With so many advances being made in DSLR technology, it is often the case that you might have an old camera or two that are sitting around and have been superseded by the latest models. While many people turn one of their older cameras into a backup, another thing that people like to do is turn their older cameras into an infrared camera. One of the options you can choose when you do your conversion is to allow your Nikon camera to be “full spectrum.” This allows your camera to be able to capture ultraviolet (UV), visible light (VL), and infrared (IR) images.
In this series, we’ll be discussing how to use a full spectrum camera, what it can do, and how to manipulate light to change the look of your images. We’ll also discuss some of the other options you have when converting your camera, and why you may want to choose one of them over going full spectrum.
Calling a converted camera that can record UV, IR, and VL images “full spectrum” is a misnomer, since light is only a part of the electromagnetic spectrum and not the full (electromagnetic) spectrum. It ranges from gamma rays to radio waves, as shown in figure 1.
Figure 1. The full electromagnetic spectrum, showing the tiny sliver that is visible light.
As you can see, visible light is only a tiny portion of the entire spectrum. Visible light runs from about 380 nanometers (nm) to about 740nm, approximately (as a reference, 1000 nanometers is a micrometer, 1000 micrometers is a millimeter, and 1000 millimeters is a meter). All the nm wavelengths we discuss are going to be approximate, as different sources use different numbers for different ideas. For example, where exactly does blue end, and green begin? Additionally, everyone’s eyes are a little bit different; some people can see more light, and some people see less, and humans see light differently than other creatures. For example, birds and insects can generally see down to about 300nm into the ultraviolet range, and we can’t.
Cameras are able to pick up down to about 300nm into near ultraviolent, and to about 1200nm into near infrared. Your camera is not going to pick up x-rays or gamma rays, nor is it going to pick up microwaves or radio waves, which stretch out to as much as 100,000km in length. In fact, UV wavelengths go opaque to the atmosphere at 200nm (vacuum UV), so recording light at that level simply is not possible, unless you head into outer space. So, the camera is not full spectrum. Wide spectrum, extended spectrum, enhanced spectrum, all these are more accurate descriptions. In this series, we’ll use “wide spectrum.” Although given the narrow band we are talking about within the entire electromagnetic spectrum, it’s not very wide, either.
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