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Is it possible to flash the firmware of a camera to add features? I have an older DSLR from Canon. Over time Canon has introduced features for example 5 photo bracketing instead of 3. When I look at the newer models, the specs are almost the same. The only difference being the sensor. This should not affect things like bracketing and custom focus options.

This leads me to believe that many features are simply software in nature. I know I can download firmware updates for any camera but switching from one firmware to another via update seems very risky and I doubt the automated software will recognize it.

I have loaded new bios on GPU's to get extra performance. Is there a way to do this on a camera without bricking it?

  • If Canon had made their software open source this would most likely have been the result, that the community backported features. That does not sell new cameras though. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 9 at 15:37
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In some degree you are right about some options which depend of the software. As one example I can give you 77D and 70D. As you can suppose first is new model, which have option to set maximum Auto ISO, but not minimum shutter speed as it is possible on the old model (when on Auto ISO). (comments on this answer)

But some things depend on the hardware and this is not only the sensor but also the processor, heat balance, focusing system, etc.

I am afraid your try to install Canon firmware from other model (even if its successful as process) may brick the camera.

But you can try Magic Lantern. When download this software be careful about the firmware level your camera must have. Here is for example one firmware for 500D

The good thing about ML is you do not touch the original firmware, you run this software from SD card and you can easy switch to the standard firmware by removing the card and restart the camera.

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"The only difference being the sensor" already makes it unlikely - unless the circuitry around the sensor and ADCs is 100% register level compatible, an off-label firmware would already miserably fail here. Add to that that another sensor is likely to need different post processing algorhithms.

Anything "similar" but not 100% identical (eg number of AF points, layouts of any segmented displays, switch positions) would also cause catastrophic failure - you can expect a lot of these things being hardcoded in a given firmware; in the worst case you will have a register layout like "200 AF point registers followed by 512 display segment registers followed by 32 registers having to do with power management and charging" turn into a 256/512/32 layout, which would cause display output to mess with power management (just a fictitous example, but that is what you could expect with mixing and matching embedded hardware and firmware).

Add to that that an identical feature could be implemented by completely different and register incompatible hardware.

So very likely... no.

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