DIY Convert Lumix DMC-ZS3 for infrared or full spectrum photography

; Date: August 27, 2019

Tags: Photography »»»» Infrared Photography

Digital camera sensors are often sensitive to infrared (IR) or ultraviolet (UV) light. The manufacturers add filters to cut out that unwanted light in order to have sharp images. But some of us want to do other kinds of photography. The DMC-ZS3 was at one time a top end point-and-shoot camera and is still very good and available at very low cost, making it a good platform for experimenting with IR Conversions of digital cameras.

The Lumix DMC-ZS3 is very easy to convert for full spectrum photography, and with a small bit of hackery can do IR photography.

See also: DIY Convert Canon SX530 to full spectrum and infrared photography

See also: Extracting lens unit from Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS19 - partial teardown

The conversion requires removing the back of the camera, accessing the image sensor, removing the filter behind the sensor. To remove the back there are several screws holding the back of the camera in place. Using a tiny Phillips head screwdriver, remove the screws carefully. The back will pop off readily.

This is what the insides look like. To remove the image sensor, carefully remove these screws.

The rearmost focusing element of the lens - that is the back-end of the lens - is visible, since it is covered by the image sensor. Between the lens and the image sensor is the IR/UV blocking filter. Technically the name for this is IR/UV Cut Filter.

The filter is held in place using a small rubber boot.

In this case the the rubber boot stuck to the image sensor, so it was a matter of prying it loose from the sensor and setting the filter aside.

Our task now is to reassemble the camera.

Replace the rubber boot so it sits around where the lens is. Then re-seat the image sensor in place. All this will be easy because the image sensor cable will put it in the right place, then you just line up the holes.

Screw in the screws you removed earlier. At first don't tighten the screws all the way, but only part way. Then go back through and tighten the screws one at a time. The idea is to have the screws holding the image sensor evenly at all corners so the sensor is flat in relation to the lens.

After that you place the back on the camera.

Theory of DIY IR Conversion of Digital Cameras

The visible light spectrum we see is a tiny sliver of the light effects in the world. The IR/UV cut filter we removed blocks light from outside the visible light spectrum.

By removing this filter the camera can now see a wider range of light.

Resulting pictures from full-spectrum conversion of Lumix DMC-ZS3

At this stage the camera is not a full-on infrared camera. Instead it is what's called a full spectrum conversion, meaning that this camera now images a broader spectrum of light. To finish the conversion requires adding a filter that blocks everything but infrared light.

With that in mind here's a couple pictures I took with the camera immediately after removing the filter.

This is straight out of the camera with no processing other than resizing. Cool? Nifty? Keeno?

Finishing the IR conversion of the Lumix DMC-ZS3

At the moment I haven't taken the camera beyond removing the filter.

The attached videos suggest:

  • Taking a regular 37mm UV filter (or similar) and removing the glass.
  • Gluing that filter to the front of the ZS3 lens assembly using a strong dual-epoxy glue
  • That gives you a 37mm filter mount on the front of the camera
  • You then acquire a 37mm IR filter to screw into the filter mount

While the 37mm UV filter recommended is readily available, 37mm IR filters are eyepoppingly expensive. I'm looking at alternatives.

One possibility is instead of a 37mm UV filter, to use a 37mm to 46mm step-up ring. In the 46mm size, IR filters are more readily available at a more reasonable price. Step-up filters for other sizes are available and you might price-shop between different filter sizes.

Gluing a filter mount to the front of the lens offers an interesting possibility. Namely - other sorts of filters can be used. For example the camera can be used in a normal mode by using an external UV/IR cut filter. Or, there are different sorts of IR filters for higher ranges of the IR spectrum. Or this camera might be sensitive to UV light, and therefore a UV filter might give interesting effects.

Another option is to replace the internal filter with an internal IR filter.

The professional IR conversion shops do install an IR filter inside the camera, for example. But I don't know where to buy a glass IR filter of the correct size to fit inside the camera, nor do I have the skill to readily cut a glass IR filter to size without destroying it.

In ( Infrared Digital Camera - the Real Way we are instructed to use 6 layers of the Congo Blue filter inside the camera. You simply cut the gel to fit, and insert it in place of the filter that was removed.

I found a filter from Lee's Filters that is an IR filter as a plastic sheet, and it should be possible to use in this case.

In ( Infragram Project: How to make a DIY Infrared Camera for only $10 he shows taping a "superblue" plastic filter to the front of the lens.

Obviously the issue of an IR filter is hugely simplified if your donor camera has screw threads on the front of the lens. You then don't have to ponder various hackeries to get an IR filter on the camera.

Converting a Compact Digital Camera to Shoot Infrared Only - 1. removing the infrared filter

Compact Digital Camera Conversion to Infrared - part 2 the infrared pass filter

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.