Infrared camera – you asked us, so we’re making them!

You may have heard rumours about something we’re calling Pi NoIR (Pi, no infrared) – it’s been a very badly kept secret. Some months ago we featured some work that was being done at Reading Hackspace, where members were removing the infrared filter to use the camera to sense infrared signals, and for low-light work, especially with wildlife. The Reading camera boards ended up going to the Horniman Museum in London, where they’re currently being used to track the activity of corals at night.

A lot of you are interested in wildlife monitoring and photography. London Zoo mentioned to us that the infrared filter on the standard Pi camera board is a barrier to using it in projects like the Kenyan rhino-tracking project they’re running based around the Pi – although the Pi is used as the base of the project and does all the computational tasks required, they started out having to use a more expensive and more power-hungry camera than the Pi camera board, because that IR filter meant that it wasn’t useable at night.

Once the news from Reading Hackspace and the Horniman got out, we were inundated by emails from you, along with comments here on the blog and on the forums, asking for a camera variant with no IR filter. You wanted it for camera effects, for instances where you wanted to be able to see IR beams from remote controls and the like, for low-light photography illuminated by IR, and especially for wildlife photography. Archeologists wanted to take aerial photographs of fields with an IR camera to better see traces of lost buildings and settlements. Some botanists got in touch too: apparently some health problems in trees can be detected early with an IR camera.

Initially we thought it wasn’t going to be something we could do: Sunny, who make the sensor, filter and lens package that’s at the heart of our camera board, did not offer a package without the filter at all. Removing it would mean an extra production line would have to be set up just for us – and they had other worries when we started to talk to them about adding an infrared camera option. They told us they were particularly concerned that users would try to use a camera board without a filter for regular daytime photography, and be would be upset at the image quality. (There’s a reason that camera products usually integrate an infrared filter – the world looks a little odd to our eyes with an extra colour added to the visible spectrum.)

We convinced them that you Pi users are a pragmatic and sensible lot, and would not try to replace a regular camera board with a Pi NoIR – the Pi NoIR is a piece of equipment for special circumstances. So Sunny set up an extra line just for us, to produce the Pi NoIR as a special variant. We will be launching Real Soon Now – modules are on their way and we’re aiming for early November – so keep an eye out here for news about release.

RS Components have got their hands on an early prototype, and Andrew Back produced a blog post about using it in timelapse wildlife photography at night, with infrared illumination. You can read it at DesignSpark, RS’s community hub.

Andrew’s garden is a paradise of slugs.

Jon and JamesH would like you to be aware that the red flashes are most likely due to not letting the camera “warm up” sufficiently before taking each picture. Jon says: “Raspistill defaults to 5 second previews before capture which should be enough. If using the “-t” parameter then don’t set it below 2000. The “-tl” parameter is for timelapse, which doesn’t shut the camera down between picture grabs.” (We’re checking the white balance before release all the same, though.)

Let us know if you’re in the market for a Pi NoIR in the comments. We’d love to hear your plans for one! We’re planning to sell it for $25, the same price as a regular camera module. Check back here: we’ll tell you as soon as it’s released.