Canon RAW Footage Using Magic Lantern Hack Trumps H.264 at High ISOs


For some filmmakers, the arrival of the Magic Lantern RAW video recording ability has become a godsend. With increased sharpness and a remarkable improvement in dynamic range, it’s quickly become a much talked about topic.

But how does the RAW footage fare when it comes to bumping up ISO in those low-light situations?

The comparison video above by photographer Dustin Tolman shows an impressive side-by-side comparison of Magic Lantern RAW footage from the Canon 5D Mark III compared to H.264 compression recording from the same camera. Tolman used a 70-200 f/2.8 lens at f/8 for these shots.

Tolman RAW H264 Footage

Here’s what Tolman says about his workflow:

First I converted the RAW files with ML’s raw2dng. Next I dragged the files into Photoshop which opened up Adobe Camera Raw. I selected the first image and used the auto white balance setting which got rid of the heavy magenta tone. Then I synchronized the additional files, and exported them as 16bit tiff files. First I tried to use QuickTime 7 to create an image sequence, but it rendered the video with incorrect color. So instead of QT I ended up using Final Cut Pro X to create an image sequence to a ProRes 422 HQ output.

Looking at the video he created, there’s a visible difference between the two shots, which are gradually stepped from from ISO 160 to ISO 12800. There is a visible halo surrounding the flame on the H.264 footage compared to the rather clean image produced using the RAW Magic Lantern hack. The RAW footage also boasts much deeper blacks, improving the overall quality of the footage.

(via Vimeo via planet5D)

  • Le Hoang

    But … but … my Nikon D800 has uncompressed HDMI …

  • mlieberman85

    I really hope they get it on the 7d. I don’t care about 1080, but 720 raw would be nice.

  • Mantis

    Honest question: How practical is RAW video in real life use? I would think that it would fill even a large SD card up rather quickly, if the buffer can even handle it.

  • John

    What am I not understanding? Producing a video out of individually shot and post-processed RAW-based frames is a step forward, exactly how? Other than a technical gimmick, which always draws a crowd of some sort, that is?

  • Pat David

    Wait. Was there ever a question that RAW vs. compressed h.264 output would be better?

    This is like pointing out that a camera RAW file has more data/better possible quality than a JPG from the same camera…

  • Dustin Tolman

    I think the focus on what the big deal about this has been misguided. Yes, RAW is better the a JPG, and no there was never a question about it. The big deal is that this is happening on a whole line of Canon DSLR’s and adding value without any extra $$$. There are constraints though as well. The workflow is WAY too arduous. I wouldn’t recommend using the hack for clients quite yet either. But the RAW capability gives those wanting to work on some personal projects the ability to have great great quality while pinching pennies.

  • Pat David

    Sure, no doubt about the benefit that ML unlocks. Is it really too arduous, though? A batch application of RAW processing parameters, and bringing the images into a timeline in your NLE – done! Sure is a great breakthrough for videographers.

  • Michael Medici

    RAW lets you manipulate the HDR with much more control and, thusly, have better color correction and control.

  • Michael Medici

    Going to have to agree with Pat…the “arduous” work is, at the very least, well worth it. ML just requires a little patience to get o know how to use it and then it’s easy. Plus, for some people spending 1k on a Canon DSLR, then running ML on it and shooting RAW that way (in my case, the 60D), is a better solution than buying a native RAW camera like the Blackmagic Production Camera for much more (“4k for $4k”).

  • Mantis

    Well yeah, I know this and usually shoot RAW still images, but have never shot RAW video. My question was how huge are RAW video files? If you can only record a few minutes per GB, is it really practical for most people?

  • Michael Medici

    For most people? Or for most filmmakers? It really depends on what your needs are. If you’re not a filmmaker and just shooting stuff on your Canon as a cache of video memories with your friends and family and don’t really care about the look of the film, then no, it’s not practical at all. If you’re a filmmaker, it’s a much better way to go. That being said, you do need massive SD cards if you plan on shooting RAW, especially in long sequences. Most DSLR filmmakers have access to a large stash of high capacity SD cards anyway, though, so it works out.

  • Andrew Deme

    I believe the D800 produces 8 bit uncompressed HDMI…..the Magic Lantern hack makes the current Nikon and Canon firmware look like kids toys, especially given the hardware is capable of so much more.

  • Rocco Saya

    When you take the raw video and encode it to say pro res 4444 or DnxHD you’ll “get it,” trust me. Night and day my friend.

  • Rocco Saya

    Agreed, everyone keeps saying how difficult it is to deal with the raw video. It isn’t difficult at all. What I’m hoping for is 30fps, crossing fingers, bc 24p is so hard to keep things smooth looking.

  • Cr0we

    Video IS a series of images. Every film you have watched in the past 15 years has been broken down into a series of image to color grade or add effects.

  • alett

    of course the blacks are different, the h264 has color processing IN CAMERA, and that includes gamma tweaks. that’s normal video processing, nothing new.

    The “halo” ( a flare caused by the lens, NOT the camera itself) is also in the raw files, it just don’t show up so much because of the different gamma & contrast setting used for processing the raw.

    The same flare can also be seen EVEN in the snapshots of the raw footage.

    We should really talk about overall improvements and usability here,
    not about quick conclusions based on misunderstandings and processing errors :)

    RAW has no “look” baked in it, you can make billions of different looks out of a single raw file…
    Only clipping points of the individual pixels are fixed, everything else is a matter of taste, e.g. sensitivity and noise levels :)

  • Paul Sulsky

    The Canon cameras are using CF cards which seem to be 3X – 5X more expensive on B&H’s site for a given manufacturer.