Do We Still Need Magic Lantern?

Do We Still Need Magic Lantern?

Magic Lantern played a phenomenal role in using DSLRs to shoot video content. However, while it's benefits are obvious for Canon photographers, how does it stack up against the cameras of today?

Magic Lantern (ML) is a software add-on for Canon cameras. It allows for a host of extra features, ranging from a built-in intervalometer to HDR bracketing and beyond. The project is open source, and it encourages users to create elements of the package themselves. A consequence of this is that it isn't available for newer Canon cameras and may take a long time to become available. Not only is the 80D not officially supported, but the 70D is still a work in process. Is the next generation of cameras missing out on ML? 

The Problem

The software is open source, and there's no guarantee that it will work. Installing ML is done at the user's own risk, and this risk increases with the installation of nightly builds (untested versions). This doesn't mean that your camera will be bricked, but it comes with its limitations. For example, if you pull out the SD card too quickly after turning off your 600D, you run the risk of bricking it — avoidable, but certainly not reassuring. 

If you remove the card too early, the camera will freeze and will drain the battery or even cause permanent damage." - Magic Lantern Wiki.

The ML Forums are filled with similar troubleshooting issues. Would you want buggy software to affect an important shoot?

The Benefits

For most ML users, the benefits outweigh the risk. As an ML user, I myself would rather take the small risk in order to gain the extra features. Being able to manually change the white balance on the fly saves me so much time. This alone makes it worth it for me. Maybe you want to take a photo without triggering the shutter? ML allows the camera to take silent photos. Record voice tags for your images? Or triggering the shutter based on motion detection? It's all included.

Do we even need it anymore?

Kraig Adams from Wedding Film School mentioned that he had issues with Magic Lantern corrupting his footage and has since found the Sony a7S to be the perfect replacement. This is a great example of Canon being left behind and ML along with it. This is only one case, though, and in fact, it may not spell the end of ML at all. 

Magic Lantern isn't the must-have that it was before, sure. However, it still shines brightly in the more niche sections of photography. Astrophotographers can expose their photos for hours. Wildlife photographers can have the camera triggered by movement in the shot. 

Another vouch of support for ML comes from users of Canon's lower end range. ML allows a cheaper Canon DSLR to reach new heights by adding audio levels and more specific ISO settings like we'd find on the 5D series. Canon is withholding this in their cropped sensor camera lines. These are two examples out of many more.

While it may not be the most reliable and it may not be getting as much use with the arrival of great competition, Magic Lantern is here to stay and push the envelope further. It's likely, though that the project will never have the same impact that it once did, with Canon's competitors offering the similar features like never before.

What do you think? Have you ditched the software in return for reliability or embraced it?

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Paulo Macedo's picture

Another Sony A7SRSSRII commercial...

Stephen Kampff's picture

I worry that the concern for Canon/Magic Lantern users isn't just competition though, between Panasonic, Nikon, Sony and such. It could also be that there is less and less development for the platform.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Well, it allowed me to give a new life to my "old" EOS 500D. Specially when you can make awesome timelapses with zero to no effort. Couple a EOS 500D with a Sammy 14mm and on you go, a better and refined version of the camera, capable of doing more. To me, it is great to have this people, developing for old cameras, giving us stuff hiden by brands.
My original comment is pure sarcasm, not that the Sony A7RIIS3RS (looks like porsche naming cars...good grief..) is bad, but fstoppers went from full Nikon to full Sony on a swipe. :)

Paulo Macedo's picture

And yes, Panasonic GH1 is still the king of the hill when it comes to video...

Anonymous's picture

Agreed, Paul.

"Do we still need magic lantern?" Is like asking "Do we still need this accessory for these old cameras?"

Well, frankly, as long as people are still using those old cameras: YES.

This is especially true of something that is made FREELY available. So what it's not as good as current cameras, it's making the best out of old hardware.

So then someone might ask: Why are people still using old cameras?

Well, not everyone can afford a new camera. Also lets not forget some people have old hardware sitting around and want to make use of it.

The real question is, do we still need clickbait articles?

Paulo Macedo's picture

Wouldn't say any better!

T Dillon's picture

Its a short paragraph mentioning one example of a high profile individual who found the firmware updated body inadequate. It is relavant.

Anonymous's picture

You're right. Something didn't work once for a high profile person. That totally justifies an article about why it shouldn't exist.

Of course, cameras used to be totally unreliable. Do we still need them?

Darren Whitley's picture

As long as manufacturers are the gatekeeper for features, we need this lock pick.

revo nevo's picture

"The Problem

The software is open source, and there's no guarantee that it will work "

Open source is the main plus here. Anyone can check the code and if there is some shady stuff in there
or anyone can pick it up and continue development.
Open source is the future and you make it sound like a bad thing.

I had more problems with adobe(lightroom, it was slow and it did not want to import my images from my FUJI X-T10) than with RawTherapee which is free and open source.

Anonymous's picture

So don't use it.

Just because YOU don't need something doesn't mean there isn't a need for it.

Frankly I don't need you. Does that mean there's no need for you? Of course not. This is silly logic.

revo nevo's picture

No. You just need one guy to see that code and it's done.

And what lightroom is ? Slowest piece of photography software out there.

LOL. Next>Next>Install>Finish. And you have Gimp Installed.

Daniel Wesser's picture

Admittedly, not everyone is able to code, however, anyone who is able to code can take over from a project that someone else is no longer supporting. If there is great demand for an update, this will happen.

Yeah, I'll mostly give you that. It is the most powerful and best option out there, at least for me. That said, it's also the slowest when compared to it's nearest competition (Capture One, Photo Mechanic). That said, Apparently Photo Mechanic > Lightroom workflows are viable with XMPs.

The Mac version was, up until recently, a pain to instal. They fixed that a version or two back.

Daniel Wesser's picture

Since your first point has been addressed and your second is simply arguing with an admittedly poor example I thought I'd talk about point three.

In many cases, Open Source software is, not only perfectly reliable and easy to install, but the best option in existence for what it does. Just going through what I personally use there are examples such as VLC, calibre, Handbrake, VeraCrypt, KeePassX, and Chromium (the core of Google Chrome). All of these were as easy to install as any other app not in the app store and the only one that has ever done something it was not supposed to was Chrome and that has closed source components. All software is built using open source elements (I just checked and Lightroom uses SQLite and is written, at least in part, in Lua. The computer I'm writing this on uses a UNIX base operating system.).

T Dillon's picture

There is a massive difference between open spurce software and open source firmware. Software can be uninstalled. Firmware always runs the risk of making the device inoperable and ALWAYS voids the warranty.

revo nevo's picture

Magic Lantern does not replace your Firmware

T Dillon's picture

It doesn't have to replace the Canon firmware to be firmware. It is. It has the potential to brick a camera. It is more than software. Its a firmware augmentation. Not sure why this is something to dislike, but whatever.

revo nevo's picture

It can brick the camera (still I don't know if that ever happend)
But since it does not replace your firmware canon can't know if you ever had another one installed.

Daniel Wesser's picture

As much as I love Magic Lantern, this isn't quite true. While the bulk of Magic Lantern runs off of a memory card, the firmware on the camera has to be modified for that software on the card to be recognized by Canon's firmware. This is what magic lantern refers to as the boot flag and the reason you have to go through the firmware update process to set it up.If you go to Canon they will most likely be able to check for the boot flag.

Eric Knorpp's picture

I had an assistant who install that crap on my Canon 5DMII and it never was the same and could never fix it, the screen always blinked and a lot of buttons did not work properly. Used correctly it does produce some great video, but too much of a hassle for me, I use canon for photography and Sony A7sII for personal projects for video, Otherwise the ALEXA blows them all out of the water and once you shoot with the ALEXA, nothing compares to it, not even RED comes close to ALEXA. Much better and no headache work arounds,conversions, time limits etc etc etc. You want RAW, Buy a FS7 or the likes.

ocube O's picture

When last did you check the price of an Alexa?

marknie's picture

I own 3 Canon T3i's and they all have the latest Magic Lantern build in them. It is absolutely essential for my cameras. It is a must have for me. I soo totally disagree with this article and it is biased bad journalism as I almost always see on this site in my opinion. Very poorly done and not very well thought out. I have never ever had a single shot corrupted from it. Just look at my site to see what it can create. if you don't believe me? I have used it for many many years.

Sada Domonkos's picture

Please try to do an exactyl 360 degree shutter angle with a sony or any canon without ML. ohhh no you cant? =D

Magic lantern are for pro users who know what they want and know how they need to configure ML, it need programer skills and great understanding to use it in the right way.

And please try the raw video mode its just only 8-10 sec, but it kick any sony footage ass ;D

Kraig Adams never mention what body did they used magic lantern on the video they show a 7D , so the 7D is not for ML , there isnt any stable ML version for any duouble processor equipped bodies... =(

Eric Knorpp's picture

Most "Pro's" actually trying to get good paying jobs so they eventually can rent/buy a real cinema camera like an ALEXA or even a RED, No real working professionals are hassling with ML, maybe in the beginning to get their reels together so some day they can use a real Camera, So I think your comment is not correct. And all the people who jump in and make comments like Canon is crap, or sony is crap or Vice Versa are just Stupid. They are all cameras and all can take a photo/video which is what it was/is intended for. All the losers talking Fan boy this and that actually are not even shooting and would rather waste their time fighting in forums about who is actually using the best camera in the world BS. Makes me sick all these pathetic post on you tube or reviews of this camera or that camera is better.. Go take a freakin picture/video with either one and STFU. ML was/is great for many and who cares what anybody else thinks. As long as your getting your message across it does not matter what camera your using.

Sada Domonkos's picture

not entirely . just for example get a few tv series a lots of them are recorded via dslr systems because they just simple dont need the better dynamics or the more datas for post and color correction.

ARRI , RED etc these machines are a completly different world . To get a decent post processing for these footages its more like a studio team and render servers etc completly different stuff :)

But for example i never see any wedding videographer to record with broadcast or bigger systems than a dslr .... but they are pros ;) And ML help a lots of stuff for just zebras and better audio quality the other nasty stuff i write before thats impossible to do with either nikon or sony or anyother system below 3000$ but maybe i just dont know better systems :)

Stephen Kampff's picture

The Canon's can't really be used for broadcast in western EU unfortunately, largely due to the BBCs 50mbs rule. It sucks, and some production companies still use them for a few shots, but most will go for a C300 if they're going for Canon. Most broadcasters associated with the BBC retain the same rules, because otherwise they wouldn't be able to sell the pre-recs later on.

There are better cameras that are still rejected all the time!

Nonetheless ML is ridiculously handy, I mean come on! This article was aimed at Canon photographers, who arguably wouldn't use zebras etc, but still need ML for timelapses, bulb exposure and such. My concern was when a friend said that the 70D still hadn't gotten Magic Lantern, and the 80D was already out.

wesjones's picture

I still use ML on my 5dII. I have never had any major issues with ML other than a few system hangs. There are a lot of advanced features that I have yet to experiment with.

Jorge Morales's picture

What we need is for Canon and other manufacturers to do the "right" thing. First, stop intentionally crippling cameras to force users to buy up. If the hardware is capable support it via software. Second, give users more control over settings, button allocation, access to hardware features, etc... Finally, support your older cameras with firmware updates. It's disgusting to me that they purposely obsolete cameras by not issuing firmware updates. Example, Canon 70D has never seen a firmware update. I guess it's perfect.

Will Anlezark's picture

Rubbish friggin headline which doesnt even talk about the biggest feature of magic lantern.

The ability of capturing uncompressed RAW video directly to card.

This is one of the smallest cameras still capable of doing this (besides BMPC) and still provides a huge upgrade over the detail you can attain over what you even get from a A7SII

As for the comments towards issues with your camera... I have been running ML since its release on both the 5Diii and 60D and it has never skipped a beat.

Lastly its a godsend for wedding film makers, Constant levels showing you your audio source hasnt run out of batteries (rode videomic) as well as peaking / expanded focus and automatic recording restart once you hit that 30 minute buffer.

Please actually use a product correctly before writing a shitty biased clickbait review.

Eric Knorpp's picture

Why do all these articles, youtube videos, or whatever information,opinion about a camera always turn out to be a Fanboy This or that argument between some pixel peeping geeks that most likely never even take a picture with their Super, Duper,Better than yours, Best ever camera in the world BS? Or your Camera company sucks and mine is better, Blah Blah Blah. It is actually pretty pathetic when any digital camera that has been out for at least the last 10 years is capable of taking a nice image if you know how to use it.

Toby Hawkins's picture

The real question is why, with magic lantern as popular as it has been for many years, do Canon still not implement many of its core features into its own firmware?

Ahmet Unal's picture

Being open source is a problem? runs on Apache Server, which is open source
Uses php as scripting language, which is open source
Uses drupal as CMS, which is open source
Uses Jquery, which is open source
Uses at least 20 other open source plugins/libraries.

Daniel Wesser's picture

Seconding this. Open Source software may have been a gamble when it first came into being, but that has not been true for a long time. There is a really big difference between being open source and only being released as nightly builds.

Daniel Wesser's picture

Unless Canon really gets their act together, there is definitely still a need. Magic Lantern is the only way to get several core features like focus peaking and zebras with a Canon DSLR. Given to poor battery life of Sony's cameras and the low light limitations of m4/3, the 5D IV with the features Magic Lantern provides has the potential to be the best camera option for someone who shoots both stills and video.

Joonas Nieminen's picture

Sure the cameras today have started to incorporate same functions that ML opened in the older cameras. But if ML didn't exist - would the camera manufacturers have added these functions into the newer cameras in the first place? IMO they have worked as a catalyst to improve the future models. Sure the competition has its play in this as well - but ML's open source shows what the older models are capable of. Newer cameras that have these ML-added-functions as default doesn't mean that the ML is dying - NOW IS THE TIME to show the strength of the open source and FIND NEW WAYS TO IMPROVE the newer cameras that the manufacturers haven't noticed (or are withholding for future models). I've used ML for years (mainly video work because of functions like focus peak, audio monitor meters/headphones, zoom-window-while-recording etc.) and haven't encountered any issues - even in nightly builds (for HDR and RAW video tests). For photos I've used the ML's in-camera intervalometer and bulb functions.

DR Chevalier's picture

Whether one still needs Magic Lantern is a personal decision. I sold my 7D that I was using Magic Lantern with when I bought the 7D Mark II with the primary hope that low light images would be better. They aren’t and while the 7D Mark II brings many new functions, I find myself missing the Magic Lantern functionality more than I am embracing the new services. While this is true for myself, it may not be so for anyone else, hence my initial response.

In the years that I did use Magic Lantern, I never had any issue with it and it made a useful camera into a VERY useful camera. It made my work easier and more functional. I also understand that the ML project is voluntary and without compensation to those who do the hard work. I do not have those skills, and if I did would be a contributor.

I have a substantial investment in Canon glass, but I wish that the manufacturer would stop restricting services in their DSLRs so as to theoretically not erode potential buyers of their excellent but very expensive Cinema cameras. Since Canon has made that business decision, Canon owners, particularly those who shoot video, will continue to benefit from the work of the Magic Lantern contributors.

claudio della volpe's picture

the main reason why ML is yet important is that it is a free, collective, powerful method of applying the transparency to the technology; to be fully aware of the objects you are using and do the best with them; it realized a new level of self consciouness about technology and about ourselves as users, not simply consumers; and just for this reason it forced some other producers as Nikon to make it more transparent their software; ML is more than a bee sting for all of them, with just millions of users and thousand of active users, long life to ML and honour to the active user developing it yet now (I am using a 550D and the last nighty build was...mmmmh six days ago, the previous one one month ago; oh it's alive )

Denis Mortell's picture

Is there anything for the 5D Mark IV from Magic Lantern? If not, anything in the pipeline?

Otherwise, are there alternatives to ML?

It’s extraordinary what Canon can get away with in terms of zero firmware improvements. A mobile phone company wouldn’t last a week behaving like this. Just shows the grip the big DSLR two have on the market.

That said, Hasselblad improve the X1D almost every other month, usually on the basis of user feedback.