Canon 60D for New Videographers (Part 2)

One project behind me and I was prepared to invest more into the DSLR as a video camera.

Magic Lantern

My first next step was to install Magic Lantern. It’s an incredible open source firmware written by some enterprising filmmakers that adds many useful video and photo features to the Canon 60D. I wish I had installed it earlier!

I was initially reluctant to because I was in the middle of the project and didn’t want to “brick” my camera. As it turns out, there was little or no risk to installing ML on the 60D. This software is solid and it does not actually modify the camera’s firmware.

You can download the software from here:

http://magiclantern.wikia.com/wiki/Unified

A couple orientation tips about Magic Lantern:

  • The Canon 60D uses the Unified version of Magic Lantern with the full feature set. Cameras like the 7D and Mark II have partial features.
  • Read the first-time installation guide thoroughly.
  • Remember to upgrade your Canon firmware using the link supplied.
  • What isn’t clearly to me is “How to Launch the Firmware Update” process. For the Canon 60D it’s simply a matter of setting the dial to “P” and then going into the menu and selecting the “Firmware Ver….” and clicking “OK”
  • The Magic Lantern software is stored on the SDHD card and thus you have to load Magic Lantern on every card and do the same firmware upgrade for EVERY card.
  • Don’t pull out the card too quickly as sometimes this will cause the Canon 60D to not boot. Pull out the battery and put it back in.

Once you get it installed though, be prepared to explore the whole world of options that ML provides you. Like any new gadget or software, there’s only one really fun way to learn it and that is to go through every item in the menu and see what it does.

Oh in case you didn’t already figure it out, use the trash button to access the ML menu.

The most useful features I have found are the following:

Histograms
This gives you a clear indication of the brightness and contrast of your scene. On a bright sunny day when you can barely see the LCD screen, this is really, really helpful. Also, I’m always amazed when my eyes tell me that hey this scene is not too dark, but the histogram says otherwise.

Focus Peaking
The little dots that show sharp edges can be pretty helpful again when the small screen makes it hard to see focus. I’ve actually stopped using this feature though because I find it distracting and not as accurate as I would like. Better to use the next feature.

Magic Zoom
Oh yes. It’s great to be able to hit that (+) button and get a window that zooms in on the image while you are recording. It makes it easier to check focus. I wish I can change what it zooms in on, but it’s a great improvement nevertheless. Also, you can set it so that it triggers the zoom window when you touch the focus wheel.

Audio Levels
While you still can’t monitor the audio with headphones, it is a relief to be able to see the bouncy bars showing that yes indeed you are getting audio at good levels. You still don’t know if it’s good audio, but at least you know you’re getting something.

Zebras
The zebras tell you clearly what part of the image is overexposed or underexposed. Hugely useful for protecting your highlights or highlighting really dark areas. Loved having it on my video camera. Great to have it here too.

Intervalometer
Even though I had bought a cheap $15 intervalometer for the 60D and it worked great. Having an intervalometer built into the 60D is much more useful since it cuts down on the amount of gear you need on you. Or even if you just happen to only have the camera, it’s a useful feature.

Lens

Coming from a fixed lens video camera, it was a whole new world to explore different types of lens. I wasn’t and am still not prepared to go into the world of adapters, so I stuck with investigating Canon EF-S/EF lens. I will one day look at all the innumerable options like Zeiss lens, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, and what the heck is that PL mount for anyway?

So what have I found useful for me thus far for the Canon 60D for shooting documentaries? Well I can basically highlight three that I know and love:

Canon EF-S 17 – 55mm 2.8
This lens is super useful. First off, the constant 2.8 aperture means that when I zoom it doesn’t suddenly get darker because the aperture has shrunk. And 2.8 is much better for low light than the typical 4.0 on cheaper zooms. Second the range 17 – 55 covers a really useful range for video work. It’s not enough for events where you need to sit really far back (a 70 – 200 mm is much better for that) but 80% of the time it’s great for documentary work. Thirdly the lens stabilizer is really good. Better than my JVC GY-HM100U. And for these DSLR handheld, it’s a necessity.

What I don’t like about this lens though is that the zoom is not as smooth as the L-series lens, and the focus ring is really sensitive and even a little bit loose. I can live with it though.

Tokina 11-16 mm 2.8
I never knew what the deal was with wide angle until I got to take it out and shoot beautiful vistas and crowded indoor parties. For a few weeks, this was the only lens I shot with… until I realized that up close you get a lot of distortion. Right… that’s the thing with wide angle. I really don’t have a lot of complaints about this lens.

Rokinon 35mm 1.4
This lens is really nice for the price which is half that of the equivalent Canon lens. With a 1.4 aperture you get a nice shallow depth of field. The 35 mm is also like a portrait lens on a full frame sensor which most accurately represents what an eye can see. I really love the focus ring. It’s smooth and has a good resistance to it. The drawback (and feature) is that the aperture is set manually so the camera can’t control it and doesn’t know what the aperture is. However, if you get the aperture ring “de-clicked” you get a smooth aperture control which can be useful for controlling exposure while shooting.

With these three lens I feel comfortable handling most shoots. I might need to rent a longer lens or a macro lens, but I don’t feel I need to own them… so far.

 

 

 

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    Chris Hsiung
    chris@hiddenstory.ca
    403-660-2187