Here at SMS, our video production team is always researching and working within our means to use the best gear in our price range to produce stunning visual products. This means reading countless reviews, product specs, rumors, and other people's blogs and opinions on what is the best gear. The following are my thoughts on a recent journey we took as we sought to move forward...
Allow me to nerd out on gear talk for a second. Canon announced the 5D Mark IV a few weeks back and the internet lost its mind. This was one of the most highly anticipated announcements for professional, independent producers and photographers. Let's be honest, video gear junkies were waiting for Canon to reclaim its title from the Sony a7s ii as the leader in the small form, cinema quality camera.
What About The 5D Mark IV?
Well, Canon gave us 4k (finally), and some really exciting photography features, but they have very clearly told us that the 5D is not a cinematographer's camera. By choosing to leave out a log profile, improved codec, and crippling the resolution and frame-rate features, Canon boldly reminds us what they've always known: the 5D line is for photographers that occasionally need to get a video clip. Needless to say, I put the 5D Mark III up for sale and prepared to jump ship to Sony. We have a C100 Mark II, which is an amazing cinematic camcorder and has become our standard here, but there are just times that I long for a full frame image in a small form factor.
In one last desperate attempt to revive this once glorious camera, I began researching an ancient technique, once said to have given immense power and miraculous new life to the 5D: Magic Lantern. If you don't know, Magic Lantern is a free program that piggy-backs off the firmware in your camera and unlocks features Canon has not offered on the camera, but the camera is capable of doing. I scoured Youtube and Vimeo for every test footage, commercial, and short film I could find and was at once lost in the seemingly unreal quality. Beautiful and un-graded cinematic travel films, moody short films, enhanced low-light ability, and one impressive match-up against the Red Scarlet.
I bought the biggest CF card I could afford and immediately began my own tests.
Magic Lantern RAW
Before we begin, please keep in mind you are shooting video in 14-bit raw, files are huge and your workflow will be more complicated.
If you know you can't work with that, then don't. However, the pay-off is far greater than the demand here. I want to reference again that Red Scarlet comparison.
This is unreal, compared to a $15,000 (plus) cinema camera, the 5D footage is comparable. So you now have a larger sensor, in a smaller form factor that doesn't demand expensive storage and supporting gear. Not to mention the wave of people selling their 5D Mark IIIs for less than half their original retail (to buy the Mark IV, I mean 4k right?). Oh, and 4k? Well Adobe now has this amazing thing built into After Effects for detail preserving upscale. It's so good. Now you're talking raw, full-frame, 4k video at less than $2k.
Not convinced? Well, that's not really my job, but I might keep trying. Let's look at some of my test footage.
Outdoor Dynamic Range Test
This was the first thing I shot upon installing Magic Lantern. If you couldn't tell, it's a home video with my wife and daughter. Say hi!
Fortunately, this was a great outdoor, dynamic range test. The final clip from inside the porch has great detail preserved in both the highlights outside and the darks inside, all of this without having the HDR feature turned on!
Also, my first impression was amazement by the color detail. The image is so rich with color (I mean, 14 bit, ya know!).
After seeing some big potential in a low-light example I saw, I decided to test the limits here. Most of these shots were at 4000 ISO, which on the 5D Mark III is normally too much. I converted the .mlvs (for Magic Lantern Video) into DNGs using MlRawViewer and edited natively inside of Premiere Pro. The footage was by no means easy to edit, I always find videos shot in high ISOs tend to hue yellow and when corrected do weird things to skin tones and lights (even the a7s). Eventually I got it balanced as best I could using Lumetri.
The final clips are noisy, but not much. A little denoiser cleans this up very easily. I added grain to break up that noise and make it feel more organic.
Cinematic Test in S-Log
After reading about this workflow, I wanted to give it a try, and I was eager to do more than home video tests, so I shot myself working here in a more....cinematic way. The final raw clips were converted to ProRes 4444 .movs (which are much less data intensive than DNG) and converted them to S-Log to see how a different gamma curve would handle.
Side-by-Side with the C100 Mark II
Here is my first client work using Magic Lantern. I'll start by saying I had no issues (except large files, which was expected). Again I converted this to a ProRes 4444 .mov file in MlRawViewer, this time using a Rec709 gamma curve. The 5D footage is straight out of the conversion, the C100 Mark II footage was shot using Wide DR profile and a Ninja II for 422 ProRes capture, and later corrected to match color and contrast in the 5D.
The first notable thing to me is that the detail of the footage stands up to the C100 (which is a 4k image down-scaled in camera). This was one of my biggest complaints when I had previously used these two cameras together, the 5D always looked soft and plasticy. The next noticable thing to me is how much better the 5D is holding up in color depth and black detail. I'm just continually blown away by the change Magic Lantern has made on this camera.
We'll be getting to some workflow walk-throughs and other videos on using Magic Lantern RAW on client shoots in the future.
Should I buy a 5D Mark III?
If you have a Mark II or III, give this a try before selling everything you can to buy a 4k version of the same camera. There are so many great professional workflows out there already and Magic Lantern has developed this so tightly that your risk is near zero. It's your decision ultimately, but you know where I stand.