Posted by: David Vernon | October 28, 2008

Firmware Rocks!

Friday Night LightsNikon announced a firmware update for the D300 today. And if you’re somewhat new to digital photography, then you might wonder – even if you own a D300 – what the fuss is all about. If you have the firmware thing figured out – skip on a bit brother (Bonus: What movie is that last bit from?).

Still reading? Okay – firmware. Let’s explain it. Firmware is the software engine that drives your digital camera. When camera manufacturers update that software, they release it to the general public as “firmware” – which is really software FOR hardware to use. So all the “things” you camera can do (meter, focus, cook breakfast) are driven by the embedded software. Quiz time. That embedded software is called what? YES! Firmware! By golly – let’s move on.

So when you buy a new camera (point-and-shoot, DSLR), it may have been sitting on the shelf for a few weeks or months. Or, like the amazing Canon 1Ds Mk III – there may be a perceived auto-focus issue that can only be fixed with a software update. Anyway you put it, getting a firmware update generally makes your camera work better.

Okay – skippers should land here with the rest of us. There are now two (three!) questions (same movie, different reference) you should consider.

  1. What is my current firmware version and do I need to upgrade my firmware?
  2. I need to upgrade my firmware. Where do I find the new spiffy stuff?
  3. How do I install the spiffy stuff so that I don’t brick my camera?

Let me try to answer these questions without typing up a 5,000-word essay. The first answer – what is your current firmware can be found in your menus somewhere. If you can’t find it, you probably can’t upgrade it. If you can find it – congratulations. Note the numbers (something like 1.0 or 1.1 or 9.32) – we’ll need to evaluate them against the most current version. Some cameras have two firmware numbers (my Nikon D300 has Firmware A and Firmware B – and each has its own number. Write them both down).

The second answer – that sounds like a call for some links. I’ll limit myself initially to Canon and Nikon, but a google search of “Pentax firmware” or “Sony firmware” should land you where you need to go if you roll that way (insert other camera makers as needed). The camera manufacturer websites should have a Support area or a Download area. Check there if you can’t find it. The Canon site linked above is not Canon’s official site, but they do a great job of keeping up in English. If you’re fluent in Kenji – go to the Japanese Canon site. Find your camera – and find what the current version of the firmware is. If the one on their site is a bigger number then your firmware – you sir or madam are a candidate for updating. Read their release notes on what you’re getting. Some updates fix one thing – and you may not use that one thing. In that case you might skip on a bit brother (again) and wait for the next version. Also, after a while, camera manufacturers just stop caring about your four-year old Nikon D70. I won’t find a new version of that firmware ever. Its time is past.

The final answer – how do you install it? There will be basic instructions where you find the firmware. You will download it to your computer, copy it to a formatted memory card, and then put that card in your camera. You find the firmware section in your menu – look for an update selection – pick it – AND FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS to the letter. I’m going to put this next part in bold. DO NOT TURN YOUR CAMERA OFF WHILE UPLOADING NEW FIRMWARE. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A FRESH BATTERY INSTALLED. Even though the whole process only takes a few minutes – you don’t want the camera to die in the middle of an upgrade. This will almost certainly REQUIRE you sending the camera in for repairs. It’s that simple. If you can keep you camera on (you know how to do that) then this is cake. Therefore – Brother Maynard from Monty Python and the Holy Grail – if you can count to three – this is something you can do. I have that much faith in you.

If you however doubt yourself – drop us an email and we’ll try to help… We’ll try. To. Help. We’ll speak slowly – after all – we’re the snobby firmware experts.

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