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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Misinformation: Sensor Tech

The RAW deal with hot-rodding your camera

Magic Lantern isn't the only game in town, either. The 400plus firmware is available for adding a variety of much more professional photography enhancements to the Canon XTi DSLR. The remarkable CHDK (Canon Hack Development Kit) firmware installs professional features on a large selection of Canon point-and-shoot cameras like RAW capture, manual controls, high-speed photography and focus bracketing while also adding unique features like motion-detection capture, time-lapse and much more. One of the nice things about the CHDK firmware is that, unlike the Magic Lantern hacks, it disappears once the SD card has been removed from the camera so it won't void your warranty.

Though the results aren't nearly as enticing, Nikon is starting to feel some of the hacking love, as well. NTools patches are available for changing or removing the time restriction on clips in the D3100, D5100 and D7000. On the D5100, you also can turn off NEF RAW file compression or make it lossless when shooting stills. While there haven't been any features unlocked, the Nikon J and V series of mirrorless models also have been accessed, as have the D4, D3200 and D800/800E. Panasonic G/GF/GH/GX1-series users can look at the PTool firmware additions for advantages like elimination of the 30-minute time limit on video files and higher data rates of up to 176 Mbps in the GH-2, which results in much better color fidelity and sharper details, thanks to less compression during the processing pipeline. Typical AVCHD compression yields compressed data streams of 25 Mbps, and this is why "Clean HDMI Out" is often the holy grail of DSLR filmmakers looking for a way to retrieve captured video files with as much imaging quality as possible. (Currently, clean output via HDMI requires a dedicated video recorder for the massive files that are produced.)

Ironically, naysayers are up in arms about these discovered functionalities. Conspiracists claim that the engineers behind the designs of these cameras should be fully aware as to capabilities, and they imply that manufacturers must be purposely restricting features in order to better market their overall camera lineups while avoiding competition with their own higher-end dedicated video camcorders. But there's often a difference in what a camera can do and what that entails for the rest of the mechanics and even the level of service at the manufacturer. It's true that these processes can eke out better video and still performance from your camera, but in the long run, these uncovered features also can cause damage to circuitries and parts through the excessive heat produced by RAW capture of large files for the sustained lengths of time it takes to capture long clips of video.

Potential damage to components isn't just your problem, either. Even when charging outside the warranty, these companies must use limited resources to address and service returned equipment, which could turn into an overwhelming flood when third-party software and equipment are at fault. Another consideration is that large bit-rate video files consume a lot of memory. Working with cheaper cards can lead to dropped frames or corrupted data, and it's likely that aiming for the sweet spot of 8-bit compression gave manufacturers a way to ensure that their cameras weren't blamed for any errors by users. RAW video and even newer or professional codecs also can cause compatibility issues with the majority of displays and editing systems for nonprofessionals. In fact, you can't even preview hacked RAW video files on your camera or computer until they have been transcoded to something readable. For users looking for a professional-grade video camera at roughly a tenth of the price of a cinema camera like the RED or ARRI systems, however, these advantages can't be beat despite the inherent dangers.


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