BenV's notes

Magic Lantern

by on Aug.17, 2012, under Hardware

Those of you who don’t have a DLSR camera: this post is not for you. Unless you’re about to buy one perhaps 😉
About half a year ago I became the owner of a Canon 600D, the first not super cheap camera and also not compact camera in my possession. Not that those cheap/compact camera’s won’t make nice pictures, but this was definitely an upgrade. After buying the 600D and playing with it for about a month I figured “Hej, maybe someone wrote a custom firmware for this thing!“. Welcome to Magic Lantern.

So what is Magic Lantern, and what is it doing on my camera?
Most of these questions are obviously answered on their site, so go check that out instead of wasting my time asking stupid questions 😉
But to summarize: Magic Lantern is an awesome addition to the stock firmware, I can’t believe Canon didn’t hire/buy/cooperate with the Magic Lantern team to make it the default on these camera’s. Or maybe I do understand, because they’d sell less professional camera’s if they did. Magic Lantern adds a ton of features to your already powerful camera. Again, see their site for details, but I’ll discuss the ones I often use myself.

The first awesome feature that I often use is Trap Focus. When I’m using my macro lens I often switch to manual focus so I can set a fixed distance/zoomlevel. However, since the wind makes a lot of things move, and insects often don’t want to sit still anyway it can be a pain to make a picture that’s properly focused. With Trap Focus enabled the camera will detect when your target is properly focused and snap the picture for you at the right time! All you have to do is aim at the right distance. Of course this isn’t foolproof (quickly moving targets will still blur etc), but it’s a great help.

Butterfly closeup

Butterfly on a windy day

Another nice tool for macro photography is Magic Zoom. It has several modes that you can try out that can help with getting your focus right. After enabling it and pressing the ZoomIn button (this is configurable) it overlays a window (of configurable size and location) that shows a (configurable) magnification of the focus area. It has a focus confirm method (obviously configurable, I use SS ZeroCross) and it’s incredibly useful for getting your focus just right. Without it you have to squint your eyes into your tiny LCD screen, often not seeing the finer details of what’s happening OR exactly the opposite happens when using Canon’s built-in digital zoom and you lose track of what happens to the rest of the picture.

But wait, there’s more! 😉
When I saw a plant slowly unfolding a flower I figured Let’s make a timelapse movie!. Good luck doing this with your normal firmware… I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would be very tedious. With Magic Lantern you just put your camera on a tripod, enable the intervalometer with the settings you like (features like bulb ramping included!) and let the camera do the work. Here’s the resulting movie (images combined with ffmpeg):
[jwplayer mediaid=”1483″]

Then last Wednesday there was some nice thunder and lightning at our place. Well, more lightning than thunder, but that’s all we need 🙂
Put the camera on the tripod behind a window in the attic, set the camera on manual focus (infinity) and AV mode with F/9.0 and light gain on about -2 EV, enable Magic Lantern’s Motion Detection and again Magic Lantern does all the work for you. Here’s a few results from that night:

Lightning (1)

Lightning captured by Magic Lantern’s Motion Detection

Lightning captured by Magic Lantern's Motion Detection

Lightning captured by Magic Lantern’s Motion Detection

That’s just a tiny grab of the features in Magic Lantern, but there’s tons more that I can’t put down here unless I want to spend another 2 weeks on this post 🙂 Suffice to say: if your camera is supported by Magic Lantern, you want to try it out some time.
But I see you think: But BenV, I’m a bumbling fool with firmware updates, just last week I blew up my computer’s BIOS and then my iDevice spontaneously combusted!. Yeah well, you probably shouldn’t have bought that iDevice to begin with. But the cool thing about Magic Lantern is that it isn’t a firmware replacement, it’s an ADD-ON to the original firmware. Without the original firmware your camera wouldn’t work, but neither would Magic Lantern!
Or to put this in other words: Magic Lantern is loaded from your SD card after the original firmware is loaded, so if you remove your SD card that has Magic Lantern, it will boot without Magic Lantern as if you didn’t touch it at all. (well, it won’t remove the scratches you made on the screen though…)

Now on to installing Magic Lantern, they just released version V2.3 so it’s a good time to check it out!
The installation guide describes it very well, so I’ll just summarize the steps:

  1. Give your camera a fully charged battery, and remove all accesoires like flashers and external battery grips etc
  2. Make sure your camera is supported and has the required original firmware (check this install document), if required you can upgrade the original firmware using their instructions
  3. Make sure there’s nothing on your SD card that you are afraid to lose. Move everything on it to your PC instead so the SD card can be formatted
  4. Format the SD card in your camera, using a Low Level Format through the menu.
  5. Put your camera in the M mode (Manual)
  6. Download Magic Lantern and unzip the zip archive to the root of your card. ALL FILES!!!
  7. Put the card in your camera and after booting it (remember, put the mode dial to M) go to the menu and start the Firmware Update
  8. Once you see the green confirmation screen you can power off and restart your camera.
  9. You Win!

So now we have version 2.3, what’s new?
Stability improvements, shortcuts keys and customizable menu’s, and …. why don’t you read it yourself over here?

I think I’ve given you enough reasons to try it now, good luck and have fun with it! 🙂

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1 Comment for this entry

  • Rena

    BenV thank you for the magic lantern information I have a great passion for photography….. however I remember you never wanting to be the subject in photos you were always a bit camera shy. However would love to see some of your photography. It could be quite interesting to view the world thorough your eyes 🙂 Anyway my old friend would love to chat with you sometime. Email me if you can spare a few moments would love to catch up by the way Teija and Malayna send their regards as well.

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