EDIT: Updated to reflect new options for profiles \ gamma settings. Slimraw Reference added - 10/2015
I personally feel Magic Lantern is the best thing to come to Canon DSLRs since sliced bread, especially it's ability to shoot in 14-bit RAW at 1080p HD. It's truly incredible that an open-source software "hack" can bring life to an aging camera line that allows it to outclass even some newly released cinema cameras, both in image quality and flexibility in post production. They can not shoot 4K, but Magic Lantern RAW can produce some incredible imagery that truly prove that expensive gear does not define a cinematographer. Unfortunately, anyone who has worked with the format can also attest to it's long winded post conversion workflow. This article aims to help you through that process, so you can capture images like the below (Just look at the detail in the fire!).
In a previous article, I detailed how you can work with Magic Lantern RAW quickly and easily, decoding almost directly to the high quality edit-friendly Apple ProRes format. My purpose for that experiment was both to see if I could figure out a "simple & reliable" workflow to use for ML RAW (mlv file format) and to see if it would hold up during post production processing. This follow up article aims to refine that workflow for more control over your color correction, at the expensive of processing time and storage space.
Here are a few things you can expect when shooting Magic Lantern RAW, not matter your post workflow:
1. You will need a massive amount of hard drive storage on set. Each hour will eat up around ~350-400GBs, depending on the exact resolution & if sound is recorded. Make sure you have a few HDDs to offload and back-up footage.
2. You SHOULD have a DIT on set who does nothing but offload cards and check the MLV files, if the production has the budget or you can wrangle someone to handle this very important task. Its not very glorious, but if you need to reshoot something, it is FAR easier knowing that fact a few minutes later instead of while watching dailies.
3. Each 64GB card will only hold between 11-22 min of footage, so you will be switching cards quite a bit. Think of it like you are shooting film, and you have to plan more carefully. It may be a limitation and CAN kill time, but not if you plan around it. Bring a least 3 1000x (or faster) CF cards and\or have an organized and efficient cycle of downloading the CF cards to avoid too much downtime.
4. While the camera could have the occasional "crash", no need to panic, as cycling the camera on\off or pulling the battery will almost always fix it. Some models (5D Mark II, III) are far more stable than others (7D, 6D). This article is written from the perspective of working with the least stable model, and I've had only a few issues.
I had done plenty of testing in preparation while testing the previous workflow, so it wasn't new of territory this time around. After going on a trip to Alaska and shooting a short nature film, I designed a higher end "feature" workflow using CinemaDNG as the "online" format instead of ProRes444 to retain the most information captured by the camera. The "Quick & Easy" workflow worked flawlessly, but I knew I was throwing out a lot of control in color correction by simply converting to ProRes. As this was a creative passion project, I wanted every bit of visual information I could capture. Here is that CinemaDNG workflow, and it happens to work for both Mac and PC, although you use a different program for the initial conversion. It's fairly straightforward, with many steps the same as before.
1. Copy your .RAW or .MLV Files from your CompactFlash card to two hard disks while on-set, one for back-up purposes. I suggest you establish a "cycle" of checking, dumping, and formatting the CompactFlash cards if you do not have a DIT, to avoid any data "accidents".
2. Review files on-set with MLRawViewer (Latest Version as of writing is 1.3.3). This software is great, as we can use it to review shots on a laptop on-set if needed for focus. This will also confirm if any files are corrupt or damaged, as the on-camera raw playback is still finicky.
3. Once back at your main editing computer, it's time to decode the proprietary RAW \ MLV files to standard CinemaDNG images sequences. If you are on Windows, I recommend you use Raw2CDNG, which happens to be free and open source. If you are on Mac OS X, I recommend RawMagic Lite \ RawMagic, which will do the same conversion to CinemaDNG. If you are ready to "wash your hands of it" and be done about now, I suggest you take a look at Pomfort Cliphouse for a quick way to finish your RAW files without going into additional applications, but it is another software package you would need to purchase.
4. Awesome! Now that you have successfully converted your proprietary .RAW or .MLV files to standard CinemaDNG sequences, we can get started color correcting or editing. Most computers aren't fast enough to edit CinemaDNG sequences in real-time, so we'll be using an an "online\offline" workflow. It sounds fancy and complicated, but it simply means you edit with lower quality "proxy" files that you "relink" back to the high-quality CinemaDNG files during color correction \ online finishing. More information about creating proxies files in DaVinci Resolve can be found here, as that's not the exact focus of this article.
5. If you have successfully converted all of your footage to CinemaDNG without any errors, you can likely delete the MLV \ RAW files, if you find yourself needing storage space.
6. Next, we interpret our footage as "LOG" so we have the most color range to work with. If processing in Resolve, you won't need a LUT or ACR profile. If you would like to process in Adobe After Effects, Download and install VisionLOG or purchase BMDFilmVC (recommended for Adobe Camera Raw workflow). This ACR profile will convert our footage to have a "logarithmic" (aka "LOG") gamma curve, which allows the use the entire dynamic range captured and give you a lot more "head room" to color grade, despite now looking "flat" and "washed out".
If your brain is spinning, it's totally understandable, but it will make sense shortly. This conversion also makes your footage compatible with a large variety of plug-ins, LUTs, film stock emulations, and any color grading options that supports a LOG style input, similar to cineon (how film was digitally captured when scanned), Arri LogC, and Red Log Film. Of course, you can also grade the footage completely manually by hand, with the enormous flexibility allowed using RAW CinemaDNG sequences.
6a. If working in DaVinci Resolve, make sure to go to the camera RAW tab in settings, select CinemaDNG, and change "Rec709 "to "BMDFilm". This is how we tell Resolve to interpret the CinemaDNG files as "Log", similar to the BMDFilm gamma curve Blackmagic cameras shoot in. Also, in newer versions of Resolve (11.1 and later), there is an additional option called "pre-tone curve". For best results, disable "pre-tone curve" unless matching to older material.
7. Color grade until satisfied in Adobe After Effects of DaVinci Resolve. You can color using tools like the 3-way CC, Curves, LUTs, plug-ins such as FilmConvert, etc.
8. Export back to your editing platform of choice using XML or AAF OR export single final master file using ProRes, DNxHD, GoPro Cineform, or your choice of high quality master format. I highly recommend you master & archive your projects using a high quality intermediate codec, and not a highly compressed format such as H.264 or MPEG-4. Export both if you must, but keep a HQ version. Perosnally, I am using GoPro Cineform HD or ProRes444 to archive my projects, as they retain almost all of the quality of the original.
9. Kick back and enjoy your footage.
This workflow might require a lengthy RAW/MLV to CinemaDNG conversion, but we end up with beautiful, uncompressed CinemaDNG sequences (which can be further compressed WITHOUT losing data with a utility like SlimRaw). Next, we color grade our CinemaDNG files in DaVinci Resolve or Adobe After Effects (via Adobe Camera Raw) using whatever methods you are most comfortable with, whether 3-way CC, Curves, LUTs, plug-ins such as FilmConvert, Magic Bullet, other built in tools, etc. My point is you can color grade however you choose, in either application. DaVinci Resolve is my personal choice for professional color grading, but After Effects is plenty powerful, requires far less of a computer, and especially now with mask tracking, is quite capable of being used to color correct (Just ask Stu Maschwitz....).
Shooting RAW provides numerous benefits, such as an amazing amount of precision in color correction and visual effects (such as green screen keying), while also working in several applications, so you aren't locked down to a specific color grading platform. The negative side of working with RAW is the additional storage and processing power required, as most RAW formats typically require a very fast computer in all areas (CPU, GPU, and HDDs) to debayer & playback raw media in real-time.
I hope you found this overview of the Magic Lantern Raw to CinemaDNG workflow useful. Please leave any comment or question below.
Refer to the the specific application's websites\ forums for more information, shortcuts, and updates to the software.
Disclaimer: Although I feel this should be assumed, I am in no way affiliated with any of the software packages I mention in my articles. Anything I mention about a product, service, or individual is completely my own opinion.