions. I am not new to the modification field so I knew exactly what I am after. As an internationally recognized photographer and Ambassador who creates art projects in the name of three renowned manufacturers, I wanted a super clean sensor that does its job following to the delicate modification job. I wanted to know that I can trust the job and that the camera would not die after a long usage. I was truly happy to know that greediness was not part of their business. That exactly what I look for, and that exactly what I recommended to my students to do. When the time comes and I shall need to replace my modified cameras with new ones, I would go blindingly again to this business and get my new one. Do your math and decide for yourself. This is their website: http://www.infraredcameraconversion.com/
All of my copyrighted artworks above were taken with the modified Full Frame camera that made by the latter. Compositions were crafted through the wonderful Tokina lenses and Hoya filters.
2. Sturdy Tripod
In photography, there are some elementary gear that you need to use. Camera body – of course. At least one lens to connect to the camera – for sure. And then what? A Tripod! This tool is totally needed when one shoots landscapes, especially with some challenging lighting conditions, let alone in long exposures. When we talked about modified cameras above, this genre also requires a tripod as much of the spectrum that non-modified cameras see is simply gone. The lighting condition of infrared and UltraViolet photography many times simply have to use a tripod.
But, just like the camera bodies that are offered on the market, tripods are also coming in many sizes, shapes, strengths, looks, and materials. There are so many options to choose from, right? Oh yes, some will simply tell you “go to that ‘Italian’ manufacturer; they are the BEST”. Well, are they? Why are they the “best”? Do they sell tripods that are made of diamonds?
What I look for
One needs to understand that while the more robust tripods are naturally made of stronger materials, and having better sturdiness – even those tripods are not safe from harm. I had in my professional life quite a few tripods. Started with ‘beginner’ ones and went up the ladder to the more expensive and sturdy-looking ones. I did have that “Italian” brand. I did love it. I did also pay quite a lot when I bought it years ago. Did it eventually fail me? Yes it did. As I said, no brand is fail proof.
I do think that in some gear items I need to spend more than others. Lenses, for example, are what you really want to spend your bucks on. Why? Because lenses will most probably last well after your camera body or tripod! That failed expensive “Italian” tripod led me shift my thinking to a different direction. Rather than going to Italy, I decided to check what China has to offer. Oh yes, some of my students and readers did raise their eye brows: “China?!!”. Well, heck! Yes, China!
I made some thorough research on those Chinese manufacturers that seem to show up like mushrooms after the rain. There are so many brands there that one truly needs to spend at least half a day in order to get a grasp of all of those. Lucky me that I do my deep research. I made a contact with a manufacturer called Milliboo. This manufacturer is absolutely not connected to me in any way. I am not their affiliate, but I truly want my readers to understand that there are some real quality gear out there in China.
Indeed, not all of the Chinese manufacturers are the same, and many of them do produce products that I was already sorry for buying after one round of use. However, that Milliboo brand of tripods is truly a jewel. Comparing the quality, sturdiness, usefulness, weight, materials, engineering, and overall – the sum of money one needs to pay for – you’d be, like me, surprise to understand that their tripod is simply great and does stand at the same line as the much more expensive famous “Italian” counterpart.
The specific model I decided to go for is MTT702B. It is made of robust carbon-fiber legs, and metal joins all parts together. The height extends to 2 metres which is just amazing for any project I do. It does weigh a good weight of about 4.5 Kilograms. For some people this may be a lot. Believe me - this is GREAT that your landscape and Astro photography is heavy. You actually want it to be on the heavy side. The Milliboo tripod has been with me in every weather, everywhere I went here in New Zealand in the past two years. I went with it to the officially recognized as the WINDIEST city on earth – Wellington – and it was absolutely a pleasure to know it withstood the winds and my photos went so beautifully stable! I cannot recommend it enough, to be honest. I am unable to give my review on other Chinese tripods, but if you are truly after top quality without the crazy price-tag – then you genuinely need to explore this option, too! Their website: http://www.miliboo.cn/en/
If you have any question about the gear, or photography in general, please do not hesitate to contact me through the "Contact us" of this website.
(C) Collins Ryàn - L'artiste, April 2021
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