Magic Lantern, the hack third party firmware solution for Canon cameras, has come a long, long way since its first release. Stability and new features have been the top priorities for the team, and it looks like with the newest release they are delivering on both counts. Even though Canon has been increasing the feature set of the higher-end cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III and the 1D X, they have been trying to differentiate the video and photo product lines as much as possible. For those familiar with the traditional features of a video camera, using DSLR presents quite a few challenges. The goal of Magic Lantern, however, is to introduce in firmware all of these quirks that make shooting with real video cameras that much easier.

Here is the release video for the version (they certainly don't look like a ragtag group of hackers -- this looks like a professional release):

Here are some of the main features, courtesy of Sebastian at cinema5D:

  • Full support for 5D mark II
  • Fast Zebras
  • Customizable menu and shortcut keys
  • Automatic HDR bracketing
  • Timelapse features
  • Advanced ISO control (ISO 80, improved highlight rolloff, ISO 51200...)
  • Advanced FPS control (24.000 FPS and 0.2 FPS possible)
  • New menu design
  • Image analysis tools in photo mode
  • Contrast and saturation adjustments for LiveView
  • Improved Stability
  • Very fast playback zoom
  • Compatibility with: Canon 5D Mark II 2.1.2, T2i/550D 1.0.9, 60D 1.1.1, T3i/600D 1.0.2, 50D 1.0.9 and T1i/500D 1.1.1

Recently Marcus Waterloo has been shooting with this new version, and he sent over a video:

This was his process and his take on the new release (using a pre-release version of 2.3)

I just took  my canon 5D-II with a Rode VideoPro mic plugged directly into the camera and no monitor or loop

Picture style on the camera was Marvels Advanced and I just set up one light, an LED panel. I only had about half an hour to do every thing , before the delicious food arrived , as we were in the  lovely Muyar Ethiopian  restaurant  in Camden. So just got the band to run thru the song 3 times and I shot it on two lenses: a Voightlander 40mm  f2  and a Nikon 85mm f2. I found the hack very stable and an great help with the sound, being able to adjust the levels during the take is amazing .

I'm not really a sound person, and I know how important it is , but just being able to plug the mic straight into the camera with the AGC disabled for little shoots like this is massively useful. Using the Magic zoom (expanded focus box) during the take is a wonderful help too , as I only had a barebones set-up this really helped me check focus during the take. Being able to turn it on and off and being able to move it around whilst  recording too is a work of genius.

These is a video made using the timelapse functionality of the hack:

One from a frequent contributor featuring the HDR video capability of Magic Lantern:

Judging by all of the material and the reviews, Magic Lantern is right not to call this a hack anymore. The firmware has reached a very mature stage and is many times more capable than Canon ever wanted these DSLRs to be. What is fascinating is just how much functionality was hidden in the code of the camera -- which just shows that if a company really wants to release a feature, time is usually the only thing stopping them. Unfortunately the firmware is not free just yet, as they will require a donation until August 13th. Donations help keep the project moving forward, and if you really need the functionality of the new release, it won't cost you that much to get it. Of course, you can also wait a few more weeks until it is released for free.

The team is working hard on porting Magic Lantern over to other Canon cameras, like the 5D Mark III and the new Canon T4i (and maybe even the EOS M), so the donations help them spend more time and energy getting it right. It would be nice to have all of this functionality from the start, but let's face it, Canon is running a business, and providing every feature imaginable in a camera body under $1,000 doesn't make people want to go out and purchase a new camera.

For more information about this release (there is way more than we can fit here), head on over to the Magic Lantern site and check it out. If you have already been a supporter the download link is at the bottom of the page.

Link: Magic Lantern - Version 2.3

[via cinema5D]