Infrared – The Old New X-Ray?

Most of us probably have wondered what it would be like to have X-Ray vision like some of the heroes of the comic books. Seeing through all the things from regular kitchen objects to… even someone’s clothes maybe.  

Of course, X-Ray technology is potentially dangerous, and it is usually not sold in consumer markets. However, some ordinary people have got their hands on it in 1998. Sort of…

The Old New X-Ray

In 1998 Sony released six digital camcorder models ranging between 650$ to 1,400$ that was equipped with a powerful night vision mode that could record a decent (by 1998 standards) video in complete darkness. The technology behind such capabilities was based on the digital image sensor tendency to pick up near IR light, that would be otherwise invisible to the human eye. Cameras were also equipped with IR flashlights that helped to capture images in complete darkness.

Beside IR light acting mostly in the same manner as visible light, it has some caveats. For example, some objects that seem like optically opaque to the human eye might be completely clear to the IR camera. Here’s where all the “X-Ray” stuff shows up. No one in Sony or anywhere else had an idea about this until someone has taken a shot of a person wearing a black t-shirt while using night vision mode in sunlight.

In the picture, the t-shirt was completely transparent and the nipples, belly button and even tattoos were visible. News spread quickly as the not so old internet was flooded with pictures taken by infamous Sony night vision cameras. Ranging from interesting everyday objects to ladies wearing bikinis at the beach.


Of course, Sony had also got the news about this abuse of night vision camcorders, so they because of fear of massive lawsuits had recalled about 870,000 cameras that were sold between March and June of 1998. Sony had stated that they modified existing devices, so no Sony night vision camera is able to see through clothes since.

Well, let’s ask again. Is Infrared technology the new X-Ray? Definitely not. However, IR has the advantage of being seen only through a digital image sensor, so nowadays it is widely used in surveillance equipment, speed control radars and by hobbyists who like to explore the invisible side of our world by DIY IR cameras made from modified cellphones.

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