Magic Lantern Firmware Update for Canon 5D MK II

Magic Lantern firmware introduction from Trammell Hudson on Vimeo.

If you’re a Canon user, the camera that you probably dream about is the Canon 5D MK II. Despite the fact that B&H and Adorama never have units because it moves so fast, the camera does have its flaws. Adding onto the recent manual control firmware update by Canon (blogged about earlier by Eric), users and potential buyers of the 5D MK II may want to consider the Magic Lantern Firmware update.

The programmers state that, “Within some limitations, we can fix many of the Canon firmware problems and plan to write widgets to address the requirements of the film users of this amazing camera.”

The Magic Lantern update is similar to the Canon Hacking Development Kit, known as the CHDK to photographers.  As such, it is not officially recognized by Canon as an official update to the camera’s software (and users know that it isn’t perfect either.) The features that are added are common to what may be found on professional camcorders and could prove very valuable to photojournalists, indie filmmakers, and others that really appreciate the ability to capture beautiful video from the large sensor. A truly useful add-on is the on-screen audio meters for monitoring sound recording levels–which is instrumental because there 5D MK II doesn’t have a headphone jack. Additionally there are zebra stripes to help compose a more balanced image (which is a bit laggy as seen in the video), on-screen crop marks for different aspect ratios (16:9, 2.35:1 and 4:3) and the ability to switch off the Auto Gain Control and control video gain manually. That means that image noise/grain will be reduced and less work will be done in post to get rid of it.

Like the CHDK though, it’s not all perfect for everyone. Users will need to reload the firmware after the camera is switched off, goes to sleep or you remove the CF card, and you should remove the battery after each use lest the hacked processes continue to run in the background and kill the battery. However, keep in mind that the update s in it’s beta stages. Like the CHDK, the firmware will constantly be tweaked and initial issues will be resolved until the recording capabilities and usage issues meet the needs of the users. Another plus is the fact that it’s free, possibly stemming from the fact that it is a homebrew solution to the problems encountered while using the camera.

I’ve used the CHDK before on a Canon S5 IS superzoom, and was very pleased with the results–especially the RAW image capture capabilities. Granted, the 5D MK II has all that, but supercharging your camera is always an awesome alternative that can help you out without the need for extra equipment that you (and me) may not be able to afford. Additionally, you won’t be burdened down by external monitors, beachtek adapters, etc. In my tests with the Canon 5D MK II when it was first shown off at PhotoPlus Expo 08, I found it to pair very nicely with a Rode Shotgun mic for my needs–which are photojournalistic. Monitoring audio levels and singling out the exact sounds that you want/need is sometimes a problem with this camera. Perhaps the Magic Lantern update may push Canon to release another firmware update since bodies continue to move off the shelves.