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.
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.
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: