Updating Your Digital SLR's Firmware

Recently I updated the firmware for my Canon 7D. Completing this simple process in effect gave me a new and improved camera by adding features to the menus, improving the continuous shooting rate and other changes. So what is firmware and why do you need to update it?

Firmware is the software inside your digital camera that makes it work. You can think of it as the operating system for your camera. Just as Microsoft and Apple send out updates for your computer's operating system, so digital camera manufacturers make updates available for their cameras. Sometimes these updates repair problems with the camera's operation. Other times updates add bonus features. Firmware updates are free and easy to install.

First, find out if there are any firmware updates for your camera. Visit the manufacturer's web site and look up your specific camera model. Use the site's search function to locate any firmware updates for your camera.

Canon 7D Firmware Download Page
Next, check your camera's menu to see what version of firmware it is running. This is usually under the setup menu. If the firmware version for your camera matches the newest one on the web site, your camera is up to date. If the web site lists a higher number, then you want to download and install this latest version.

If there have been several updates released since you got your camera, you may need to install more than one update in the order they were released. Check the instructions for each update before beginning.

You also need to specify which operating system you use before downloading the file. In the screen shot above, I've chosen Windows 7 64-bit.
Nikon D800 Firmware Download Page

The file that you download is usually compressed (zipped), so you must uncompress (extract) the file before you can use it. The compressed file contains both the actual firmware file itself along with instructors on how to install it. Read through the instructions BEFORE you begin the process.

To complete the process you need:
  • A fully charged battery
  • An empty memory card newly formatted in your camera
While the firmware update process is different for different camera models, usually you use a memory card reader to copy the firmware file from the computer to the empty memory card. Then you place the card in the camera with its fully charged battery and follow the camera's instructions for updating to the new version.

It is very important that your camera have a fully charged battery and that you do not turn off the camera or press any buttons during the firmware installation. Otherwise, you may render your camera unusable and have to send it to the manufacturer to have the firmware installed properly.

Check for firmware updates for your camera periodically, perhaps two or three times a year. Some cameras never have updates, others have several. Usually the older your camera, the less likely the manufacturer will issue a firmware update.

So do a little research on your camera's firmware. If there is an update, you can enhance your camera's functions for free!