How to Convert a Camcorder to a Thermal Imaging Camcorder

By Robert Boumis

The human eye and camcorders do basically the same job: organize light. However, they do it very differently. As a result of these differences, camcorders can be modified to visualize types of light that the human eye cannot see. These modifications can allow many camcorders to see a type of light called "near-infrared," also known as "thermal." These modifications do not produce the detailed heat vision of scientific-grade cameras, but they do allow filming in pitch-black conditions.

Things You'll Need

  • Camcorder
  • Two frames of developed camera film
  • Craft knife
  • Jeweler's screwdriver (eyeglass repair screwdriver)
  • Superglue
  • Small LED flashlight
  • Infrared LEDs (0.78 - 3 µm output wavelength)
  • Soldering gun
  • Toenail clippers
  • Latex or vinyl gloves

Step 1

Open the camcorder housing. This will most likely void the warranty.

Step 2

Locate the sensor chip. The sensor chip is a square on a computer circuit board somewhere behind the lens. This varies considerably from camcorder to camcorder. Consult the manufacturer to find the sensor chip if you are having trouble. The infrared, or IR, filter housing will be on top of it.

Step 3

Remove the housing for the IR filter. Most camcorders and cameras have a plastic housing on the sensor chip that holds the IR sensor. On some camcorders, this can be popped off with a fingernail. Others require the use of a jeweler's screwdriver. Some more expensive models have the IR filter built in to the sensor. Unfortunately, chips with built-in filters cannot be modified.

Step 4

Remove the IR filter, which is a small piece of plastic inside the housing. Now the sensor can "see" infrared light.

Step 5

Cut two to three pieces of developed film to fit into the IR filter housing.

Step 6

Reassemble the housing with the pieces of film in the place of the IR filter. Again, this varies depending on the camcorder. On some, the piece can snap back in. Others require gluing. If it requires gluing, use extreme caution not to get any glue on the sensor chip or the film.

Step 7

Reassemble the camcorder housing. The camcorder can now "see" only near-infrared light.

Step 8

Disassemble an LED flashlight. There will be an array of LEDs that produce the light.

Step 9

Snip out the regular (visible light) LEDs.

Step 10

Reassemble the LED flashlight. Now the flashlight produces only near-infrared light. This light is invisible to humans and most animals. However, the modified camcorder can use it.

Step 11

Turn out the lights, turn on the flashlight and record. The flashlight should produce only nearly invisible light, which the camcorder will be able see. The image will appear in black-and-white.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cheaper camcorders actually work better for this project, as they are more likely to have lower-quality IR filters that can be more easily removed.
  • Do not get fingerprints on the film, sensor or lenses. Working with gloves can help prevent this.
  • Experiment to see if it works better with one piece of film or three. This can vary between brands.
  • Solder with proper protective gear in a well-ventilated area.
  • Do not use a camcorder you cannot afford to lose. This will render the camcorder only useful for near-infrared recording and could destroy the camcorder.