Lumix ZS3 camera with IR filter attached

5 Frames with an IR-Converted Lumix ZS3/TZ7 in Iceland – By Dave Powell

I love digital infrared. Until this year, my best IR camera was a 3.4-megapixel Nikon Coolpix 990 that a good friend converted for me. The “antiquarian” color scheme in which its CCD sensor sees infrared wavelengths is so lovely that I rarely convert the camera’s files to monochrome.

But the camera isn’t exactly compact when worn around one’s neck for hours. I’ve long wanted a higher-resolution– but smaller– IR shooter. But sadly, after the 3-megapixel era, digital cameras really had to be converted if one wanted to shoot tripod-free, hand-held, IR. And this conversion was either expensive when done by someone else, complicated to do oneself, or both. I often trolled YouTube for videos about conversions that I might be able to handle, and this year, I finally found these excellent vids about converting Panasonic’s Lumix DSC-ZS3 (called the TZ7 outside the U.S.):

Part 1: Removing the ZS3/TZ7 IR hot-mirror
Part 2: Attaching an IR bandpass filter

In Part 1, you remove the camera back, remove the “hot-mirror” glass that stops IR rays from reaching the sensor, and then put the camera back together. Part 2 shows how to attach an IR “bandpass” filter to the camera lens. This filter looks like black glass because it blocks visible light and lets only IR rays reach the sensor.

These kinds of conversions usually require a number of steps– including the sometimes tedious removal of many tiny screws. But the ZS3 procedure required few steps, and the removal of only nine screws. I could handle that!

In the Operating Room

So I grabbed an inexpensive ZS3 online, and in less than 30 minutes, performed the operation and attached a 37mm Tiffen #87 IR filter.

IMPORTANT: Use the kind of sturdy Phillips screwdriver that’s described in the Part 1 video. If you try one of the skinny drivers that come in hardware store sets, you may not have enough torque to break the “thread lock” that camera manufacturers sometimes use. And you could easily strip the tiny screw heads.

I did deviate from Part 2’s method for attaching the filter to the lens. Instead of using epoxy glue, I preferred something almost as strong and much more controllable and reversible: the thick, two-sided mounting tape that’s sold in most craft-supply stores. It’s:

  • Easily cut into any desired shape (glue is much harder to control)
  • Flexible for precise positioning
  • Strongly adhesive
  • And easily removed if desired

I cut and bent a skinny strip of the tape into a sticky ring between the lens and filter. You can see this white ring behind the filter here:

Lumix ZS3 camera with IR filter attached

I also used adhesive-backed felt to fabricate a friction-fit Kodak Series VI lens hood:

Lumix ZS3 camera with lens hood

When a circular white ring appeared in my first test images, I correctly assumed that IR rays were reflecting onto the lens from the tape ring’s inside edge. Blackening it with a permanent marker fixed the problem.

Off to Iceland

Then, the camera joined my wife and me on a circumnavigation of Iceland on a 189-passenger arctic expedition ship. During the adventure, my tape-ring hack remained strong, and the DIY lens hood prevented direct sunlight from hitting the filter and reducing image contrast.

To maximize image quality, I:

  • Selected the camera’s lowest ISO (80)
  • Set a minimum allowable shutter speed of 1/30 sec
  • Selected the camera’s strongest image-stabilization setting (Mode 2)
  • And shot in “B/W” Color Mode

Some of these settings might seem counter-intuitive for shooting through one of the darker available IR filters. But they worked. The low ISO reduced digital noise to a pleasant film-like grain. The minimum allowable shutter speed kept the camera from falling down into hand-held hell. Maximum image stabilization was necessary since a tripod was impractical on this trip. And I shot monochrome to save me from having to convert the camera’s garish pink IR JPEGs.

Great Results

The following photo was a Hail-Mary shot that I grabbed near Reykjavik city hall:

Bicycle riders Reykjavik Iceland

While we waited for our bus, some of the city’s ever-present bicycles whizzed past. Without thinking, I quickly raised the ZS3 and shot. The camera admirably froze the bicycles’ motion with an automatically selected aperture of f/3.3 and shutter speed of 1/100 second. This relatively fast shutter surprised me, since I was shooting at low ISO through very opaque glass. But I was now confident that careful hand-held shots would be even sharper. And as it turned out, my images’ EXIF data revealed that the ZS3 frequently attained shutter speeds as fast as 1/400 second. Not bad!

Next is one of Iceland’s most fascinating locations (taken at f/4.2, 1/100 second):

Thingvellir Iceland

Part of Iceland’s “Golden Circle,” this UNESCO World Heritage site is Thingvellir National Park. It’s said to be the location of the “world’s first parliament,” where– around the year 930– Icelandic settlers began meeting to talk with words rather than knives, swords and axes.

This is also one of the few places on earth where the mid-Atlantic volcanic rift runs up onto dry land (and nearly cuts Iceland in half). According to our guides, the tall cliff at the right is on the “North American” tectonic plate and the “Eurasian” plate is a long way off to the left of this view. This rift valley grows about one inch wider each year… and is around 5 inches wider today than when we were last here in 2017. Iceland is reportedly the only place where one can literally walk back and forth between the North American and Eurasian plates.

The “Land of Fire and Ice” is deservedly famous for its volcanoes and glaciers. But thousands of its volcanic features aren’t volcanoes at all. For example, consider these large “pseudocraters” beside a parking lot (captured at f/3.8, 1/100 second):

"Pseudocraters" Iceland

While truly volcanic in origin, they don’t have underground magma chambers. They actually formed around 2,300 years ago, when molten lava flowed over wet boggy ground. The resulting steam explosions created large lava bubbles… some of which burst open and cooled into craters like these. But other bubbles didn’t burst, and formed hollow domes in which resourceful Icelanders sometimes house farm equipment, supplies and animals. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks even live in them… Icelanders are quite creative!)

NOTE: Infrared can strongly differentiate rocks and plants. The brighter sides and interiors of the craters are actually grass, while the dark rims are lava.

I shot the next photo in Iceland’s Námafjall (“Devil’s Kitchen”) geothermal area (exposed at f/4, 1/200 second):

Námafjall fumarole Iceland

The country has many fumaroles like these, where hot volcanic gases vent into the atmosphere. They can be both smaller and bigger than this one. TIP: Don’t stand downwind!

And finally, one of the country’s largest waterfalls is Godafoss (captured here at f/4, 1/125 second):

Godafoss waterfall Iceland

It’s easy to see why Icelanders call it their “Niagara.”

Perfect for Infrared

Though I also shot many visible-light photos with an equally small Lumix ZS-100 camera, digital infrared seems especially appropriate for Iceland’s stark beauty. If these few examples inspire you to IR-convert your own ZS3/TZ7, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Whether photographed with film or digital cameras, and in visible light, infrared, or both, Iceland is spectacular. And if you haven’t yet visited the island and its friendly people… GO!

FINAL NOTE: Other than occasional cropping, my only post-processing was to spread image histograms across the full range of grayscale tones using the Levels command’s black- and white-point sliders.

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass. writer and avid amateur photographer.

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15 thoughts on “5 Frames with an IR-Converted Lumix ZS3/TZ7 in Iceland – By Dave Powell”

    1. A very interesting suggestion Nikojorj! I checked the link for disassembling the NX Mini, and it looks like you might be able to remove the hot mirror at step 10 (I’m not sure about that, though).

      Interestingly, the Kolari company seems to charge $300 for their conversion. And they warn that the process disables the camera’s dust-removal system (a problem I didn’t need to worry about with the fixed-lens ZS3).

      You also made me remember an important issue for any mirrorless-camera conversion: Not every lens that you attach to the camera will be good for IR. For example, the three original Fuji lenses I bought with my X-Pro1 all cast bright hotspots into the center of IR photos. The size and intensity of these white areas depends on the lens design, internal coatings, zoom setting (if applicable), shooting aperture, and shutter speed.

      But I can shoot IR with some of the vintage SLR lenses that I’ve adapted to the X-Pro1. And that’s another advantage of converting a compact mirrorless body like the NX Mini!

  1. At step 10 indeed, once you get the cover with contacts out of the way, the IR filter is just wedged under the grey soft plastic cover, you can gently dislodge it with small pliers and a bit of care.
    I wasn’t aware of any dust-removal thingy on this camera btw (but IR converted it just after I bought it).

    1. A good guess on my part! I take it that you haven’t encountered hotspots in your IR photos either. If you haven’t… Wonderful!

  2. This is a very helpful write-up! I have a Pany FP3 that I’ve been wondering about whether converting to IR would be worthwhile. It appears that the FP3 has all the same settings available as the ZS3, so maybe I can actually do this! Not sure about the surgery, though. I have no qualms about paying Kolari to not F- it up. 😉

    Seeing pictures of Iceland, and Reykjavik particularly, brings back many good memories. Not having seen many non-landscape IR shots, I’m surprised that most people appear as all white. Is this normal or a cloth-related reflectivity issue?

    1. You’re very welcome Ben! A quick YouTube search didn’t find any videos about converting your FP3. But I have noticed that the process can vary widely in complexity between seemingly similar cameras! The folks at Kolari should be able to tell you if your camera is convertible.

      Not all are! And the main reason is their lenses. The design and coatings of some lenses create hard-to-remove hotspots in infrared images. To see if your camera does, hold an infrared bandpass filter in front of its lens and shoot outside on a sunny day. (You don’t need a tripod for this test.) If the FP3’s lens generates IR hotspots, you’ll see one in the center of the photo. Also take several photos at different zoom settings and apertures (if you can’t adjust then directly, you might be able to alter them through the camera’s scene modes). If no bright hotspots appear, then your FP3 should be convertible.

      Your question about clothes is interesting, and possibly complicated. First, my camera was set to its “B/W” scene mode and it looked out through one of the stronger IR filters (a #87, which blocks ALL visible light). The combination produces pure monochrome tones, in which a range of bright grays could register as white.

      A less-strong “R72” (AKA “720”) infrared filter– which is very popular in IR photography– does not block all visible light. So if I’d shot full-color JPEGs through an R72 filter, peoples’ skin may have looked a little more gray, and fabrics might have been pastel brown, gray or teal.

      But it’s hard to predict how clothing will appear. Infrared rays can pass right through dye-based pigments (in both clothes and paintings). So– as you suggest– infrared photos may show less of clothing’s colors and more of the underlying fabrics’ IR reflectivity. Cotton, for instance, reflects infrared– as does plant chlorophyll. So in infrared photos, both plants and cotton clothing could look equally white.

      A small technical addition: Removing the camera’s hot mirror also opens it up for ultraviolet photography. All one needs for that is a UV bandpass filter, which (like IR bandpass filters) can also look like black glass. And people can look even stranger in UV, since the veins beneath their skin often show! A perhaps more pleasant use of UV is to see how flowers look to bees!

  3. Thank you so much for this article, it inspired me to remove the hot mirror of my Panasonic FX37. It seems to be the little sister of the ZS3 and the conversion was just as easy. I have a Wratten Filter 87 on the way which I will put in front of the sensor, until then I’ll just handhold a normal 30mm 720nm in front of the lens. Can’t wait to take some pictures on the weekend!

    1. You’re welcome, Bastian… and congratulations on the successful surgery! If the stronger #87 filter produces results like mine, it will generate lovely monochromes. And I’d guess that your “720” filter will excel at making JPEGs for color editing and cool “channel-swapping” experiments. Have fun with both!

  4. I don’t see how you can use the “Sports” Scene Mode in the Lumix TZ7 and shoot in monochrome mode. Any tips?

    1. Great observation, William… and you’re absolutely right!

      When I checked the photos’ EXIF data, it showed that the camera had “Intelligent Auto Mode” (“iA”) set to “ON” and “Color Mode” to “B/W.” I had thought that I could set the “Sports” Scene Mode first, and then switch to iA’s monochrome. But they seem to be mutually exclusive, with “iA” overriding the “Scene > Sports Mode” setting.

      I did also find that the camera apertures ranged from 3.3 to 4.9, and shutter speeds from 1/30 to 1/400 sec. The faster speeds seemed quite good, considering that I was shooting at only ISO 80 through one of the darker IR filters.

      And I’ve corrected the article… Thanks!

  5. Thank’s for clearing that up Dave. I just got a used TZ7 and waiting for the arrival of the IR filter. Looking forward to some infrared magic 😉

  6. Hi Dave, thanks for the article I have been looking for a point and shoot camera that would convert for a cheap price to go along with the big cameras. Just picked up and converted a TZ5, just need to stick the front filter on now, held an IR72 over the lens, looking good.

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