Indie Gear: Could a New Canon 5D Mark III Hack Position It as a RED Rival?

Canon 5D Mark III - H 2012

Canon 5D Mark III - H 2012

Beta technology from Magic Lantern is generating a lot of buzz in prosumer circles, but what impact might it have for independent filmmakers? DP Shane Hurlbut weighs in.

UPDATED: According to multiple sources, including Adrew Reid at, the 4GB limit has been cleared by use of exFAT formatted cards.

It's been said that humans only use 10 percent of their brain at any given time. Well, a new hack for the Canon 5D Mark III proves that the camera was operating well below its capacity as well. The field of high-quality, relatively inexpensive video cameras just got a little wider thanks to the whiz kids at Magic Lantern who are in the process of finalizing code that pushes the Canon to its full potential.

The hack allows the camera to shoot uncompressed raw video, which boosts resolution and the dynamic range of an image, giving filmmakers more flexibility when color grading and modifying exposure levels in post. By utilizing the same process the camera uses for its Live View mode, the hack pushes the raw data directly to the CF card, instead of allowing the processor to encode the files to the H.264 codec.

There has been speculation that the hack could pose a threat to the lifespan of the camera's components, overheating and putting unwanted strain on the processor. However, the function appears to be a computing tradeoff since the hack circumvents the H.264 encoding, a demanding process itself -- but only time will tell. Another major concern has been available recording time. Currently, the hack is limited to 4GB bursts, which translates to about a minute (or less) of footage. But because this limit is not imposed by the camera's hardware we'll most likely see this hurdle cleared when a finalized version of the code is released.

Since most editing suites don't recognize raw data, the workflow takes a few more steps than simply importing the files into Final Cut. An editor must first process the raw data into DNG files, throw those into Photoshop, color correct, save the sequence as TIFF files and finally export from QuickTime to any format. Only then is the footage ready to edit. It may seem laborious, but indie filmmakers on a budget have proved willing to deal with workarounds if they can attain a higher quality, professional looking image.

The fiercest competitor in the growing market of prosumer-priced raw video is the Black Magic Cinema Camera, and when it dropped at NAB 2012 indie filmmakers and videographers rejoiced. Considerably cheaper than its RED counterpart, the Scarlet-X, which starts at $8,000, the BMCC is priced at a mere $3,000. It has been almost a year since the BMCC was announced, but now that it's finally shipping to the States, the already ubiquitous 5D Mark III, with the Magic Lantern hack in place, appears to be capable of producing shots of identical, if not better, quality.

We spoke briefly with ASC cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, who was the first DP to use a DSLR (Canon's 5D Mark II) for a major motion picture (Act of Valor), about the hack:

The Hollywood Reporter: Have you seen the footage?

Shane Hurlbut: Only only Vimeo. On a 15-inch screen everything looks good, but we're talking about blowing it up to a 60-foot screen. 

THR : What do you think of it?

Hurlbut: I think Magic Lantern has an amazing hack for all these cameras. The function they've built in, to have it function like a movie camera is amazing, but it can only go 25 seconds. For the person who's going out and shooting landscapes that's amazing. We're shooting 40-minute takes [Shane is currently shooting Need for Speed for Disney]. [A 25-second take] just doesn't exist in real movies. The hack, if it's manicured, the potential is incredible. 

THR: And your thoughts of the new Black Magic Cinema Camera?

Hurlbut: It's a good camera, but I wouldn't shoot a major motion picture with it. Look, for any of these cameras, the main thing you have to ask yourself, is it the right device to tell your story?


The folks over at have produced a side-by-side comparison of the hacked 5D Mark III and BMCC, you be the judge.

Wide-angle canyons shots courtesy of Luke Neumann. Be sure to select 1080p HD to view in full resolution.

Magic Lantern declined to comment as to when a finalized release version of the firmware will be available to the public.

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