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Tom Akerman talks about The Beach Captain, shot using Magic Lantern RAW on a 5D MkIII

Interview by Features Editor Mat Gallagher:

Tom Akerman is a UK based freelance cameraman. His recent work with his 5D mkIII using Magic Lantern firmware not only shows how good this camera can be but also displays Tom’s talents as a storyteller. I caught up with Tom to find out a little more about his shooting and how he made ‘The Beach Captain’, a film about a sand sculpture on London’s Southbank.

The Beach Captain from Tom Akerman on Vimeo.

How long have you been shooting?
Professionally, only a few years. I’ve been playing with cameras for most of my life, mainly within a photographic context, but I only made the decision to take filming seriously when events within my life forced a career change.

What gear do you use?
I primarily use and own the EOS 5D mkIII with various Canon L lenses, a Zoom H4n and Rode NTG-2 for sound, plus various bits and pieces from Gini and Zacuto to form a rig. In terms of lighting, it largely depends on the job, so the list would be rather long, but I do have a soft spot for Dedolights.

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When did you hear about the Magic Lantern firmware update and when did you put it on the camera?
I had actually been using Magic Lantern for several years prior to the introduction of the RAW module, primarily to help with time-lapse photography on my now deceased 550D. Features such as an intervalometer and ramping controls were something that standard Canon firmware unsurprisingly lacked. Features I needed.

When the team announced they had cracked silent imaging, and that RAW video was on the horizon for the 5D mkIII, I’ll admit, even with my prior use of the firmware, I didn’t exactly jump straight on board. My mkIII was my primary source of income, and for it to break or malfunction while using an alpha build, no matter how small the chance, was not an option I could afford to take.

Eventually as the build progressed and the stability of the RAW module increased, to the point where 1080 25p was possible, I took the plunge and added it to the camera.

What difference has it made to the results?
It’s improved it, tenfold; the picture is cleaner, sharper, more flexible. The 14-bit image means you no longer have to worry about banding in sections of rich colour such as the sky. It truly takes the quality of material you can get from these cameras far beyond what they were originally intended to produce.

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How did you find using the Magic Lantern firmware update?
Frustrating. It was largely hit and miss as to whether the camera would actually record when you pushed the button or not. If it did, great, if it didn’t, I was left praying that I could reset the camera and try again before the moment passed.

For the most part, the firmware worked perfectly, but I found during those vital moments, when I absolutely needed everything to work, it all went wrong. The camera would freeze, refuse to shut down, only record four seconds of footage, and I would miss capturing a beautiful scene or interaction.

I know it’s a little unfair to judge an alpha build, the developers made it painfully clear that things might go wrong, and I shot the piece in full knowledge of that. However, you can’t help but feel disappointed when a shot slips through your grasp due to faulty equipment. At the very least, it has served as good learning experience for me.

I have no doubt that once an official build is released, and these bugs have been ironed out, the firmware will become a welcome addition to many professionals’ kits. Maybe not as a primary, but certainly a backup. But at the moment, regardless of what certain operators online are saying, I don’t think it’s ready.

Where did the idea for the Beach Captain piece come from?
It actually came about by chance. Nez Savaşkan, a friend and college of mine, had shot a series of promotional videos for Nu:Logic and Hospital Records, basically a collection of high speed vignettes using the FS700. One of those featured Ron, The Beach Captain, setting up for the day.

I had seen beach sculptures before, in France, Spain and Italy. But in London, on the Thames? Never. It’s a river, not a beach, and a pretty disgusting one at that. It’s not the kind of water source I would want to swim in, that’s for sure. So the fact that Ron was there, regardless of this, on his hands and knees creating sculptures on its banks, simply fascinated me.

I wanted to know more about Ron, the area he was working in and see if the public’s reactions were the same as mine. Ultimately I felt that if I could be interested in Ron and his story, others might be too. What better reason do you need to make a film?

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Who else was involved?
I actually worked alone. I was supposed to have a sound recordist with me on the shoot, but unfortunately he was offered a job the night before that he simply couldn’t turn down. So in the end I had to do everything by myself, not that I minded.

How long did it take to shoot?
The piece was shot in half a day, meeting Ron at 7am and wrapping at roughly 5pm. Given the location, we were constrained by the tide of the Thames. At high tide the beach is completely submerged, so we couldn’t start filming in the morning till it had gone out, and had to wrap when it came back in.

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What post processing did you use?
At the time, the post production workflow for Magic Lantern RAW files was a complete nightmare, consisting of the use of multiple programs before it even landed on your timeline. This was largely to be expected; everything was still in alpha and the tools to efficiently process these files either didn’t exist or were days old.

I edited the piece with Premiere Pro CS6, but the process to get the shots into it meant I had to first un-compress the original file into a DNG sequence; take that into Lightroom and make alterations using Camera Raw; export that as a tiff sequence; and then finally use Quicktime to wrap it in a .mov container ready for the timeline.

This might not sound like a lot of work, but the process above was for one shot, and had to be repeated again and again for every individual clip, without the ability to preview what it was you were processing beforehand. It ended up taking me days to conform the rushes. I’ve read that you can now natively work on the RAW files in Black Magic’s DaVinci Resolve. But sadly, that wasn’t an option for me at the time.

What influences does your work have?
That’s a bit of a tough question, especially in the era of the internet and 24/7 content. Thanks to sites such as Vimeo, I watch an incredible amount of beautiful content on a daily basis. So much so that I couldn’t possibly point to any one production or person that I’ve taken influence from. I tend to take something away from everything I watch, be that technically or emotively, so I’d like to think that my work is an amalgamation of everything I’ve seen in my life.

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What are you working on now/have coming up?
As it’s the summer, most of my work has kept me outdoors, filming at music festivals. Thankfully this looks like it will continue for a few weeks, but when that dies down, I’ve got one or two ideas for new shorts I’d like to explore.

See Tom’s showreal on his site www.tomakerman.com. The Magic Lantern firmware for the Canon 5D mkIII is available from www.magiclantern.fm.

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Posted on August 12th, 2013 by Mat Gallagher | Category: Canon EOS 5D MkIII | Permalink | Comments (0)

Canon 5D RAW hack – useful for real world production?

By site editor Dan Chung:

Genesis from James Miller on Vimeo.

Okay – so I am officially impressed. A week after the Magic Lantern team unveiled their Canon DSLR RAW hack to the world there have already been substantial improvements to its reliability and usability. There is no doubt that the image quality is substantially better than the stock All-I and H.264 encoding of the 5D mkIII. The fact that many older Canon DSLRs are also able to shoot RAW at lower resolutions is also a feat indeed. As other bloggers have pointed out, the RAW-enabled 5D has an aesthetic that is currently almost unique due to the full-frame sensor.

If you already own a 5D mkIII then for some shoots the RAW format may be incredible helpful. There is no denying that the sample RAW footage around the web does look wonderful. Above is a very good example of just what can be achieved by the very talented James Miller; other examples, below, are examples by Andrew Reid of EOSHD and Johnnie Behiri of Cinema5D.

Canon 5D Mark III Continuous Raw Video with Magic Lantern (1920×1280 24p) from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

A RAW in the park. (Canon 5D mark III with Magic Lantern RAW module – short test) from cinema5D on Vimeo.

Does the 5D RAW hacked replace cameras like the C300, F3, F5 or FS700 in regular documentary or corporate production? Of course not. But used appropriately, it may have a place. If your shot is repeatable, you have time to redo it if something goes wrong, you don’t need the results in a hurry and are prepared to post-process, and you are not overly worried about potentially damaging your camera or invalidating your warranty, then give it a try. You don’t have to run the hack the whole time, so if you are a 5D shooter then it is a useful trick to have that doesn’t add any weight to your kit bag.

Why don’t I shoot RAW very often on the cameras I own that already have this function? A 5D mkIII shooting 1080P RAW will give you only a few minutes of recording time on a 64GB card – this is similar on my BMCC and KineRAW S35. The post-production workflow is slower and requires more steps than any compressed codec. None of my clients has ever asked for any more than compressed HD. On my shoot this week I’ve been using a Blackmagic Cinema Camera as a second camera to my C300. It can shoot RAW DNG but in my opinion there was no need – I shot Prores instead.

Shooting Prores on the BMCC this week

Shooting Prores on the BMCC this week

For the 5D mkIII hack to record 1080P RAW requires a super fast CF card to prevent dropped frames – something like the Komputerbay 1000x 64GB or a Sandisk Extreme Pro. Even with the fastest cards there are reports of occasional recording and image errors.

I know that sooner or later I will be shooting RAW much more often – but that might still be a few years away for most real world shooters (commercial shooters are getting there much sooner, it seems). Before then, recording, storage and post-production options need to improve and get cheaper. Right now I will only shoot RAW if I need the best possible image quality or need the extra latitude for a specific shot that would be hard to expose for any other way. Just what sort of latitude RAW on the 5D mkIII buys you is well demonstrated in this video by Riky Johnson:

Canon 5D Mark III Magic Lantern RAW Video Test from Riky Johnson on Vimeo.

Hopefully over coming weeks and months the Magic Lantern team will continue to improve the RAW hack to the point where it is at least as stable as the regular Magic Lantern hack. Extra features like improved reliability in audio recording and spanning of files larger than 4GB will help too. Image artifacts still seem to be present with 5D RAW video – ideally this can be combatted in post or by filtration using a VAF filter from Mosaic design or something similar.

My advice for anyone thinking about using the RAW hack for serious production is to wait. Let the dust settle and then evaluate the hack as a working tool after it is more developed. If you are shooting for fun and enjoy tinkering then by all means give it a go. There are excellent guides on how to set up Magic Lantern RAW over on Cinema5D and EOSHD.

Obviously this invalidates your camera’s warranty so be warned – try at your own peril.

The Kinefinity and Blackmagic alternatives:

NAB 2013 saw other RAW cameras announced that offer what I think is a better solution than a hacked 5D for a similar amount of money – although none of them are also a top rate stills camera or full frame.

The KineRAW mini should be shipping in the next week or so.

The KineRAW mini should be shipping in the next week or so.

The Kinefinity KineRAW Mini is an interesting choice for budget minded shooters looking for a way to get RAW with a large sensor. It has a very nice image and the ability to shoot 2K RAW DNG files to SSD drives. The sensor is a CMOS and is prone to rolling shutter similar to the 5D. Low light sensitivity is not quite as good as the 5D or C300 – there is noise which needs to be removed in post for best results. The camera comes with an electronic EF mount or – for additional money – a short flange PL mount that allows multiple lens adapters to be fitted for different lenses.

But the base unit price is around $3000 and very close to a new 5D mkIII body. The biggest catch for the KineRAW mini is the lack of US and European distribution and support right now. Asia based users can rejoice though. It is available to buy now.

Blackmagic design announced their 4K RAW S35 cinema camera to much fanfare at NAB. They said at the time that they aim to ship in July for just $3995. The camera will have a global shutter and also be able to shoot Prores 422 in addition to CinemaDNG RAW. For now the camera is EF mount only; hopefully a PL version will be along sooner or later. If the image quality is up to spec then it seems like a real bargain – even more so given that it is bundled with a free copy of Davinci Resolve.

Both of these cameras probably make more sense as production tools to be relied on for paying work – but I have to admit may not be half as much fun as the hacked 5D.

5D III raw 14 bit vs 5D III ALL-i test 002 from Adam Rubin – Kaveret on Vimeo.

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Posted on May 19th, 2013 by Dan Chung | Category: Canon EOS 5D MkIII, Canon Eos5DmkII | Permalink | Comments (2)

The new Magic Lantern 2 hack for Canon DSLRs: Marcus Waterloo tests if it ready for pro use

Guest post by Marcus Waterloo:

The Magic Lantern 2 hack running on the Canon 5D mkII

Just as I got early access to the new Magic Lantern hack (v2.3 RC2), a friend from Songlines magazine asked me to take some pictures of the Ethiopian band Krar Collective. So I decided it would be fun to see if I could do a short impro session and test the hack at the same time. Here’s a quick edit of the shoot (the only grading was a little desaturation, of 10 to 5 percent).

I took my Canon 5D mkII with a Rode VideoMic Pro plugged directly into the camera and no monitor or loupe. Picture style on the camera was Marvels Advanced and I just set up one light, an LED panel.

KRAR COLLECTIVE from marcus waterloo on Vimeo.

I only had about half an hour to do everything before the delicious food arrived, as we were in the lovely Muya Ethiopian restaurant in Camden. So I got the band to run through the song three times and shot it on two lenses; a Voigtlander 40mm f2 and a Nikon 85mm f2.  

For those of you who haven’t been following the Magic Lantern development, it’s basically a freely available hack to the Canon EOS camera’s firmware. It is easily installed and compliments the camera’s original functions with an additional set of menus full of useful and very exciting adaptions of the camera’s functions.

It’s been developed by a group of generous and enthusiastic people in an open source evolution. They have a new website: http://www.magiclantern.fm/. The hackers always give a very clear disclaimer that the hack can damage your camera, but because of the brave few in the community who have supported and tested this software, they seem to have developed something that is less scary to use on one’s precious camera. The first version I used did occasionally crash my camera and give me a few cold sweats – before I realised all you had to do was turn the camera off and remove the battery for a few moments. That classic nugget of repair advice; turn it off and on again.

I found the new version of the hack very stable and a great help with the sound; being able to adjust the levels during the take is amazing. I know how important sound is, but I’m not really a sound person, and just being able to plug the mic straight into the camera with the AGC disabled for little shoots like this is massively useful.

The 5D mkII setup used to shoot KRAR collective

Using the Magic zoom (expanded focus box) during the take was a wonderful help too. As I had only a bare bones set-up this really helped me check focus during the take. Allowing you to turn it on and off and move it around whilst recording too is a work of genius.

Among the many other exciting features, I think these two are indispensable and with the stability of the hack really improve the camera. I also very much valued being able to have frame guides in camera too.

I did shoot with a higher bit rate setting, but this shoot wasn’t a scientific run through; more of a user friendly test (which the hack passed with flying colours). I made a mistake with the ASA settings as I was rushing through taking some stills as well and left the camera set on 1000 ASA – which I feel wouldn’t help the noise level on video. So, it’s probably not best to judge the image quality. My main conclusion is that it really helped, keeping my set up very simple, and will be a trusted addition to a great tool, specially for small impromptu shoots such as this.

ASTON MARTIN CYGNET from marcus waterloo on Vimeo.

It would have been great to have this on a one-man-band shoot on 5D and 7D I did recently in Hong Kong, as I was doing a lot of shooting just hanging out of car windows, handheld, without a monitor for framing or focus aids. If I’d had this hack then I would have had an even higher hit rate of good shots on a shoot where we were really dashing around.

The hack has evolved in really great ways since I last used it. I do think it’s incredible what the Magic Lantern people have done – and all for free. They really deserve the donations you can give on their site.

You can see more of Marcus’ work on his website www.marcuswaterloo.com

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Posted on July 19th, 2012 by Marcus Waterloo | Category: Canon Eos5DmkII, DSLR video news | Permalink | Comments (2)

Magic Lantern team deliver Xmas gift of improved Canon DSLR hack with FPS control and HDR mode

By Dan Chung

I’m generally not into hacking cameras myself but the new Christmas release of the Magic Lantern hack for Canon 550D (t2i), 60D, 600D (t3i), 50D and 500D is certainly very enticing.

Magic Lantern offers a greatly improved feature set which makes Canon DSLRs into much more fully feature video cameras. You simply download the files to each memory card you use, pop it into the camera and load the new firmware. Then each time you start the camera it can automatically find the firmware on your memory card and reload it.

However, in my past experience I have found it to be less than 100% reliable in critical conditions, with the occasional lock up that require me to reboot the camera by reinserting the battery. For this reason I have stayed away from using it for news or documentary shoots where missing a key moment is not an option.

It is also technically going to void any warranty you have on the camera and there is always that slight chance that you could irreversibly turn it into a paperweight.

All that said it is amazing that a global team of hackers working together have added video features to existing Canon cameras that are not even to be found on the as yet unreleased C300 or 1D X.

The Magic Lantern Christmas edition running on a 60D

If you are willing to take the risk (and many users have without issue) then there are many benefits including the an expanded focus box during recording, audio monitoring, on-screen audio level meters, increased bitrate recording, false colour for setting correct exposure, peaking, custom aspect markers and much more.

This Christmas the newest features are the ability for these cameras to have enhanced frame rate control and the addition of a HDR video mode.

Instead of 25 frames per second (fps) you can now undercrank to as low as 4fps with a 1/4 of a second shutter speed – giving an motion blurred effect that is most useful in very low light. On the 60D you can also overcrank to 35fps in 1080p – not a major increase but useful for a slight slo motion effect when played back at 24 or 24 fps. The team has also hacked the older 50D to shoot HD video – it doesn’t even have a video function by default! Although there is still the drawback that it has no sound recording in camera.

The high dynamic range (HDR) mode seeks to allow the camera to capture greater shadow and highlight detail in scenes of high contrast. It is slightly complex to use but basically the camera takes consecutive frames at different exposures which you need to combine/interpolate afterwards in post-processing. Because of the way this is done it is only really suitable for slower moving subjects. It seems very experimental right now – there is more discussion of this here.

Magic Lantern HDR video workflow test from DavidJFulde on Vimeo.

The firmware is free to download from the Magic lantern site but for a small donation you can get a ready to run version of their HDR workflow as well as a preview version of their upcoming 5D mkII firmware improved hack. Full details here. Install hacked firmware at your own risk – don’t blame me if it kills your camera!

Below is a video from Andrew Reid at EOSHD.com showing the features of the upcoming 5D mkII Magic Lantern hack:

Meet the new 5D Mark II Magic Lantern Unified from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

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Posted on December 23rd, 2011 by admin | Category: Canon 550D / T2i, Canon 600D / T3i, Canon Eos500D/EosT1i, Canon Eos60D, DSLR video news | Permalink | Comments (1)

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