I just downloaded Magic Lantern for my 5D II. It’s the first time I’ve ever downloaded it and even though I’ve heard of plenty of pros who use it and swear by it, I’ve always been a bit skeptical and hesitant to do anything to my camera that I might regret. After broadcasting to the world that I’d started using it, I immediately had about 5 requests from fellow photographers asking me for reviews and whether I liked it, they had been thinking about getting it too, etc.
This blog post isn’t mainly focused on all of the technical benefits of ML (of which there are many), but more to address the question “Why on earth WOULDN’T you get it?”. And the only reason I’ve been given is an understandable but incorrect assumption that I also had before downloading it. Once that was cleared up, I was sold.
I was shooting in the caribbean recently with a friend and fellow photographer, Alex Scott. The night after our ship docked, he showed me a beautiful timelapse video of the ship’s journey from one island to another. After ogling the footage for the appropriate amount of time, we started talking about how he shot it. He told me that basically, he just set his camera and put it on a tripod before the ship set sail and came back when we’d docked.
I had the same camera that he did and there was no way I could’ve pulled that off. So the obvious question was how. Magic Lantern was his response.
“Ahhhh, a risk taker”, I thought. But when I started telling him that it would be great but I wasn’t sure about it and that I was used to canon’s system, he stopped me.
“It’s compatible”, he said.
“What do you mean?” I said.
And then he explained something to me that I hadn’t known, and that changed my mind about ML right away. When I went online back home to download it I found out some additional info, all of which you should know if you’re considering using it:
1. Magic Lantern is ADDITIONAL to Canon firmware
After downloading Magic Lantern, your camera continues to work and use your Canon software as usual. If you want to utilize ML, you simply hit your trash button and your ML screen pops up with completely separate options and menus.
2. You can customize which Magic Lantern features your camera uses
Once you’re in the ML menu, you can scroll through the various options and enable or disable them. This allows you to select only the options that you will be using in Magic Lantern, while the disabled features will not even able to effect your camera. (The ML features you DO have enabled will still only effect your camera when you choose them to, of course.)
3. Every setting, feature, button, etc. that Magic Lantern uses has a tutorial
While scrolling through your menus in ML, if you don’t understand what a certain feature does, you simply highlight it and click the info button and a brief description of that function pops up on your screen. Hit info when you’re done and you’re back to your menu.
4. Magic Lantern only works when you want it to
I haven’t fully tested this yet but as far as I can tell, when I turn my camera on ML has no effect on it. It’s only when I go into the ML menu and activate a preference or setting and then return to my Canon screen that ML will effect my photo/video/audio. And if I want to turn that feature off I can go back into ML, or I can just flick the camera off and then back on and I’ve got a clean slate.
Now as I said I’m not going to get into all of the technical features, and if you’ve contemplated downloading ML then I’m sure you already know plenty of them. But with all of the above info, what could possibly be the downside?
The only one that I know of is that Magic Lantern is not affiliated with Canon in any way and cannot guarantee their product on any Canon camera. It is not made using canon programing and they therefore can’t assure you that it won’t harm your camera. Sounds scary? I guess so, but when I look at how many pros use this firmware, how easy it is to install or delete and the almost nonexistent amount of problems I’ve heard people having while using it (none of which disabled their cameras, only forced them to restart or remove the firmware), I can’t justify being cautious in favor of expanding my options as a photographer.
Just in case you do have any other doubts or questions, the Magic Lantern website has an FAQ that will answer all of your questions about legality, warranties, functionality, etc. (Oh and they have a User Guide as well.)
As far as the features go? I’ve barely dipped my toes in the water and I’m in love with it already. As a warning, I have run into a couple of little feature changes that I thought were malfunctions, but all I had to do was look in the user manual and I found it was just a setting that I need to turn off/change in ML.
Here are directions to install Magic Lantern (from their website) if you’re interested:
Magic Lantern – Installation FAQ
As well as a youtube video created by a 3rd party but that I found helpful:
CreateFX – Magic Lantern Installation Video
And last but not least, the software itself:
Magic Lantern – Firmware Download
I’m looking forward to discovering all of the bells and whistles that Magic Lantern has to offer. Perhaps once I’ve taken it for a spin I’ll write up a more detailed post on it’s overall performance.