Canon 5D Mk II Hacked into Extraordinary, Cinema-Quality 1080p HD Camcorder
Steve Leibson - September 8, 2009
Some hacks like this one just blow me completely away. Imagine taking a really closed embedded product like the Canon 5D Mk II dSLR and hacking its HD video-recording abilities to vastly improve the camera’s attractiveness in pro filmmaking. That’s what the Magic Lantern group has done. Because the main housekeeping CPU in the Canon 5D Mk II is an ARM processor, with a standard and well-understood instruction set, hackers could reverse engineer and then modify the camera’s central OS, apparently named DryOS. The ringleader of this group appears to be Trammell Hudson, who claims credit for and demos the Magic Lantern hack in this video:
If you read the credits on the Magic Lantern Wiki page, you’ll find that the efforts of this community are based on the pioneering work done by the developers of CHDK, a much earlier project to reverse engineer the OS in Canon’s extensive line of point-and-shoot PowerShot digicams. Apparently, the CHDK crew used an LED to blink out the entire OS from a PowerShot camera one bit at a time. Incredible, no?
Back to the 5D. The reason for hacking this camera is that the Canon 5D is a 35mm, full-frame dSLR body that sells for around $2700 while real HD video cameras designed for pro use can cost $150K or more without a lens. The Canon 5D’s dynamic range and exposure latitude are said to be very close to HD video cameras costing one or two orders of magnitude more and the 5D’s low-light abilities are untouchable. You can mount any Canon EF lens on this body, and that’s a lot of different lenses. You can also mount Nikon, Leica, Zeiss, and a lot of other lenses on this camera with EF adapters.
In short, the Canon 5D dSLR makes a heckuva HD camcorder, if you can live with some of its faults. Pro filmmakers can’t, hence the Magic Lantern project.
Here’s what the Magic Lantern hacks add to the Canon 5D:
- On-screen audio meters
- Manual gain control with no AGC
- Zebra stripes (video peaking)
- Custom crop marks for 16:9, 2.35:1, 4:3 and any other format
- Control of focus and bracketing
In addition, the Magic Lantern project has created an open, GPL framework to open the system up for additional development.
Now, just imagine where we might be today if Canon had developed the 5D as an open system in the first place.
(Thanks to Dave Jones for opening my eyes to this terrific project.)
Share your thoughts.
Currently no items