Do you enjoy photography? Do you own a Canon camera? Do you want to take your photography to the next level but don’t want to buy a new camera?
If you answered yes to these questions, prepare for an exciting, potentially reinvigorating new development. Introducing: Magic Lantern!
A lot of people refer to Magic Lantern as a hack (similar to jail breaking an iPhone) or a firmware update for Canon cameras. I think the best way to describe it is a program that runs alongside the standard Canon software. The real trick is making the camera allow a separate program to run from the memory card, because that’s where magic lantern is stored. Magic Lantern was initially created by video makers, it’s an open source software that has also been adapted for still photography over the years. But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you who have never heard of Magic Lantern, it’s actually been around for quite a long time and now with mirror-less cameras becoming more advanced and growing in popularity it’s becoming less and less relevant. It’s basically another menu in your camera that you push the trash button to get to, in there you’ll find a plethora of functions and features beyond your wildest dreams. It’s almost like upgrading your camera and the best part is – It’s free! Although donations are highly appreciated.
Magic Lantern is available for the 5D cameras, the rebel range of cameras, the 6D, the 60D, the 70D and a few more. The functions vary from camera to camera but it in my opinion it is essential to any camera that can have it. Mere mortals like us will never know the full capabilities of Magic Lantern but I’m going to tell you some of my favourite features.
Number one – it has an inbuilt intervolometer! That’s the thing that lets you take successive photos to create a time-lapse. Usually you would need to buy a special remote but not with Magic Lantern. You can take time lapses of up to a maximum time of eight hours, with the number of photos varying from 1 to ‘take photos like crazy’. For people interested in making videos for Instagram or Facebook, taking RAW time-lapses adds a creative and professional element. I intend to write a how-to post on RAW time-lapses so stayed tuned for that.
Two – Magic Lantern has a bulb timer, So for those of us who are interested in astro photography, you can completely do away with the remote release! The bulb timer also has a maximum time of eight hours. That’s basically all night – think of the star trails.
Three – Magic Lantern has overlays. For beginners these are filters you can overlay on the live view while recording video or taking photos. The overlays include things like focus peaks, crop marks, ghost images, spot-meters, histograms and the list goes on. I have found the focus peaks and zebras to be extremely useful when recording video.
Four – Now this one is only for those of us that own a Canon 5D mark 3 or mark 2. Magic Lantern can record raw video, that gives you the ability to record cinema quality video off your DSLR. There is a bit to it, it records the files in a format called MLV which then needs to be converted in DNG to be editable. I use Adobe After Effects to edit these files but I know this is not the only option, there are other programs which can be used. The footage you can create by using this feature is incredible.
Five – You can take HDR photos, that’s High Definition Range for beginners. They’re the photos that you see and you think ‘wow, is this real? how can it be exposed so perfectly? This cant be real..’. It’s real alright and the person who took it may have been using Magic Lantern. You can set how many photos you’d like to take and the exposures for each photo.
There are a ton of other features, there are whole screens dedicated to audio, movie mode, display and more. You can download magic lantern for your respective camera here. Once you have downloaded the software, just copy it onto your SD card and hit menu – the little spanner picture – firmware version – then hit OK to update the firmware, after that you’re ready to roll. It does give you a message saying that this may or may not destroy your camera but this is nonsense, there is nothing to be afraid of, its just to weed out the faint of heart. I have installed and used Magic Lantern on over a dozen cameras and have never had an issue. I’ve read plenty of forums with people carrying on about how it can wreck your camera but they probably own Nikons. It’s totally safe and totally worth it.
For beginner photographers looking to take their photography to the next level Magic Lantern is a must have.