Continuously recording DSLR CAMERA? Sony & Canon firmware hack.

Tips & Tricks

Most DSLRs have a maximum video recording time of 30min. Why? How can you bypass that 'feature'? Some answers and tricks in this article.

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sinewave produces a lot of long form music video shows, mainly for DanceTelevision. These filming environments can be quite challenging, particularly due to low light conditions.

It is important to use reliable continuously recording cameras at multiple fixed positions to produce the 'base' video material for your edits.

Action cameras like the GoPro or Sony models are designed and built for 'sport' and can record video non-stop, until the battery dies or the card is full (which can be very long, even n 4k, when plugged to a power bank or AC and with a 256GB mSD). They do an amazing job in great-to-medium light conditions, but tend to have grain in low lights, visibly impacting the quality of your footage, and therefore of your video.

DSLR cameras do a much better job already in low light conditions, but they are undoubtedly bulkier and heavier. You may have also encountered the issue of a video recording mode limited to 30min per take (more on this later). Definitely more of a hassle for the type of job described above with these limitations.
However, the Sony alpha series debuting in 2013 brought to the market a full-frame censor mirrorless camera with an impressive ISO range that quickly became a game changer and reference camera for many night-life video producers. Its light weight and image performance, combined with a wide aperture lens could now seemingly see better than the human eye in the dark!

Action Cam vs DSLR vs Mirrorless

There is still the capped record time issue though. But why this limitation? You may think this is related to hardware performances, overheating, saved file size limit.... well, none of these are true. That is purely tax, marketing and sales related. Indeed, DSLRs are primarily seen as prosumer photo cameras, not professional video equipment, despite their (pretty awesome) performances on the latter. Some EU taxes consider 30min recording being the threshold to differentiate photo and video cameras, with higher taxes on the latter. And both Canon and Sony have product series dedicated to video recording: camcorders (Canon Legria, Sony AX) and cinema cameras (Canon C, Sony PMW). Today, an even merely unnoticeable difference in quality but several hundred euros price difference between the two categories make this record time limitation probably the most rational reason to upgrade from your DSLR to a dedicated video camera. Or a (sometimes) cheaper solution, but not really more convenient, would be to record your video on an external recorder via HDMI, like the Atomos Ninja for example.

Luckily, there's a way to "unlock" most Canon and Sony DSLRs' video potential, thanks to a firmware update/hack. Warning! These firmwares are not official and  may harm your gear and its warranty if installed. At your own risks! 

Magic Lantern: Your fix for Canon, working on most low-end and mid-range Canon DSLRs, from 1100D to 5D Mark III.

Open Memories: Your fix for Sony mirrorless and point and shoot cameras. Until 2017 models, it is not yet available for the latest Sony a7iii! (Full list of devices)

Follow carefully the installation instructions... and there you go! Your DSLR will record without interruption.

Want to maximise your recording time? Just use a dummy battery that you can plug directly on AC or a power bank, with a big size SD card, you can be set for the all night! 

Today we are still using this trick on our Sony a7si and a7sii, on fixed B camera positioned on stage or on the DJ booth. Our A cams for these types of shoot have upgraded to the latest Sony a7iii that do not yet have a similar hack! It is less of an issue since this camera is always operated and can be restarted manually quite easily every 30min.

When will that hack be released for the a7iii though? We don't know. But the limitation could be lifted prior to it, following a change in the tax legislation dictated by the Information Technology Agreement.


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