What is Magic Lantern?
Magic Lantern is an Open Source project that was created to provide extended features and more user control to the Canon 5D Mark ll camera, specifically for videography purposes. The project has since been extended (no surprise) to the 5D Mark lll camera as well, and offers some advantages even for still imaging. Magic Lantern is firmware that is run on top of the Canon firmware. As such, it involves “hacking” your camera to install it, but has a history of successful use without problems.
What’s the Big Deal Now?
All this now becomes much more important, as Magic Lantern has recently been making progress that has captured the interest of the entire videography industry. They have moved on from “short burst” video capture to continuous capabilities, and now are able to capture 14 bit RAW data from the 5D Mark lll. The results of this are more than interesting; they may well be groundbreaking.
The latest captures with early builds of this RAW firmware extend the quality of what the 5D Mark lll can manage to a level that appears to exceed other affordable video options such as the Panasonic GH2 and GH3; and even beats the Canon C300 dedicated video camera. This makes affordable options such as the Black Magic cameras much less tempting, and could even have an impact on sales of more advanced cameras such as the Camera RED models.
What do the Results Look Like?
Here is a screenshot I captured directly from the sample video demonstrating the capabilities of this combination. Be sure to click on the image to see it at full resolution. Whether you want to see that much lose dog hair in detail is questionable, but the ability to do so is exciting.
What Does This Mean for the Future of Video?
It’s too early to make any grand pronouncements, but the value of the 5D Mark lll as a video tool has just increased significantly. The balance of camera cost versus quality, and particularly bit depth and resolution, has shifted as well. It’s only reasonable to expect this to put pressure on Canon to create RAW firmware for the Mark lll themselves (or other means of exporting high bit video in flexible resolutions), or else lose development control for their own products to third parties. Certainly Canon, and all other competitors in the DSLR video category will need to adjust their plans for future products accordingly, as will companies developing affordable dedicated video cameras, again starting with Canon, but most notably Black Magic, whose value proposition is largely defined by the low cost of their products.
And Finally: What about Video Editing Software?
Video editing software developers are racing to incorporate high bit and high resolution into everything they offer. This firmware option will increase the number of cameras in use which can shoot RAW by a large percentage; which in turn will increase the pressure to be able to color correct and process RAW high bit video. With high bit capture, its less damaging to white balance in post processing, and there is more headroom for color LUTs and camera calibration. This is all to a good end, and will settle into the video workflow over time. But there will be bumps in the road during the race to get there.