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Notes on infrared (IR) photography and Canon EOS film cameras.

PhotoNotes.org DonationsCopyright © 2001-2014 NK Guy

http://photonotes.org/articles/eos-ir/

Note: the information on this page is now totally obsolete, since Kodak has now discontinued their two high-speed infrared films - HIE and EIR. And HIE is the one with all the cool monochrome effects. Other companies make IR-sensitive film, but nothing quite like the classic HIE look. So this page is just a historical footnote now.

When I started looking into doing some infrared photography with my Canon EOS film camera I found a huge amount of information online. But a lot of it was confusing and offered contradictory advice as to whether I could use my EOS cameras or not.

This is the result - what I hope is a fairly definitive article detailing which EOS film cameras can be used safely with Kodak HIE high-speed infrared film and which ones can cause fogging problems.

Note that I don’t go into IR photography using digital EOS cameras at all here. That’s a topic for a whole other page.

General infrared myths.

Note that this page was originally part of a longer article including a section on popular IR photography myths. The myths have been moved to their own article, which of course I think everyone should read!

Table of contents.

Fogging problems affect only high-speed infrared film.
Introduction to the main problem of IR film fogging.
How bad is this problem?
Introduction to the secondary problem of pressure plate holes.
Which EOS camera models are affected by high-speed IR issues?
Where does this information come from?
So. What EOS body should I buy for IR work?

Fogging problems affect only high-speed infrared film.

Okay. Before I get any further, however, I should mention that I’m primarily dealing with Kodak HIE infrared film in this document. I haven’t done much experimenting with other brands (Konica, Ilford, MACO, Afga) myself, but from what I’ve heard from other people into infrared photography, only Kodak HIE (black and white print) and EIR (colour slide) films are affected by this problem. And of these two, HIE is far more affected than EIR because HIE lacks an anti-halation layer.

But if you’re interested in other types of film you’re probably best off checking yourself.

Introduction to the main problem of IR film fogging.

IR photo demonstrating sprocket hole-counter fogging, shot on an EOS Elan (100)Beginning in the early 1990s, either with or around the release of the EOS 100/Elan, Canon began producing cameras which use small infrared LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to count the sprocket holes in the film. This permits a high level of accuracy of film transport, which is very convenient for mid-roll rewind and the like - exposed frames always line up and you don’t have the problem of misaligned frames on the film as you could in the olden days when frame alignment was done by means of a mechanical sprocket hole counter. The sensors also facilitated the implementation of quiet motor drives that rely on belt mechanisms.

The drawback is that the infrared energy from these sprocket hole-counting diodes fogs the bottom edge of Kodak infrared film, producing a fuzzy white border on the final prints, as the picture to the right demonstrates. The diodes don’t affect regular film because the energy they produce is far enough into the infrared range that regular film isn’t sensitive to it. (the human eye can’t see energy produced by these IR diodes either)

These IR diode counters are easily seen when you examine the interior of the camera. Open the camera back and look at the upper right-hand corner of the plastic area around the shutter, near where the top film rail ends. If your camera has an IR sensor you should see a small rectangular clear plastic piece a couple of millimetres square mounted in the plastic. Since the image cast onto the film is upside-down, this sensor fogs the bottom edge of the final image.

This fogging problem caused by sprocket hole counters is unrelated to the vulnerability of HIE film to stray light. If you don’t change your film in near darkness you risk fogging up the first few frames of your film. This is because the felt used in the HIE film canisters is not IR-opaque, and so light hitting the film tongue easily travels up the roll. This, combined with the fact that HIE film lacks an anti-halation coating (see the section on pressure-plate cutouts), results in a “light pipe” effect.

If your film exhibits fogging running along the bottom edge of the film, along the sprocket holes, then you’ve got a sprocket hole-counting IR diode problem. However, if your film is fogged primarily towards the start of the film but is okay further in then you had a problem with light entering the film canister when you loaded or unloaded the camera.

How bad is this problem?

IR photo from Burning Man 2000Canon’s instruction manuals baldly state that infrared film “cannot be used” with EOS cameras that have infrared sprocket hole counters. This is not strictly true. First, as stated above, there are non-Kodak brands of IR film that aren’t affected. Second, the IR sprocket hole counters fog up only a portion of Kodak’s film, not the entire image area. In the case of EIR, in fact, the fogging may be limited to just the sprocket hole area.

It appears that the degree of the problem varies on a camera by camera basis, not just by camera model, but encroachment of two or three millimetres into the image area seems common. At least, judging by posts to the Net by various users.

I’ve also heard the claim that EOS cameras leave the IR diode on whenever the camera is powered on. This seems odd, and a bit of a waste of battery life, but I decided to test it by loading some IR film into an EOS Elan (100) and leaving it powered on for a few minutes between shots. The final roll appears to have slightly darker fog marks on the negatives, suggesting that either the camera did indeed leave the IR diode turned on or else it turned it on a split second prior to film transport, creating a darker patch.

Anyway. Since different cameras appear to be worse than others for fogging, the best way of finding out how badly your particular camera fogs infrared film is just to go and try it.

You might be lucky. Some cameras apparently only fog up the sprocket hole area (film rebate) and don’t fog much of the visible image area on the film. (photographer Jon Laye’s A2 doesn’t fog much, for instance) Other cameras have a significant problem and fog up quite a bit of the visible image area. (my original Elan fogs a reasonable bit) In addition, the effect may not be an issue for you - occasionally it might even add to a photo. Or you could simply compose your photos to take the fogging into account and crop the images accordingly.

Nonetheless, this fogging issue can be a significant problem for people who like to shoot HIE film and who own EOS gear. People who own EOS equipment and like it probably wouldn’t be very keen on the idea of going and buying some old manual equipment, lenses and all, just to shoot infrared film without any fogging.

Introduction to the secondary problem of pressure plate holes.

There’s another problem that can come into play when using Kodak HIE and any other film which lacks an anti-halation layer. Many cameras, EOS or not, have a cutout hole in the camera back’s pressure plate. These cutouts are usually there to accommodate date-printing facilities, but some cameras that lack date-printing backs still have the holes - presumably because the camera manufacturer simply used the same pressure plate for both date-back and non date-back versions of the given model as a cost-cutting measure.

The cutouts can cause shadowing (dark areas on the final prints) on high-speed infrared film - and the reason why this occurs are detailed below. In a way this problem is worse than the IR diode fogging problem, because the shadowed area intrudes a fair bit into the image area. Here’s an example, shot with a Canon Rebel S II.

Some people on the IR mailing list have suggested taping a thin piece of mylar or medium-format backing paper to the pressure plate. (the latter may reduce halation in your photos - see below) I have not personally tried this, however. What I have found is that the shadowing is somewhat erratic - the pressure plate hole causes a shadowed area on some images but not others. I don’t know exactly why this is the case, but it appears that images with brighter highlights in the cutout area tend to result in more obvious shadow areas.

Some non-EOS cameras have small dimples or depressions in the pressure plates to reduce friction, and I’ve read that these small dents cause similar shadowing problems with HIE film.

Which EOS camera models are affected by high-speed IR issues?

The following cameras use mechanical sprocket counters and do not fog IR film. I don’t believe any of these models ever shipped with pressure plates with holes in them, but I don’t know for certain for each model. Let me know if I’m wrong about any of these. (see the note about the 10 QD below, in the “where” section)

EOS 1, 1 HS, 1 N, 1N RS, 1N DP, 10 (10S, 10QD), 600 (630), 620, 650, 700, 750, 850, RT, 10 QD.

The following cameras use mechanical sprocket counters, but have cutouts in the pressure plate and thus are vulnerable to the secondary problem. (see the note about 600-series models below, in the “what” section)

EOS 630 QD, 650 QD, 700 QD, 750 QD, 1000 (Rebel), 1000F (Rebel S), EOS 1000 QD, EOS 1000F QD (Rebel S Quartz Date), 1000N (Rebel II), 1000FN (Rebel S II), EOS 1000FN QD, 1000S QD, 1000S QD-P, EF-M.

The following cameras use IR diodes for sprocket hole-counting and so fog IR film. Some also have pressure plate cutouts for good measure. Still others (the newer Rebel-type cameras) have parallel grooves cut into their pressure plates, making matters still worse for HIE photography.

EOS 100 (Elan, 100 QD, 100 panorama), 5 (A2, A2E, 5 QD), 50 (Elan II), 50E (Elan II E), 55, 500 (Rebel XS, Kiss), Rebel X, 500N (Rebel G, New Kiss), 5000 (888), 3, 30 (Elan 7E, EOS 7), 33 (Elan 7), 300 (Rebel 2000, Kiss III), 3000 (88), 30V (Elan 7EN, EOS 7S), 33V (Elan 7N), 300V (Rebel Ti, Kiss 5).

The following camera uses an IR diode but it’s shielded in such a way that it isn’t supposed to fog IR film.

EOS 1 V.

Where does this information come from?

 I derived this list from a few sources. First, EOS and IR mailing lists guru Willem-Jan Markerink has a page on his site listing compatible cameras. Second, in September 2000 EOS Magazine published its own list of cameras known to be IR safe. This list was posted to the EOS list by Rafal Walas. Third, I’ve occasionally looked over various cameras in shops. And finally, I’ve added the North American and Japanese names for various models when appropriate - the original EOS Magazine list only mentioned the international EOS product names. This data was taken from the Canon Camera Museum site.

A few notes. First, the APS EOS cameras (IX etc) aren’t listed here since you obviously can’t buy infrared film in APS cartridges.

Second, Willem-Jan’s list used to contain a minor error. It stated that the 1000N/Rebel II cameras use IR counters when they actually use mechanical sprocket counters. The confusion probably arose because the 1000N/Rebel II cameras have quieter motor drives than their predecessors - they’re just not the “whisper drive” system, pioneered by the 100/Elan, that relies on diodes for sprocket hole detection. As Willem-Jan’s list has been online for some time and has been copied all over the place this error has spread - I’ve even seen it in a printed book! However, I’ve tested Kodak HIE film in a Rebel S II and there’s definitely no fogging. There is only the pressure plate hole problem.

Third, the EOS Magazine source apparently claims that the EOS 10/10s camera used a sort of hybrid mechanism whereby sprocket holes were counted with an IR counter but it still relied on a mechanical sprocket drive. However it also claims that the 10’s IR sensor was positioned in such a way that it normally didn’t fog IR film, except in the case of old or worn cameras. I can’t confirm or deny this story for certain since I haven’t dismantled a 10/10s. All I can say is that my 10s definitely does not fog HIE film.

However, I have noticed that my 10s has a small black plastic roller located near the shutter, in the same position as the sprocket counter cogwheel on older EOS cameras. It seems plausible that this roller might have a plastic disc with cutout vanes attached to its axis, with an IR sensor/detector pair tucked away inside the camera body - the type of technology used by opto-mechanical computer mice. There’s a small raised section near where such a disc might be located that lends some support to this theory. This would make sense - it would mean that the sprocket hole counter does indeed have IR components, but they’re hidden inside the body and thus won’t fog IR film.

Fourth, you’ll note that the 10 QD, which obviously has quartz date-printing facilities, is not included in the list of cameras with cutout notches in the pressure plate. I’m told by Nick Roberts, a British 10 QD owner, that it’s a very unusual camera indeed - the date-printing feature is built into the body and not the back. It therefore does not require a cutout hole in the pressure plate and the date printing is slightly sharper since the light source is not shining through the back of the film. Does anyone know of any other Canons which took this unusual design approach?

Finally, I’ve added the EF-M camera, which is an obscure manual-focussing-only camera which accepts EF (EOS compatible) lenses. It uses a sprocket drive but unfortunately also has a cutout notch in the pressure plate, since it’s built around the Rebel/EOS 1000 body.

What EOS body should I buy for high-speed IR work?

Since most people don’t shoot Kodak HIE as their primary film it makes sense to buy a primary body that has the features you need, regardless of whether it can shoot HIE properly or not, and then buy a secondary body for IR use. The ideal body for this purpose would be low-cost, would have a metered manual mode (essential), would have a rear command dial to facilitate manual bracketing, would have auto-exposure bracketing, would have a pressure plate with no cutout notches and wouldn’t fog HIE film.

Unfortunately, there is no such camera. These are your compromise options:

EOS 1V:

The only currently-shipping EOS camera that’s said to be IR compatible. It has metered manual, a rear dial and AEB. It’s also huge, heavy and massively expensive.

A shame that Canon doesn’t seem to think that using IR film is of any importance to any of their customers save the wealthy ones.

EOS 1, 1 HS, 1 N, 1N RS, 1N DP:

These discontinued cameras don’t fog HIE, have metered manual, rear dials and AEB. Which would be perfect if not for the fact that they’re also huge, heavy and still expensive - even second-hand.

EOS 10, 10S, 10 QD:

This discontinued camera is an excellent choice for IR work as it was the last advanced amateur camera model that Canon made that doesn’t fog IR. It had metered manual and AEB, but sadly no rear dial, making exposure compensation an irritatingly fiddly affair. It’s of medium cost on the used market. (typically $200-300 US) Interestingly, as noted above in the “where” section, the 10 QD apparently does not have a cutout notch in the pressure plate, and so both the quartz date QD version of this camera and the non date cameras are equally suitable for IR photography.

The 10/10s is handy for two other reasons - it comes with a built-in intervalometer and, like the older 600 series cameras, its shutter draws no power when open, making it suitable for long-exposure photography such as astrophotography. Unfortunately, interface-wise it’s not as good as post-Elan/100 EOS cameras - not only does it lack a rear dial but the handy graphical exposure confirmation scale is also missing. Metering options are also not as flexible.

EOS 600/630, 620, 650, RT:

The first generation of EOS cameras. None use IR diodes and thus none fog HIE. Metered manual (albeit with a fiddly interface) but no rear command dial. According to EOS user Chris Laker, all but the 650 had AEB. These cameras are sturdy and solid and a good choice for IR, but tend to hold up their used value fairly well. A 10 or 10s might be cheaper, and its metered manual mode interface is more convenient than the 600 series. Note that many 600 series cameras had date backs, but since they all have interchangeable backs this shouldn’t be a problem - just buy a cheap non-date back and switch out the problematic one.

Many 600 series cameras are now suffering from a problem with the shutter. A foam bumper inside the camera is deteriorating, leaving oily sticky black tar-like gunk on the shutter curtain, eventually gumming it up. The Elan/100 is vulnerable to this problem as well, as are presumably other EOS cameras of that era, but the problem is most likely to show up now on the 600 series models simply because they’re the oldest.

EOS 700, 750, 850:

Not a very good choice, as these discontinued low-end cameras did not have metered manual mode, let alone rear dials or AEB. They don’t fog HIE and are available pretty cheaply, though.

EF-M:

A weird little camera that was basically an EOS 1000/Rebel with the topdeck LCD and the autofocus and TTL flash circuitry taken out. You have to focus manually using a split-circle focusing screen. Some people have reported using these for IR with great success, though note that the EF-M has a cutout notch in the pressure plate.

EOS 1000, EOS 1000F, EOS 1000F QD, EOS Rebel, EOS Rebel S, EOS Rebel S Quartz Date, EOS 1000 QD, EOS 1000N, EOS 1000FN, EOS 1000FN QD, EOS Rebel II, EOS Rebel S II, EOS 1000S QD and EOS 1000S QDP:

Despite some of the incorrect Web pages out there, these cameras all use mechanical sprocket counters and thus do not fog HIE. They were low-end consumer models, but do have metered manual mode. They don’t have rear dials or AEB, and are available pretty cheaply. They’re probably your lowest-cost option for non-fogging IR on EOS. (ironically the 1000/Rebel cameras are better than the later 1000N/Rebel II cameras in that the older models have a match-needle metered manual mode rather than less informative +/- arrows.)

Unfortunately they all seem to have pressure plate cutouts, so you have to deal with that problem. I spent some time looking into whether any other EOS models have pressure plates compatible with the 1000/Rebel series, but wasn’t able to find any. As mentioned above, here’s an example photo of the pressure plate hole problem, shot with a Rebel S II.

 

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- NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org.

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