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Magic Lantern Breakthrough: Canon 5D Mark III & 7D Now Capable of 14 Stops of Dynamic Range

Magic_Lantern_logo-whiteThe breakthroughs keep coming. Magic Lantern did the unthinkable and figured out how to get RAW video out of Canon cameras, and now they’ve managed to increase the native dynamic range of the image without using an HDR method of varying light and dark frames, which can cause serious motion artifacts. That’s all in the past for the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 7D, as a1ex has managed to get a major dynamic range increase right on the sensor itself in the neighborhood of 14 stops, which brings it into ARRI ALEXA and Sony F65/F55 territory.

This is currently working in both RAW video and photo for the Mark III, but photo only for the 7D. Here’s a still image of ISO 100 and 1600 combined with the Mark III (grabbed from this post in the ML Forum). These samples are from Luke Neumann and were converted by a1ex to show what is possible:

Magic Lantern Dual Sensor Readout Sample

Here is a RAW video frame showing combined images at 100 and 1600:

Luke Neumann RAW Video - Dual Sensor Readout

In the ML Forum, here is an explanation:

Here’s a trick that samples half of the sensor at ISO 100 and the other half at ISO 1600, for example. If you mix these two, you can get almost the entire dynamic range the sensor is capable of (around 14 stops). 5D3/7D only.

There are no motion artifacts; not even a difference in motion blur for the two exposures. So, it works well for fast moving subjects.

And later, after mentioning that the 7D implementation is a bit buggy:

- 5D3: works for both raw photo and raw video. 7D: photo only.
- Select one ISO from Canon menu, the other from Dual ISO submenu.
- Expose to the right for the lower ISO (usually ISO 100). Maybe darken 1 stop from there.
- Start at ISO 100/1600.
- Try a larger gap for really extreme situations, or a smaller gap for better midtone detail (less aliasing).

Here’s how to process the images:

- For CR2 files: cr2hdr.c (Windows: cr2hdr.exe). It requires dcraw and (optional) exiftool in your path.
- For RAW video files: latest raw2dng.exe.
- To get a natural HDR look: try my automatic color grading script.

So what are the downsides? For starters, this is not like Magic Lantern RAW, where the team has simply grabbed what the camera is already doing. This is a pretty serious change in the way the camera is exposing a normal image. This is not something you want to mess around with lightly. You are using it AT YOUR OWN RISK. Here is a1ex on that:

This code changes low-level sensor parameters. In the technical doc you can see how this method messes with the feedback loop for optical black, for example. Therefore, it’s safe to assume it can fry the sensor or do other nasty things. My 5D3 is still alive after roughly one week of playing with this, but that’s not a guarantee.

You also are losing some resolution with this mode, as you are halving resolution in the highlights and the shadows. You are more at risk for aliasing and moire since the sensor is now being sampled differently, and you’re also losing 5x and 10x zoom to check focus. This may never be something you use on a daily basis because of these issues, but for some instances, if you need the dynamic range, this could work very, very well, and there won’t be the strange motion issues that come from HDR and combining pixels.

A1ex has written a mathematically dense but extremely informative PDF explaining the situation and what was done in order to achieve this as well as how the images can be processed to look better. Here’s a little taste of that:

As expected, intermediate ISOs like 160 or 250 do not cause any changes in ADTG/CMOS configuration. These ISOs are obtained by applying some digital gain to the raw data acquired at the nearest full-stop ISO, and this gain is configured from the DIGIC register 0xC0F08030 (SHAD GAIN). In LiveView, the gain is only applied to the YUV image (it does not affect the 14-bit raw data at all), but in photo mode, the gain is burned into the raw data. Don’t ask me why.

So, back to our CMOS register #0, it looks like the LSB nibble is probably some flag, and the other two are some sort of amplifier gains. What do you think it will happen if we change this register to 0×403 or 0×043?

It turns out… the answer to this question is the key to some massive improvement in image quality. The sensor will scan half of the lines at ISO 100 and the other half at 1600 (Figure 2).

I don’t recommend this for anyone not willing to lose their camera (at least for now). Again, this is not like all of the other Magic Lantern advancements that have come before it. This is a major change in the way the sensor is actually operating. The upside, though, is that it is a very serious increase in dynamic range. This new breakthrough is actually operating in a similar way to how the sensor in the ARRI ALEXA operates. It’s taking dual readouts from shadows and highlights and combining them in a seamless way very early on in the picture pipeline. The reason this is possible, it seems, is because of an 8 channel readout in the Mark III and the 7D, whereas most of the Canon cameras only have 4, so they will not be able to take advantage of this update. The new 70D, however, might actually be able to do it since it supposedly has 8 channels.

The team over at Magic Lantern have done impossible things over and over again, so I don’t doubt for a second that literally anything is possible. It’s definitely worth reading the PDF just to get the background on what’s going on, so head on over to the Magic Lantern forum to check out the document, as well as download the new update.

Link: Dual ISO – massive dynamic range improvement for 5D3 and 7D — Magic Lantern Forum

[via Magic Lantern Twitter]


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Description image 82 COMMENTS

  • no idea when RAW mode moves from alpha to beta state.. This may take forever.. Being a coder myself I wonder if I can contribute to ML, no idea though of how or what they do

  • VinceGOrtho on 07.16.13 @ 2:40PM

    Grrr. 7D. I still have my fingers crossed for Raw video.
    Hopefully with dual sensors it will do 1920X1080. And they’re cheap used, so I can have two or three.
    7D is Canon’s best video DSLR when considering Price vs. Performance.
    Agree disagree?

  • john jeffries on 07.16.13 @ 3:04PM

    Please dont compare a hacked consumer camera to the Alexa

    this website is too much

    • In no way, shape, or form did he compare it to the Alexa…

    • I must have missed something. Where does he compare the Mark III to the Alexa?

      • David J. Fulde on 07.16.13 @ 4:33PM

        He comapres the possible dynamic range to the alexa’s

        • I think he made that comparison because the dynamic range is comparable.

          • I could quote myself again, but that would be a tad redundant. For those people who don’t really understand what 14 stops means, I was simply putting it into persepective. The only direct comparison is the way this hack is working and the way the Alexa’s sensor works. It is not quite the same but very similar.

            None of this is actually comparing the quality of the images coming from any of these cameras. You get what you pay for, but the Mark 3 is now an incredible value.

      • Trick or Treating this weekend? Craft a jazzy jack o’ lenratn Trick or Treat Tote to collect your candy in style! Happy Halloween!! Hint: Drop a glow stick or tiny flashlight in the bottom of the bag to better keep track of your little ones as they trick or treat. Posted on October 25, 2012 by !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=”//”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

    • He’s not comparing them, he’s pointing out that the dynamic range is within the range of alexia now. Don’t worry I’m sure there will be support groups available for you and the others that spent so much on a camera that is slowly losing every advantage it had. It’s ok. For a while there, buddy, you were king!

    • If the consumer camera can shoot RAW video with 14 stops of dynamic range, you’d be foolish not to compare the image quality of the two cameras. Granted, hacked 5D3′s will never be able to compare to an Alexa in terms of workflow or other professional features, but comparing the images from the two cameras seems like a no-brainer considering the technical specs of the images themselves are quite similar.

    • I must have missed something. Where did he compare the Mark III to the Alexa?

      • “major dynamic range increase right on the sensor itself in the neighborhood of 14 stops, which brings it into ARRI ALEXA and Sony F65/F55 territory.”

        Is he making a global comparison of the cameras. No. Is he comparing a single statistic about the image of both cameras. Yes. Is he mentioning them in the same sentence as to draw light to their supposed differences and similarities. Yes. Are people on the internet overreacting? Yes. On both sides of the issue. Yes.

    • At least they mention that you lose a lot of resolution, and there’s a pretty good chance of frying your camera and being out $3000.

      No hacked DSLR can ever amount to even a fraction of an extremely reliable, complete camera like the Alexa.

      • Well… the raw module is actually pretty stable for me right now. We shooted a 2 days clip with 2 epics and a MKIII raw with the last update and it never failed. We used 4 Hoodmans 64gb 1000x. 24fps 1080p smooth… Actually the images are so good, we’re using a lot MKIII”s footage…

        The jump in quality is something hard to believe. You can push really hard footage with 3,4 nodes and it stays solid! Try that in h264…

        I’m blessing Alex, Luke and all the guys working on this thing. It’s just too good to be true.

        • I don’t recall mentioning anything your comment “replies” to…

          • Sorry man. It was for the comment below yours…

            And relax a bit right? We rent Alexas for our main jobs, ads. Extremely reliable camera, you’re right…

            Want another extremely good camera? F55. Just rented one last week. Want another? Red Epic. wow tons of jobs here with that baby… Want another?

            of course it’s kinda dumb compare globally 2 cameras totaly different… But one can compare only the imagery it produces… How hard it is to work with those images? well…

          • Yeah, I commented on the F55 update article about how reliable Sony’s are. Love those cameras.

      • People also said the Earth is flat, humans will never fly, go into space or land on the moon, and I’ve also heard said that DSLR’s will never shoot RAW.

        So when you say something like “No hacked DSLR can ever amount to even a fraction of an extremely reliable, complete camera like the Alexa.”
        You better tie a napkin around your neck and prepare yourself for some crow…

        • Seeing as Alexa has MANY other features that are impossible in a DSLR due to hardware constraints, I have full confidence in my original statement.

    • I’ve been doing some tests using BOTH the ALEXA and a 5DmkIII + ML RAW + PL mount. Lensewise we’ve been using a set of Zeiss Master Primes.

      Apart from the obvious ease of use / workflow of the ALEXA (which remains my favourite digital cinema camera) I dare you (in fact I double dare you) to choose which one produces a better image.

      In terms of cameras the ALEXA is the obvious winner… in terms of VALUE FOR MONEY the 5D just blows the Arri away! The fact that we even dare to put the two side by side says a lot about the 5D don’t you think?

      • How does a GH3 look side by side with them? Just wondering. Seriously.

        • in terms of sharpness it’s not bad… as for dynamic range and compression it’s simply not up to par. it sure is a hell of a camera though!

          • I always wonder when I’m going through these threads what the average person on the street would think of the side by side comparisons, especially if they were told the cost of each camera. I wonder if they’d say, “Well, the dynamic range of camera A was outstanding compared to camera B and C”. Or, if they’d say, “Wow, that camera that costs $1300.00 looks just as good or maybe better than the $3500.00, and $80,000.00 ones.” I wonder if they would use terms like ‘dynamic range’, ‘depth of field’, ‘sensor size’, ‘low light capability’, and ‘ISO’. They wouldn’t of course. But they might be impressed at the low cost of the GH’s, the quality dollar for dollar.

            Anyway, this upgrade is great news for Canon users. That’s true.

          • Yes, the detail in the GH3 is top notch. Dynamic range is behind, but not too bad though… especially now that you can get even flatter with -5 on the pic-profiles. I remember Zacuto tested the 7D at 11 stops, and the GH3 is definitely as good as the 7D at highlights… and much cleaner in the shadows.

    • How about you go back to where you came from, nofunallowed.

    • Even with only 12 stops, when not over-cranking, the 5DIII RAW hack is certainly comparable to the Alexa. Maybe, not in workflow or reliability… but the image certainly is. Same with the Blackmagic cams. Any of these RAW cams are comparable to the Alexa. Camera’s are simply just sensors and processors… there’s nothing “magic” about the Alexa. Honestly, it’s about 30x overpriced and basically just a “badge of honor” an elitist tool. There’s nothing you can’t do on other systems that won’t get you in the ballpark image wise. The era of elite tools separating amateurs with skills, from the “professionals”, is all but over. This year was the nail in the coffin. :)

      • The Alexas sensor is the exact same one they use for the ARRI film scanners.

      • The Alexa has most of what is needed right out of the box, and has set the standard for acquisition extremely high, and to do that it took plenty of expensive R&D. Some people (not me personally) have an aversion to using hacks and cobbled together accessories to get something close to Alexa quietly on more consumer based gear, especially when an Alexa is well within their budget. Just because other cameras in the consumer range are now approaching it’s quality does not mean it’s a rip-off, but that these new cameras are a bargain. It’s among the most popular cameras in rental houses for a reason.

      • john jeffries on 07.17.13 @ 3:40PM

        So workflow and reliability don’t matter? Please go back to shooting weddings or whatever low-end clients you have

        • “So workflow and reliability don’t matter?”

          Never said that. Nice straw-man.

          “Please go back to shooting weddings or whatever low-end clients you have”

          Ok, I will. I’ll continue my 2-day a month work schedule while I develop multiple-skills that will put the union-peons out of business in 5-years when our crews of 3 can do the job of your crew of 30. I will also continue then, in my 20+ days of free time a month to write and work on MY OWN films… Instead of making a career out of being a cog in the machine on someone else’s set. BTW, since I assume you work on such great “high-end” shoots… was it you dad or uncle that got you the job?

    • I take it English is not your native language…

  • any … ANY guesses as to when a stable RAW release may come ?

  • Same day this is released I shoot this morning in harsh sunlight when I could use some serious dynamic range. This looks awesome as long as it doesn’t harm the camera. BUT canon can’t prove you ruined your camera with a hack so maybe this is safest if you have a warranty!

  • Go-Go-Gadget-Dynamic Range!

  • Who wants a free 7d before I throw mine at the wall? From now on i’m saving my money for the best instead of going 3/4 of the way and blowing my money on a camera that has less hacked capabilities than a t2i. *Palm to head *Palm to head

  • Joseph Moore on 07.16.13 @ 4:55PM

    These announcements do nothing but frustrate me because they highlight what hardware is actually capable of versus what the manufacturers dribble to us. God bless ML for the hacks, but damnation on Canon, Sony, Panasonic et. all for requiring them.

    • Dude, wake up. (I mean that politely.)
      Manufacturers have to sell reliable gear. A hacked camera is not reliable for production work. If you’re spending $25k/day on a production, would you spend $1500/day on an Alexa or gamble on a hacked camera?
      Hot Rod Cameras put a PL mount on a 7D. Pretty slick engineering. Do you blame Canon for not offering that?

      The ML hack is incredible for indies and owner operators, but it is not something a camera manufacturer could release. Though Black Magic is getting close.

      • Eric Jolley on 07.16.13 @ 6:16PM

        It’s true, they will never release an affordable DSLR with capabilities of Magic Lantern but it has nothing to do with reliability. Wake up indeed. They want to maximize profits. The features of Magic Lantern could absolutely be built into a DSLR and it could be reliable. The manufacturing cost of the camera would go up a little to beef up some hardware components but they wouldn’t have to jack up the price to $10,000. The real reason it will never happen is they want to be able to artificially segment the market.

    • Joseph was making a good point.

      For example, why doesn’t Panasonic offer a good paying job to Nick Driftwood and end up with a better product.

  • How much DR did the 5D3 & ML raw have before Dual ISO?

      • It wasnt 12. It was something like 10.5-11. 5DMk2 was about 9.5. This is great news for all DSLR’s.

        In the image with batman why is the lenscap so badly aliased. Those are huge jagged edges.

    • This is from the document that a1ex posted:

      Then we will combine the images as follows:
       In highlights, we only have valid data in the ISO 100 image. The ISO 1600 one is clipped
      (by 4 stops).
       In deep shadows, we only have valid data in the ISO 1600 image. The corresponding data
      from ISO 100 will be just noise.
       In midtones, we have valid data at both ISOs. We can mix them and try to recover the
      ISO 100 : ###……….. (11 stops)
      ISO 1600: ####………. (10 stops)
      Combined: XX##………….. (14 stops)

  • Why no love for mark ii?

  • FredO, this one is especially for you!
    Heres a sample, comparing the differences between use of this hack created by ML forums member ‘MA Visuals’

  • Quick DR Comparison (please jump in and correct me/tighten up my rough figures)


    5D mk3: 14 stops (with hack)
    C100/C300: 12 stops
    5D mk3: 11 stops (w/o hack)
    7D/T2i: 10.5 stops

  • I really hope ML team can have it so my external monitor and my 5dmk3 screen both stay on like the new update Canon released. Don’t wanna downgrade to put the new hack on because its very important for my workflow with cranes….could anyone shed some light on this?

  • This quarrel is funny! Alexa / RAW 5dm3. Some defend their camera as if it were a part of themselves. A member of their body. I find some advocates Alexa a little too sure of themselves, where are your masterpieces? This debate is sterile. Let us rejoice just that little purse have the ability to shoot RAW so to speak properly with their camera. Do you think the general public, there is now a difference between a film made with 5D RAW or Alexa? We all just want to see films that touch us, move us, make us laugh, make us cry: whether it is a wedding movie or a movie theater broadcast worldwide. So, it’s absolutly fantastic that the 5D RAW exists. That is the real revolution that accepts it or not.

  • Took some impressions last wekend with the RAW mode on the 5D Mark III. The workflow is not yet perfect (took 20hrs to render 20 mins of video), but having touched on RAW video, this really shows you, what is possible. Amazing!

  • The Canon 5D Mk III is nothing short of amazing in it’s abilities. Here’s a test video I shot showcasing the video capabilities of the camera,