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Firmware Challenges To Reviews

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading reviews and I thoroughly enjoy a good review. I’ve got favorite sites and I expect that you do as well.  I like some where they get into the real technical detail about the cameras. But the ones I really enjoy are those where perhaps there’s a little bit more on where people talk about how they use the camera in the field, and they tend to really look at the pros and cons as far as the camera is concerned. Field use provides a lot of accurate detail in how they found the camera to perform. Because sometimes the way that details are described from a purely technical viewpoint, as far as the camera is concerned, may give you a certain ideas, that when tested in the field are found to be somewhat different.

However, we live in a very interesting era as far as camera manufacturers are concerned, and there is little doubt that a number of reviews that are out there have been superseded by the camera manufacturers themselves and their firmware.

Firmware is Changing Cameras

Firmware literally changes and adds abilities to cameras. So, while the actual structure and positioning of… Dials and buttons doesn’t change,  firmware can create huge changes in the performance of a camera. Let me illustrate. A camera that is very highly regarded is the Sony A9. It’s one of those cameras that people buy and keep. It is just a super blazingly fast, remarkable camera. It produces excellent raw files that are very easy to work with. It produces excellent JPEGs out of camera, and the addition of the extra dial on the top of the camera on the left is also good. In fact, it’s very hard to fault the Sony A9.

So, reviewers reviewed it in glowing terms and people like me went out and bought one, and there’s no way I’m going part with that camera. It just is a superb camera. But then Sony released the firmware update called Version 5, and they upgraded the tracking ability of that camera.  And what an upgrade!! That camera now, it literally felt in my hands like I was holding a new camera. It just was able to track so incredibly. In fact, it is remarkable as far as its tracking ability is concerned and it’s blazing speed. Sony have performed a major upgrade and should be proud of this achievement.

So, based on the old review you might draw certain conclusions regarding that camera, but today with firmware 5 and other upgrades that Sony are providing as far as software is concerned, that camera is definitely a lot better.

improvements keep coming
The Improvements keep coming

At the other end of the scale, consider the Nikons Z7. Yes, another remarkable camera and a beautiful body. The way that that camera feels in your hand is just superb; it balances perfectly. Yes, technically it has all the same buttons and things that it had before, but when that camera was initially released and we tried it, we found that it’s focusing ability wasn’t brilliant. That’s not to say it wasn’t acceptable, but it was more comparable, in our opinion, with an average sort of consumer camera than it was with the sort of camera designed for more professional use. Certainly as far as we were concerned anyway it made us nervous. So, it didn’t really attract the sort of attention that it might have done.

Now, let’s be clear, Nikon with the Z6 and Z7, have released two simply amazing cameras. But what was to lie around the corner was going to be significant. If you were to read a review from around the time that that camera was released, then you might form certain conclusions about that camera. But when you try the camera with firmware Version 3 loaded on it, the focusing is a lot better. It works and functions a lot more akin to the sort of spec that a professional would use. Seriously, I had all but decided not to hire the camera again. Today though,  based on that firmware upgrade I find it to be excellent. Having seen what Sony did with the Sony A9 I was interested to see what Nikon would do with the Z 7, because I could feel that everything about that camera was poised to be very successful, to be a very positive camera. It just needed to have some improvements to the way it processes the focusing data.

What Was The Firmware at The Time of The Review?

So, what are we saying? What we’re saying is that reviews that pre-date firmware upgrades can give you a certain sense of the camera that is different to how the camera performs today. This really creates a nightmare as far as reviewers are concerned because reviewers are going to continue to review cameras. But as most people know, especially if you read a long review, it’s very often the opening section and then the conclusions, and perhaps one or two pages in between that generally attract the attention. You generally read the introduction looking to see what’s new. You might look at the performance in the field page, and then you go to the conclusion, looking at the pros and cons as far as the camera is concerned. But now with firmware updates, some of the conclusions drawn at the concluding section of a review need to have perhaps in brackets the firmware reference that they refer to, because quite frankly, without that, you don’t really know whether the performance of the camera that you might be thinking of using will be the same as what was referred to in the review.

Cameras Change as Firmware Changes

So, my suggestion to people who do reviews is that they always make a note or put in brackets the firmware reference to each review, which will make it much more easy for people reading that review to draw accurate conclusions regarding the camera. When the reviews are written, they are always accurate and I have yet to read a review that’s made me stop and wonder as to whether or not there was any other motive in the review. I think reviewers do an amazing job in a very difficult situation, and sometimes you even get a review that’s perhaps less detailed, but then later on someone comes along and adds to it.  So I’m really impressed by the way that people review cameras and their level of commitment. But firmware changes can change the game.

So what conclusions are we drawing. Simply this. The way that camera manufacturers release firmware, and the effect that firmware can have upon a camera can be something quite remarkable. So far we have had a few instances that have really been upgrades. True at the moment many are smaller upgrades but given the way that AI technology is being used we can expect more. Enjoy reviews for sure. I do.  But it’s well worth noting that perhaps the conclusions drawn were based on one set of firmware, when in reality, since that camera was released, there may have been one, two, or even more upgrades as far as the computer programs within the camera are concerned. And that these may well have resolved some of the questions that were raised in the initial review.

Any thoughts on this? Please feel free to leave your comments.