In 2012, two Canadian teenagers, Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, successfully sent a Lego mini figure up into space using a weather balloon as the vehicle. To document the event from liftoff to crash-land, they rigged a basic Canon point-and-shoot camera to continuously snap photos. While it sounds like a complicated science project, it’s actually something many have successfully accomplished (Ho and Muhammad just made theirs unique by sending the little Lego guy with it and, oh, they’re teens). And hacking the camera might actually be the easy part, thanks to an open-source firmware update.
Like CHDK, Magic Lantern is open-source software for Canon DSLRS, with an emphasis on enhancing video production (Magic Lantern’s creators don’t like to refer to it as a hack but a separate program that complements the camera’s software, but you get the idea). The supported DSLRs are the ones that can handle video capture, like the EOS 5D Mark II, 60D, Rebel T1i, etc., with future support for the 7D, 5D Mark III, and more. Essentially, it gives these DSLRs many of the similar advanced features that are found in more expensive video cameras.
But unlike CHDK, Magic Lantern is geared more toward advanced users, in particular those who use Canon DSLRs to create movies (although later updates have added features that benefit photographers too). Magic Lantern was originally created to add audio controls to the EOS 5D Mark II, which Canon didn’t provide. Over time, Magic Lantern evolved, adding a ton of extra features. If you own one of the supported cameras and you dabble a bit with video, however, it doesn’t hurt to try out Magic Lantern’s features, as it’s not difficult to install and it runs independently on the memory card.
Once set up, pushing the camera’s Delete button will bring up the extra menus. Magic Lantern’s benefits are many, but some of the notable ones include manual fine-tuning of audio; tools for exposure and focusing; HDR video; bracketing; zebra patterns; and an intervalometer for shooting time lapse and astrophotography. As we’ve mentioned, Magic Lantern is best for more advanced users who’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of their Canon DSLR.