Magic Lantern brings in-camera digital negative RAW files to Canon DSLRs

Canon 5D Mark III
Magic Lantern, the company behind the open-source firmware mods for Canon EOS cameras, showed off a potential game-changer. With a piece of “proof-of-concept” code posted to its forums, Magic Lantern found a way to enable the shooting of in-camera digital negative (DNG) RAW files.

Compared to the proprietary RAW formats used by camera manufacturers (like Canon’s CR2), Adobe’s open DNG format is smaller and easier to work with in programs like Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Furthermore, Petapixel speculates that Magic Lantern could enable 24p DNG RAW video in cameras with powerful enough processors, like the EOS 5D Mark III, although the current state of the tech is geared for still photos only.

Magic Lantern user “a1ex” created the code by looking at how Canon processes its own RAW files. With a bit of technical wizardry, it was discovered that the output file could be changed to a completely lossless, 14-bit DNG file which would be accurately read by Adobe’s dng_validate tool.

Adobe released the DNG format back in 2004 in hopes to standardize and democratize how digital cameras save image files. However, the format never really caught on with mainstream camera manufacturers. While a few companies, like Leica and Pentax (now part of Ricoh), support in-camera DNG natively, the most popular brands  — including Canon, Nikon, and Sony — preferred to stick to their own formats.

While the majority of photographers will likely continue to stick with Canon’s default firmware and CR2 RAW files, those already in the practice of converting to DNG for post production and archiving will benefit from having the option to shoot it in-camera. There is currently no timeline for when this code will make it into a final version of Magic Lantern firmware and, as always, users who choose to install third-party firmware do so at their own risk.

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