10 Magic Lantern features for photographers

Since the release of stable Magic Lantern builds, it has proven itself to be an invaluable tool for filmmakers using Canon DSLR cameras for video work. It adds dozens of useful features for everyone shooting video, like cropmarks, zebras, focus peaking and, especially for the 5DmkIII, amazing 1080p 14-bit RAW video.

But what about photography? Magic Lantern can be a powerful addon even for people doing mostly or exclusively photography work with their cameras. You can use most of the video features for photography aswell, but there a few lesser known functionalities especially useful for photographers. Here's a list of 10 of them: 

  1. RAW RGB Histogram with ETTR hint : Canon cameras offer an histogram tool while shooting in LiveView or reviewing images, but that is only referred to the current image displayed or the processed JPEG, not the RAW file. This feature also offers the option to display an ETTR hint indicator, or a dynamic range indicator, which shows the available dynamic range in the RAW picture.
    This option can be activated in the "Overlay" sub-menu in the Magic Lantern menu.
  2. Level indicator : this is not a feature missing from the default Canon system, but compared to the default one, it's much less obtrusive. It's just two lines and a orientation indicator on the top left, but it's equally effective as the default one, without having a black circle in the middle of LivewView.
    This option can be activated in the "Overlay" sub-menu in the Magic Lantern menu.
  3. Advanced Bracket : this might be a useful feature of everyone shooting high-dynamic-range landscape or interior architecture photography with challenging light and bright windows. Advanced Bracket extends the basic 3-exposure bracketing up to 12-exposure bracketing, while also allowing to be customized with specific EV increments, ISO shifting, number of frame and your preferred sequence to fit your workflow.
    This option can be activated and customized in the "Shoot" sub-menu.
  4. Bulb Timer : forgot your remote shutter release or don't want to carry one around? This feature allows you to shoot photos with a specific shutter speed up to 8 hours.
  5. Automatic Mirror Lockup : this is a small but neat usability feature. When turned on, the camera will automatically activate Mirror Lockup to reduce vibration whenever a self-timer is activated. If, for example, you are switching between landscape shooting with a tripod (where Mirror Lockup can be useful) and normal handheld shooting, you only have switch off the timer, instead of having to manually disable the Mirror Lockup. When this option it's active, it shows a "MLU" text above the self-timer icon.
    This feature can be activated in the "Shoot" sub-menu.
  6. Trap Focus : this feature allows the camera to automatically shoot a picture when the active focus point detects successfull focus. This feature It can either be continuously active or whenever you're holding the AF button down. This feature can be useful if you're shooting manual focus lenses and you trust the camera focus sensors.
    Trap Focus can be activated in the "Focus" sub-menu.
  7. Rack Focus : focus stacking is a great technique to achieve great depth of field by stacking more images taken at slightly different focus points. It can be manually done by moving the focus after every picture, but this feature can automate the process. You can set the number of pictures to be taken in front and behind the current focus point and automatically run the focus stack. It's also possible to set a custom delay after every picture, to allow your flashes to recycle.
    Rack Focus can be activated in the "Focus" sub-menu.
  8. Image review tweaks : in this menu you can activate some tweak for the image review mode. While reviewing images, you can set up a trigger key to have a split-view to compare two images, or to quickly adjust the exposure of the picture displayed (it won't affect the RAW or the JPEG shot, only the preview displayed).
    This option can be customized in the "Prefs" sub-menu.
  9. Warning for bad settings : this feature might save you from frustration of accidentally completing a whole shoot in small JPEG format, or realizing too late that your autofocus was disabled and you ended up with slightly-out-of-focus pictures. You can set a custom alarm or popup to appear, whenever a specific settings is not set how you want it to be. You can have, for example, a popup to appear if your camera is not set to RAW quality, or if your autofocus is disabled.
    You can customize this options in the "Prefs" sub-menu.
  10. Dual ISO : this is probably the most interesting feature among the Magic Lantern modules for photographers. This allows for the sensor to sample each image at two differents ISO (that you can customize), allowing for greater dynamic range in a single file, and dark areas cleaner from noise. I'd suggest following a1ex's tutorial over at Magic Lantern forum to find out how to use it and postprocess images.

Magic Lantern is free and can be downloded from the official website. It can be installed on almost every Canon DSLR camera, even on the 8-year old 50D and the mirrorless EOS-M. 

If you're using a Canon 400D, there's a specific firmware hack for it, 400Plus, which extends the basic functionality, and supports some of the features listed here.

If you are using a Canon compact camera, you're not out of luck! It might support the Canon Hack Development Kit, which adds a lot of functionalities to the whole range of Canon compact cameras, similarly as Magic Lantern.