New FinePix S3 Pro UVIR Digital SLR photographs in the Ultraviolet and Infrared Spectrums
By Mike Hanlon
August 9, 2006
August 10, 2006 Fujifilm has broken new ground by releasing a digital SLR camera capable of taking photographs in the ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light spectrums. The FinePix S3 Pro UVIR has been designed for use in the science, medical and fine art disciplines, with its most intriguing applications coming in the field of law enforcement investigation. Law enforcement agencies have used UV and IR photography for years to uncover evidence not easily seen by the human eye, such as gun shot residue and blood stains, as well as to recover altered, burned or obliterated writing. IR photography is also used in nighttime surveillance. The FinePix S3 Pro UVIR will also attract a lot of interest from the technical-scientific community, plus fine arts, portrait, and wedding photographers. Legendary photographers such as Minor White and Ansel Adams brought IR imaging into the art world with their stunning American landscapes, and used IR as a way of creating unique and beautiful images that set them apart from others in their field. Many of today's top portrait and wedding photographers have made IR photography an essential part of the services they offer to their clients. Priced at US$1800, Fujifilm's FinePix S3 Pro UVIR will be available beginning September 2006.
The human eye is a remarkable imaging device to be sure, but it can’t see everything. Its sensitivity range is limited to wavelengths that normally start at 400 nanometers (violet) at the short end of the visible spectrum and extend to 700 nanometers (deep red) at the long end. This is also the realm of standard digital and film photography where, with certain exceptions, what you see is what you get. But there are times when ordinary visible-light pictures do not reveal everything a criminal investigator, scientist, or medical researcher needs to see. This is where ultraviolet and infrared imaging comes into play.
Scientists define wavelengths shorter than 400 nanometers as ultraviolet (UV), and wavelengths longer than 700 nanometers as infrared (IR). Technically, neither UV nor IR is "light" because humans can’t see it. However, photographs taken at UV and IR wavelengths can capture and reveal information that is otherwise undetectable by the human eye – literally "colours" we can’t see but that cameras, sensitive to IR and UV wavelengths, are able to record and make visible. It is the visual equivalent of the dog whistle we humans cannot hear.
This uncanny ability to reveal the unseen is why technical professionals in fields ranging from law enforcement, to military surveillance, to medical research, to art history, to biology have long used UV and IR photography to discover crucial observational facts that would ordinarily elude the keenest human eye.
Until recently, both UV and IR photography were film based and entailed the use of heavy filtration and long exposure times. In the case of infrared, special, difficult-to-handle films were required along with heavy filtration that extended exposure times and often made focusing difficult.
Digital UV and IR photography had its own set of problems. Since the CCD and CMOS imager sensors of digital cameras incorporate strong UV and IR filters to achieve good color accuracy with standard visible-light subjects, a normal D-SLR is not very sensitive in the UV and IR ranges and is therefore inconvenient to use in these applications. That’s why many technical specialists, who needed UV and IR imaging in their work, modified their existing D-SLRs by removing the UV and IR filters, an expensive procedure undertaken by small private companies. Even if properly done, this bit of modification work voided the camera's warranty.
In response to the genuine need expressed by many top professionals in the law enforcement and scientific communities, Fujifilm developed the FinePix S3 Pro UVIR, the world's first and only factory-made D-SLR designed specifically for UV and IR photography. It has many of the same features that made the standard FinePix S3 Pro a stand-out -- like the Super CCD SR II sensor for expanded dynamic range and a Live View CCD that allows for real-time subject focus for up to 30 seconds -- with some modifications.
The IR and UV filters were removed from the standard model and, after exhaustive field and lab testing, replaced with a specially formulated glass protective filter. The FinePix S3 Pro's menu system was also reconfigured to be more user friendly for UV and IR shooters – for example, the Live Preview shooting now mode comes up on the very first screen.
Just how important are these advances? Mike Brooks, a well-known consultant to law enforcement agencies who checked out a late prototype of the FinePix S3 Pro UVIR put it this way. "Capturing and displaying the alterations in a forged document, or the information hidden in an obliterated one using IR photography is now easier by leaps and bounds. With IR films, the amount of light required often meant exposure times measured in hours; with the FinePix S3 Pro UVIR typical exposure times range from 1/250 at f/16 to 1/4 sec at f/16. And with mirror lock-up and Live Preview, you can focus easily via the LCD even when you mount dark IR or UV filters over the lens to capture critical details. With more precise focusing plus the instant feedback of digital, you now have the ability to take sharper pictures in less time. Even more important, you can judge which filter is most effective in specific applications in real time, which can literally save you weeks."
Brooks continued, "The enhanced image quality is another great advantage of this camera – it has the ability to capture mid-tones, which is crucial with the contrasty subjects we commonly shoot and it provides a wider exposure latitude than other D-SLRs. The software also makes it much easier to display comparison images, a key element in law enforcement. Having a factory-made UV and IR camera of this caliber available at a competitive price is nothing less than a great step forward in forensic photography."
While UV and IR photography are not really like the "X-ray vision" of comic books that lets you see through solid objects, both UV and IR can be used to reveal sub-surface details that are invisible to the naked eye. In a recent example provided by Brooks, police used differences in reflectance made visible only with IR photography to positively identify a charred body in a gangland murder. It revealed the victim's prison tattoo, which was invisible under ordinary light.
In a similar manner, both UV and IR photography can corroborate the presence of gunpowder, show altered signatures and the difference between similar-looking inks on a document, or make bone fragments stand out in a plowed field. Medical researchers and police investigators use IR and UV photography to find injuries below the skin. They can even determine whether an assailant wearing a specific ring punched someone, or if a set of two-week-old, no-longer-visible bite marks were made by an alleged perpetrator's teeth.
Infrared photography is also a great tool for nighttime surveillance with "invisible" IR flash or under IR-rich sources such as common street lamps – the same basic principle used in night-vision glasses. And since different plants reflect light in different shades of color or gray under IR, it can be used to detect illegal plants such as marijuana or opium poppies growing in a farm field.
With its digital capabilities, the FinePix S3 Pro UVIR makes the evidence-gathering process more efficient and accurate for investigators. The FinePix S3 Pro UVIR has a live CCD previewing feature, a significant aid to the forensic photographer. This feature enables manual focusing while dark filters are attached to the lens as well as pre-capture verification.
Moreover, FinePix S3 Pro UVIR carries the same photographic technologies that have made the standard FinePix S3 Pro such a respected camera. These include Fujifilm's unique, double photodiode (6.17 million S-pixels and 6.17 million R-pixels) Super CCD SR II image sensor for a dynamic range 400% greater than cameras of single-pixel design. This wider dynamic range contributes to the capture of finer detail, a paramount factor in the gathering of key evidence. Another performance benefit of the Super CCD SR II sensor is its high signal-to-noise ratio.
Along with the FinePix S3 Pro UVIR, Fujifilm will bundle its HyperUtility Processing Software. This program provides investigators with side-by-side image comparisons along with metadata analysis, a useful tool when examining images of blood stains, documents or other forms of evidence.