Monday, 6 May 2013

Magic Lantern - Transforming a Canon 550d (or T2i) into a great budget time-lapse DSLR, and so very much more too.

I'm set to be shooting a multi angle time lapse of the installation of a rather expensive piece of industrial machinery.

It will be shot over 10 days too, so all the experience gained in my yet to be shown forced rhubarb time lapse should come in very handy.

Primary position will be covered off with a Canon 5d MkI, with a Canon TC-80N3 and powered with a mains adaptor Canon ECK-E2,  the super wide interior shot will be covered off with a GoPro Hero 2 with a clever little mod of a time-lapse intervalometer from, this combo will be powered by a 16,000 mAh iSound battery, which in turn will be plugged into the mains, charging as it powers the GoPro. This is a great back up just incase there is any sort of power outage and should keep going no matter what, I used this combo in the Far East on some fun little time lapses. I need a third angle too, what camera should I use? I do need a a tighter shot, so a DSLR is the order of the day, but I don't really want to sacrifice the shutter of a 5d MkII.

I remembered I had a Canon 550d knocking around somewhere, it had after all been used to great effect alongside a Canon 5d MkII on the South African township project, you can see more about the project on the Canon CPN site

A brief excavation of a distant cupboard revealed this long lost rarely used camera, with a couple of batteries, but alas no intervalometer. After hunting high and low it could not be located.

I thought I would do a quick web search for a suitable 'budget' intervalometer, I saw a few on offer which would do the job but looked pretty nasty too. One page click in I found a reference to Magic Lantern software giving the 550d amongst many other things time lapse capabilities.

I have always been a little sceptical about putting something like this on one of my Canon DSLR's, I mean it should be ok but.......

On this occasion though curiosity got the better of me, after all what did I have to lose? The camera had been effectively out of commission for some months.

What is exactly is Magic Lantern and more importantly what does it do?

'Magic Lantern is a software enhancement that offers increased functionality to the excellent Canon DSLR cameras. We have created an open framework, licensed under GPL, for developing extensions to the official firmware.

Magic Lantern is not a "hack", or a modified firmware, it is an independent program that runs alongside Canon's own software. Each time you start your camera, Magic Lantern is loaded from your memory card. Our only modification was to enable the ability to run software from the memory card.

ML is being developed by photo and video enthusiasts, adding functionality such as: HDR images and video, timelapse, motion detection, focus assist tools, manual audio controls and much more too'

Here is a very handy installation video which I found very useful.

Magic Lantern Install Tutorial from Chadwick Shoults on Vimeo.

If you feel like giving it a go you can download it here (at your own risk blah, blah etc)

Things got off to an inauspicious start, as after downloading the software it would not install on the camera...a never ending loop red LED flashing on the back of the camera eluded to something not going to plan. The small matter of following the instructions rectified the situation, it turns out the firmware of my camera had was ancient therefore incompatible with the latest version of Magic Lantern, also I was trying to install Magic Lantern on a 64gb card, which is not compatible with.
By the way, during my time lapse investigations I did try a 64gb card in a GoPro hero 2, which as the manufacturer says is incompatible with the Hero 2, you will see at least one YouTube demonstration of it working successfully, sadly the demo is flawed as they do not show the part where they try to download the corrupt images from the card, nor the counter stalling at 1000 ish images in. Listen to the manufacturer on this one......

Back to my Canon 550d experience, I'm pleased to report that the time-lapse feature works a treat, I have not yet had time to explore the (many!) other features that ML has bought to the party.
I even managed to score a Canon ACK-E8 mains adaptor on Ebay, putting multi day time lapses well within my grasp.

With the never ending tide of the latest and greatest offerings from the manufacturers, the secondhand hand price of obsolete camera's plummets.

A brief foray onto to Ebay revealed just how low those prices are, with a sample of the excellent Canon 5d Mk1 in excellent condition going for around £400, while the Canon 550d going for around £250, less than a GoPro Hero 3.

I know I'm not strictly comparing 'apples with apples' and each camera is suited to different roles, but you get where I'm coming from.

Before splashing out a ton of money on a camera which you may be paying for for months or years to come, check out sea of bargain basement 'old hat' DSLR's out there just waiting to be repurposed.

Think of all the fancy glass you can buy with the money you have saved.

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