Updating your Camera’s Firmware – What is it and Why it’s Important

Updating your Camera’s Firmware – What is it and Why it’s Important

Canon 2 firmware page

Does your camera have the latest firmware?

This topic is one that I often find myself explaining in more detail, and one that many people aren’t even aware that they can update their camera’s firmware, and how this may affect their digital camera. An analogy is to updating the version of software on your smart phone.

What is firmware and why is it important?

Inside your camera is a microprocessor (small computer), that uses software stored on non-removable flash memory inside your camera. This is called firmware and is the operating system of your camera which allows you to control the features and functions, with the camera’s menus and buttons. Firmware also controls autofocus, exposure, image processing, noise reduction and other important functions within your camera. Without firmware your camera would not be able to operate.

Why check for firmware updates?

Updates generally contain fixes or feature enhancements. Firmware updates aren’t always necessary – some cameras never have updates.

When a new camera is assembled the manufacturer loads the firmware that was designed at that time. After the camera has been released to the public, people may find that there are bugs or problems with the way the camera operates. The manufacturer investigates these problems and produces fixes for them in the form of firmware updates. Some of these fixes can be minor, but some of them fix more serious issues such as autofocus problems, battery-draining issues, or the camera unexpectedly locking up.

Other reasons why firmware updates are released is to include new camera features such as added languages, or to have manually adjustable settings that were once solely automatic. Some updates are to support new optional accessories for your camera (e.g. wireless functions or GPS modules, etc.). I like to think of them as free upgrades to your camera.

When to check for firmware updates?

I recommend checking for updates on a semi-regular basis, every few months or so, and after you purchase a new camera is also a good time to check. There will likely be fewer firmware updates for older cameras but still worthwhile checking, perhaps on an annual basis. If you have never checked your camera for a firmware update then now is a good a time to do so.

Does your camera have the latest firmware?

First check what version of firmware your camera is running. This information is found within one of your camera’s menu options. Finding it is different on every camera and not always obvious. Your instruction manual will help you find where to look in the menus.

Canon 1 firmware page

You can check for the latest firmware by looking at the manufactures support and downloads section of their website for your brand and model of camera. Look for higher version numbers than the one found on your camera. If the version numbers are the same, there is no need to perform an update. Please note that some camera models never had new or updated firmware released and therefore new firmware updates may not be listed at all.

Important: You need to know the model of your camera and only use the firmware that is specific to your model.

Nikon firmware image

The following links were recently current for the major camera manufacturers and may be of help when checking for releases of newer versions of firmware for your camera.

Canon firmware page

Why read the instructions carefully before updating your cameras firmware?

Read the instructions very carefully before updating the firmware on your camera – you don’t want to end up having a dead camera! If the battery fails during the firmware update or the update is interrupted in some manner, the risk is having a camera without usable software. Meaning you have a dead camera that you have to take to the manufacturer to fix!

How to find out what has been fixed or updated with the new firmware?

Check the release notes that come with the firmware updates. Usually you will find included a list of the fixes or updates in earlier versions of the firmware too.

Typical steps to update your cameras firmware*

* Sample only – Please read your own firmware update instructions for your camera model

  1. Check the firmware version on your camera – it will be shown on one of the menu options
  2. Check to see what the latest version of firmware is available for your camera on the manufacturers web site
  3. Read the instructions carefully
  4. Download the firmware
  5. Install a fully charged battery into your camera
  6. Format a memory card in your camera (read your manual if you aren’t sure how to do this)
  7. Place that memory card into a card reader connected to your computer (do not connect via a cord from the camera)
  8. Copy the firmware update file into the top-level (root) folder of the cameras memory card
  9. Safely eject the card on the computer
  10. Place the memory card back into the camera (remember to power off the camera any time you remove a card or open the slot door)
  11. Follow the instructions to update the cameras firmware
  12. Unless instructed to do so, don’t touch any buttons, or switch the camera off during the process
  13. Check to see that the camera is running the newly installed firmware version – as per the first step

If you have a Nikon

Nikon firmware image

Some Nikon DSLR cameras may have A, B and L firmware – what are these? Nikon A-firmware is for the I/O (Input/Output) processor, B-firmware is for the Control (“Expeed”) integrated micro-controllers and L-firmware is for lens specific updates such as correction for lens distortion. You need not know why they have this scheme, just know what version is the latest for your camera model and use that to keep your camera up to date. Other camera manufacturers generally have just one firmware version to install.

Nikon firmware page

Want more features on your camera – try Magic Lantern! (Canon EOS only)

Believe it or not some people wanted more from their cameras and the only option was to team up with other smart people and write their own firmware! This started back in 2009 after Canon first released the 5D mark II, a full-frame (35mm) sensor body that was also capable of recording full HD video. The users (film makers) wanted to be able to have more control over the 5D mark II for video functions. The camera was much cheaper than buying a $25,000 commercial video camera to do the same thing.

Since then, there have been various updates to this firmware that include support for other Canon EOS cameras while also including useful still photography features such as: an intervalometer, custom bulb timer for long exposures, motion detection, voice tags for photos, etc. This firmware runs from your CF or SD card, instead of the factory firmware inside your camera. The Magic Lantern software is only available for certain Canon EOS camera models. For a full list of supported cameras, to find out what it can do and how it works, you may like to visit Magic Lantern’s website.

Please note: running third party firmware is not supported by the manufacturer and may void your warranty. So unless you are very comfortable with what you are doing, using this firmware may not be a good idea, especially if you are new to photography or just bought a brand new camera.

What to do if something goes wrong?

Check the manufacturers instructions again, have you missed a step or misunderstood what is required?

If something is still not quite right after you have done all the troubleshooting you may like to contact an authorized service centre for your brand of camera and ask for their advice and support.

I hope that you are now much better informed about firmware for your camera. Let me know if you have enjoyed reading this article and leave any comments below.

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Roy Vieth has more than 35 years photography experience. He loves sharing his knowledge and experience to encourage budding photographers to release their "inner shutterbug" and to help them develop their own style in their photography pursuits - the inspiration behind his business - Shutterbug Walkabouts. Shutterbug Walkabouts commenced operation in February 2012 to provide unique photography experiences in Tasmania, from guided photography tours to outdoor photography workshops. They cater to all levels of photography experience.

  • Seb

    So you’re telling me inside my camera is a “computer” that runs “software” that I can “update?”

  • http://www.shutterbugwalkabouts.com.au Roy Vieth

    Yes, depending on your specific model camera and if there are updates for it, you can potentially update the “software” it runs.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    updating firmware is extremely dangerous thing to do. Ensure you have full charge of battery before doing that. Any interruption of the firmware update will cause the camera die..lol

  • Susan R. Serna

    Thanks for this article. It’s something I never think to do. Turns out, there was an update for my D7000.

  • http://www.shutterbugwalkabouts.com.au Roy Vieth

    The key is to follow the manufacturers instructions carefully and you shouldn’t have any problems. I have upgraded many different camera bodies with many firmware updates over the years (since 1999) and so far haven’t had any dead cameras when updating.

  • Ameet

    Thanks Roy Vieth for this great newsletter and complete get to know about the firm updates.

  • baidawi

    would be nice if someone could hack the firmware for the Sony NEX VG10

  • LesBoucher

    Let me start this off by saying that I am not a computer genius and would rather spend my time taking photo’s than playing with updates.

    I have a Nikon D7000 and followed the online instructions from the Manufacturer. I downloaded the updates to a special file on my desktop, opened the file and extracted the relevant information and then, through a card reader, sent the required file to a brand new, formatted, memory card. I inserted the card into my camera, turned the power on and opened the Firmware section, and showed firmware version. This was where I hit a problem. While my computer showed that the information had been loaded onto my card, when I opened the “firmware version” section on my camera, it showed the DONE but not the UPDATE information.

    I then contacted Nikon Australia and was told ” That it sounded as if the information hadn’t been loaded onto the memory card and that I should possibly go to a dealership if I wanted the update carried out. Furthermore, the updates were only a couple of small tweak’s and if my camera was operating without any problems it might be best to forget the updates and continue on with the camera set to it’s current firmware settings.”

    I was also advised, that “if I stuffed up the download I might actually kill the camera.” What I am trying to say to anyone who has thought about updating their firmware is ” If you are unsure of what you are doing or, you strike a problem such as I have, think twice before you proceed.” If in doubt either leave things as they are or, take the camera to an authorised dealer for the update. With the costs of camera’s and equipment it is much to easy to get caught out and find yourself up for new equipment.

  • ved

    is it possible to update EOS firmare to make the on camera flash work as a trigger? Currently 1100d doesn’t have that option but may be a firmware tweak can allow that?

  • Jared Lawson

    Dangerous? Maybe, but definitely take a look and see – I would recommend you do a little research to each firmware to ensure it will be a positive result for you and your camera http://www.jaredlawsonphotography.com

  • http://www.shutterbugwalkabouts.com.au Roy Vieth

    Sorry, I am not aware of any firmware update for this purpose. There are however several other ways to use your camera to remotely trigger other flashes and one of the better ways are using one of the many available wireless flash triggers on your cameras hot shoe.

  • Sandy McConnell

    I recently updated the firmware for my Canon EOS 30D for the first time since I purchased the camera in December 2006! As a newbie user at the time of purchase I didn’t know that they had updates available until I stumbled across them on the internet, so I made sure that I read the relevant pages in the manual and then again searched the internet before doing so. I was able to do the update by carefully following the instructions – so now my trusted Canon will last a bit longer and provide good photos until I am able to update it to a Canon 6D

  • http://www.shutterbugwalkabouts.com.au Roy Vieth

    Great to hear that the firmware update worked well for you.

  • niana

    Do the photos have to be taken during this time frame or can we use old photos…??
    ??? ?? ??????????? ?????????? ??? -???? ??????? - ???? ????????????? ????????????????? ?????

  • daer

    thank you of your feedback. I have not done a side by side comparison
    with the Sigma as I do not own one nor did I get one to test. I do
    believe the lens is good but in my opinion I prefer the extra reach that
    the Tamron provides and the VC (IS) is excellent on the Tamron.

    ????? ??????? ??????????????? ?????????? ??? -???? ??????? - ???? ????????

  • Frank

    Useful information!! thanks :)zanov

  • RichardW3

    Tried to update my 5D Mark III, it crashed and locked up. Ended up paying for a new main board! Canon said they would has done it for free. So I would recommend thinking about it before doing it yourself. I worked in IT at the time so was sure I knew what I was doing, just didn’t count on very ordinary Mac version of the software, and the uncaring attitude of Canon.

  • http://www.shutterbugwalkabouts.com.au Roy Vieth

    Hi Richard, Sorry to hear that had problems updating the firmware on your camera. I have had quite a few Canon camera bodies over the years and done many firmware updates, fortunately they have been updated without any problems. I have always copied the firmware file onto the memory card and done the update from within the camera. I haven’t tried a tethered update option. I am surprised that Canon asked you to pay for a new main board – it is unusual to find that the firmware can’t be re-flashed by them using some sort of fail safe loader.

  • http://www.lilleulven.com Lille Ulven

    I would just wish that – given you follow all instructions and do it with a fully charged battery – you’d not loose your guarantee if something goes wrong after all…
    I mean if they (don’t know if that is in place) would give you a md5-sum code to check after downloading the file if all data has been transferred correctly, you could at least rule out those errors and from there one well I have read the instructions and I would claim it is no rocket science to follow them (at least not for my camera). But since I risk loosing the guarantee and would have to pay for the fix if anything went wrong with the update done by myself – I rather take my camera to the next photo shop and let them do it.

    Sometimes if you visit your camera manufacturer at some trade show they will offer you doing those updates for you for free.

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