If you haven’t heard of Magic Lantern before, it is a firmware hack for Canon DSLR cameras that provides many features and enhancements not provided by Canon.
Below is a short list of features that make Magic Lantern an invaluable tool, specifically for landscape photography:
Magic Lantern allows you to create your own digital overlays for live view. What this does is allow you to frame your compositions in different aspect rations beyond the typical 3:2 ratio. Some people argue this doesn’t matter, that you can always crop after the fact. But the truth is, having an overlay which hides the parts of the frame that you don’t want in the end result, allows you to visualize the scene in a different way, and as a result you end up creating a much different composition.
When you use an overlay, your camera still stores the original 3:2 file so you must remember which images you shot using the overlay. This generally isn’t hard to do though, because it is usually easy to notice which 3:2 images look off, reminding you that you might have shot it using an overlay such as 1:1.
Internal Bulb Timer
Not sure about you, but I find it ridiculous that almost all camera manufacturers require you to buy a remote in order to do an exposure longer than 30 seconds. Who wants to pull another piece of hardware out of the bag when trying to make an image? Why not just turn on the bulb timer via the Magic Lantern menu, set the duration, and press the shutter to start it!
Many new cameras like the Sony A7R have focus peaking already built-in, but for Canon users this has been something to envy. With Magic Lantern you can turn on focus peaking which will give you a visual guide to what part of the frame is in focus. Where it really comes in handy for landscape photography is for shooters using tilt-shift lenses to control depth-of-field. Using focus peaking and live view allow you to set your initial focus point on your foreground object, and then as you tilt your lens to bring the background into focus, focus peaking will tell you when everything is in focus.
It’s always good practice to zoom in and double check the focus points, because focus peaking is not 100% accurate.
Custom Live View Displays
Magic Lantern allows you to setup multiple live view displays that can easily be toggled through with the press of one button. This is handy, because sometimes you might want to have different options available on the screen at different times. For example, my 3 layouts are as follows:
a. Basic – No histagram, no overlays, no focus peaking.
b. Advanced – Full histogram, focus peaking turned on, but no overlays.
c. Advanced + Overlay – Full histogram, focus peaking turned on, and 1:1 overlay.
Increased Dynamic Range
For a very detailed explanation of how this works from Magic Lantern developer Alex (a1ex), download the pdf here.