Friday, 17 October 2014

Why I love Magic Lantern - Several years later

Old Greenhouse
You probably know that I'm avid user of Magic Lantern custom firmware. I've been using it for a few years (3 or 4) now and I cannot imagine shooting without it anymore!

In the past, I wrote a post titled "5 Reasons why I love Magic Lantern" which turned out to be quite popular and some of you got interested in Magic Lantern thanks to it. However, this post became fairly old and a bit out-dated as it was written more than 2 years ago, so I decided to revisit it and write updated version. Why? Magic Lantern greatly evolved since then by adding a lot of new features, fixing numerous bugs, overhauled GUI and so on.

So today I would like to write about the features that I love most at the moment. Please note that I use Nightly Builds of Magic Lantern. Also note that I will focus on the features useful for still images shooter like me. Although things like RAW video are definitely interesting (I tried it and love the results!) I don't use them in my photography work that much. Ok, without further ado, here's the list of my favourite Magic Lantern features as of today:
  1. Dual ISO - well, this one was a real game-changer when introduced! Many Canon shooters had looked with jelousy at owners of Nikon cameras which are capable of capturing 14 EV of dynamic range, while Canon DSLRs could capture 11 to 12 stops of light.
    But Dual ISO changed it. With a simple trick (ok, not that simple implementation-wise) Magic Lantern team squeezed additional 2 steps of light and so, many Canon cameras can now shoot with 14 stops of dynamic range! Couple this with ETTR feature (Expose To The Right) to have perfectly exposed photos and your images will have much better dynamic range, exposure and lower noise.
    Is there a catch? Yes, as there is no rose without a thorn. Resolution of highlights and shadows is decreased. This might sound scary but in my tests in the majority of cases its hardly noticeable.
    In many cases where I deal with huge dynamic range I still prefer to bracket (to avoid mentioned resolution decrease - just in case) but when dealing with moving subjects I often tend to use Dual ISO as this way I don't have to deal with deghosting. Also it's a perfect choice when shooting hand-held because this way you will avoid the risk of images misalignment. So all places that disallow tripods are good candidates to use Dual ISO.
    BTW, some time ago I wrote a short post about my initial impressions of that very feature here.

  2. Advanced HDR bracketing - this feature greatly extends bracketing feature of the camera. Many Canon cameras (including my backup 50D) can normally take 3 auto-bracketed shots in 2 EV spacing. Not impressive. With Magic Lantern I can shoot unlimited number of photos even at 5 EV spacing (please note that in order to use more than 9 photos you will need to modify config files). There is even an option to automatically detect number of exposures needed to cover dynamic range of the scene.
    Advanced HDR bracketing feature evolved since last time I wrote about it, it now allows choosing bracketing type. You can select Exposure, Flash or Depth-of-Field now.
    I must say that I tend to use this feature a bit less on my 5D MK III, because it supports up to 9 frames in auto-bracketing mode by design, but there is one case when I still do - it's for long-exposure HDRs. If you're shooting in low-light conditions (blue hour, late sunset, before sunrise, etc.) or when using neutral density filter you can often end up with exposures longer than a minute or two. Unfortunately, by default, the longest exposure for any photos in auto-bracketing mode is limited to 30 s. Magic Lantern lets you surpass this limit and so you can take long-exposure HDRs!

  3. Focus assisting features - there are a lot of focus assisting features in Magic Lantern (like trap focus, magic zoom, focus racking, etc.) but my favourite for now is focus peaking. When in Live View mode it displays a set of red (or green, or blue, or yellow) dots where the focus is currently set. It makes manual focusing a lot easier and also a lot faster and precise. Also it's possible to assess the focus just after taking a photo (in Review Mode). 

  4. RAW Histograms - this feature might seem small but it's a really great addition. You probably use histogram to evaluate exposure of your photos, don't you? Then you probably know that it represents levels in a processed JPG file and so it depends on the White Balance and Picture Style? Well, even if you shoot RAW (in such case camera creates JPG preview that is used to calculate histogram)... and that part might be actually quite surprising.
    This means that when shooting RAWs, histograms in the camera lie to us! It might turn out that JPG histogram shows that you're overexposing your photo already while there might still be place for pushing the exposure to the right. So instead of increasing
    Magic Lantern's RAW Histograms don't have this problem - they show real histogram, for real RAW data. They are available both in Live View mode and in image review mode (i.e. just after taking the photo).

  5. RAW Zebras - Canon cameras can show you areas that are overexposed. But as with histograms, the problem is that they use JPG data for finding those areas and so this information might not be really relevant. Magic Lantern to the rescue once more - it has one more interesting feature, known as RAW Zebras, that show overexposed areas using RAW data meaning that they are relevant and precise.

  6. Intervalometer - Magic Lantern has also a really powerful intervalometer built-in. You can set a number of photos you want to take and time between them. Very useful for anyone interested in time-lapses, light trails or star trails photos.

  7. Bulb exposure - although both my cameras can use bulb exposure it has one drawback - I cannot set its length in the camera. Magic Lantern allows me to specify exact exposure time, no matter it's 15, 30, 90 seconds or a few minutes. Very cool :) And useful.

  8. Battery level - now this one is small but very useful. Canon cameras have battery level indicator but it shows a graphical symbol that isn't very precise. It often happenned to me that it showed half ot the battery just to jump to almost 0 after taking a few photos more. Magic Lantern added another battery level indicator, showing percentage of battery level. I don't have to tell you it's much more precise if you know that your battery is on 70% or 60% level.
Ok, if I convinced you to try Magic Lantern, make sure to visit its website and download it:

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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Issue #2 of Newsletter

Issue #2 of Newsletter

Finally, after a few long weeks Issue #2 of my Newsletter will be delivered to subscribers tomorrow afternoon. I hope you will enjoy it!

So it's the very last moment to subscribe if you would like to receive it. You can subscribe by filling in the form below:

After filling in the form and clicking on the Subscribe button you should receive activation email (it may take even an hour before it arrives) with the confirmation link. By clicking on that link you will confirm your subscription. In case activation email doesn't arrive after a few hours, let me know and I'll try to help you.

Daily photo - Into the Light

Another day and another landscape photo. This one is quite simple but I liked the light in it and the fact that people were walking towards it.
Into the Light

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Golden Tree

Daily photo - Golden Tree

Today I'd like to share a bit different photo. Usually I focus on whole landscape. This time I decided to focus on just a small part of the scene - yellow trees that looked like as if they were made of gold.

This is a single exposure photo from Warsaw. I used circular polarizing filter to boost colour saturation and to remove unwanted reflections from the trees and grass. I think that this created quite painterly result.
Golden Tree

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Monday, 13 October 2014

A Bit of History: the Warsaw Citadel

Warsaw Citadel

Warsaw Citadel, a pentagon-shaped building rising over the Vistual river, is a beautiful fortress built in 19th century by the Russian Empire. But as beautiful as it is, its history is a bit grim.

First of all you must understand one thing - Poland lost its indepence due to so called Partitions of Poland that took place in the very end of 18th century and were performed by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Austria of Habsburgs. And from political perspective Poland didn't existed from 1795 to 1918 that is for 123 years. Warsaw during that time was part of Russian Empire. However, Poles never accepted that state and thought for their freedom in a number of uprisings. After the first big of them, known as November Uprising which began in late November 1830, Tzar Nicholas made an order to build the Citadel - fortress to control the city and prevent other fights in the future.

During peacetime around 5000 Russian soldiers were stationed there; during war (eg. January Uprising of 1863) number of troops could be increased to more than 15.000! Citadel was also housed with a number of artillery pieces that were able to cover with fire most of the city that existed by that time!

However, Citadel is something more. It was also a political prison and place of execution of many Polish patriots and those who fought for freedom including Romuald Traugutt who was leader of January Uprising of 1863. A lot of others were imprisoned there including Jozef Pilsudski (leader of Second Polish Republic).

After 1918, when Poland regained its independence, the Citadel was taken over by Polish Army and converted into a garisson and infrantry training centre. Warsaw Citadel survived World War II (during which it was in hands of German troops), fortunately as most other buildings in Warsaw didn't, and is now once again a property of Polish Army (museum and house of Polish Land Forces).

Daily photo - Wall of the Citadel

Today photo shows walls and surroundings of the Citadel in autumn this year (in fact I captured this photo just a few days ago). It's a HDR image created by merging 5 exposures and then tone-mapped using Contrast Optimizer in Photomatix Pro 5.

Warsaw Citadel is really beautiful and it's a shame to admit that it was the first time ever that I was taking photos of it. But I will definitely visit the site more often now. I hope to capture a few more autumn shots there and then I hope to revisit it in winter as it might look really picturesque then.
Wall of the Citadel

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Friday, 10 October 2014

Road in the Park

New issue of Newsletter coming soon

As I'm back on track with blogging in the last few days, I also decided to release new issue of HDR Photographer Newsletter very soon. Expect it somewhere next week (probably closer to Friday than Monday though).

If you would like to receive your copy of this newsletter make sure to subscribe to it :) You can do it here.

Daily photo - Road in the Park

Time for another autumn landscape photo. This one was captured while wandering in another park near Royal Baths Park (there are several connected parks in that very area what makes it a really great spot for long walks between the trees).

This image is a HDR photo captured with Sony NEX-6. I took just 3 exposures at 2 EV spacing but it was sufficient as dynamic range of this scene wasn't very extreme. If you would like to learn more about HDR photography, make sure to read my complete HDR tutorial.
Road in the Park

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