I doubt there’s a person who hasn’t seen announcements here and there (on this blog or otherwise) about new firmware for cameras and lenses being released. Some of the most recent updates, for example, are to the Sony α6400 (update here), Olympus OM-D E-M1 II (“download your new camera” here!) and E-M1X (update here), and Panasonic lenses including the Leica 200mm (update here), S-series 24-105mm (update here), and S-series 70-200mm (update here).
I am equally confident that a large number of those aware that the updates exist persist in using version 1.0 nevertheless. I’ll be honest: I know I’m not completely up to date on one of my daily drivers! So join me, won’t you? This week, let’s all make sure we’re getting the best photographic experience available by making sure each piece of gear has the latest & greatest installed—and then make it more of a priority in the future!
What it is
Firmware is programming intrinsically bound to a device’s hardware (as opposed to software, which can be installed or uninstalled at will). On a computer, it’s what allows you to get into the BIOS menu even when your hard drive is toast. On devices which allow less third-party alteration, such as cameras or lenses, the firmware often includes the whole operating system which runs the device.
Why it matters
Fortunately, updates are not as security-critical on imaging gear as they are on smartphones or computers. That being said, you’re really cheating yourself if you never update. Manufacturers work hard to make sure that any bugs that might have surfaced after release are corrected, maintain compatibility with new technology incorporated in lenses and other accessories, and even add new capabilities. The more people take advantage of these updates, the more inclined they will be to keep making them! (And, conversely, the fewer that do, the less-inclined they will be to update, so don’t ruin it for everyone!) Here’s a little anecdote to drive the point home.
One of the greatest experiences I’ve enjoyed on the tech side of photography was installing the first major update to my Sony NEX-5. Back at the dawn of this decade, mirrorless cameras were marketed towards a decidedly more amateur market than might be suggested by the number of mirrorless bodies with full-frame (and larger!) sensors, incredible video, fast AF, and so on, but advanced amateurs and professionals were attracted early on nonetheless. As a traveler at heart, I had been attracted by the relatively high capability to size ratio of the camera, and I was willing to accept the sacrifice of convenient manual control to get it, at least at first. After a few months of digging through menus every time I wanted to change the ISO or white balance, I wasn’t so sure. Fortunately for me, someone on the R&D team noticed the way the market was developing, and a wholesale redevelopment of the camera’s interface was unleashed on the market. I vividly remember VoIPing my dad from a cramped room in Regensburg, rhapsodizing about how every quirk which had ever bothered me had been improved. Remember, this was a free update! Had I simply remained too busy to do it, I would have lost much more time to the old system than I spent plugging in my camera and running an updater.
How to do it
The specific process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the basic process remains the same:
- Find out what the latest version available is. This handy page makes it really easy! You can find the page quickly with the link in the menu bar, above.
- Check your camera to see what version you’re running. This is usually listed towards the end of your settings menu, with things like the time/date, brightness, wireless settings, and so on.
- If #2 gives you a smaller version than #1, download the update and run it, either from your computer via an interface cable or on the gear itself from a memory card.
Bada-bing, bada-boom, just like that! Manufacturer-specific version lists are available at the links listed below, alphabetically. Click on the version number for your camera and you’ll be directly to a page with the download link and instructions. As always, you can stop in at any of our locations or leave a comment below for one-on-one assistance, should you require it.
Though less common than body updates, lenses can be updated, too. This is especially important for exclusively optical manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma, who must maintain compatibility with the other companies’ newest bodies. Be sure to check their versions, too!