The Original Sony Handycam
In 1997, the Sony Corporation added new range of models to their already popular Handycam range of camcorders. Certain models in the new range boasted a feature, known as Nightshot 0 LUX, which allowed the camera to film in very low light conditions. It accomplished this by shifting an internal filter aside and allowing any infrared light to be "seen" by the camera.
The result is a much brighter, clearer picture than any ordinary camcorder in near darkness. The effect was further enhanced by the addition of two high intensity infrared emitters located on the front of the camera, allowing the user to film in complete darkness.
Although this was a previously unseen feature in home camcorders, use of infrared light for night vision was by no means a new technology and had been in use in surveillance and military applications for years.
Sony had taken advantage of the fact that a CCD (which picks up the incoming light from the lens) is very sensitive to infrared light. Normally, camcorder manufacturers fit a permanent infrared blocking filter to prevent the infrared light from interfering with the colours in the image being filmed.
The Hype Begins
Not long after the new Handycam had become popular, someone in Japan discovered that when filming in the dark using the built in infrared emitters, peoples underwear showed through their clothes. The effect was not seen in daylight and so it became obvious that by filtering out all visible light and allowing only infrared to pass the effect could be extended to work under bright sunshine.
The gentleman in question, according to reports, acquired an infrared filter (reported to be a Hoya RM90) and paid a visit to a local swimming pool to observe people in bathing costumes and put it to the test.
Unfortunately for him he was caught and his antics uncovered. Shortly after, a men’s magazine in Japan published information on seeing through clothes with the Handycam and the news spread like wild-fire.
It has since become apparent that photography enthusiasts who have taken infrared pictures using still cameras have occasionally stumbled across this effect. However, it is very difficult to achieve using a conventional camera and so it remained mostly unknown.
News of "x-ray vision" spread far and wide. People anxious to realise a child-hood dream grabbed their Handycams, switched on Nightshot mode and started filming. Unfortunately (for them) the information available was sketchy and inaccurate. More often than not, people did not know they needed a filter and simply dismissed the whole idea when it didn’t work for them.
This, in part, caused a back-lash of people claiming adamantly that it simply did not work. The hype cooled down leaving many people thinking it was all a big joke. For those who had been successful, this was good news as the whole issue rapidly lost the attention of the general public.
During 1998, in response to the wave of publicity, Sony modified the Handycam in an attempt to make it impossible. Their first attempts hardly had any effect and it was still possible to film this way. By the time the 1999 models were released, Sony had gone much further to prevent "x-ray vision" making it very difficult to do indeed - or so they thought.
In the true spirit of the Internet Community, x-ray enthusiasts exchanged information, hints and tips on Sony's modifications. Technical knowledge grew and nowadays, whichever stage of modification your camera is at you may shoot infrared x-ray without any real problems. So the filming continues…
Panasonic Joins the Game
Recently, Panasonic has started equipping certain models of their VHS-C NV series Movie Cameras with a feature called Nightview 0 LUX. This operates in the same way to Sony's Nightshot 0 LUX and therefore offers x-ray opportunities.
Because this camera's availability is limited to certain regions (reportedly Europe only), it has not yet become a popular choice for x-ray filming. But it does work and people are using it!
The European models offering Nightview 0 LUX are currently the NV RX64B and the NV VX54B.