a16 January 2014

Turn your DSLR into a beast with Magic Lantern

HDR photo from Cabo da Roca
Cliffs of Cabo da Roca in Portugal. High Dynamic Range image from 3 exposures, tone-mapped in Photomatix Pro 5 using Contrast Optimizer. After using Photomatix, I finished the image using luminosity masks in Photoshop.

As you probably know I'm great fan of Magic Lantern firmware and I wrote several posts about it in the past. As I'm getting a lot of questions about Magic Lantern, its safety, some features, etc. I decided to write yet another post about it.

Update is coming?

BTW Magic Lantern caused some stir on Twitter recently with their short tweet:

"Psst... prepare for a little "sensor upgrade" :)"

Although details about this upgrade are still fairly unknown we can safely assume that by little they actually meant something huge, something groundbreaking. As far as I remember by little they initially described dual ISO feature. But as you might now dual ISO feature is just a fancy name for 14 EV dynamic range... instead of ~12 EV that most Canon cameras normally produce. So it wasn't little - it was huge! One of the biggest improvements for still shooters (although now it's also available in movie recording mode).

What can we expect this time? It's really hard to guess - it can be virtually anything as Magic Lantern proved that there are no limits for them. Ok, there are some limits but sooner or later they find the way around them. For instance you can record RAW video and they recently added audio recording support to it - something what was initially believed to be hard or even impossible to do. So this time it might be anything (except maybe increasing megapixel count of your DSLR) but for sure it won't be little. I wouldn't be surprised if they found the way to decrease noise level on higher ISOs for instance ;)

Turning your DSLR into a beast

But this was just a little digression so back to the subject of this post.

I still get a lot of questions about Magic Lantern, from both beginners and more advanced Canon photographers. One of the most common worries is that it might fry one's precious camera... well, in theory it certainly can as this is unofficial software that is tested mainly by its users but as I wrote in this post it's very unlikely to happen. I use Magic Lantern for 2 or 3 years now and never had a serious issue and I use all the newest features (often just after they appear in Magic Lantern repository). Both 50D, 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III didn't fry, didn't break... they work fine. And let me tell you one thing - they all love having Magic Lantern on board! The worst thing that happened to me so far was some freeze. Taking the battery out was all that I needed to do to resolve it. You know Windows also freezes from time to time, doesn't it? And even Linux does sometimes (and it's normally more stable than Windows). And please note that I always use bleeding edge version, known as nightly build. So it's not bad! No serious issues and I have access to many great features!

Not using Magic Lantern is a mistake I guess, as Magic Lantern can turn our Canon cameras into much more powerful beasts.

Recording RAW video was a game changer for many... just try recording a video like following without RAW capabilities: http://vimeo.com/77580463 . It's virtually impossible. Quality, sharpness, colours... they all would be so much worse... And yes, it was recorded using Magic Lantern. Beautiful work. Great example of what you can do with RAW video.

14 EV dynamic range is another feature that changed the world for Canon photogs. If you was jealous about Nikon's D800 dynamic range (I was!), just install Magic Lantern. You won't need to sell your whole system anymore to get such great dynamic range :)

But there are more features like:
  • focus assisting features (focus peak, focus box),
  • focus stacking,
  • automatic lens micro-adjustments,
  • advanced automatic bracketing (allowing you to take eg. 13 frames instead of just 3),
  • automatic ETTR (automatically exposures the image to the right for improved image quality and lower noise),
  • intervalometer,
  • zebras, RAW histograms,
  • audio recording improvements,
And many many more... all of these features are missing from official Canon firmware so the only way to get them is to use Magic Lantern.

Although there is some risk involved for me it's worth taking it. After getting used to Magic Lantern it's hard for me to shoot without all these features. Without Magic Lantern Canon cameras (and in fact any other) looks so poor in features. In fact the first thing I did after getting 5D MK III, even before taking test photos, was to install Magic Lantern on it.

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