Or: how to get the best out of your DSLR
It’s been 2½ years since i purchased my 7D, starting at absolute zero knowledge whatsoever. The camera served me extremely well over all times we spent together, but recently I got more and more unsatisfied. The feeling that there was more in it didn’t let go, and after hours spent on various websites and blogs, I decided to get Magic Lantern after all. Even though I knew about it for quite some time, I always hesitated. Looking back now, I regret the delay. But one thing after another.
What is Magic Lantern?
Magic Lantern is an unofficial firmware for Canon EOS DSLRs (not all cameras are supported though), that comes with a lot of great features, which for some reason don’t come with the original firmware. Right from the beginning I want to say that again: unofficial. The developers don’t take resposibility if anything goes wrong, even though that seems to be a very rare case. ML does NOT replace the original firmware, it simply runs alongside. If I had known that earlier, ML would have found its way into my arms months ago. One of the main features and – as far as i know – the reason it was originally made is the audio control. That and the histogram feature are worth every risk alone, but ML doesn’t stop there. The new alpha builds even unlock raw filming, which is incredible, even though it’s not possible in full HD yet. But as it says: alpha! There’s even less of a guarantee than for the beta or stable builds. So, if possible for your camera, the savest is to go with a stable release. The 7D does not come with one yet, but the alpha II seems to be working great so far. For a full list of all features, downloads and everthing else check out the website here.
How to get Magic Lantern
As I said before, ML is only available for Canon DSLRs, you can go to the official website to see if your model is supported. The firmware is a bit different for every model, so I can just speak for the 7D here. Since there’s only the alpha release, I wasn’t up for any risks and read a lot in the ML forum, until I finally ended up here: 7D Install guide. I can only recommend to read very carefully and follow each step precisely, after all you don’t want to harm your camera.
ML runs off your memory card, which has the advantage that it is easy to delete. If you don’t want to use ML, you just delete it from the card or simply use another one. But that can be looked at as a disadvantage as well; after all you will need the ML files on every memory card and you can’t just format the card without losing ML. My 7D takes slightly longer to start with ML, what isn’t too bad in particular. Too be honest though, since I did not know that before, the extended booting-time gave me a mini heart attack the first two times.
What I will use Magic Lantern for
The histogram is propably my favorite feature, the RGB-dots that warn you from clipping in any single channel are simply great and will save so much information for color grading. But of course the audio control will be of immense help when it comes to Fill Me In shootings. Canon did actually include audio control to the current 7D firmware, but it was only in a submenu. ML gives you the whole thing on your screen while shooting. You can even monitor the audio with headphones, even though you’ll need a more or less complicated cable constellation for that. If you’re interested in it, let me know and I’ll give you the info!
There are a lot of other great features, like the manual control for the framerate, the focus peak, the HDR video shooting (although not yet included for the 7D) and of course the raw shooting. Aside from the filming features, ML offers quite some photography features as well. The best being – in my opinion – the intervalometer, that allows you to take time-lapse photos without additional equipment. Thanks Canon for not making stuff like that available yourself…
What is Cinestyle and where can I get it?
While I was reading all those blogs about Magic Lantern, I also came across Technicolor’s Cinestyle. It’s a great picture profile for Canon EOS DSLRs, that provides you with an amazingly flat picture, perfect for color grading in post-production. Of course I’ve shot with a flat picture style before, but Cinestyle sets the bar to the next level. I can’t wait for my upcoming projects to be graded, really. If I find the time, I’ll try to do a quick demonstration of it. I highly recommend Cinestyle, as long as you are going to color grade, for everyone else this is propably stupid.