Magic Lantern Unified: Clean, Uncompressed HDMI May be Coming to Most Canon DSLRs
Yes. You read that correctly. What was thought to be an impossibility only months ago – might soon become a reality. Clean, uncompressed, HDMI-out has been a holy grail for many DSLR filmmakers – particularly because the ability to record a much higher bitrate codec would solve many image issues. Interestingly enough, Nikon struck the first blow with the D4 and D800. It’s not likely that Canon will have clean HDMI in their next 5D, based on the 1DX not having it, and Canon’s worry about cannibalizing their video division. Panasonic also isn’t there yet – likely because of their own video division. But being able to enhance the current crop of Canon cameras and enable clean HDMI might be just around the corner.
So how could this be possible? The wonderful and adventurous souls who have been testing Magic Lantern have now explored the possibility of opening up new features by using a brute force method of changing parameters one-by-one and seeing what they do. Alex, one of the testers, had this to say:
These functions which use DIGIC registers are found usually by trial and error (changing the values in these registers blindly and writing down what they do). There are thousands of registers (many of them unused), so analyzing all of them by brute force is a huge task.
The following functions were implemented by changing DIGIC registers: FPS override, Highlight++, display saturation, display position adjustment, custom color palettes, and today, image filters. Other possible functionality: clean HDMI out, moving the recorded box around in crop mode, custom curves applied to image, anamorphic preview… etc. The good news is that DIGIC commands are the same on all cameras.
Well if that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. Since many of us are looking to see where the next generation of cameras will take us, it’s easy to forget about our workhorse cameras – the Canon T2i, 60D, and 5d Mark II. Magic Lantern, of course, has thus far not been installable on the Canon 7D, and because the hardware is different, it’s likely it never will be.
Some might say that Magic Lantern, with its higher bitrate hack, provides adequate image quality for most circumstances – I won’t necessarily disagree. But having the ability to record to a codec like DNxHD with an external recorder like the Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle 2 would be fantastic. That extra headroom in bitrate gives you more room to play with while color correcting, and helps keep your shadows from getting muddy. The Panasonic GH2 hack has done wonders for image quality – a stable four-fold increase in bitrate gives a tremendous quality boost. The ability to record uncompressed (or compressed with a good codec) on the Canon cameras would do the same.
The other possible functions, like anamorphic preview, are less exciting to me since I don’t have any anamorphic gear – but for those who have some anamorphic adapters or a PL-modified camera and some anamorphic lenses – it’s a big deal. If you’d like to get in on the testing action, they are looking for plenty of brave individuals to change registers, so if you’ve got a Canon camera lying around and you’re not afraid to brick it – check out the website here.
It will be fascinating to see where Canon is headed with their next generation of cameras, but we could have some exciting developments with their current generation of cameras in the not-too-distant future.
The Magic Lantern Unified is still in beta for the Canon 5d Mark II, but it shouldn’t be long before it’s released in full for that camera. If you’ve never seen Magic Lantern Unified in action, here’s a video walk-through:
When do I expect future Canon DSLRs to get clean HDMI? Well, probably never. Canon is doing its best to differentiate DSLRs and their EOS Cinema line, and I fully expect that the profit margins on their high-end video products will keep them from adding too many features into the DSLRs. Before you say, wait a minute, doesn’t the 1DX have a newer, less compressed intraframe codec built in, and doesn’t it reason the new 5D might also have it? Yes it does, but until video people can really get their hands on said cameras, we won’t know how much better that recording option will be.
Is anyone else as excited as I am by the possibility of a clean, uncompressed HDMI-out on the current Canon cameras? Even just being able to monitor in full HD would be a welcome addition.