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PICTURE THIS

Everything's Up to Date

Firmware updates will keep your camera operating properly.

By Earl Nottingham


Sometimes it seems that working with a digital camera is more like operating a computer. With an oftentimes confusing mixture of controls and menu settings, today’s digital cameras contain circuit boards, processors and batteries that have replaced the gears, springs and analog dials of their mechanically operated ancestors of yesteryear.

Like a computer, the digital camera operates with a combination of electronic hardware as well as software, working in concert “under the hood” to perform basic functions such as focus and exposure control once the shutter button is pressed. The software in charge of controlling the functions of the camera is known as firmware and is similar to a computer or smartphone’s operating system. In fact, all of the options you see in the camera’s menu are controlled by the firmware. What makes it “firm” is that it is embedded in the microprocessor chips that give commands to all the device’s operations; its nonvolatile memory means that it remains there even when the camera is turned off. Importantly, firmware can be easily updated by you, the user.

Camera makers release periodic firmware updates for a wide range of reasons. Sometimes, updates are used to bring new features to older models. This could be a new color profile, an expanded ISO setting or advanced video functionality, among other things. Manufacturers also typically use these to provide better compatibility with lenses and other accessories that were released after the camera first came to market.

While many updates are required for the proper operation of the camera, you will also find minor updates for things like additional language options for menus. Those can be disregarded. Also, newer cameras will have more frequent updates than older models as bugs and feature requests are reported by users. It is recommended to check for any new updates immediately upon the purchase of a new camera since the firmware that came with the camera from the factory may not be the latest and greatest. Subsequently, you might want to check every three to six months for updates.

Luckily, firmware update procedures are somewhat standardized among camera makers and are relatively easy to install. Here’s how:

• First, visit the “Support” webpage of your particular camera’s brand and model to see if updates are available.

Check your current firmware version in the camera’s menu options and compare the version number against the current release available on the manufacturer’s website.

• If a newer version is shown, check the release notes to see if it includes any updates that are important to the operation of the camera and your particular shooting needs.

• If so, follow the instructions of how to download the update file and install it in the camera. Typically, it’s a matter of downloading a small file from the manufacturer’s website, copying it to the memory card from your camera and then letting the firmware update feature in your menu recognize that file and then prompt you to complete the installation.

Bear in mind that not all digital cameras are capable of firmware updating. Normally, it’s the midrange to more full-featured models that can be updated, so check your owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website to see if your model is a candidate for updates.

Just as you would periodically take your car in for a tuneup to keep it running smoothly, consider firmware updates to keep your camera purring.

Photo courtesy of manufacturer

Please send questions and comments to Earl at earl.nottingham@tpwd.texas.gov. For more tips on outdoor photography, visit the magazine’s photography page at www.tpwmagazine.com/photography.

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