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Magic Lantern Firmware

Note: since Canon released firmware 2.0.4 for the 5D, the utility of Magic Lantern firmware has been somewhat reduced. I’ll wait to update this section until a new version is released.

The Canon 5D shipped with an amazing movie mode that was often infuriating because it lacked basic video camera functionality. Canon has done a nice job of adding some of the missing features — manual aperture and shutter speed, and soon, additional framerates — but the camera would still be unusable for professional applications without Tramm Hudson, who hacked the camera’s firmware and developed new features for the camera all on his own. I wondered about the 5D’s hackability before the camera was even released, and I cannot overstate the value of what Tramm’s managed with this free downloadable upgrade.

The Magic Lantern firmware adds the following features (taken from the ML wiki):

  • On-screen audio meters
  • Manual gain control with no AGC
  • Zebra stripes (video peaking)
  • Custom Cropmarks for 16:9, 2.35:1, 4:3 and any other format
  • Control of focus and bracketing

These aren’t “nice to have” features — they’re must-haves. Here’s Tramm with a demonstration of ML’s capabilities (including some upcoming features):

The Magic Lantern firmware is currently only available for the 5D but is coming soon to the 7D. As Andrew points out, however, it’s currently incompatible with the 5D’s latest firmware (1.2.4), so if you’re a current 5D owner, be wary of upgrading (and if your camera came with 1.2.4, you can downgrade in order to use Magic Lantern). Unless someone develops a similar firmware for Nikon or Panasonic DSLRs (which seems less likely given custom firmware is more common to Canon cameras, as CHDK has been around for years), ML offers a very compelling reason to buy Canon. The firmware is free, so please donate to Tramm to support ML’s continued development and to thank him for his considerable contributions to DSLR cinematography.