As January comes to a close, most of the flashier projects started in conjunction with the new year are either completed or settled into a comfortable groove, gliding toward the goal. Now is probably the best time to shift some of your attention to less glamorous, maintenance-type projects. The annual cycle is as good a reminder as any!
When was the last time you changed your passwords, for example? (Have you ever changed your passwords?) Do you need new filters in your fridge, car, HVAC system, and so on? Most saliently, have you checked to see whether your camera gear is running the latest firmware recently?
Most phones, tablets, and computers make firmware updates almost impossible to miss, thanks to their constant contact with the internet. Cameras, lenses, and other offline gear does not have such a luxury—though many manufacturers’ companion apps will notify you of new firmware releases—so it’s important to take some time every so often to make sure you’re up to date. Read on for what makes firmware updates so great (short version: upgrades for free), but first…
How to update your firmware
- Gather your gear so you can find out what version you already have. Note that camera bodies, lenses, microphones and more may all need updates once in a while, but bodies are the most commonly updated.
- Check the version on each piece of gear. An informational section in your camera’s menu (look for “Info,” “Version,” etc.) should tell you the version number for the body and attached lens. Other accessories may need to be attached to the computer.
- Compare the version already installed with the latest version available on the manufacturer’s support page for that product. We keep a handy list of all of the camera bodies we sell (and some we used to sell) for your convenience: click here to see that list. (It’s also in the menu bar, above, for your future use.)
- If your version is lower, congratulations! You get a free upgrade. Each manufacturer uses a slightly different update process, but for the most part, you can just download the utility on the manufacturer support page for your product, run it, and (as the camera wearing the handsome Peak Design Clutch hand strap in the image above indicates) “follow computer instructions.”
Of course, if you have any problems or just need a little emotional support from someone who’s done this before, you’re welcome to contact me or visit your local Mike’s Camera store and we’ll gladly help you through the process.
Why update your firmware
- Brand new features! I’ve told the story before, but back when I was using a Sony NEX-5 as my daily driver, an update was released that made it twice the camera it was before. Button customization, focus peaking, and more made it a huge upgrade, for free. Recently, several manufacturers have added significant improvements to things like video encoding features, autofocus algorithms (including cutting-edge eye-tracking AF), and more.
- Any bugs preventing a feature from operating correctly are usually dealt with swiftly, and firmware updates are the only method to do so.
- New lenses may require some “knowledge” on the part of the body to use their more advanced features, and vice versa. (This is why you should check your lenses once in a while, too! Most can be updated via the camera body.)
- Older bodies may be updated to maintain compatibility with the latest accessories, extending their lifespan and broadening their usefulness.
- The underrated benefit: when you see “general stability and performance enhancements,” it may seem like a waste of time. What the technical documentation doesn’t usually tell you explicitly is that those enhancements translate into real-world improvements of processing times, startup time, battery life, and more. Even cutting a third of a second from the startup time of your camera could mean the difference between nailing an award-winning shot and missing it.
Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that many firmware updates go above and beyond what could be considered the required amount of product support for older products. Just in the last two or three months, I’ve made 44 updates to our latest firmware page!
When features are shared with existing customers rather than held back to force constant upgrades*, it’s a win for photography and videography as a whole and makes every investment in new gear feel a whole lot more like an “investment.” If a lot of work goes into these upgrades and the response is lackluster, they might think, “Why bother?”
*Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with wanting to upgrade every year. You just shouldn’t feel obligated.
So, even if you’re not going to use 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording, I hope you can at least see that it’s really cool that Panasonic added it to the LUMIX G9 about two years after that camera’s release. Do everyone a favor and prove to the folks making our beloved camera gear that we love their fresh firmware updates, too.