Vincent Bockaert,

A digital camera's sensor, buffer, LCD, autofocus, etc. are controlled by a set of microprocessors which in turn are controlled by "firmware", which is software stored in the Read Only Memory[1] of the camera. Many cameras allow the firmware to be upgraded[2] in order to enhance performance and/or add new features. This is done by downloading an installer from the camera manufacturer's website, followed by running it from a computer connected to the camera via a USB cable, or by running the installer from the memory card inside the camera.

Some firmware upgrades are major, e.g. adding RAW support or adding features from a newer to an earlier model:

Needless to say that it is not necessary to perform a firmware upgrade if it merely adds support for a language which you do not speak, or adds a feature which you do not plan on using. However, if the firmware at the same time enhances general performance it is worthwhile upgrading, e.g.:

Always read the firmware upgrade instructions very carefully *in advance* as the instructions vary depending on the model and make. It is very important that you use the correct firmware upgrade version (e.g. a firmware upgrade for the European version of a camera may not work on the North American or Asian version, some firmware upgrades only work after you already have installed a previous upgrade, etc.). Always use a freshly charged set of batteries because firmware upgrades use more power. If you run out of power during the upgrade, your camera may crash and not function anymore. You may even not be able to run the firmware upgrade again.

Although firmware upgrades are normally a change for the better, bear in mind that you may not be able to restore the camera to the earlier firmware version should you desire to do so (e.g. if you happen to prefer the old menu system more).

Technical Footnote

  1. (1) Read Only Memory (ROM) is unaffected by the battery power of the camera.
  2. (2) Depending on the memory type[3], new information is added to the memory or the existing information is replaced by new one.
  3. (3) For instance, Programmable ROM (PROM) only allows information to be added, while Electrically Erasable PROM (EEPROM) also allows information to be erased.
This article is written by Vincent Bockaert,
author of The 123 of digital imaging Interactive Learning Suite
Click here to visit