I have been using the Magic lantern firmware for over two years now, and as I still get questions about it here and there, I thought I make a post about what I thing about it what what I use the most with it. So lets start :)

For those who don’t know what Magic lantern is, it’s a custom firmware, that is made by a third party for Canon cameras. It add a huge amount of functionality, while leaving the core firmware in tact. It accomplished this by working completely from the memory card. That actually the first great thing about it. To disable it, you just use a memory card without the firmware files on it. It’s so easy.

So what do I think about it? It’s just great. The number of new functions is staggering, the stability is great, it’s easy to use, and it even remembers your settings if you take the card out of the camera.

Magic lanternI was quite scared before installing it first time, as probably everyone who uses it does. The camera gear is not cheap, and anything that can brake it is of course scary. But I still haven’t found a single instance where Magic lantern damaged a camera, and of course I had not problems also :)

Actually in the two years I’ve been using it, I found only two problems. Sometimes if I remove the memory card too quickly, I have to remove and reinsert the battery to restart the camera. The second issue is that it sometimes not consistent with exposure time when bracketing (eg. two sets with the same settings result with 8s, 16s, 32s exposures for the first set and 8s, 15s and 32s for the second set, for no apparent reason)

But that’s all for the negatives, so lets look at things what I use and why I’m still using it.

1. No 30 second limit

If you ever tried bracketing on a camera, you may noticed, that the longest exposure are always 30s or under. Even if they should be longer. For instance if you took a 10s shoot, and wanted a +2EV from that, it still would be only 30s, not 40s as it should be. Magic lantern removes this limitation, and you can go as high up as you need. This of course does not mean you can set up normal shot for more than 30s, but only that brackets that need to be higher, are. Still this on it’s own makes Magic lantern worth it :)

Magic lantern

2. More brackets available

Most cameras allow only for limited brackets in the auto-bracketing mode. Magic lantern allows for 9, or even auto-detect (where the firmware takes a photo, and based on that photos exposure will take more darker/lighter photos to get the full dynamic range). It also allows for more defined differences, where you can choose the steps from 0.5 to 5EV. There are two other ways to get this, either by using a Promote Remote or doing the steps manually, but none of them beat the convenience of the firmware.

3. White balance detection

I don’t know how good other cameras are, but the auto white balance on my 5D mark II can be absolutely horrible. This is where Magic lantern can come in and choose a manual white balance. From my experience, it very accurate most of the time. Of course one has to remember to do the metering, but it’s really worth it.

4. Long exposures

Another great thing is, that you can specify any long exposure you want, without needing to go the bulb + remote route. This makes it so much easier and more convenient.

Magic lantern

5. Build in intervalometer

Some cameras have it, some don’t. Again one can do this using a advanced remote, but again, it’s much convenient this way. It’s also very easy to set up and use. You can check my fireworks ebook, where I describe how I use it to make taking photos of fireworks easier.

6. Bulb ramping

If you ever wanted to do a time-lapse of a sunset of a sunrise, you know that it can be really hard. You have to predict how the light changes, and either program a remote to do the changes, or do it manually. What magic lantern can do, is take a photo, analyze it, and adjust the settings to get better exposure for the next one. Like this it takes most of the work away form you, and you can focus more on stuff like composition :). Of course one needs to de-flicker the result, but that’s needed even for a normal timelapse. You can check out the short video here, I took with this function.

Here is a timelapse I did using the Magic lantern Bulb ramping.

7. Focus peak

The ones of you familiar with newer cameras maybe use this feature, but for older cameras, Magic lantern is the only way to get it. This is an overlay for the live view mode, where red lines show you what’s in focus in the scene. I don’t use it that much for photos, but it is really helpful for video shooting.

8. One click zoom

This was such an annoyance for me. You know how it is. When you take a photo and you want to check if it is sharp enough, you have to go to the gallery, press zoom, press zoom again, and than press zoom again. It’s so slow. With Magic lantern one can set it up that it zoom in to 100% with one press of the zoom button. It so much faster.

And there are so many more feature in Magic Lantern. But I this is only about the ones I use the most. If you have a camera that supports it (regrettably only Canon) think about giving it a try. It’s just so convenient, just hawing all these features always in the camera.

Here is a video I took showing few of these features, that you may find useful to get into Magic lantern.

You can find more information on Magic lanter and download it on their web page: http://www.magiclantern.fm/