Magic Lantern is the one free software add-on for the Canon 5D3 that offers the incredible possibility to record full-frame film in uncompressed 14bit raw. Explained in short this means the information from the 5D3’s bayer sensor is directly recorded, bypassing the shortcomings of the standard h264 recording codec of the camera. We’ll end up with much sharper, detailed material that doesn’t fall apart when being graded. Apart from that there are more features that come with the Magic Lantern add-on, for example Zebra, Peaking or the possibility of “cropping” the sensor readout (3x magnification without any loss in pixel resolution).
In case you’re interested in the details, visit the Magic Lantern homepage and / or check out the DVXUser guide to Magic Lantern raw.
Even though the Magic Lantern software add-on is for free (but you’re invited to tip those extremely talented programmers via Bitcoin), it still comes at a certain price concerning storage and workflow:
As the data rate of raw video is way higher than the usual h264, reliable raw recording of full HD (1920×1080) material at 24 or 25 frames per second will only be possible by using really fast CF cards. After trying out a variety of UDMA7-compatible types of CF cards (Lexar, SanDisk, Komputerbay), I found the (rather expensive) SanDisk Extreme Pro 160MB/s the most reliable option for my camera, at least at the size of 128 GB.
That being said, even those cards delivered some drop frame errors when being formatted as ExFAT, but with the camera-internal FAT formatting, they proved to be a reliable option (don’t worry, the raw video files will be split to overcome the 4GB-per-file limit of FAT).
There are two different file formats that Magic Lantern offers to record raw video, RAW (only video information) and MLV (video & audio information). As I always need sound as sync source on my jobs, I only record in MLV.
Once the recording is finished, the MLV files will be transferred to my Apple workstation. Don’t forget, we are recording raw information directly from the Bayer sensor inside the camera (kinda like REDRaw, but without the 1:2 compression), these visual informations need to debayered before they can be taken to the NLE of your choice. The cool thing is: we’re dealing with raw information, so white balance, tint etc. can all be set after the actual recording has taken place. I would call that “recording without a picture profile”.
There are a couple of tools available on the OSX platform to process MLV files:
The MlRawViewer makes it possible to watch MLV files directly from the Finder without prior debayering. A very nifty solution on set, as it is impossible to play back the recorded files directly on camera in real time (but they can be watched in non-realtime to check the framing etc.). MLRawViewer can also be used to debayer the images properly and export them either as DNGs (single raw image sequences) or Apple PRORES files (set white balance first!), but at the moment, this process is CPU-based and takes quite a while.
The option I am using at the moment to debayer my recorded videos is decoding the MLV files as DNG sequences via MLV Mystic and then importing these into Blackmagicdesign’s DaVinci Resolve Lite 10. This free version of the popular color grading solution is able to perform a GPU-based debayering of the raw image sequences in realtime on my workstation. In conjunction with the awesome Cinelog LUTs for DaVinci Resolve, which will help to interpret the color information from the 5D3 sensor properly, we have the possibility to obtain proper PRORES422 or PRORES4444 video files for hassle-free editing (or further grading) within the NLE of choice.
For quick jobs, we can choose to debayer directly to REC709, while staying on the Cinelog profile or exporting as Arri Alex Log C gives us the freedom to further grade the footage to our likes.
While the method mentioned above is my personal preferred path to deal with DNG sequences out of MLV, there are other options to debayer the recorded 5D3 sensor information. ACR (Adobe Camera Raw that comes with Photoshop or Lightroom) does probably the best job in interpreting this data, but it is not really batch-able and takes a longer time. As a sidenote, the Cinelog profile mentioned before is also available for ACR.
Some NLEs can also interpret CDNG (Cinema DNG) sequences directly, but the lack of possible white balancing within FCPX makes it a lesser option in my case.
Here’s a quick comparison between the different debayering possibilities (no color change applied) while we can also see how much resolution is being “taken away” when using the internal h264 recording:
The Canon 5D Mark III is the household name for DSLR video. Some love it, some hate it, some ignore it, but when it comes to full-frame filming, it delivers what I am looking for: impressive low-light performance, quality codec (with the right tools in post), the ability to film in raw and, last but not least, gorgeous pictures.
Without a doubt, I have to admit that it takes some passion (and budget) to transform this camera into a usable ENG camera. Some people would call me crazy to go around and even try to do that kind of jobs with a DSLR. I recently took it to the test and used it to film some reports for local TV.
Taking a look at my 5D3, it is easily recognizable that it doesn’t really look like a photo camera anymore. Let me do a quick pull-down of the components you see in this picture:
• SmallHD DP4 EVF viewfinder / monitor
• Zacuto Axis EVF mount, Axis adapter & Z-Rail
• Redrockmicro DSLR ultraCage /w top handle & HDMI wirelock
• Redrockmicro grips, carbon fibre rods & remote holder (for Canon remote)
• Genus Mattebox
• Wooden Camera rod clamps & safety NATO rail
• Ikan dual rod mount for Canon BP batteries
• Power2000 AC-LPE6 DC Coupler Kit (to power the DP4)
• IDX DC-DC Cable (to power the 5D3)
• Canon 5D Mark III /w Walimex 35mm prime (I normally run around with a Canon L 24-105mm)
Was the 5D3 ever meant to do motion picture recording? Probably yes, because it does proper binning of the fullres sensor data and no line skipping like most of the other DSLRs. Or maybe that was just another *public* beta for the cinema line… who knows.
In any case, working with the standard LPs will not take us very far. And as I prefer to work with a proper screen / evf like the SmallHD DP4, I would have to carry a ton of LPs with me. My power solution setup is easy and efficient: I bought one of the Ikan dual rod mounts that don’t occupy a lot of space and work with the “standard” Canon BPs that also work with the XF305 or C300. I removed the converter panel inside the battery (that boosts the voltage to 12V for the BMC) and soldered my own Barrel & Powertap connectors that feed both the IDX DC-DC adapter (for the 5D3) and the Power2000-adapter (for the DP4). For a while, I had the Barrel connected directly to the power input of the DP4 but the connection became loose after a while (I like to reposition my EVF far too much), so I thought that it was safer to go with a DC-to-LP adapter.
With this setup, I can run for about 6 hours of shooting with a single Canon BP-975.
Whenever I am without a sound tech, I am relying on a Rode Videomic and a Sennheiser EW112 G3 System with Voice Technology lavaliers. A Sony PCM-M10 external recorder comes in handy in case I need stereo ambience. All of those components are mounted on the top rails with Redrockmicro microMounts. Both of the audio signals that are recorded in-camera (EW112 receiver & Rode shotgun) can be connected to the 5D3 via an analog Y-Adapter, thus recorded on separate tracks.
In my opinion, the Videomic has an incredible *price vs. performance* ratio and thus sounds really convincing, especially for voices in front of the camera. As long as we run on manual audio levels inside the camera, the signal-to-noise ratio is quite acceptable. Problems will definitely pop up once auto-gain is enabled as the auto gain circuitry is pretty aggressive, which means undesirable noises will be amplified very quickly.
How does it look like and how does it sound?
Well, here’s a shorter version of one of my recent works for a local TV station: