What is… Firmware? [Video]

In this video, Matt delves into firmware and explores what it is, how to update it and what it can do for your photographic equipment.



Firmware is the software inside your camera and certain other photographic products that handles many aspects of their operation. It’s this which determines how the graphic user interface appears and how the menus are operated, as well as what features are available and what happens when each is selected. It also provides instructions to the image processing engine, and so it also has some bearing on image quality.

All cameras are released with a version of firmware, but sometimes the manufacturer may issue an update. This could be for a range of reasons but it usually serves two purposes. The first concerns the fixing of certain issues, which are often spotted once the camera has been available for a few months. While hardware-based issues will often require a physical fix, issuing new firmware can help to rectify errors in operation, or potentially fix issues with image quality that are known to affect some or all models.

The second reason is to add extra functionality to the camera’s feature set or to improve certain functions that are already there. This could be to improve autofocus performance or introduce new filter effects, even to add Raw mode to cameras that don’t have one.

If some time has passed since a model’s introduction, manufacturers may choose to incorporate more recent technological developments by issuing these firmware updates. If you bought your camera recently it may already have the latest firmware version installed, although older models may not.

The way to check this is to locate the firmware option in the menu, which will usually be under tools and maintenance, and make a note of the number, usual 1.0, 1.2 or similar. There may be more than one version here, although it will be the first figure which is the most important. Now find the support section in your camera manufacturer’s website and check to see if there is a later version for your model.

If there is, this should be here along with the reasons for the update and instructions on how to install it. This process varies slightly between manufacturers although it usually begins by downloading the firmware and placing the file onto a memory card. This then goes inside the camera, before the firmware option is located in the menu system. Providing the new firmware has been correctly loaded onto the card, the camera will register this and ask you to confirm that you want this updated.

It’s important that you don’t turn your camera off unless instructed to do so, and for the same reason, your camera may not let you update this unless your battery if sufficiently charged. The process takes just a few minutes, and you can check if it has worked by accessing the option that displays the current firmware version afterwards.

Of course, it’s possible to carry on using a camera without updating its firmware, although the manufacturer may have made some significant changes that will improve either operation or image quality. And it’s not just cameras that can have their firmware updated. Some manufacturers may issue lens-specific updates that provide correction for optical issues through the camera body, and some of Sigma’s latest lenses can have their firmware updated through the company’s USB dock. Certain flashguns can also have firmware updated through a USB port at their side.


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