Shooting RAW with Magic Lantern for Canon 5D Mark iii

Film Tip

One day we wanted to enter a video contest for fun.  It was for the MOGA video contest with FreddieW.  We wanted to do some special effects in After Effects.  But there was a short timeline.  This was also one of the few times we tried out RAW* with Magic Lantern.

*Yes, I know RAW is not an acronym but I prefer RAW versus raw to denote the difference between a file format that allows you to use and see the RAW sensor data versus the raw footage from any codec.

What is RAW?

RAW in this context means the camera will record the image will all the sensor data without any changes, compression, filtering, etc.

Why is RAW good?

RAW can be good because you can make additional changes to the image in post.  For example, in RAW, you can change the white balance settings in post-production.  Usually, RAW files contain the full sensor data in the files.  When shooting with the Canon 5D Mark iii in standard video mode, the camera uses compression to generate their files.  When the image is compressed the camera throws out a lot of detail in the image.  Also, shooting in RAW gives you more dynamic range to work with.  Dynamic range is the difference between the lightest part of the image and the darkest part of the image.  Greater dynamic range is typically preferred.

What are some challenges with RAW?

  • The file sizes are significantly larger than compressed files.
  • The workflow to shoot, process, edit, color correct, and output RAW files is much more complicated and cumbersome.

Shooting RAW video on the Canon 5D Mark iii with the Magic Lantern hack is very similar to shooting on film negatives.

  • You must shoot dual system.  Which means you must record sound separately from video on a different recorder.  In addition, there is no audio scratch track on the video to help with synching later.  I recommend that you use a slate to help you synch them up.
  • The files are huge and require special high speed CF cards that are expensive and fill up fast.  It reminds me of going through spools of film.
  • Also, it requires lots of hard drive space to transcode, edit, output, and archive the footage.
  • You can not edit the native files.  They must be transcoded.
  • The Magic Lantern hack pushes the Canon 5D Mark iii to the limit of its capability which sometimes results in an error on the camera.  This felt like film was getting jammed in the camera.
  • When you look at the screen on the camera, the image you see is not the result that you would necessarily see in the end.  This was very similar to shooting on film.  You have to rely on your experience more when lighting and shooting the scene.
    • You can work around this by previewing on the regular non-RAW mode.
  • The post-production workflow felt a lot like a film workflow.
    • Convert the RAW files to video format.
    • You have the choice of high resolution or low resolution edit format.
    • You then edit.
    • Once you get picture lock, then you have the choice to conform back to the RAW files.
    • Then you can color correct directly from the RAW files.
    • Then you output to a final format.

Is Shooting on Magic Lantern RAW worth it?

It depends.  I think if you need the additional detail and dynamic range, then yes.  If you are on a time and resource crunch, RAW might not be the way to go.  I now look at shooting on H.264 (native compression of the Canon 5D Mark iii) like shooting on Positive or slide film.  Back in the day, if you shot on slide film or positives, you didn’t have much leeway in terms of changes in post.   Now, with RAW it is a digital negative.  You can make all kinds of changes in post.

Let me know what your thoughts are on RAW.


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