With New Update, Magic Lantern Comes of Age

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

Not so long ago, the term “hack” was associated with Magic Lantern.  And hacks usually mean pushing specs to the point of unreliability and  crashing, where some features work, and others are broken.  But when you put out a slogan that says”Ready for Professional Use,” suddenly, the effort to make a camera do what it wasn’t designed to do isn’t a hack anymore, it’s an enhancement.  Such is the case with this third party firmware for Canon DSLRs, as it has some capabilities that the pros have been begging Canon to incorporate for some time, and some which Canon does, but Magic Lantern may do a wee bit better.  In fact, this could be the first firmware update that makes me want to buy a new camera just to use it!

Magic Lantern v2.3 represents an important milestone – professionals from all around the world are already trusting it for their paid work. We can safely say it’s no longer a hack, but it’s strongly heading towards a solid piece of engineering that you can trust. – Release Notes, MagicLantern.fm

The new update, known officially as Magic Lantern vs. 2.3 is available for a large array of Canon based DSLRs, but certainly not all of them.   The 7D, for instance, doesn’t get the ML treatment, and it’s presumably due to something done in the firmware that prevents it.  Which I find a bit puzzling since the T2i is essentially a 7D with one processor.  But maybe that’s the crux of it.  And neither the 5D Mk. III or the 1D-X can support ML either, but then again, the 1D-X has a great lineup of it’s own, so it doesn’t really require it.

The good news is though, that the Canon 5D Mk. II has full support in vs. 2.3, meaning that shooters who are using the Mk. II for feature work can look forward to some great features including Advanced ISO control, Audio monitoring, Fast playback zoom, Customizable menus, and more.

The other models that are supported in ML 2.3 include T2i/550D 1.0.9, 60D 1.1.1, T3i/600D 1.0.2, 50D 1.0.9 and T1i/500D 1.1.1, and European models KISS X3, X4 and X5.

Here’s a few of my favorite new features …

Fast zebras is a very cool feature.  This is where in very bright and very dark areas, where data is either clipped or omitted altogether.   In Zebras, Clipped areas are displayed as red, crushed shadows are shown as blue, this enable photographers to adjust via the histogram feature to determine proper exposure or to decide if the image can live with the blown out areas (like a concert setting, for instance).   Canon can do a similar feature in their firmware, but only after the fact in review mode.  Magic Lantern has been tweaking the feature and now can offer zebras in live few with zero lag time and no additional CPU usage.

And since I’m a huge fan of high dynamic range photography, the automatic bracketing for HDR feature is amazing, since it offers an unlimited number of exposures to bracket for.  And brackets can go from as fast as 1/8000 to an  unlimited time limit in bulb.  Before it was a 30 second time limit.  And even better, it makes HDR video a reality, making 1080p movies truly cinematic.

Lastly there’s the time lapse mode, which makes some truly stunning time lapse videos.   It was originally tweaked by trial and error, but the new algorithm is based on pure science and mathematics and the results are truly stunning.  The intervalometer has a number of handy parameters like: delayed start (up to 8 hours), stop after a fixed number of shots (100 … 5000), and advanced exposure and focus ramping.  See the video below.

Here’s a quick rundown of everything in vs. 2.3:

  • 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

If you’ve never heard of Magic Lantern or never attempted to install it because you’re afraid of what it would do to your camera or even void your warranty for overwriting the official firmware, you don’t have to worry.  The beauty of Magic Lantern is that it installs onto your memory card and only requires a minor tweak in your setup menu to access it (a tweak that is easy changed back again).  So the camera keeps it’s original firmware and just ignores it while in Magic Lantern mode.

For the next three weeks, Magic Lantern is taking donations from supporters who will be given advanced access to download in order to defray development costs (mostly for pizza and beer runs).  In a few weeks, it’ll be free for all to use.



About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.

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