IV – MAGICLANTERN RAW
MagicLantern is an alternate software that runs on top of many Canon DSLR’s firmware. A group of hackers and programmers started to study Canon’s source code around 2009 and quickly achieved some advantages over the original firmware. From 2009 to 2013, the number of developers and users increased a lot, as well as the available – and stable – new functions.
But how does it work? Following web’s legal course, all the code used has been written from scratch and is open for anyone willing to take a peek, study it or implement changes. The developers avoid using Canon’s functions because that is proprietary code – which could render them piracy lawsuits. What’s being used is actually tweaks and tests involving the DIGIC processors – more than usual by trial and error – which evolve into custom features.
The software is free for anyone and can be download from its official website. It’s always good to remember that even though the software goes through heavy testing, there’s always a good chance of coming across bugs or weird behaviour from the camera, due to MagicLantern’s use. Canon’s warranty doesn’t cover gear damaged by third party software (there are no records of any permanent damage so far).
On the sofware’s website one can find a list with all compatible cameras and the features enabled on each and every one of them. You can find the latest stable version for download, as well as test versions for some models and even less stable versions including the day-to-day changes from various developers. One of the greatest achievements in this group is that anyone can contribute: suggestions, tests, logs created by the cameras or even coded functions. Everything is read and replied very quickly by an amazing team which doesn’t get a dime from this project.
By May 15th, 2013, MagicLantern’s developers enabled raw video recording in Canon DSLRs. Not every camera can handle it or create decent results and much of the performance relies on fast memory cards, but this is an amazing achievement, providing us with a feature that was only possible through professional grade cameras, through huge costs with purchase or rent.
From this day on I ran extensive experiments through short projects and stress tests to evaluate if this new feature was stable enough to go through a standard short-film production workflow. All the testing was very rewarding and the image quality boost is huge when compared to the camera’s original video codecs, even though now we’re eating through cards like there’s no tomorrow.
The goal with raw video is to store the maximum amount of information within the frame, allowing for more creative manipulation during post-production. The image look straight out of the camera is dull, flat, sometimes soft and lacks character. From there, the cinematographer can use all the light and color information stored on the clips to tweak it and stylize it until the image reaches the desired final look. Raw recording allows the merging of the latent image potential with the creativity of the person working on it.
The common ground between shooting raw and using anamorphic lenses is the ability to pick a non-standard “recording window” from the camera’s sensor area. This way, when using 2x stretch lenses, I don’t need to end up with a 3.56:1 (16:9 x 2) aspect ratio. If I set a recording window to something around 4:3, the final output is 2.66:1, slightly longer than the standard CinemaScope.
Shooting with a shorter aspect ratio than 16:9 you also avoid wasting footage that would be shot on the sides of the frame and immediately discarded in post-production (crop), which also saves you some file space.