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I heard about camera firmware update. Is it recommended update the firmware? Why? Anyone knows which firmware improve camera performance (Canon EOS Rebel XS)?

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You might want to further define "performance"; it's a bit vague as-is. –  Craig Walker Dec 29 '10 at 15:23
    
For what camera? The question is pretty vague. –  John Cavan Dec 29 '10 at 15:24
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@Craig Walker I meant to say was about noise, image quality, processing technology, or anything else. –  zazk Dec 29 '10 at 15:48
    
@John Cavan I have a Canon EOS Rebel XS and want to buy a Nikon D3100. –  zazk Dec 29 '10 at 15:52
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The answer is, it depends. Generally, firmware upgrades can

  1. Correct flaws in the original firmware. For instance, if there were a metering mistake in the original firmware, that can get fixed.
  2. Expose new software functionality. I'm thinking of CHDK here, that brings new functionality to canon powershot cameras (such as RAW shooting, timed shooting, etc). For whatever reason, sometimes camera manufacturers leave out capabilities from their cameras that the camera can physically perform. These kinds of upgrades can expose that functionality.

Importantly, firmware upgrades cannot add capabilities that the camera doesn't already have physically. Firmware upgrades cannot increase megapixel count, lens characteristics, etc.

Finally, it's also possible for firmware upgrades to introduce new bugs. These things are software, and as such, still need to be subjected to testing and debugging. You may see multiple firmware upgrades for the same camera if one patch introduces a bug and another one removes it.

As for firmware upgrades that can improve performance, the one that comes to mind (other than CHDK, which really exposes functionality) was Sigma's upgrade for the DP2 camera. The most recent upgrade reduced the lag of the autofocus algorithm in lower-than-sunlight light levels (though the camera still suffers in low light).

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+1. However, I think you might have made a mistake in the last sentence? You say that the upgrade "reduced the speed of the the autofocus" in low light but it sounds like you meant for that to be a positive thing -- but "reduce speed" means "make slower" which is bad. Did you mean to say "increased the speed"? –  Tom Dec 29 '10 at 15:56
    
@Tom, you are correct. I changed 'speed' to 'lag' in the answer, thanks for the catch. –  mmr Dec 29 '10 at 16:26
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There are reasons firmware upgrades are issued and that is to fix flaws (most of the time) or extend functionality (some times). In all cases, a firmware upgrade should never make things worst but it is just software, so it may happen, the firmware is programmed by humans too!

Manufacturers often put out a list of fixed issues but sometimes are very vague (improves performance under certain conditions, huh?). I have seen firmware upgrades that:

  • Improve focus speed, image stabilization, speed of operation.
  • Correct problems with focusing accuracy, white-balance and metering.
  • Add customization options (new options for buttons and dials via the setup menu).
  • Add functionality like increase EC range, greater range of manual controls.
  • Correct typos in the menu system.
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