Last year, the wizards at Magic Lantern enabled raw recording on Canon DSLR’s. Raw is the same lossless format used by the highest-end cinema cameras like RED and Arri Alexa. It’s a breakthrough in image quality, but the painfully tedious workflow and huge storage needs keep many Canon users from taking the leap. However, I see it as the perfect opportunity to get true cinema quality in the ultimate run-and-gun form factor. After a few months of using the 5dmkIII + ML raw for paid gigs, here’s my guide to keeping the ML Raw workflow as pain-free as possible.
Why not just get an Alexa/Epic or Blackmagic Cinema/Production/Pocket Camera for raw shooting?
Because they aren’t run-and-gun cameras. They require shoulder rigs, external batteries and monitors, have no weather sealing, etc. They are designed for full crews on actual film sets. Canon DSLR’s are designed for solo shooters in tough environments. Canon DSLRs do great in low light, unlike many raw cameras.
Plus, the Canon cameras are so common that they let the user blend in to the environment as a tourist. Cinema cameras call attention to themselves.
Which camera should I get for ML raw?
The short answer is, the Canon 5dmkIII. It’s the only one that does 1080p in raw, and it’s the only camera with no moire or aliasing.
Many other Canon cameras support ML raw, but they’re all compromised in one way or another. Further reading here: Current raw video capabilities of Canon cameras
How do you install ML?
Read this page.
Disclaimer: I’m not using the latest nightly builds or software because I’m using my camera for paid work – I’m sticking to what I know from personal experience to be stable and reliable. Also, I only have experience with the 5dmkIII, though other Canon cameras will have similar workflows.
Ok, now I’m going to assume that your camera has ML installed and you basically know how to get it running. If you have further basic questions, go here. On to the production tips.
Get a Komputerbay 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB CF card
Believe me, you never have enough card space when shooting raw. 1080p raw requires approx. 4mb per frame. 64GB gives you about 12 mins of footage, and 128GB gives you about 24. I use two Komputerbay 256GB 1200x cards, and they have performed reliably for weeks on paid gigs. Yes, they’re expensive, but the 48 min. continuous record time has been a lifesaver. I also recommend the Komputerbay 128GB 1050x card. I have two of these for backup, and they’ve also been reliable. Some people have had less-positive experiences with the larger cards, reporting slower-than-advertised write speeds. If you want to be absolutely safe, get a 64GB 1000x card. This is the most common card used for Magic Lantern raw.
Note: to use the 256GB card, you must format EXFAT when connected to your computer. Do not format in-camera or you will only see half the capacity. Also, use a Transcend USB 3.0 card reader. Many other brands don’t play nice with 256GB cards.
What about Sound?
I’ll be honest – I’ve only ever shot silent video with ML raw. The format has been unable to accomodate sound until the last couple months’ updates. They new format, MLV, enables sound, but it was buggy in Jan 2014 when I tried it, so I’m holding off for now. For more info on this format, read here: MLV raw forum topic
So my advice for sound is to do what people do with silent cameras: record separate sound, do a slate, sync manually in post.
You don’t have to worry about white balance
Raw stores all the color data, so white balance is irrelevant when shooting. But you might as well set it correctly to save yourself a step in post.
You still have to worry about ISO – unlike other raw cameras
In most raw cameras, ISO doesn’t really exist. It can be manipulated in post. Canon is not that way. So be sure to shoot at the right ISO!
- I suggest using ML’s zebra function in the Overlay menu. Set it to LumaFast, over 99%. Then it will put stripes on anything overexposed.
- Expose to protect the highlights (make the image a tad dark), but don’t be afraid to blow out a highlight if your main subject is in shadow. It will look better than if you tried to pull your subject out of the deep shadows in post because the image will be much less noisy.
Speaking of ISO, watch out for dead pixels!
They will generally show up over ISO 1600. I’ve never had a major problem with them until I go over ISO 3200, but after that it’s a nightmare. How do you fix them? I’m still investigating it, but my current solution is the free plug-in BG Pixel Blaster, which lets you select and repair one agonizing pixel at a time. The good news is that you tend to get the same dead pixels over and over. Here’s my dead pixel workflow:
- Create an adjustment layer. I use the RT Adjustment Layer Effect. Stretch the layer so it covers all your high ISO shots.
- Apply BG Pixel Blaster to the adjustment layer, fix a pixel. Apply Pixel Blaster again, repeat over and over until you’ve killed every dead pixel on the underlying clip
- Copy and paste that adjustment layer to its own timeline in a new project/event/library called “dead pixel fix”
- Open that “dead pixel fix” project whenever you need to copy/paste the adjustment layer on a new high ISO clip in any other project
Use 3x mode to digitally zoom in
No zoom lens, or your zoom lens is too short? Just enable 3x mode to triple your focal length losslessly. It’s complicated to enable, so I’ll just give you this magic lantern link. Here are some gotchas to watch out for:
- You may get an occasional bad frame (pink or distorted). In my experience, it’s about 1 frame in every 2-4 mins of footage. If that is a deal-breaker, don’t use it.
- Rolling shutter is much worse for some reason
You can do slow motion, but it’s not perfect
You have to reduce the resolution a bit and then stretch it in post, but it’s still sharper than 720p in h.264.
- Set your standard Canon menu to record 720p at 60fps
- Move to the Movie tab and select FPS override with the scroll wheel
- Change the Desired FPS to 48fps using the small (top) scroll wheel
- Select Raw Video, press Q to go to the sub-menu, change your Resolution to 1856×650 or lower
- For continuous recording, I choose 1600×500. If you only need a couple seconds of shooting at a time, choose a higher resolution. One cheat to get higher resolutions is to shoot your whole movie at a narrower aspect ratio like 2.35 (the letterboxed look).
- In post, stretch your image vertically by 1.61x (for 1080p) to get the normal aspect ratio back
Editing is where run-and-gun raw really gets difficult. Raw files are huge, requiring huge hard drives to store the files and fast CPU’s to decode them. Plus, Magic Lantern Raw requires several steps of transcoding to be editable: first from Raw to CinemaDNG, then to ProRes or similar for actual editing. Many people will then round-trip their files back to CinemaDNG for final color grading.
Note: Adobe Premiere has support for natively editing CinemaDNG files, but I have heard it is plagued with bugs.
My workflow is as simple as possible: transcode to ProRes HQ via DaVinci Resolve, then edit and color grade in FCP X. No After Effects, no ACR, no round-tripping back to Resolve. With real-time shape and color masking, FCP X can be quite robust for color grading. I use the following additional plug-ins:
- TKY Shadows/Highlights for highlight/shadow recovery
- LUT Utility for applying Lookup Tables (What is a lookup table?)
- Nattress Levels and Curves for toe/shoulder adjustment
MY ON-LOCATION POST GEAR
- Macbook Pro Retina 15″ with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD
- 2x OWC 1TB 7200RPM portable drive
- 4TB G-RAID Thunderbolt External Hard Drive
- Transcend USB 3.0 Card Reader (VERY IMPORTANT! Only certain brands of readers work with Komputerbay cards)
- Final Cut Pro X
- DaVinci Resolve Lite (free)
- Rawmagic (free)
- EOSHD Film LUT (free, follow instructions on site to install)
Every day after shooting, I transcode footage to ProRes HQ. I first dump to the portable hard drives, which are attached to the back of my laptop with Velcro for extra mobility (yes, it works).
I then transcode the footage, keeping the ProRes HQ files on my portable drives and the CinemaDNG originals + ProRes HQ files on the 4TB RAID as backup. The G-RAID stays in the hotel room while the laptop and portable drives go with me wherever I want to edit.
Walkthrough of transcoding:
- Insert CF card into USB 3.0 card reader (do not use a USB 2.0 card reader or your transfers will be MUCH slower)
- Plug the card reader into laptop
- Open Rawmagic utiltiy
- Drag all my RAW files into Rawmagic
- Click “Convert” and choose destination (I create a folder called “Rawmagic Exports” and a subfolder for each project)
- Let it convert everything. If you’re using the correct USB 3.0 reader, this conversion should be much faster than real-time
- Open DaVinci Resolve, choose “Untitled Project”
- Navigate to my “Rawmagic Exports” folder, and drag the project’s sub-folder into the media pool
- Click “Edit” from the menu at the bottom of the screen
- Hit ⌘ N and create a new timeline
- Scroll through your clips, find your slow-motion clips in the media pool, and fix their aspect ratios by right-clicking and editing “Clip Attributes” (change to 23.97fps and 1.61x aspect)
- Add all clips to timeline
- Select all clips in media pool, chooose “Edit CinemaDNG Settings”
- Choose “Decode Using Clip”
- Enable Highlight Recovery
- Change Color Space to “BMD Film”
- DO NOT increase sharpness in Resolve. It tends to introduce vertical line banding in ML Raw footage
- Double-click the lower-right-hand film clip icon to apply changes to all clips
- Re-select all clips in media pool, right-click and change 3D LUT to EOSHD LUT 5D3 RAW
- If your computer will play back these files at a decent speed, you can now start trimming your clips to make the final ProRes files smaller. This is optional but will save a lot of hard drive space.
- You should now also fix white balance/exposure of individual clips by right-clicking clips in the timeline, choosing “Find in Media Pool”, and editing their CinemaDNG settings.
- Now you could disable the EOSHD LUT to output a LOG image and do all your LUTs in your NLE. This is your choice, in case you want to play around with different LUTs later.
- Click DELIVER on the lower menu
- right-click the delivery timeline and choose “Select All”
- In the deliver menu, choose Render Timeline as: Individual Clips; Quicktime; ProRes 422 HQ; HD 1920×1080 @ 23.97fps
- Choose output folder
- Enable Flat Pass “with clip settings”
- Add job to render queue
- Start Render, get coffee/beer/sleep
Shooting Magic Lantern raw is not for the faint of heart, but with the right workflow it can be possible to shoot run-and-gun, working efficiently and getting great results.