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Magic Lantern… Where have you been all my life???

June 18, 2013

As I am researching a new video camera to add to my arsenal (never giving up my DSLR but it is *NOT* great in every situation) I came across the idea of overwriting my Canon firmware on my 60D with a third party firmware that is supposed to add functionality. I had run CHDK on my older Canon Powershot SX20 before but that booted off of the SD card and wasn’t a true firmware overwrite.

For those of you not familiar with firmware it can be described as the brains behind the hardware in your equipment; it translates your commands, instructions and desires to the hardware to accomplish what you want the device to do. Many people think the processor is the brains of a device, but without firmware (or if you have corrupt firmware) you have a “brick”, i.e. a useless hunk of metal. Most devices have a process to reset damaged firmware but the process is usually harder to accomplish than the upgrade that went so wrong for you.

Since my DSLR is my main camera I was reluctant to perform a hack on it that would lock up the camera for good. Free software would not be worth the pain and cost of having to sent the camera back to Canon to re-flash. And this is a healthy fear as I have bricked other devices before though I have recovered them all (computers, Wii, wireless routers, iPods, Nooks). Thankfully I got over my fear and installed the Magic Lantern firmware. (Download, Instructions and Manual can all be found HERE)

Here’s what I received: Histogram, Visible Audio levels, ability to change Frames per Second of video recording, programmable timelapse recording, access to recording in uncompressed (RAW) video with greater dynamic range, and the list goes on and on and on.

There was a moment that gave me a little concern: Even though the firmware of the camera has been changed you still have to have a bootable SD card with additional ML software so that you can use the program properly. Without that card the camera doesn’t boot up, it is effectively brain dead. I thought I had made each of my SD cards bootable and installed the correct software but during some downtime at a conference I was attending I switch out cards and had a moment of panic as my 60D (major source of income) wouldn’t turn on. A quick change to a different card solved the problem but I recall that just a few days earlier I has placed a card in the camera that I had not made bootable and the camera started up fine, just without the Magic Lantern changes that I suddenly couldn’t live without.

The firmware upgrade doesn’t make me a better videographer but it makes the camera just a little more… functional. Now I can mimic some of the features of a real video camera such as automatic restart of recording when I hit the 4GB limit. I am not considering buying a T3i, 7D or 60D off of ebay as a second camera. It will still be cheaper than a new Prosumer video camera (I’m thinking about one of these models – preferring the JVC GY-HM600 ProHD) With a Magic Lantern installation it would be a GREAT backup camera.

If you decide to go this route I would suggest you read the instruction thoroughly, watch a few Youtube videos and decide for yourself whether you want to take the risk. It has worked out for me but no jury in the world will hold me accountable if you go the same route and it doesn’t work for you. That is a choice you have to make for yourself. I’m glad I did.

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