Should We Be Paying for Firmware Updates?

Should We Be Paying for Firmware Updates?

Remember when Apple used to charge money to update your iPhone? While we’ve gotten rather used to free mobile updates over the past couple years, the trend is as strong as ever with our cameras. Should this still be the case?

The GH5 is making big waves after CES last week, and it’s duly deserved. What’s unusual about the launch is that the camera will only (and I realize how ridiculous that sounds) come with 8 bit 4K at 60fps. The update for 10 bit will come later in 2017. Not only do we have to take Panasonic’s word for it, we’ll also need to pay for another update if we want V-Log. $100 for a software feature makes you stop and wonder why it’s not included in the first place.

It’s nothing new, of course. The GH4 before this had the same paid upgrade. In fact it’s riddled all over the industry. Canon’s C100 received a $500 auto-focus update, and Sony’s entire pro-video line is filled with these upgrades. Want raw output on your FS5? That’ll be a cool $600.

Should it be assumed that significant firmware upgrades come at a cost? After all, these manufacturers have to pour time and money into making the software packages. We also remember when we forked out for both Windows and Mac updates; it’s still a hefty $200 to Microsoft for that one. We can't say that it's alien to pay for upgrades.

However Panasonic is definitely blurring the line here. They can hardly say that the GH5 is not aimed at their pro-video customers. The camera is touting its video features furiously – even boasting a full sized HDMI port on the side – so it’s difficult to say that V-Log is too “Pro” to be included in the box. In fact at least the GH4 had an excuse, under the guise that they spent more time developing it after the camera had been released. This was backed up by the European-only GH4R coming with V-Log preinstalled.

So it seems odd that Panasonic is asking for the customer to pay for this feature. V-Log is already working just fine with the GH5. In fact Neumann Films is offering a download link to anybody that wants to try it out. So it’s not as Panasonic are spending extra money to R&D after the camera has been released, they’re simply asking for money. Are they going to do this with every camera they release?

What do you think? Is it an understandable cost of the huge innovation in camera technology, or are some abusing that very cost?

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Jason Vinson's picture

I think Fuji has it right. countless major upgrades that add and enhance features. free of charge.

Alex Cooke's picture

Though I obviously prefer free, if you're receiving features that go above and beyond the product you initially paid for, I can't say I logically disagree with charging for them. It's no different than an accessory to me at that point. Bug fixes should always be free, however.

Problem is you're looking at it from the point of "It's not a tangible item, therefore has no cost/value" Whichis why photographers have a hard time justifying "Digitals" pricing. But of course we know they do (have a cost). You could look at it this way, Say I could buy a Canon 5D MK IV without Video at a lower cost (upgradeable) would I? Absolutely. It's a feature I don't use and I'm paying for it. So what is it you would like? just some other thoughts. I don't think people understand a manufacturer's struggle with coming in at price point and most think they should just give everything even if it's not at an "everything" price. think about your own business

Bert McLendon's picture

For a camera (GH5) that could easily warrant a much higher price tag for the features it has, I'd say that $100 is a fair price if people need it. You could always look at the other side and say "hey thanks for not charging me $100 for a feature I don't need Panasonic! High five!" All of the examples above are things that sound like they are optional/cool to have features. Sure it'd be nice if they gave away everything but as photographers we sure do get mad when clients ask us for the RAW files for free don't we?

Stephen Kampff's picture

That's a good point, the GH5 isn't that expensive to begin with.

not only is Panasonic addressing multiple price points with one product, to a degree they are positioning the camera as a potential development platform. instead of "art filters" camera OEMs really should let VSCO, NIK, or whatever your choice integrate straight into their JPG engine. would make for some interesting business models to play out

Windows is an Operating System, not firmware. That would be like paying for firmware to make your printer faster. you shouldn't have to pay for firmware to unlock features that your device is already capable of. This will just breed more third party solutions, ala Magic Lanter (not that that's a bad thing).

Jonathan Brady's picture

I highly recommend an extended visit to a business school for the author

Michael Higa's picture

When you buy a device, will it come with new firmware preinstalled? Or will it be sold with old firmware and then I need to pay for the new firmware?

When I see firmware updates, I have an automatic preconception that it's a "bug fix" or additional driver support. Kind of like BIOS updates. I keep forgetting that firmware for a camera is actually the entire OS. I suppose once I get over my preconceptions, I would be more willing to pay for firmware updates. Until then, I believe if a new camera is sold with the latest firmware updates preinstalled, then devices purchased before the latest firmware should get them for free.

Adam T's picture

No, if you're making hardware to handle certain requirements then the fact your features aren't finished being coded means you should have to eat that cost.

If you're a third party and make a feature outside of the manufacturer then that's a tangible item.

Bill Peppas's picture

For bug fixes ? No, never.
For functions beyond the ones listed with the product launch ? Maybe, it depends on how useful they are and if the upgrade cost is reasonable.

Rui Bandeira's picture

if they spend time and money making the products better its natural that we payd, the proble is that i belive that brands will start seling new products at its low capabilityes just so that they can release updats later...

Anonymous's picture

If it was a feature I didn't need I'd be happy to pay less money for the gear, but if I needed it I'd feel cheated. It's a double edged sword in that regard, pricing stuff a-la cart is good if I don't want any sides with my food but paying $4 to get fries with a burger that should come with them is just irritating.

Kev Sidford's picture

Paying for updates - No way.
This should be seen as "After Sales Service" or at the very least it should come out of their Marketing Budget.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

It's like paying for the overhead bin in an airplane. Nickle and diming your customers is alway a good thing to the accountants and bad thing for the customer unless it for a substantial, tangible, more than "security update or bug fix" improvement that we can notice and use. Build into the CODB

Sony has all kinds of software add on accessories for $4 - $10. Firmware update free.

I love Fuji's model, but didn't mind Sony's model. With Fuji, I am confident my XT2 will still be excellent in 3 years. Sony has only once done a major update: Improving PDAF for use with the LA-EA3 and A mount lenses. It was limited to the a7rII and a7II. However, the apps were actually quite useful. I found 4 were quite good. One for star trails, the eye sensor shutter release, the smooth reflections app and the Sky HDR, which acted far better than any ND filter I have ever used (with no color cast). To this day, those four apps are a big reason I miss my Sony gear.

Spy Black's picture

Unless pros will write it off as a business expense, I think most people who want it will probably get it "the old fashion" way, illegally.

Ben Perrin's picture

I mostly like the Sony apps to be honest. You can download some free ones but also there are paid apps. I found an intervalometer type app for $10 that will save me a lot of hassle in the field. At the same time I don't have to download the junk apps that I personally will never use. I prefer it that way.

Lane Shurtleff's picture

Simple economics of scale. Panasonic needs to hit a certain price point to move enough volume of cameras to make it viable. If they can sell millions to general consumers that will never need the additional firmware upgrades, then why not start it under $2000. If they had included the upgrades then they would of had to charge extra (say $250+). That would be a huge turn off to potential consumers who are comparing it to other comparable cameras.
Everyone whined when Nikon released a $550 vertical grip for the D800 when it was new, because Nikon had to make the camera sell at a reasonable price point. Many D800 buyers will never purchase ANY vertical grip (OEM or knockoff) so Nikon had to make up the difference and overcharge for the grip. It's the same for all camera manufacturers with their OEM accessories.

Dallas Dahms's picture

It will be divisive, like just about everything else we encounter these days.

Oliver Kmia's picture

"the camera will only come with 8 bit 4K at 60fps. The update for 10 bit will come later in 2017."
Hi, are you talking about 10bits in 4k60fps internally ? So far I read about 10bits in 4k30 internally and 10bits in 4k60 but only via external recorder. What's the source of this information ? Thanks.

Stephen Kampff's picture

I'm getting it from B&H's interview with Sean Robinson from Panasonic, where they haven't specified 30 vs 60fps in that regard. I figure it's aside from the point of the article, although I'm excited to see what the update brings!

Oliver Kmia's picture

Thanks for your response. Yes my understanding is that 4k60 in 10bit won't be available internally, 4k30 10bits internally will be available right away at 150mbps (Long-GOP) and then the firmware update will give 4k30 10bits internally at 400mbps (All-i) sometime this summer.

"Remember when Apple used to charge money to update your iPhone?" Incorrect, Apple hasn't ever charged for iPhone software updates, they did charge for iPod touch updates in some point.

Usman Dawood's picture

Wait... Apple used to charge for firmware updates?!

Kang Lee's picture

Yup I believe it was $20

Anonymous's picture

I would also like to be able to select which features I don't want for a price reduction. No stupid filters -200 USD...perfect!

No, I would not pay for firmware upgrades.

I have a crazy Idea.... Make the camera good the first time!

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