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Photography

Unlock hidden features on your Canon dSLR

Open up a world of possibilities with your Canon dSLR including HDR video and focus peaking, just by installing the Magic Lantern firmware. Here's how to do it.

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There are many hidden features inside your Canon dSLR. Magic Lantern is the key you need to unlock them.

Magic Lantern is one of the most popular firmware add-ons available, opening up many possibilities for photography and video. It's free, runs alongside the stock Canon firmware and new features are constantly being added.

Once installed, your dSLR gets useful tools such as:

  • Focus peaking: highlights the area of the image that are in focus
  • Zebras: flashes to indicate areas of the image that are under or over-exposed
  • HDR video: boosts the dynamic range of recorded video by alternating the ISO
  • In-camera intervalometer: useful for time-lapse photography, with no extra remote required
  • Motion detection: take an image when the camera senses motion

These features are just the tip of the iceberg. A full functionality list can be found in the userguide.

Before you install Magic Lantern, be aware that it is not in any way supported by Canon. Proceed at your own risk and note that it may void your warranty.

Current cameras supported include the 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, 6D, 7D, 50D, 60D, 500D/T1i, 550D/T2i, 600D/T3i, 650D/T4i, 700D/T5i, 1100D/T3 and EOS M.

Installation process

Step one: Find a spare SD card and format in-camera. Then, head to the Magic Lantern downloads page and choose your model number from the list.

Step two: Make sure the official firmware on your camera is up to date. The Magic Lantern download page will tell you which is the latest version number. Check what is installed on your camera by choosing any of the manual exposure modes (PASM) on the dial, then press the Menu button. Scroll through until you find the version number.

Check the official firmware version is up-to-date before you install Magic Lantern. Lexy Savvides/CNET

If required, head to Canon's official support site and download the latest version of the firmware for your dSLR.

Step three: Connect the SD card to your PC or Mac and download the Magic Lantern build for your camera. Extract the zip archive, then put all those files in the root directory of the SD card.

Step four: Insert the SD card into the camera and turn it on. Install the firmware by going to Menu and finding the firmware option. Press Set and confirm your selection to update the firmware. You will be prompted to restart the camera by turning the power off and on again.

When you start up your camera after installation, you should see something like this screen. Lexy Savvides/CNET

Step five: Clear any custom settings by pressing Menu, and find Clear settings. Exit the Canon menu system by pressing Menu again, then press the trash can button to bring up the Magic Lantern options.

If you run into any difficulties during the installation process, there's also a full guide on the Magic Lantern wiki page.

General tips

  • Some settings will require you to turn the camera off and on again to apply the feature
  • When in Live View, press the Info button several times to clear the Canon overlay menus so you can see the Magic Lantern overlays
  • Once you are in the Magic Lantern menus, press the Menu button to bring up a screen with all your options in columns, rather than needing to scroll through individual pages

Helpful photography tools

Intervalometer: Magic Lantern has it all built-in. From the menu, scroll across to Shoot, then down to Intervalometer. Press Set to activate, then the Q button to bring up options.

Some of the settings in the intervalometer sub-menu. Lexy Savvides/CNET

Choose how often you want to take a picture and when you want the camera to start. Get out of the menu and you'll see the screen is waiting for that half press.

Audio trigger: You can fire the camera shutter using sound. Go to the menu, Audio RemoteShot and press Set. Then, hit the Q button to set the trigger decibel level. Make sure it's set to as high as possible, so 20dB, otherwise even the smallest sound will fire the shutter.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Clap your hands or make some noise, and when the camera detects it, the shutter will fire.

Focus peaking and zebras: This one is great for stills and video users. Focus peaking gives you an outline on what's in focus while zebras show you areas of overexposure. In the menu, go to Overlay, turn on zebras and focus peak. You can tweak lots of other options to your liking in the sub-menus too.

Head out of the menu, turn on live view and press the Info button a couple of times to turn off the Canon overlays. You'll see your exposure info down at the bottom of the screen with focus peaking and zebras on the screen as well.

Zebras on the screen show areas of overexposure. Lexy Savvides/CNET

Uninstalling

Once you've finished playing around with Magic Lantern, you may want to uninstall it. To do this, go back to the Canon menu and find the firmware option again. Press Set to complete the uninstall process, then once completed, format the Magic Lantern SD card in-camera if you don't want to reinstall it again. Remember to save any photos on the card elsewhere before formatting.

These are just a few features of Magic Lantern; I'll delve into more advanced options in a future How To article.