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Extending The Life Of Your Digital Camera - Firmware Updates

Firmware updates have been available for as long as the photographic world went 'digital'. Initially, these updates were only available when equipment was returned as part of a routine service. This has moved to users being able to download and install the latest camera updates directly from the manufacturer's website. Are these firmware updates worth doing and if so, how do you get to hear about when they are released and where do you download them from? Modern digital cameras run exclusively on bespoke software platforms rather like Windows or the Mac operation systems on your computer. These operating systems can easily be updated and additional features added. The same also applies to you digital camera.

When camera manufacturers first introduced these user updates the main purpose was to fix bugs and reported problems. If there were improvements they were rarely noticed or seen by the user. Recently though, these improvements have included major changes to the AF systems in terms of accuracy and in some cases new features (more on this shortly).

So where do you hear about these latest updates for your camera?

When you first purchase your camera body you should register the warranty with the manufacturer and this normally involves supplying your email address. So you would think that the likes of Canon, Nikon, Sony etc. would use this as the ideal channel to communicate any updates right?  Unfortunately not. It is often left to the user to keep abreast of any changes by checking the firmware pages of the manufacturer's websites or the photographic press/ websites etc. This tedious task is often the reason why when we have customers either bring or send in their equipment for calibration, sensor cleaning or servicing we often find their equipment is woefully out of date in terms of the version of operating system that is present. When asked if they were aware it is surprising how many users are unaware of the following:

  • It is possible to update the firmware
  • The benefits of updating
  • Where the firmware is obtained from
  • How to update the firmware

For those who are unaware, it is a service we are able to perform.

As previously mentioned, updates have introduced improved Auto Focus functionality in terms of accuracy and in the case of the Canon R5 and R6 new features previously only available on higher spec and more expensive models.

So what are these improvements and new features?

Both cameras now benefit enormously from improved eye tracking autofocus. This is probably Canon's most important update to-date and has to be experienced to appreciate the differences. Eye tracking is far quicker and now works in conditions which would have caused problems in prior versions of the operating system. To say it feels like the eye tracking AF is running on steroids is an understatement.  

Unfortunately I am unable to demonstrate this here but can point you towards a resource on YouTube where they have been able to film the improvements. Needless to say in my own tests I have found that the new eye tracking is considerably faster and able to lock on to a subject's eye in much lower light, where the eyes are obscured by hair, in shade etc. It is quite remarkable. As mentioned for those users who think that they would benefit from these updates but are unsure or unwilling to do this themselves we offer this as a service and it is priced at £19.50. More information is available here.

Additional feature set.

On these two models Canon have also introduced a new genre for AF tracking - vehicles. This is lifted straight from the new Canon R3 and is the first time that Canon have made this available on lower spec and existing models. Expect more of this in the near future. Again from my initial tests this system works incredibly well and also works for motorcycling as well and is even able to recognise a riders helmet. The YouTube link listed previously also demonstrates briefly how this works.



In addition to the AF improvements, Canon have, amongst other things, now enabled a settings backup facility for the R5 allowing the user to save their preferred settings / changes to a memory card.  The settings can then be transferred to a second camera if required or to save and reload should their camera have to be reset and the settings need to be restored. This is often the case if the camera has to be returned for repair.

Canon have also posted a firmware update for their flagship DSLR 1DX MkIII, with similar improvements to subject focus including head detection performance to support helmets and goggles i.e. winter sports.
These improvements are not as obvious as with the R5/R6 as they cannot be clearly seen due to the optical viewfinder arrangement but are never the less impressive in terms of increased accuracy.

Canon EOS 1DX MkIII firmware update