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This is How Magic Lantern Has Made Such Amazing Progress with Canon DSLRs

Magic_Lantern_logo-whiteThe recent developments with the Canon DSLR hack known as Magic Lantern have been downright astonishing. At one time these DSLRs were just decent H.264 video/still hybrid cameras, and now they’ve become RAW video monsters with an unbelievable increase in detail and clarity. While the Canon 5D Mark III is the only one capable of taking full 1080p advantage of these advancements, it’s likely every Canon DSLR will be able to shoot RAW video down the line. But how did we get to this point so fast? Was it some sort of Canon conspiracy? Check out the video below to get a better sense of the insane amount of work it’s taken to get to where we are now.

A1ex from the main Magic Lantern development team put this visualization together:

It’s clear from the video that these developments were not by accident. This has taken a lot of work from a lot of dedicated people working for free in their off hours in order to experiment and squeeze every last ounce of potential out of these cameras. Those thinking this has been some sort of conspiracy on Canon’s part can take a look at the video above and see the exponential increase in development over the last 6 months. Just as with anything, developments can be slow in the beginning, but as things get going, they can really take off.

We should all be very thankful for those working behind the scenes on the Magic Lantern firmware, giving us free upgrades and making our cameras better than we ever thought possible.



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • So, um… forgive my ignorance, but I have no idea what I just watched. What are all the lines and nodes supposed to represent? Obviously some of them are labeled, but I’m kind of lost on the rest of them.

    • Don’t worry, you are not the only one. At first I even thought it was not related.

      • Robert Thorpe on 06.18.13 @ 4:31PM

        It’s a data visualization silly!

        The nodes represents branches of development work, lines that appear and disappear between users/participants indicate key moments of communication and collaboration.

        The growing complexity of branched code is represented through the tree-like growth.

        As the base code is optimized and “finalized” it’s development is less frenetic and more stable. It’s is literally visualized as more stable as a result., While new branches of code are sprung from the core functionality.

        Use your imagination and connect the dots. It’s much more fun than the question you asked.

        • “Use your imagination and connect the dots. It’s much more fun than the question you asked.”

          Gee, thanks. Your previous explanation was probably enough.

          • I second that, shame people are not bothering to figure things out, the magic lantern group has done wonders really and handed it to the masses free, it would have been nice if the sarcastic and silly kept is somewhere else.

      • The bunches of nodes are the different forum threads on the magic lantern site. The nodes are comments, and the little people are users commenting.

        • Rodrigo Molinsky on 06.19.13 @ 10:56AM

          No, it not related to the forum. The title clearly says it’s a commit history, so is the “timeline” of codes commited by developers to the code repository. Each “tree” is a different branch (as a version) of the code to develop specific features.

          But I agree with the original question. A video (just like a institutional one) showing the firmware features history would be more… elucidative.

    • shaun wilson on 06.19.13 @ 5:12AM

      What’s not to get? Its perfectly clear what the data visualisation is saying. Are we all that simple that we cant work it out? Great video…

  • john jeffries on 06.18.13 @ 4:15PM

    I used to rock magic lantern on a 550D a while back, and it was “stable” but I’d never trust it on a paid/professional project. And it doesn’t really inspire confidence on set when you tell them you have a hacked camera. It’s great for hobby projects and stuff though. I’ve heard of producers choosing RAW hacked 5D’s over reds, to save money. That’s a great way to lose your job loooool

    • I guess, then you just didn’t explore it enough. It has turned my 550d into a professional video camera by giving the features that were not there, but were very needed. My professional video work would be impossible without Magic Lantern. Or at least much more complicated. I’ve been using ML for 2,5 years, and I can’t remember one single time it has let me down.
      And talking about using a “hacked” camera professionaly – isn’t that the way the technology is advancing? It should be a plus for people, who know how to use it, not like – are they crazy?
      Now, for example, if I would ever need a cameraman to shoot something for me on a Canon dslr, if I saw, that he’s not using ML, I would get worried about his skills. Because one thing is to know, how to compose a shot, how to light it, etc, but another thing is to know, how to squeeze every last bit out of the camera you have, and that’s exactly what ML is helping us to do. To be good, you have to know, how to do it all, right?

      • john jeffries on 06.18.13 @ 5:30PM

        I would care more about what the end product looks like and not what they are using. Although I am about to sell my 5D 2 kit and just rent higher end cameras from now on. DSLR’s limit me too much, I’m switching from owner operator to the rental-based-on-what-your-project-needs route. I think 1300 dollars towards a short film is way better than a line-skipping, faux 1080p 1300 dollar camera body sitting in a pelican and not being used every day

      • vinceGortho on 06.18.13 @ 7:13PM

        Using magic lantern is a skill????
        Pffft! I would call it a technical bonus.
        Plenty of professional work will survive without it.

      • Dude, for a professional to say that if someone wasn’t using ML, you would be worried about his/her skills! Thats’s not a very professional attitude haha!

        I no a bunch of people who use ML and claim all this techy stuff, but can’t shoot to save their life! 10 times out of 10, I’m looking at the persons previous work, attitude, collaboration skills and initiative…

      • Ok, maybe I exaggerated a bit. Of course that the thing that means the most are the previous works. Looks like ML has given me so much, that I feel I have to defend it, whenever someone underestimates it :D

      • I know what you mean. If I am doing a project using ML then any parallel cameras need Magic Lantern for continuity’s sake.

        And lol to the people who say ML isn’t an important thing – crop marks don’t come with the default firmware. I guess the people you hire would duct tape their screens?

    • Chris Lambert on 06.18.13 @ 5:08PM

      If you’ve never run into a problem with it though and never heard of anyone running into a problem with it does it then make it ok? I trust it but then I use my 550d as a backup/B cam

      Do we know each other from somewhere your name is familiar :)

    • I had my little ML 550 on set (because I always have it with me) and I can’t tell you how many times the DP asked me if he could use the false colors and vector scope to double check his lighting setup even though he had a light meter. It was especially helpful on the green screen if you match the aperture too. He didn’t shoot with it (because they had a whole fleet of 5D’s) but ML was a tool he could not stop asking about. I did a timelapse of the shoot one day again using magic lantern and it is on his demo reel to show how he runs a set. Just little tools that make the job easier. Magic lantern has never let me down :D.

    • shaun wilson on 06.19.13 @ 5:14AM

      Same here, I made a feature on a 550D (and ZF lenses) and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

    • I’ve joined the rental to suit job niche as well. I still have my 7d though and use it for at least a shot or two on every Red Epic job. One thing though, I’d say the Epic is less reliable than my 7d with “hacked” magic lantern. On one two week Epic shoot we missed a shot on our A camera because it couldn’t write to the card and on the same shoot we had an error and the B camera shutdown during a shot. I’ve never had issues with ML though I have had a couple of issues with my 7d corrupting clips before I ever even loaded ML. Basically, what I’m saying is all gear has issues and nothing is 100%.

  • i’m pretty grateful to these guys — but can anyone answer the Big Question.

    any idea when they hope to have a stable and/or beta release to turn on the world ?

    i sniff around different forums and blogs on a daily basis trying to get some forecast — but nothing.

    anyone ?

  • also … i think i recognize yanobox nodes. i bought it a few years ago … and i could never figure out what to do with it, either.

  • thank you all so much for your work. Even without the raw developments, you guys have been amazing.

  • Yeah big up ML
    Out of curiosity , the 700d now records raw , could someone please explain if that is in 1080p 24fps and how long for ????
    If that’s the casein going out to buy one !
    Newbie so please be gentle as I am a delicate man lol

  • vinceGortho on 06.18.13 @ 5:10PM

    Nikon needs a qualified hacker!
    C’mon magic lantern. Just try the d800.

  • I didn’t think I’d be able to afford to shoot in raw while in school…but…

  • Hey Joe I have a question for you. I own a Red epic, but am looking for a second cam either a 4k black magic or a 5d mark3. With all these crazy magic lantern upgrades the 5d is looking pretty amazing and the low light factor is also huge. I guess my question is when is 1080p going to be the standard def of today? with 4k TV’s coming out and 6k and eventually 8k cameras… when is 1080 going to be dead? when are we going to start exporting 2k and 4k files?

    Thanks Joe


    • A question being asked by almost everyone these days. I’d love to read Joe’s take on it as long as he picks a number. :-)
      My 25 cents – unless the BMDCC 4K is a total bust (for some reason we have yet to see) go with that.
      While we will be happily delivering primarily in 1080 for at least the next 36 months after that you might be struggling to justify it. By the way we still deliver 15% of what we do at our company in SD. Doesn’t mean we shoot in it!

      • Anthony Marino on 06.18.13 @ 11:30PM

        What caught my attention with the whole BM release, I wondered how good these cameras are in 1080p (down res mode)? How good can they really make 1080p look? The truth is with an exception to the c100/c300 and F3, most of these other higher resolution sensor cameras aren’t making astonishing looking 1080p in my opinion. Even my “4k” ready camera is arguably better than it’s $4,000.00 cheaper little brother. How much better does the footage have to be to justify the cost? I’m really hoping BM is the one. They can definitely set some standards if that’s the case. (hopefully saying goodbye to 8bit and 10bit being the new minimum for starters :) Just a bit more I guess and we’ll see, thanks

      • 36 months would be very nice.

    • I really don’t think anyone can answer that, just like no one could have predicted a few years ago that we’d have a 4K camera for so cheap. I mentioned in an NAB video last year I think you’ll only be able to get 4K screens by 2017, but it’s impossible to know. What we do know is that acquisition is moving much, much faster than display/distribution, which wasn’t always the case.

      • Do you meant like mass market televisions at a 4 k standard by 2017 or just starting to surface? I know that Toshibo is coming out with a 4k TV and although I haven’t been their I hear they are all over Dubai and parts of the middle east. For me it seems like this rapid growth of high res cameras is going to continue to grow exponentially. 2k will probably get skipped right into a 4k standard. When 1080i and 720p came out around 2006, on a some what mass market, you had to be crazy to buy a standard def camera because although they were cheaper, standard def was on the verge of being dead. I think 1080p is on the verge of being dead as well… and although the mark3 is a badass low light camera capable of shooting raw and unlocking all sorts of magic, its still tough to go under 2k.

  • I’d love to hear from folks who use this on paid jobs. I rent cameras on a per project basis (and use a pair of 7Ds for nickel and dime work). The raw hack got me pumped, so I tried it out last time I borrowed a 5D3.

    Maybe it’s just something you get used to, but the prep work to even get files into my NLE was a little crazy. I can’t imagine that much extra work on a music video or corporate work with lots of B-roll.

    Is it just one of those things you get really efficient at? It felt prohibitive in the professional realm, just for the added time. I guess I got used to the Red workflow, but even that didn’t feel nearly as cumbersome.

    • We have yet to be brave enough to use it within 100 yards of a paid job. We had a similar experience to you, and have essentially shelved it until there’s a stable version. It looks great when you get it going, but not worth the risk in such a hyper competitive market.

    • The workflow is getting easier all the time. You need a couple of really fast cf cards and a fast computer. Then use RAWMagic to convert .RAW to CDNG (very fast) and use Resolve.
      Check out the fantastic raw videos on the web coming from the 5DMK III.
      ML raw is still at an early stage. But if you want live histogram, waveform, audio levels on 550D etc., there’s just no way to get them without magic lantern. I’ve been using it on professional shoots for years and it hasn’t let me down. I’m extremely grateful to all the developers for unlocking my camera’s potential.

    • I’ve been using the 5D Mark III with RAW for the last week and a half for broadcast work, but only as a b camera. I try not to shoot more than 4 to 6 minutes of footage a day, otherwise it becomes a little difficult to work with in post when on tight deadlines. While 4 to 6 minutes isn’t much, it forces me to be even more careful when planning my shots which increases my efficiency

      Currently I use ACR through After Effects, I found it easier to just dump all the footage in one composition, sometimes I have to dig through the footage on Bridge when the first frame that AE shows isn’t enough to make the adjustments that are needed. I then export the composition to DNxHD in the background in Media Encoder so I can work in AE on other projects. It usually takes an hour to an hour and a half to create the DNxHD, but usually I plan my lunch break around that time.

      Overall I’m happy with it and haven’t experienced any glitches yet. I look forward to the improved workflows, but for now it’s a great way to sharpen my skills.

  • Anthony Marino on 06.18.13 @ 8:10PM

    Not to rain on the parade, the strides the ML crew have made so far has been astounding. I came across this the other day and thought if true, then wow! I like tests like this one, sometimes bringing out the worst in a camera can tell you how good it really is. Thanks

    • Nice comparisons, however, the infinity focus test was flawed and therefor moot because he wasn’t using the same lens on both cameras.

      I’m surprised that the edge detail on the 5DmkIII was worse than the GH2. Not surprised it outperformed it in the other tests though.

  • And now for our Canon-related post of the day….Geez guys.

  • but what about Nikon?

    • mike_tee_vee on 06.19.13 @ 12:04PM

      I think it goes back to the conspiracy theorists notion that Canon engineers left breadcrumbs in the code to be discovered at a later date in hopes of creating buzz at the grass roots level. Nikon seem to have a different approach to their code, as I recall they wanted to encrypt RAW white balance data in previous generations.

    • Not a big enough userbase yet would be my guess. I don’t buy the Canon ‘conspiracy’ theory at all.

  • The intense collaboration that this animation suggests is stunningly beautiful! Thankyou ML. I wonder if the new Mac Pro is small enough so there will be a way to shoot a 5D MKIII ML raw tethered to it in a practical manner. Some kind of hardware connection will need to be invented…

  • If you ask me is too intriguing that ML has launched they RAW Hack just after the BBMC pocket camera announce. Also they 7D hack. For me ML is being pay by canon. Ok, i say it. !

    • Again, there is no conspiracy, if you watch the video, it’s clear some pretty amazing things were going to happen with all the developments. From talking to the guys internally, Canon has never contacted them, and probably never will.

  • ML has done spectacular work! I’ve been interested in BMCC (and lately BMPCC) but saving on new cameras takes time and because I’m mainly working as a photographer, giving up DSLRs is not an option. The RAW hack has been an excellent opportunity for me to boost my growth as a filmmaker without new camera investments. Of course the results are “only” 1080p but at this point that suits my needs. Can’t wait to see what they’ll come up in the future.

  • The green flash towards the end seemed to represent unlocking the raw abilities, no?

  • We were doing diy cinema cameras nearly ten years ago. It is easy and ultra cheap to do if you design it that way. I have a $69 fullhd camcorder that is a raw fullhd inside, and some are raw 4k or 16mp p30 inside, a few hundred dollers is all that separates them from full HD raw recording, even 4k. Fullhd raw is actually not that much cost, except in drives. So even with bmc pocket camera, fullhd raw is not so remarkable, but it is a low volume product and priced as such. These dslr’s are totally unremarkable and designed down to a market, not down to a price.

  • I was myself wondering what software was used to make this cool commit visualization – I now found out it’s called Gource. Just if anyone else were wondering :)