Not ready for 4k? Try ULTRA 2k With Magic Lantern

by fletch murray4 Comments

Do you know h.264 compression is like working with crayons instead of fine art brushes?

What do I mean?

It wasn't until I put Magic Lantern‘s firmware upgrade on my Canon EOS 5D Mark III and saw h.264 vs. RAW video that I saw the vast difference.

I also saw the power of the Canon sensor when unleashed by Magic Lantern. Canon may not have liked it because they were planning three cinema-style camera platforms, but Magic Lantern let the cat out of the bag and rolled out their “disruptive” technology.

I had an Alaska shoot coming up and the thought of getting wildlife and glaciers in stunning 14-bit pushed over the edge. I'd read all the warnings and cautions and disclaimers. I wasn't looking forward to “bricking” my camera, but when you promise a filmmaker they can get higher resolution and fantastic color depth they will run over broken glass to have it.

So, I did.

I put up tests (below) two years ago knowing that it might upset some of my friends at Canon but also I knew that the tests might sell a lot more Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIs and I would be pardoned the wrath of the Explorers of Light.

I'm sure Canon has a very good case to make that you should simply buy one of the three cinema cameras they rolled out if you want to film. (After all, has any other camera manufacturer come out with not one but three cinema-style  cameras that shoot in such low light? Excepting Sony's dazzling Sony A7s, which is for a planet which has no sun.)

So, here's side by side tests we did – h.264 vs RAW video in daylight….

Magic Lantern RAW vs h.264

and then in low light with Krista, our blonde, in a black silk robe.

Blonde Ambition 1 (1920 x 1080)

And last of all, we had Krista come back to see if Canon's sensor (unleashed by Magic Lantern) could shut down the RED ONE MX.  Judge for yourself.

A CineBootCamps test – “5D RAW vs RED ONE MX: Blonde Ambition 2”


Now, decide if you want to stay with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III delivering RAW video or try some unproven platform that can't come near to delivering these images in high ISO.

I'm happy to stay with my 5D3 with Magic Lantern until somebody rolls out a camera that can shoot awesome video AND shoot in-focus hi-res stills at 5+ fps.

Maybe Sony is going to run the table with their A7r II August 30th, but I've heard from reliable sources that the adaptors promised to make your glass work on the A7r, just flat don't work.

I think Canon's been rolling out winners for decades and I feel there's something in the wings that will let you keep your glass, have 4k and shoot great hi-res stills.

I'm inviting all the Magic Lantern filmmakers to get together for a symposium in L.A..

I'm not affiliated with Magic Lantern's staff. It would be great if someone knows some of the higher ups at ML and have them join us for a look at the future of ML (in which case we'll have to find a bigger venue and maybe bump the price to pay for it).

We'll swap notes and workflows at our studio near Warner Bros. in Burbank. We're limiting attendance to 30 so please register if you're interested.

(Fletch's CineBootCamps is hosting a Magic Lantern Symposium Oct. 3, 2015 in Los Angeles.   Click here to register for Magic Lantern Symposium )

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)



  1. Fletch: This is not about h.264 vs. RAW in general. A Hollywood movie trailer in h.264 doesn’t look like this. It’s about Canon’s crippling of the video image on DSLR’s (no matter what format) to protect their higher end video cameras, just like Sony and Panasonic do as well. Yes, 14 bit is great and any camera, video or not, that only records in 8 bit will never produce the image that a 10 bit or higher camera has, including the Sony A7 series in 8 bit. That’s also why the Blackmagic cameras are by far the best image for the money. They don’t have to protect higher end cameras. I’ve shot with Canon DSLR’s, Sony FS100’s and FS700’s, Red cameras, and Blackmagic cameras. I prefer the Blackmagic image over any of them because of the beautiful skin tones, and a rich and sharp image. When it comes to color grading, a highly compressed 8 bit image (which is what most cameras below $10k produce) is very limited compared to a 10 bit or higher image. (10 bit has 4 times the levels of grey in each channel compared to 8 bit) So my advice is to ignore the marketing games from the big three manufacturers, and settle on a camera that produces a high quality 10 bit or greater image natively, that is not highly compressed. Note that recording to an external 10 bit recorder does not produce a better image in my experience if the camera is 8 bit natively. I wish someone had shared this wisdom with me a long time ago, so I hope it helps others.

  2. Sorry Fletch it’s not about sharpness. Your RAW looks better in your tests but it’s what the actress says once you get her to open her  mouth.  Camera operators should be spending their money more on scripts and content rather than sharpness and “looks of camera footage”. I’ve seen the 5d 3 on a fifty foot screen in a movie theater and it looks fine. Your audience will care more about content rather than camera “looks”.  You make a good point that $$ is not needed for professional looking footage.

  3. “a camera that can shoot awesome video AND shoot in-focus hi-res stills at 5+ fps”
    So, a mirrorless Sony?

  4. I used ML RAW to shoot about a dozen projects in 2014. Its pretty good and much better than the 5D3 built in video.
    But compared to shooting with a decent video camera, or even a high end Hybrid like the new A7s/R series its nowhere near as useful.
    Finally, the OTHER camera that will do what you ask is the GH4. Can shoot 10-bit 4k, and if you use the $99 V-LOG the color science is fantastic. 
    This post is about 2 years out of date.

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