Magic Lantern Firmware unlocks RAW


The Magic Lantern team have been busy beavering away adding many essential features to DSLR’s for many years now. In fact in my opinion, their work puts the manufacturers to shame.

Magic Lantern are a team of unpaid programmers that spend their spare time reverse engineering the software that runs most Canon DSLR cameras. Some of the features they have managed to add such as focus peaking and a time-lapse mode are highly useful, especially in the world of film-making and their latest discovery has to be one of the most exciting I’ve heard of in quite a while. They have have apparently discovered that both the 5D Mkii and 5D Mkiii are capable of recording 2k RAW video. That is 2040 x 1428 DNG stream to the buffer in live view mode as opposed to 1920×1080 in .h264 compressed video. It is in its very early stages right now but as the lead picture shows, it appears to work in a way similar to that of the nikon 1 4k burst mode. As it stands the buffer [5D] can only sustain 10-14fps for about 28 frames, which would result in a rather beautiful looking but stuttery image. The hope is that the Magic Lantern will at some point in the future be able to extend this to 24fps at least and for the system to offer a usable workflow. RAW is a very intensive format to work with even in stills photography but having 2400 frames to sequence for every minute of footage will take its toll on even the beefiest of setups; it’s not the most practical way of processing video.

RAW is the latest ‘must have’ when it comes to video, it opens up post production prospects usually only seen by the likes of the RED Epic, offering a real cinematic output from a relatively low cost camera. It is something that makes me wonder how long Canon will let this go on for, if Magic Lantern do succeed in making this system usable and stable I can easily see Canon updating their firmware to block such modifications, which would be a real shame.

Despite the buzz around this ‘hack’ being mostly focused on the video side of things, due to the way they have got this to work it might be extremely useful for photographers too. As there is no mirror flipping or shutter actuation it could potentially extend the life of your camera, albeit at the possible expense of lower resolution photos.
Right now, there are a lot of unknowns, one concern I’d have is what sort of stress this will put on the components and how that will affect it over time.

If you want to follow the progress of the Magic Lantern team follow them on Facebook.

Update !

The Magic Lantern Team have now achieved their goal of unlocking RAW on the 5D MkIII & MkII at 24fps. There are now multiple resolutions available for you to choose from, with highest being 3592×1320. Presumably this would require a fairly large and fast card, as 1920×1080 writes at least 55mb/s. More information has emerged about the workflow however. Apparently similar to that of the Black Magic Cinema Camera; recording into one single RAW file which you then extract the individual RAW frames from which you can then sequence in After Effects. This is the major set back when producing RAW content, technically speaking this process is pretty simple and perhaps on projects where footage can be easily logged and managed RAW shooting is most certainly a consideration but if you’re working with documentary or a project where your shooting style is more opportunist then you might want to think again.

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