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Firmware Fever

The Nikon world is all a buzz over the new firmware release this past week for several DSLR models. More firmware updates are coming this coming soon for Nikon Z shooters. A few months ago, it was Canon's turn, so everyone gets their shot at firmware fever.

Firmware version 1.10 was released May 9 for Nikon's D5600, D7500, D500 and D850 bodies. Being a D850 user myself, I'm pleased. This release adds support for direct Wi-Fi connectivity, a long-time ask from the Nikon community. As nice as SnapBridge may or may not be, the ability to use third-party apps for remote control is most welcome. In today's world, there's simply no excuse for a professional camera not to have support for open wi-fi standards. The new mirrorless Z-mount bodies have had this, and now us DSLR shooters do too. It's about time.

The D850 firmware update is reported to also address certain issues that might affect autofocus near the edge of the frame. I haven't personally experienced such problems, but those who shoot wildlife, sports or other action subject would understandably have more occasion to run into any such problems than I would. And users of other affected Nikon models may enjoy other announced tweaks with this firmware update. This also leaves out any tweaks for issues Nikon isn't even telling us about, things they want to get fixed before too many people even notice or at least before they complain too loudly. Hey, you know they're trying to make it as good as they can in order to complete with Canon, and vice versa.

On the mirrorless side, the new Z 6 and Z 7 are set to get firmware updates themselves in a few days. Reportedly, the update will include eye-detection autofocus as well as better low-light AF and better AF when tracking a subject. There are rumors of other included fixes too, but we'll need to wait for May 16 to find out for sure. Canon's new R mirrorless line recently got their own firmware upgrade to enhance eye-detection auto-focus and other features.

The concept of firmware updates isn't new, even if it may be to some readers with regards to their cameras. Today's cameras are just fancy computers capable of taking pictures, and firmware updates have become fairly routine with computers. My inkjet printer greeted me a few days ago with a notice that there was a new firmware update available for it. The laptop I'm writing this on asked me to update its firmware last week. Apparently, it must be the season for firmware fixes. Firmware is basically low-level software code that interfaces directly with the device hardware. This lets the people who write more complex "high level" software avoid having to deal with such hardware-specific details. It also lets the manufacturer of such hardware and software correct or compensate for some of the bugs that may get discovered after a product ships. Within limits, it can also let these companies enhance or add to the features of their products.

My laptop and inkjet printer told me they had firmware updates available because they are connected to my home network and can therefore periodically check in with their own manufacturer's websites. We live in a network connected world. But few cameras participate in that interconnectedness and are therefore unlikely to be able to tell you when they have a firmware update available. It's up to us to keep tabs on such things and take the needed action when one is released for our cameras.

The exact method of updating firmware varies somewhat between camera makers and even between camera models of the same brand. On my D850, it goes something like this: Download the new firmware from Nikon's website and extract the zip file into a folder. Format a memory card in the camera and then insert it into your computer. Copy the upzipped firmware files to the root directory of the memory card. Insert the memory card back to your camera and turn it on. Go to the Setup Menu and select Firmware Version. Follow the onscreen instructions to initiate the firmware update process. Do not turn the camera off until the camera completes the update, then turn it off and remove the memory card. Now enjoy the new firmware benefits. Pretty simple, really.

It's not just cameras that have firmware these days either. Some Sigma, Tamron and other third-party lenses do as well now. You dock the lens to a small gadget as if you were mounting it to your camera. The new firmware gets applied via a USB cable attached to that gadget. Some Sony lenses can apparently have their firmware updated when attached to a camera that is itself connected to a computer running some sort of update program. Really, anything with a CPU and a modest amount of memory could have updatable firmware. Nikon lenses have had firmware for some years now, but I'm not aware of any that are user updatable. You used to have to send your lens into Nikon or otherwise have it serviced to get a lens firmware updated. I can remember getting a lens repaired and finding out that it had received new firmware too, as detailed in the paperwork that came back with it. I didn't even know there was new firmware available. Go figure.

That's the problem with firmware. Either the device user ignores it or doesn't even know about it, or the device manufacturer makes it difficult or doesn't even admit to anyone that a fix exists for some problem. Nikon has done a pretty good job of making camera firmware updates available for their digital bodies even if they haven't seen fit to extend that ease of access to their lenses. The same seems to be true on the Canon side of things. But I've found that most photographers tend to ignore camera firmware updates anyway, just as many computer users do for their laptops and inkjet printers.

Firmware updates are free, so keep an eye out to find out if one is available for your gear. It's a good idea to keep your firmware current. Who knows? Maybe that new firmware update might fix something you didn't even know was broken. You don't have to think your current auto-focus is that bad to notice an improvement in speed from a firmware update. I guess I need to go and try that out on my updated D850, now don't I?

Date posted: May 12, 2019


Copyright © 2019 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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