Monthly Archives: September 2012

How useful is Magic Lantern Software on the Canon 600D

Using Magic Lantern on the Canon 600D

When you get a new camera, even if it is one that is an upgrade to a model that you have owned previously, you need to spend time learning all of the menus in the camera software. Cameras are getting more and more complicated and sophisticated, so without a doubt you need to spend some time delving into the insides of the operating system. My Canon 600D is pretty intuitive to use, certainly as far as the various modes of taking pictures. I do use manual mode on occasions and I particularly like the ease of using aperture priority or shutter speed priority. I don’t tend to use the program mode setting that is the P setting that some beginners seem to think stands for professional.

Magic Lantern Firmware Wiki

Even more complicated with the addition of Magic Lantern

There are a few additions that you get by the use of Magic Lantern and the main one for me is the fact that it gives me some meters for the levels of the sound recording. This is particularly important for me as I bought the camera mainly for the purpose of recording video. Magic Lantern does also add settings for HDR bracketed shots. It is possible to do that with the standard software, but I can do it quicker with Magic Lantern.

If I decide that I would like to do some timelapse photography, there are some excellent extra tools within Magic Lantern. The intervalometer is very easy to set up, so that I can record a clip every certain number of seconds. I can set the duration for the video clip, for example I might ask it to stop recording after four seconds. If I am running a timelapse which is going from day to night I can also use a setting which will take care of bulb ramping.

There are also a number of focusing tools available. You can do things like turn on the Trap Focus. There is also a simple follow focus that you can operate using the arrow keys. Within the focus settings there are plenty of settings to play with and really it is recommended to have a good read of the manual for Magic Lantern.

Magic Lantern tweaks

It is all well and good that on camera, you also have some help information for Magic Lantern. To get to this you click on the info button on your camera while you have the Magic Lantern menus in front of you. The help that you get depends upon exactly what you are looking at in the menus. Looking through all of the menus within Magic Lantern, I have to say that there are some weird and wonderful menu options. One of the options is to click on the button which says ‘Don’t click me!’ The hint at the bottom of the screen tells you that if you do click it, the camera may turn into a 1DX or may explode. Obviously the developer of the Magic Lantern software has a sense of humour.

Installing Magic Lantern can be tricky

Well it can be tricky, but I honestly found it easy enough by just carefully following the instructions that came with the software. You have to install the Magic Lantern software on each of the memory cards that you use in the camera. This way the Magic Lantern software is able to work as an add-on to the standard Canon camera software.

Where I tend to have most difficulty using this Magic Lantern, is in the area of knowing which buttons to press to change the ISO setting. I really need to spend some more time studying how the whole thing works. When you are out and about and you want to take some photographs, you really don’t want to spend all of the time struggling with menus. Like most things that involve software with numerous menus, capabilities, functionality and complicated stuff, it is really best to learn these things one small step at a time.

Excellent software – Well worth having

That is no doubt that within the DSLR filmmaking community that the Magic Lantern software is highly regarded. There are many that consider that Magic Lantern is an essential step to take when you are using cameras, such as the Canon 550D. 600D or the Canon 5D Mark 2. Certainly the extra software is very useful and well worth getting, you just have to spend the time to get to know the ins and outs of how it works, that’s all.

I will make some more posts on here looking at Magic Lantern in more depth. I will dive into one section at a time and post my findings on the Spondicious Blog.

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Shooting Nature in Alquézar in the foothills of the Pyrenees

A photography trip to Aragón

It was Easter weekend and it seemed that we should get away and do something rather than hanging around the house. So we went to a place called Alquézar in the region of Aragón. This region is not quite the Pyrenees and it is more large hills rather than mountains. There was plenty of landscape and nature to use as subject matter for photography. I had my Canon 600D in my hand, just about the whole time while there.

High saturation and contrast equals good art

The town itself was extremely picturesque, as a lot of money had been spent on the restoration of the old town. It is quite reminiscent of Pals which is closer to home. Lots of small streets that were quite like a maze and there was even a street called Calle Dragones, Dragons Street. Many of the photographs that I shot while in Alquézar were to be HDR photos, that I intended to work on later, back at base on the computer using the application Photomatix Pro. I am finding though, that when using RAW photos I can get the sort of image that I like, just using a standard RAW image adjusted in iPhoto. I like to have photos that have bright colours and high saturation and a good amount of contrast. They don’t necessarily look totally realistic, but they are in my opinion, good art.

Using Photomatix Pro

This application has improved since I first bought it and it has a number of default options that you can use. Initially there were only two options originally, one was Tone Mapping which was the one that I chose to get the typical HDR image. The other setting to something which was more like a standard photograph, but with a slightly wider range of tones. With the later version of Photomatix Pro, you get defaults such as Enhancer grunge, painterly, Compressor default or Compressor deep and Fusion intensive or Fusion two images. So you have three basic styles – compressor, fusion and enhancer. My favourite would probably be the Compressor – Deep default setting.

It depends upon the photo

If you have a photo that doesn’t have much sky in it, then the Enhancer – Painterly can look quite good. Using the same settings on an image with a lot of blue sky can look awful. Using the setting of Enhancer – Grunge will look pretty awful whatever photo you are using it with. The 11 default settings that you have available that are going to get started, but you can also make further adjustments to the way the photo is processed finally.

You can also decide to first of all choose the process you want to use, either tone mapping or exposure fusion and then just play with the sliders until you get something you like. It would be a good idea then, to save your setup as presets for yourself to use later. The number sliders that you get to play with depends upon the choice of process and method which is your starting point. You can make it so that the photo will have all of the details enhanced, so that you have an ultra-sharp image that is hyperrealistic. Or you can have the tone compression which gives a smoother look. Once you have chosen your required look, you just have to click on process and then save the image. See below for examples of the same image with two different conversions. The first one is the painterly effect and the other uses the compressor deep effect.


Photomatix Pro Painterly HDR

Compressor Deep

Compressor deep Photomatix Pro

Stuck in Customs

The person that is most famous online for his HDR photography is a fellow called Trey Ratcliff, otherwise known as Stuck in Customs. He does some amazing shots all around the world and I have been following his work on Flickr for a few years now. Interestingly, it was Trey who has recently suggested that the EVIL cameras are very likely to be taking over from the cameras with mirrors in them, the DSLR cameras that we are used to presently, in the next couple of years. I am discussing this type of camera, the Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens, on the EvilPhotography website. I almost wish that I had bought the Panasonic GH2 or waited for the Sony NEX–7 rather than the Canon 600D, even though there are some advantages to having the Canon.

Meanwhile back in Alquézar

I had a very enjoyable time taking around 400 photographs while in Alquézar. Of course, all of the photos were nature type photos, which is okay, even though I do more often have the urge to take urban grunge type images. I was quite pleased to shoot an image of a flower, just because it was the smallest ever daffodil, narcissus flower that I had ever seen. The images that were shot of the town were all very picturesque and could not at all be described as urban. Certainly I could have spent another couple of days shooting photos in this region.

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Getting a good lens for DSLR video

It is all about the glass – The Canon nifty 50

For taking good photographs and getting that narrow depth of field with your subject perfectly in focus and the background nicely out of focus you need to have a faster lens. Opening up the aperture so that you have it as wide as the lens will let you go gives you the narrower depth of field. So being able to go to F 1.8 with the Canon nifty 50 lens will be better than using the kit lens which will only go to about F 3.5. There are other benefits to having a faster lens the main one being that you can let more light reached the sensor. You will be able to get better pictures by being able to let more light through.

Not perfect but very good value for money

Canon has made this F1.8 available at a very good affordable price, somewhere around the $100. My son has one of those Canon lenses that he uses on his Canon 550D and he wants to buy an even better lens. I am lucky that he is willing to sell me his nifty 50 Canon lens. The nifty 50 lens may be a cheap lens but it does give you good results.

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Video and Still Photos with the Canon 600D

Hello and welcome to Spondicious Photography website. What I plan to do with this website is to talk about my camera experiences and how I will use the new camera that I have just bought, which is a Canon 600D which is also known as the T3i. Mainly I planned to buy this camera because of wanting to have more control over the video that I can shoot. Up until now for the video I have been using a Canon Vixia to shoot video. It is a good video camera and gives me good results, but is not quite so easy to set up and control. Especially things like the white balance, which I have to change when I am working with my green screen. I will still be using the Canon Vixia, so it will be handy to have two cameras to use on a video shoot.

David with Canon 600D

The decision process for buying this latest camera

My son has the Canon 550D and it is a very good camera that produces excellent results. I would have bought the same camera, but I do need to have the swivel video display on the rear. This is because often I am filming myself without any help and I need to be able to see what is I’m shooting. There are not many other differences between this camera and the 600D that I purchased. Just like with using the 550D I’m also able to add the Magic Lantern software to the 600D to add extra functionality to the camera.

The camera that I looked at that I would perhaps preferred to have bought, was the Panasonic GH2 which has a very good reputation for shooting video. It has less of a problem with the rolling shutter effect, which is to do with lines that are introduced into the pictures when you do a fast pan from left to right or right to left. The Panasonic also has the ability to follow focus which is very useful when you have the subject coming towards you or going away from you while shooting video. With the Canon you would probably have to follow the focus manually and depending on the lens that could be a little bit fiddly.

There were a number of reasons which brought me to buying the Canon 600D instead of the Panasonic and the first of those reasons was the cost. The Panasonic was quite a bit more than the Canon and although the advantages of having the Panasonic were worth paying for, the funds in my wallet didn’t stretch that far. I still wonder if I should have just waited and saved up some more money. Another good thing with the Canon, is that it is possible to buy a battery handgrip which adds two more batteries so that I could have longer video shooting time. I didn’t seem to find a similar item for the Panasonic. Another influence on the purchase was the availability of lenses for the cameras, the Canon having a greater variety of lenses available. The thing with the lenses was not really a deal breaker, because the lenses that I would require for the Panasonic were actually available. The size of the sensor in the Panasonic is quite a bit smaller than the sensor in the Canon 600D and that did influence my decision to a certain extent. In some ways it was no big deal because the images from the Panasonic to a large extent were just as good, certainly as far as the video shooting was concerned. The larger the sensor is, the better the capability of the camera for capturing light, although there may be also some difference concerning the quality of the sensor and the software that runs the sensor.

Adding extra functionality with Magic Lantern

The Magic Lantern software is a free third-party software that adds quite a lot of extra capabilities and functionality to the Canon cameras. It was initially developed for use with the Canon 5D Mk 2, but was also ported to work with other cameras including the 550D and the 600D. Magic Lantern gives extra features in terms of still photography such as allowing longer exposures and easier setup of HDR photos, but where the software really excels is with the assistance it gives with shooting video. Originally the Magic Lantern software was developed in order to deal with audio problems, such as turning off the automatic gain control within the camera, so that better sound could be captured by using something like the Juiced Link preamplifier.

Magic Lantern 600D

Once the developer of Magic Lantern had found that he could easily add these extra functions, with this software that sits on top of the Canon software within the camera, he also developed extra functionality and Magic Lantern just keeps getting better. Within this software you also get zebra stripes to help you get the exposure correct and there are also tools in there to help you set up the correct focus. It is also useful that Magic Lantern gives you an intervalometer so that you can do time lapse photography. Look out for a complete article about how I use the Magic Lantern software and what it can do.

Other photography kit

I already have a studio setup with a green screen and with lights to properly light the green screen. I have a set of LED type lights for this purpose. I also have a small LED light, the type that you can fit to the top of your camera if you wish. Generally I use that to light my subject with the light at the top of a light stand. I also have a small grey card / white balance card that I can use to set the exposure and white balance to suit the lighting. This is a very handy tool, especially because I can use it to set things right even when I’m working on my own in the studio. I also have a couple of light umbrellas that I can use with those lights or with the Nikon SB25 battery-operated strobe lights. I have one soft box which I don’t really have set up properly yet. I should really try and make it so that one of the LED lights are used for the main lighting of the subject, works with that soft box.

Sure and steady with a tripod

I have a good tripod to use for the video work in the studio, I don’t tend to take it out with me, because it is too heavy for carrying around. I prefer to travel light when I am going to shoot stills or video outdoors and to use the Gorillapod or another small tripod. I do plan later on, to buy another tripod and to use a fluid head for the tripod that is specifically designed for video work. Another particularly useful tool I use, is a monopod, which is very handy for portability and steadying the camera when it is necessary to work quickly and take still take good shots. It is not a very good quality monopod but it does the job.

Home-made video tools

I have already made a tabletop dolly and this tabletop dolly can also be used on a track. I have to make this track still. I want one that will be around a metre or a metre and a half long that I can put on top of either a tripod or a pair of tripods. This adds to the type of shots that I can take with video and can often work better than a standard panning shot. Look out for an article on the website in which I show you the tabletop dolly that I made, how it works and some example video using it.

Due to the DSLR camera ergonomics, it will also be necessary for me to build a rig for using the camera handheld for video and for getting a more stable shot. There are some that I’ve seen that are made from plastic piping which have the advantage of being cheap and there are others which are kind of like a cage. That cage type is usually made from metal and provides handles on either side of the camera. These rigs are quite good, as they also give you places that you can add extras such as lighting, shotgun microphones and even HDMI monitors. Then, on the other hand I could buy a type of rig which I seen available on eBay. This one gives you a rig which you can use the same as the cage type of rig and also can be used as a shoulder rig. This particular rig is not very expensive either and it could be just as well to buy it rather than make one. It could be useful to have one of these shoulder type of rigs that also has a follow focus unit I can fit extra, so that I could have more accurate control of the focus.

Getting set up for sound

At the moment I have a couple of ways of recording sound. I have a shure SM58 microphone which I can connect directly to the camera via the XLR cable with an adapter on the end. This works fairly well and is suitable for the interview style of video shooting with me holding the microphone in my hand. I also have the Zoom H2 portable microphone which can be used to record sound separately. This also works because within Final Cut Pro X there are fairly good facilities for matching sound to the audio track on the video. I also have a microphone which works well with the iPad or even an iPhone that I can use to record a separate audio track and matchup in the same way as I would with the Zoom H2 microphone.

At some point in time I would like to buy a video shotgun microphone. There is a Rode Video Pro microphone which could be suitable for my purposes. Then again what I would really like to get, is an XLR shotgun microphone that I can connect using the Juiced Link CX 231 preamplifier with Phantom Power, to the camera. It would also be nice to have a clip on microphone to use also.

Video photography with the DSLR

As you can tell by most of the text in this article, I am more interested in video photography with this camera, the Canon 600D. I do also expect to continue making still photographs and in particular the HDR style of photo. I will add more to this blog as I add extra equipment and take more photos and video. I could see that in maybe one or two years time, perhaps even sooner than that, if I have the cash available, I might sell this Canon 600D and go the route of the mirror-less or EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lenses) camera. I could be tempted by an update to the Panasonic GH2 or perhaps even the Sony NEX-7 which has the advantage of also having the same size sensor as the Canon 600D.

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