Nikon Deserves Credit for Future-Proofing Cameras With Firmware

Posted Mar. 12th, 2024 by Daniel J. Cox

Nikon deserves credit for future-proofing cameras with firmware. By making this commitment, they make a drastic about-face from their past actions, which was part of my decision to change camera brands. At one time, Nikon was proud to take their time with new and helpful features. With this new policy, adding features to their already-sold cameras via firmware is a serious turnaround for a stodgy, stubborn company that once seemed to have no interest in looking toward the future.

Future Proofing Cameras With Firmware

Autofocus Historical Timeline

I was a die-hard Nikon shooter for over 35 years. Their cameras were indestructible, the glass was the best I had ever seen, and they had a solid Professional Services department. My only disappointment over the years was how long it would take them to add helpful new features. I did some sleuthing a while back and found that it took Nikon six to seven years to catch Canon in autofocus competency. Canon had the EOS-1 in 1989. Nikon had the F5 in 1996. Any Nikon camera before the F5 was virtually useless, autofocus-wise. The F5 fixed that.

Future Proofing Cameras With Firmware
My first 300mm F/2.8, shooting in Yellowstone National Park at 21 years of age

Image Stabilization Historical Timeline

It took another five years for Nikon to produce a quality image stabilization system called Vibration Reduction. Canon was the first to release an interchangeable SLR stabilized lens as the 75-300mm in 1995. Nikon finally brought their first VR lens to market in the 80-400mm VR in 2000. Once again, five years behind Canon.

Future Proofing Cameras With Firmware
Image stabilization has completely changed my style of shooting. I almost never use a tripod anymore, which is essential in a kayak.

Always Catching Up

Nikon has always seemed to catch Canon, but photographers could not be in a rush. Nikon often said their reason for lagging was their desire to do it right the first time. At least, that’s what my contacts at Nikon would tell me. But in reality, that didn’t seem to work. Does anybody remember how many shaft-driven 300mm F/2.8 lenses Nikon produced before they finally settled on motors in the lens? They produced two different versions of the 300mm F/2.8 before finally designing motors in the lens like Canon had been doing from the beginning. I never did buy either of the pre-motor versions. It was obvious from just seeing them they were subpar at best.

Nikon Working to Speed Things Up

So enough of proving Nikon is always playing catch-up. The good news is they seem to be thinking differently with a fresh outlook that includes getting new features out ASAP. They plan to make updates via Firmware. Not all new features will be possible with simple software updates, but many new ones will. What a novel concept. What competition from other vendors can do to your desire to stay alive is truly amazing.

Sony Gets Nikon’s Attention

Sony has been the biggest instigator in making Nikon pay attention. Even after Nikon lost as much as 60% of its market share to Canon, Nikon didn’t seem to think it needed to try harder. Today, Canon has lost some of that market share and is at 46.5% of digital camera sales. Sony is at a respectable 26.1% and Nikon has 11.7%. But at one time, before 1989 and the Canon EOS-1, Nikon had virtually 100% of the market for editorial and sports shooters. It was mind-boggling how many Nikon shooters there were. Then, Canon began to dominate with better technology. And the rest is history.

Nikon Plans To Do More

This blog post was inspired by another post by Kalum Carter of Digital Camera World. Kalum wrote a lengthy article explaining how Nikon plans to keep their photographers on the cutting edge by providing substantial and frequent firmware updates. They plan to make the cameras you have new and up to date again, without having to buy a new body. You can imagine this will only go so far since they have to sell products to stay alive. But overall, the idea is a good one for their customers. And based on recent firmware updates they’ve already released, they seem true to their word.

Firmware Updates From All – Some More Than Others

Thankfully, all manufacturers have released firmware updates. But some are much more active than others. If you search on Google for “complaints about Canon firmware updates,” you get 34,000 hits. Do the same for Sony–”complaints about Sony firmware updates”–and you get 38,000 hits.

Most of the Canon complaints have to do with firmware activation, etc. Many Sony complaints are people ticked off that Sony is holding back on them. Like this video from video shooter Philip Bloom. Do the search yourself to see the angst against Sony for their lack of firmware updates for both still and video cameras.

Firmware Updates From OM Systems

This all brings me back to why I started thinking about firmware recently. That was the announcement that OM Systems is bringing many of the new OM-1 Mark II features to the original OM-1. I recently wrote about that announcement in the blog post OM System Announces Firmware Update for OM-1. This firmware update will not match the features in the new OM-1 Mark ll but will add some nice options. OM Systems claims they added new hardware, such as a larger RAM chip, in the new OM-1 Mark ll that a firmware update can’t replicate. I suppose that’s possible, but I’m hopeful that OM Systems will do what it can to keep the firmware updates coming. In essence, it also future-proofs their cameras.

This is all good news for the consumer

Adding new features via firmware updates is a great marketing tool. But a commitment that could easily be difficult to follow forever. Remember, all camera companies need to make money so we can have the best gear possible.

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There are 2 comments on this post…
  1. TimOn Mar. 25th, 2024 (1 month ago)

    It seems like OM had not planned to update the OM1 Mk1 firmware, but was sort of pressured into it by the feedback they got. I think the Petapixel team was told there would be no updates for example. That said I welcome that they are planning at least some.

    Olympus’s track record of FW updates for older models was one of the reasons I switched to OM (from Panasonic) – well that and PDAF.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 26th, 2024 (4 weeks ago)

      Thanks for your input Tim.

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