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Magic Lantern Unified: Clean, Uncompressed HDMI May be Coming to Most Canon DSLRs

02.22.12 @ 1:27PM Tags : , , , , ,

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.


[via EOSHD and planet5D]


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  • I’m not sure I understand here.

    The current builds for ML have allowed clean HDMI out for some time now. There IS an upscale image factor however, but that appears to be a product of how the Canons render video to meet the 1080p standard. Or so it seems; as some people think this is a ML factor and it doesn’t appear necessarily so.

    Is there a specific difference in the clean HDMI out available now in ML and the proposed one in future builds as per this article? Or are they one in the same?

    *color me a bit confused here*

    • Yes, the idea is that there may be registers which give a full, complete, 1080 image out of HDMI. It’s very possible that this is something that’s been limited by Canon for specific reason (maybe heat), and not necessarily a hardware limitation. The upscale you’re talking about is a 30% loss in resolution.

      For those who don’t know what KahL is talking about, here’s some clarification of the current features of the clean HDMI from Magic Lantern’s site:

      …the HDMI output from the Canon HDMI is limited to 1620×1080 (3:2) while the camera is not recording. This requires the user to crop the footage from the external recorder to 1620×910 (16:9) and then resize it to either 1280×720 (79%) or 1920×1080 (119%).

      When the camera is recording, HDMI output resolution is limited to only 720×480 (effective image resolution is 640×388, which represents a stretched 3:2 frame).

      • Ooooooh, gotcha now. Well then….that would be sick, now wouldn’t it?!

      • Just a thought here, maybe that 1620×1080 resolution in preview mode isn’t such a bad thing. If you are shooting anamorphic with a 1.5 stretch factor adapter for example, you could get a resolution of 2430×1080 which is a decently wide 2.25:1 aspect ratio. And since it’s uncompressed (or really high bit rate), you have some stunning and cinematic footage.

        I’m not sure if it’s that simple since I hear shooting anamorphic has some weird kinks to it, but in theory, we could be solid now.

        • @Kevin, that anamorphic idea is EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking about. I’d be super happy to have that resolution if I had some Iscarama (sp) anamorphics or maybe an AG-LA7200 adapter even.

  • Does this mean 4:2:2 colour space? That’s something the GH2 hack can’t do and would be an amazing progression for DSLR cinematography.

    • Possibly. We won’t know until testers go manually through the thousands of registers. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  • I love magic lantern (on my two T2i cameras). I have not experienced any problems with it, and the focus peaking feature has really helped my filmmaking. It takes a lot of the stress out of staring so closely at the tiny screen, because I know that if there are the focus peaking lines then it must be in focus. I just wish I had known about and installed ML before I shot a week’s worth of indoor scenes for my friend’s short film, because it really makes a noticeable difference.

  • Um.. does this mean the possibility of, no line skipping?
    or delivering a clean video to an external monitor?

    • I doubt it. So moire will still be a substantial problem, but that could be something in the next gen once they get clean HDMI stable.

      This is huge even if they never disable line skipping. I can avoid situations where moire is a problem. But the codec and compression would muddy up the image in ways you cant always predict as easily, with clean HDMI, you dont have to worry about that, you know there will be detail in all areas of the image that are within the exposed range.

    • If they can cure aliasing/moire using this trick, it will have nasty side effects: read-out time on the sensor is around 60ms, cut to 20ms by reading out only 1/3 of the lines. Read all lines, and you’ll see huge rolling shutter issues on anything that moves.

  • Im so psyched for this, hope they figure it out soon

  • Ben Howling on 02.22.12 @ 2:33PM

    Has anyone got an example of the differences in quality of the exact same image on the exact same camera shot using the native codec vs shooting uncompressed HDMI? (i’m guessing this is only available on the GH2, D800, FS100 and F3??)

    I’ve seen plenty of articles on the web that laud the idea of uncompressed HDMI, but i haven’t actually seen any examples of how great the difference is.

    i’m questioning whether it makes that big a difference or not, because from what I’ve seen, audiences seem happy to put up with grain and slightly lesser quality vision so long as the sound and story are all good.

    • Think of it as closer to raw. You can push the color grade more. The dynamic range of the sensor is the same, and line skipping I would guess is the same. But you can push the image more with less artifacts.

      • This also includes the factor that since heavy compression would be a thing of the past, the image clarity, resolution and sharpness would retain its full quality. The same quality you actually see on the LCD or on the monitor. As it is right now, this compression factor w/ the Canons muddies the resolution more than it should.

        It’ll be a welcome change/upgrade.

        As for Richard, have you tried using a cage w/ an HDMI clamp on it? Letus makes them specifically for that.

        • Ben Howling on 02.23.12 @ 4:25PM

          I understand the principle of it, but I haven’t actually seen an example of it, is all I’m saying. I haven’t seen an example of a “before – with standard native compressed” and “after – with out-board uncompressed”.

          I would love to see how much further you can push a grade – when artifacts start to show on canon native compared to non compressed, how bad the artifacts are on Canon when uncompressed reaches its limit, and the range between those two points.

          For all the talk on the matter, I don’t think anyone has actually sat down to put out a demo of the differences. Unless it’s taken for granted that everyone knows them?

          • you cant make a demo of the difference if your camera can’t output clean HMDI out… None of the current canon DSLRs can do that

    • The quality difference is marginal, but visible if you are looking for it (highlight roll-off is a tell-tale sign) or using it in a colour correction workflow. The other big reasoning is for Broadcast. Many Broadcaster’s standards (generally modeled after Discovery USA or BBC) demand compression of at least 50mbps or higher (and often using only specific compression formats) when they are commissioning a project. The Canon h.264′s come in at about 40 mbps, but a clean HDMI out would bypass this compression allowing you to use DSLR’s for broadcast acquisition.

    • The GH2 has clean HDMI output, and I have a Ninja that I connect to it. My mind says the ProRes footage looks better, but I can’t really see the difference on my monitors. Hence, there are possible caveats: 1) a good big monitor should exemplify details, 2) GH2 HDMI is 60i and needs to be de-interlaced. So after it’s de-interlaced it’s not really raw anymore is it?, and 3) to post it on Vimeo or YouTube requires H264 export and it gets downrez’d again on those sites, so the web isn’t very revealing.

      External recorders might be useful, especially with DSLRs and rumors as such having clean HDMI, preferably clean progressive HDMI. IMHO it depends on the distribution media to make such a recorder useful, or if shooting for a company to meet bitrate requirements.

      • The de-interlacing is a big deal, and in the end you’re left with something closer to 720p than real 1080. The hack still hasn’t addressed this to my knowledge.

    • For those of us wanting to push the limits of the tech, yes, full uncompressed HDMI out is a big deal. While many are only interested in low light shooting, I am wanting to chromakey an entire TV series, so low light means nothing to me. What is important is being able to remove all artifacting and colour artifacting. The artifacting makes edge detection in software a nightmare.

      Uncompressed HDMI out opens up 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 colour (reduces or removes colour artifacts) and higher bitrates for the Luminance which reduces the compression artifacting.

    • I did a test a while back with the qscale hack. You can get a pretty good idea of what the video will look like uncompressed. I posted the video with a bit about clean HDMI on my website.

  • Wait where did you get this info…I am not seeing it on their wiki???

  • Regardless of wether or not this wil ever become a reality, the simple fact still remains that HDMI is a consumer-grade connector, not professional. The mini-HDMI port on Canon DSLRs is really crappy. I recently had it mounted on my jib with a wireless HDMI transmitter attached to it (also consumer grade), and the feed disconnected a number of times due to the poor connection. So, even if I would be able to record a clean feed on an external recorder, I’m not sure I would trust it enough for recording during a production. Losing your (SD) feed while on a jib is one thing, but running the risk of not having images recorded is quite something else.

    • Richard,
      What about the Zacuto solutions or other hdmi saver options?

    • Yes, the 5D MKII HDMI connector is a consumer style connector as that’s partly where Canon aimed the 5D MKII (one of the main reasons was simply adding video for photo journo’s – not specifically as a film making camera). But there are many simple ways to solve the connector falling out issue. Not too many that I’m aware of for you to know if your external media has lost a connection with the camera (unless there’s a media that has an video output connector?).

      Best I’ve seen so far for securing teh HDMI connector at the Camera is Zaccuto’s HMDI bracket desinged to exactly prevent the HMDI falling out of the DSLR’s. It’s quite a simple system really and I’m sure many Indie and other slightly mechanical people could come up with and build similar devices for securing the HDMI connector to the camera. The neck strap ring could also be another good attaching point for a device to secure the HDMI connector too.

      As for the external media, again a device with the similar principle would be ideal but also as we do in the TV News industry (seriously) use some Gaffa tape to keep connectors connected. It works and gaffa is not that expensive. Just don’t leave the tape on for weeks and weeks as Gaffa will break down with UV and time (and it drys out to nasty, hard almost resin type substance that is so annoying to try and remove)! Also electrical insulating tape is another good option (again don’t leave it on for too lond as it will leave sticky residue too).

      As for clean HDMI out of a 5D MKII – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!!! It’s the main reason I have almost gotten rid of my 5D MKII and gone for a dedicated, small 3CCD video camera. The images out of the Canon 5D MKII are so much better though and clean, HDMI feed would help me incredibly! Being able to record to an external media and for longer than 12 minutes would be a godsend! Might have to invest in more batteries to run an external cooling fan for the camera sensor / processor though!!!!

      • I don’t think that you would need extra cooling since the sensor isn’t recording it’s just reading the image and sending it to HDMI. It wouldn’t be doing any extra work than it would normally if previewing the image.

        Am I wrong?

  • John Jeffreys on 02.22.12 @ 3:08PM

    Exciting! I have been a user of magic lantern since it first came out for the t2i/crop sensor cameras. It really changes your workflow and makes cheap dslr’s actually usable for serious projects

  • Yes count me in! I’m excited! Bring it on!

  • Can’t wait for this to happen (if ever). I’ve been using a Ninja with my JVC HM100 for over 6 months and the quality of Prores recording is amazing. With my T2i, it would be awesome !

  • Rev. Benjamin on 02.23.12 @ 9:45AM

    I just like that it’s called “magic lantern”. *shrug*

    • My understanding, is that the name comes from the actual victorian era (correct me if I’m wrong) device of the same name. Which was a revolutionary machine that allowed both still and moving pictures to be projected and since it used light to do so, it was a “magic lantern”. If you go to Universal studios they have a cheesy, yet cool presentation on the history of vfx, and part of the demonstration uses a magic lantern.

  • Looking forward to that! Been working with my 5D mostly for TV every week for exactly three years now, and it still gets better and better. I recently shot with my (at that time) unhacked GH2 in 25p firmware (which is also officiallly hacked now btw) and recorded the HDMI over a converter to the Atomos Samurai. It’s clean and it’s progressive 1080 when you hit the record button. Not sure if it’s 422, but in nostalgic mode (-2, -1, -2, -2) i think it looks almost superior in terms of dynamic range and even sharpness than most of the scarlet stuff I’ve seen so far.(that gamma shift it does when you hit record is not a bad thing imo) But i’ll put that to a test as soon as the grey red brick arrives.

  • I’m just color grading 5D footage for a short I shot 2 weeks ago and especially de’vibrating’ certain colors while maintaining the others’ vibrance (i shot in a supermarket with walls painted in annoyingly bright yellow!) uncovered the true weaknesses of the 4:2:2 compression pretty early on in the process. On my personal list of the most frustrating shortcomings of the 5D, compression is definitely No. 3 (No.1 being stupid rolling shutter, No.2 ugly moiré). At least when it comes to eliminating moiré I still have not lost hope, yet (the thing has a freakin’ full format sensor, alright, so the canon guys might have one or two ideas to deal with that!), but I actually had never expected something to change on the compression front. Magic Lantern be praised!


    • Just to avoid more confusion, the 5D records at 4.2.0 compression in-camera. 422 is what we WANT externally, which is much better in quality.

      • ‘Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.’ Shakespeare, Henry IV Pt. II (IV.v.91)

        Of course 4:2:2 … :)

  • Fantastic !
    Thanks for the info !
    I’m so glad i gave Alex a few bucks for the unified Christmas version of his hack.

    Now i want an Atomos Ninja !
    The price hurts a bit, and i would have thought that for that price, they would have put useful functions for the monitor side (like Levels, Focus peaking, etc…)…

    Anyway, Magic Lantern does all this so it’s not really a problem !

  • Mumbling ruined your presentation…were you speaking English?
    I couldn’t tell.
    Ears bleeding trying to listen to what you said between the mumbles and groans.

    • Let’s be nice. This isn’t our video, and he’s not a native English speaker – I understood everything he was saying.

    • That’s funny your ears were bleeding.. because my eyes are bleeding after looking at your HTML website.. I think its time you join the 21st century, Harry.

    • Harry Kemball, a person with such an ugly (and old) website should not criticize others. Probably cannot even speak any other language than english…

  • Time to switch to Nikon.

  • I’ve been looking around for a straight answer on what exactly the benefits of an uncompressed HDMI feed are and how you could use it with no luck. Could someone enlighten me or provide me with a link to somewhere that does?

  • Does anyone know what this uncompressed HDMI hack will offer in terms of record time? In my head, it seems that if we are able to record to a firestore or some other type of record device, then I have no idea why we wouldn’t be able to record for upwards of an hour or two per clip? Any thoughts on that?

  • This is HUGE news to me. My only concern is that this might impose too much of a workload on the existing processors, resulting in overheating, crashing, or image degradation. It would be great if this feature can also be added to the upcoming next generation Canon models.

    • Lots of speculation here, remember this news is being reported as a breakthrough when infact it was a one line comment by A1ex, no firm evidence of this working yet. (the switch has yet to be discovered)

      Re: Record times/heating issues – yes, to record the clean HDMI feed you don’t actually press rec on your cam but instead record the standby feed from liveview on an external 422 recorder like the atomos ninja or the nanoflash. So I don’t see why this would overheat the cam, it should actually run cooler as its not recording in cam, record times to NTFS formatted HDD’s (on external recorders) would be limited to the size of the disk only, so that gets around the 4gb FAT32 limit on Canon DSLR’s.

      One massive drawback that people aren’t mentioning – currently, to monitor or record through HDMI on canon dslr’s, the rear LCD automatically turns off, disabling the ability to monitor in cam settings or critical focus. Unless they find a way to keep both outputs running (I don’t see how) then this is a non-starter for me.

      Yes some external recorders have monitoring screens (like the ninja) but they are pretty low res and most don’t have the ML features we all love like focus peaking!

      • That’s actually a good point to bring up Ralph (not being able to monitor while outputing HDMI), but luckily there are some great monitors/EVF’s that have HDMI-passthrough, like the DP4 from SmallHD (I really want one o’ these). Seeing as this feature really only speaks to those who can afford an off-board recording device; it’s likely that said-users would opt to purchase a monitor/evf, if they don’t already own one that is.

        I’m sure everyone’s already drooled over these, but here’s a link to the specs page on the DP4:

  • With all due respect to the work being done on this and everybody’s wish list, I really wish the Magic Lantern crew would concentrate on either of two features: (1) uncompressed HDMI or (2) 4:2:2. Either will produce the most meaningfull and remarkable quality improvements and I really don’t understand while any other tweak in the 4:2:0 realm is really worth it unless the 4:2:0 barrier is breached. Canon is likely going to be hyper protective of their higher end video division so the odds of Canon doing this in pro-sumer dSLRs is highly remote.

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