Using Magic Lantern’s minimum FPS mode for healthy time lapse projects

09 Jan Using Magic Lantern’s minimum FPS mode for healthy time lapse projects

As we all know, your typical DSLR is rated anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 shutter cycles. Since an average time-lapse project would traditionally consist of thousands of photos, it becomes pretty easy to wear out your camera quicker than any average user. This is where the “magic” happens with the magic lantern firmware and the minimum FPS module feature in video mode. FPS override allows you to capture a time lapse in movie mode which keeps the shutter open. This means that the camera thinks you’re taking a movie but the actual FPS of the movie is going to be much lower than the default 25 or 30 FPS. This will avoid the shutter being opened and closed dozens of time per minute and ultimately help you prolong your camera body’s shutter by a significant amount. Since it’s in movie mode it’s not even using the shutter at all! It’s using the sensor to take photos and saving those precious shutter cycles. After I learned about this feature, I had difficulty finding a step-by-step tutorial. I was a little overwhelmed and frustrated on learning the procedure for this module. Finally, after messing around with the settings, here’s how I got it working.

Step One:

The first step is to install the Magic Lantern firmware to your Canon DSLR. I’m not going to go into much depth here but it’s really as simple as copying and pasting to your SD card. I’ll be putting together a guide for this in the future but for now simple search “install Magic Lantern” into google more info on this. Here’s the official website to download the nightly builds [http://www.magiclantern.fm/]

Step Two:

Now we’ll get into the settings. Even on the most basic level we’ll be using the following settings and modules to get the time lapse going without any external hardware. No buying intervalometers, wonky DIY solutions, or high-end camera bodies are needed. Everything is done on the software level which is why magic lantern is such a drastic improvement over the vanilla Canon settings.

Settings to enable:

  • FPS Override – For timelapses you’ll generally want 3 frames-per-second (FPS) or less. Magic Lantern currently supports down to .2 FPS. Once you get that low however the shutter, exposure, and aperture settings get quite tricky. 3FPS is a good starting point.
  • Exposure Override (Expo. Override) – This will control your shutter, aperture, and ISO settings. For the appropriate color balances you’ll want to fine tune this. If you’re not comfortable adjusting these settings you can give it a try without this feature but you’ll get some flickering due to the camera choosing all these settings for you in movie mode.
  • Powersave in LiveView – Since we’re capturing a timelapse in movie mode, you’ll likely be recording for several hours at a time. Movie mode by default on Canon cameras keeps the screen on since it’s using LiveView mode. This module/setting in Magic Lantern will turn the screen off for you and keep battery use down to a minimum.

Step Three:

Here are the settings I used to get a good looking timelapse of the Philadelphia skyline. I used the amazon basics tripod and set up my Canon T2i (with the kit lens…for now) on the balcony of my apartment.

If you’re not familiar with Magic Lantern, you’ll have to click the erase button on your Canon camera body to get to the Magic Lantern settings.

Movie Tab:

This is the most vital step. Enable FPS override and choose your desired FPS. 3FPS will get you about 2 minutes of footage per hour. Obviously you can condense this after you shoot in programs like Adobe After Effects. Under advance settings I used the Low Jello mode to get fluid motion during the day time. If you’re shooting and want the exposure to be constant without flickering, I would also suggest you enable Constant exposure. This can cause issues with day-to-night transitions (as I learned) however so be weary of that and test to see if this feature will help you. At night I would suggest the low-light setting in place of Low Jello.  You can go down to .2 FPS to reduce file usage but you will definitely have to fine tune the shutter with exposure override.

Exposure Tab:

This tab contains the settings which are vital to how your timelapse is going to look in terms of brightness, focus, shutter speeds, and hence light-trails/motion blue. If you keep Expo. Override OFF, then the camera will use automatic settings like it always does when filming video on a Canon body. If you enable exposure override however, you’re in manual mode IN movie mode. Pretty cool right? Here you can define your ISO, shutter, aperture, and white balance. For a distant skyline, I liked a high aperture so I set it to 14. I had difficulty choosing a manual focus shutter so I left that at default which seemed to work well at about 1/5. You can customize this to your preference and it’ll reflect in your LiveView.

Prefs Tab:

If you want to shoot for more than an hour than battery life is going to become a concern. Fortunately, the geniuses at Magic Lantern have a setting to turn off the screen even when filming in Movie Mode. This allowed me to shoot for about 2 hours before battery life got pretty low (I wasn’t fully charged btw). I set it to turn off the LCD after 30 secs when on standby and while recording. This is pretty much something you have to set since the LCD kills the battery.

Set your MANUAL focus:

To avoid the auto-focus from going crazy on clouds, cars, whatever you’re going to want your lens in manual focus. I usually set the focus to infinity for distant horizon timelapses but you may choose otherwise. Focus is all up to you on this; it doesn’t affect Magic Lantern’s FPS override feature.

IMG_20160109_160752 IMG_20160109_160744 IMG_20160109_160735 IMG_20160109_160725 IMG_20160109_160917 IMG_20160109_160758

You’re ready! Simply push the LiveView/Record button on your camera body and the camera will do all the work. Your timelapse will be recorded as a movie and you can than start post-editing in your favorite video editing software.  Here’s what you can come out with.


Have any questions? Like this review? Send me a message at jim@jimwashkau.com

6 Comments
  • Sean Caron
    Posted at 15:33h, 03 September

    How in the hell are you able to pan like that… for the life of me I can’t figure that out without spending thousands!

  • Sean Caron
    Posted at 15:34h, 03 September

    I’m worried about installing magic lantern. Is there any risk to the camera and does it void warranties

  • Jim
    Posted at 16:35h, 03 September

    You don’t need any equipment! Just shoot one area and in After Effects enlarge the image and use the position to pan from right to left (or opposite) over time.

  • Jim
    Posted at 16:36h, 03 September

    Shouldn’t void any warranties. The firmware runs off the SD card so if you simply remove the SD card it will go back to stock firmware.

  • Sean Caron
    Posted at 21:04h, 03 September

    So I have a T5i which version of magic lantern should I use? What’s the safest place to download it? I have a scheduled shoot of a hot air balloon event in which there is a pre dawn glow show…. any suggestions for shooting this as far as settings go… just curious and thank you!

  • Jim
    Posted at 15:00h, 06 September

    @Sean Caron – T5i is the 700D. Select that here to download http://builds.magiclantern.fm/#/

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