Around this time last year, I wrote an article called “Why Other Camera Manufacturers Should Be More Like Fuji.” Although I wasn't the only one saying this, it seems that Sony has taken note.
In my past article, I talked about Fuji being one of the only (if not the only) camera manufacturers constantly releasing firmware updates for their camera bodies. Not only did these firmware updates fix small bugs and quirks found after release, but they also added major features and performance upgrades. These updates and added features were so extensive that other camera manufacturers have been known to create an entirely new camera model to release similar upgrades (which also meant users had to buy a new camera to get these features). While Fuji has dominated the space of firmware updates in the past, it seems that Sony is taking a step onto the battlefield.
The stand-out camera for Sony right now is the Sony A9. This camera has seen numerous updates and feature additions since its initial release. Things like a considerable upgrade in FTP file transfer from the camera for sports photographers to improved autofocus speed and accuracy. As it sits currently, the Sony A9 is on firmware version 4.1. This is impressive, seeing as most cameras don't make it past version one.
While the past updates and upgrades for the Sony A9 have been welcomed changes, they don't necessarily qualify as updates that would warrant a new model of camera. That is until now, with the announcement and pending release of firmware 5.0 and 6.0.
This new firmware update promises a substantial upgrade in Eye AF ability. This new eye tracking will use artificial intelligence to detect and process eye location in real time. This real-time tracking also makes its way to other subjects besides just an eye. The new tracking method will use a combination of color, pattern, distance, face, and eye to track an object. So, if you are tracking a runner as they run away, it will use color, pattern, and distance to track the object. But using more than 60 AF calculations per second, the camera will know if the runner turns around and will be able to detect and process the face and eye of the runner for more accurate tracking.
In addition to the increase in AF, version 5.0 will also add an increase in image quality with an upgraded image processing algorithm. This algorithm update will also give users more accurate auto white balance by reducing the slight variations you can typically see when shooting long bursts of images. There will also be updates to menus, button customization, mobile support, and more.
While there are a lot more features being added to version 5.0, with more promised through version 6.0, the real point I’m trying to make is that this is a serious list of features, so much so that Sony could have easily thrown this update into an A9, re-badged it as an A9 II, and no one would have batted an eye. But instead, they are releasing the upgrade to everyone for free. They are also giving similar upgrades to the Sony A7 III and Sony A7R III. This shows that this kind of support is not merely being given to the Sony A9.
So, what does this mean? Well, we don't exactly know. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Sony owners, or this could be Sony testing the waters to see if the free update model works for their business. But what I think will happen is that Sony will see that this practice of upgrading firmware will not only increase customer satisfaction, but it will also bring even more users away from brands such as Nikon and Canon. We may even see users from Fuji making the jump to full frame once they see they can get the same long-term support they are used to.
What do you think? Are consistent firmware updates and added features something you need or want? Do you think this is a good policy for camera companies to have? Are you more likely to buy a camera knowing that it will only continue to get better at no extra cost to you?