A Tale of Three Firmware Updates: Two Were Fine, One Was Awful.

Software and firmware updates are a fact of life for photographers. They don't come all that often and usually offer bug fixes or new or improved features. As a longtime Canon user, I found firmware updates easy and unintrusive. Having recently moved to a Sony a7 III, I'm rather shocked at the complexity of what should have be a simple operation.

Canon users know a firmware update involves a trip to the Canon website, downloading the appropriate firmware update, and dragging it onto an SD card. Then, using camera menus, you go to the firmware update section and click "set."

It's about identical to updating a Nikon DSLR. Download the update from the Nikon site. Drag it to an SD card, navigate to the firmware update menu, and click. 

So, how is a firmware update on a Sony a7 series camera? It's like being stuck in a Bosch painting. Go to the Sony website. You'll need to set up a Sony account first. (In very small print at the bottom of the page, it allows you to skip this step, but most people won't see it and will create the account.)

You'll get a Sony updater app (Mac or PC). There's no SD card installation available,  so you'll have to have the Sony supplied USB cable and hook that to your computer. No cable. No update. Sony advises that other cables probably won't work. Woe is you if you are wanting to do the update without the cable. 

Even worse, to get the update, Sony made me confirm I was not a robot by using the awful and dreaded Captcha app. You know, it's the one that has you clicking on all the hydrant photos in the little squares, or buses, or whatever.

The squares are small, and often it's hard to see the objects. You could spend 15 precious minutes trying to get it right, just to get a piece of firmware that Nikon and Canon make easily available. The Captcha app doesn't always come up; it's seemingly random, but it should never, ever come up. 

Once you get your software, then more fun begins. Run the downloaded updater, but don't hook up your camera to the USB cable yet. Wait for the software to tell you it's OK. There are slight differences between a Mac and Windows install, but I did it on my Mac.

Connect the cable, and wait for USB mode to appear on the camera screen. Then click OK to start the update. If nothing happens, which is often the case, Sony advises that you open the Resources folder and double-click another updater file. Confused yet?

Then, turn your camera on. It was supposed to be off for the first part of the process. If the camera doesn't recognize the updater, unplug the camera and try again. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

When/if the update starts, wait about 10 minutes for it to finish, and your camera will automatically restart. Click finish on the updater and remove the cable.

There are a whole lot of instructions to follow if the update doesn't work.

In short form, here are the basic steps for Canon/Nikon:

  • Download firmware from manufacturer web page. Other than having to click on a EULA statement, there are no barriers to downloading the firmware.
  • Put the firmware on an empty SD card.
  • Turn camera on
  • Navigate to menu for firmware update.
  • When complete, remove SD card.
  • Restart camera.

Steps for Sony mirrorless cameras:

  • Sign up for Sony Account (you can skip this if you notice the second link at the very end of the page).
  • Agree to EULA.
  • In some cases, deal with the Captcha authentication.
  • Download firmware.
  • Start the updater without camera connection.
  • Turn camera on.
  • Select Mass Storage on camera screen.
  • Connect special USB cable (if this doesn't work, try other USB ports, or reboot computer and start again).
  • Click "next" on the Sony updater app and wait for progress bar.
  • When complete, camera will restart.
  • When LCD screen appears, disconnect USB cable.
  • Wait for "recovering data" message on camera screen.

Camera firmware updating does not have to work this way. Canon and Nikon have reduced this process to being simple and basic.

Sony is not a new company in the field of electronics and software, but this system is, in my view, a disgrace. Too many places for things to go wrong. Too many needless steps. A cable that Sony competitors do not require. Captcha just insults Sony customers by trying to prove they are legitimate. Of course, any hacker could set up an account and download the firmware anyway, so what are they trying to protect?

I love the Sony a7 III. Of the many cameras I've owned, it's my favorite. But this knuckelheaded approach to updating software is silly and and overly complex. Please Sony, clean this up. You are better than this.

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55 Comments

Daris Fox's picture

Sony software has always been dire, and this kind of update process is nothing new. I remember the hoops I had to jump through to get updates for their Vaio laptops, that is if they was supported beyond 6 months, and various other products over the last decade. That excludes the Quality Control, sometimes the updates are actually buggier than the original firmware!

Pieter Batenburg's picture

That captcha is awful. That is not only on the Sony site but lots of sites have adopted this horrible method.

For the rest, man, get a life. I have upgraded the firmware of most of my Sony cameras several times and it didn't take me more than 5 minutes. It has always worked on the first attempt,
If this is too difficult for you, stick to film cameras.

Mel Martin's picture

Silly remark. The A7III takes more than ten minutes just to do the update. Buy a stopwatch. But I think the bigger issue is needing the cable. The competition has figured out an easier way.
cheers..

Pieter Batenburg's picture

You are really whining about nothing. I bet before you have done all what Alexander Petrenko mentions you would also have spent ten minutes. It is a load of cobblers and whining about pretty nothing. If ten minutes per half year (or when the firmware upgrades appear) is too much time, you need a course in mindfulness pretty quickly.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

@Jan Kuize It seems you still have trouble reading. Maybe take some extra classes to understand the meaning of texts. It seems you have problems understanding context. You know: speaking in general or in a specific setting. There is a difference between saying that 7 out of 10 persons in a specific photo club had a Sony or 7 out of ten in general have a Sony.

I even frequent a photoclub (www.Dyxum.com) where 10 out of 10 own a Sony. Not so weird since it is a Sony users site.

Got it this time, or do I have to explain it in Jip en Janneke taal?

Well, no. Tomorrow you will tell everyone that I said that everyone has a Sony.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

We also meet a couple of times per year. And guess what: 100% Sony users.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

It is a simple reason. When I started shooting Minolta, I searched for a site that could help me use my first digital camera. I landed on the Dyxum site which started out as a Minolta site but later switched to a Sony site. In the past I was very active there but the aps-c part of the forum is practically dead. I go to the meetings when the weather is good enough though.
I sometimes go shooting with a local club in Breda and 2 years ago, I was the only one with a Sony and a couple of weeks ago, 7 out of 10 had switched to Sony.

Doug Stringham's picture

Latest numbers... not that it matters. But the Sony fanboys need to take a breather.

Manufacturer market share leaderboard:

Canon 37.3%
Nikon 26.7%
Sony 13.1%
Olympus 6.0%
Fujifilm 5.8%
Canon maintains a big lead in market share for cameras.

Year-over-year sales growth/decline leaderboard:

Fujifilm +19.4%
Canon -1.3%
Sony -6.6%
Olympus -13.8%
Nikon -15.0%

Pham Anh's picture

So, there's a choice to upgrade without register and upgrade with register. You choose the long way then crying about the time.
Also any micro USB will do the job, your house won't be blown out because of this, trust me.
Also downvote on any counter argument will surely show up that you are a great writer.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Mel Martin I think it's quite safe to say you are alone in this, no one with an ounce of know-how has issues updating the firmware. While the previous remark may be rude, it's not totally off the mark either...

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Nikon:

- agree to EULA
- download
- find compatible card reader
- connect card reader
- insert compatible card
- ensure the card is properly formatted
- copy firmware file to the card
- ensure file copied correctly (checksum)
- unmount the card safely
- eject the card carefully
- ensure your camera battery is fully charged
- open card slot
- insert card into correct slot

.....

Am I good in writing horror stories for non-tech-savvy? :)

Bert Nase's picture

What a bullshit!

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Would you be so kind to be more specific, dear Sir ;)

Jacques Cornell's picture

I'd still rather do it via card than cable. And, Sony's instructions are awful, which can force multiple attempts. I worked as a translator in Japan for 8 years, and it honestly baffles me how Japanese companies continually treat documentation for their export products as an afterthought. Of course, they're light-years ahead of the Chinese...

David James's picture

Not difficult at all, and no you don't need the OEM cable to make it work. How is plugging the camera in to update any more difficult than transferring to a card and upgrading that way?

Rk K's picture

If this is too difficult, that says more about you than the camera... Simple to follow, clear instructions and a captcha? Is that so hard? A child could do it. Also, any cable will work.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Special USB cable? You need the correct one, there is nothing special about it. Given the instruction is not for one camera specifically but more to cover all cameras this is of course so that people are not ignorant enough to use a USB B 8 pin when you need a USB B 5 pin etc. For a A7III it's not rocket science, you need a good USB C cabel

Navi Retlav's picture

Does the latest update for the A7RII deletes all the settings ?

Blake Griffin's picture

Seemed to work ok with everything in place for me.

dale clark's picture

me too

Fredrik H's picture

Don’t worry about the cable, I’ve tried Mac charger USB-C cable, the theater tools cable and even a random cable just lying around works fine.

Christian Lainesse's picture

I did not encounter any issue with updating my three Sony cameras. I did not even need to sign in any account, or prove anything through a captcha. Simple download of the latest firmware exe file, plug the camera, turn it on and run the file.

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

The same here. It's no big deal to update a Sony camera... Probably the author should stick to analog photography. No firmware needed...

dale clark's picture

same here. I never had to sign in for anything. The firmware links are easy to find and download just like any other file

Rob Davis's picture

I don't understand. Sony has perfected the camera. The rest of us are just roaming around covered in our own filth staring listlessly through optical viewfinders.

Doug Stringham's picture

"Perfected"

Michael Aubrey's picture

This is going to be a little embarrassing for you, but if you had scrolled down to the bottom of the page, you'd have seen this:

Michael Aubrey's picture

If you just click on that link, you get a direct download.

Sony's just trying to get accounts, but you're under no obligation to create one.

Adriano Brigante's picture

This is going to be a little embarrassing for you, but if you had read the end of the paragraph, you'd have seen this:
"(In very small print at the bottom of the page, it allows you to skip this step, but most people won't see it and will create the account.)"

Michael Aubrey's picture

Except: no, it isn't small print. It's large and blue and clearly space out prominently.

Adriano Brigante's picture

When you wrote your first message, you clearly thought he didn't see the link at all. Stop pretending otherwise.

Jack Van Lierop's picture

Stop pretending?! I hope you realize this is a comments section on a photography website, it really isn't important and certainly not worth being aggressive over. Relax. No one cares.

Adriano Brigante's picture

I wasn't being aggressive, I just pointed out the blatant dishonesty in his goalposts-shifting response.
Also, it looks like you care enough to reply. Once again, not being aggressive, just pointing out the incoherence.

Michael Aubrey's picture

**cough**

Jacques Cornell's picture

They put it at the bottom of the page for a reason - to hide it.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

No doubt updating the Sony firmware could be made simpler, but, you're way way way melodramatic. For instance, the download link to bypass creating/signing an account is not "very small print". It's the same size as 97% of the text on the page. They even bolded and colored it for you. https://support.d-imaging.sony.co.jp/support/ilc/account/ilce7m2/v401/en...

The rest of the whining, I can only surmise your IP is compromised, user error, and broken/malfunctioning computer.

Artur Roszak's picture

Well he is using a Mac...

Biggest Bot network ever discovered was compromised of Macs, due to decades of Apple brainwashing, Mac users believe they are invulnerable to security threads.

Diego Terzano's picture

Honestly I don't see what the big deal is about. Many devices require plugin them to a computer, run a piece of software, wait for completion and done. Yes, it could be made simpler via the SD card. Honestly, for me the biggest issue is not being able to easily import/export settings to the SD card. That would make it easy to keep settings in sync between multiple bodies or onto a new or rental camera. It would also make it easier to share settings between users and for teaching purposes. In any case, not sure what all the drama is about. I would understand if the process resulted in bricked cameras at an alarming frequency but it seems to be reliable. To me that is more important that convenience.

Bert Nase's picture

hmm, my Nikons can do that and my Sony too!

Jesse Merz's picture

Ex-Canon user. I hated firmware updates on Canon and I think Sony's way is a thousand times better.

Artur Roszak's picture

What a sad article....

Perfect example of "first world problem".....

Just wait till you have a bad block on your sd/cf card and it corrupts your firmware.

Sony process compares checksum, not only it's easy it's also safer.

Doesn't requires any magical oem cable, stop spreading fake news

Ruben Mellaart's picture

With this level of complaining you could be Dutch! Even I am impressed and ‘we’ are infamous for it haha

But, seriously, if you can spend 15 minutes on a captcha there is way more going on than the Sony update process taking long.

David Schöppe's picture

Do you even know that with this "aweful" procedure SONY is the only one making sure you will not run out of battery during the process?

There is no need for a special cable, who tells you this shit?!

But you are right, it takes way to long and could be streamlined.

Todd Phillips's picture

At least Sony regularly updates their cameras and lenses. I rarely saw an update with Nikon. And using Windows 10 machine the Sony firmware update is really easy. Try doing motherboard, Cisco router, or other hardware updates.

Paulo Macedo's picture

UEFI motherboard updates are quite fast, if you know what you're doing =/ Cisco routers on the other hand..I don't even want to remember.

Bert Nase's picture

I'm a Nikon shooter also owning a A7RIII. The Sony is a nightmare regarding Software/Firmware (...and never find the simplest adjustments when in stress and dark. Nikon has every button where it needs to be and I can adjust everything lightning fast without taking the camera down). With Nikon I just copy the firmware to my memory card as described in the article, go to menu and click update firmware. Simple as that. The Sony firmware updater doesn't even work on Mac. You have to go inside the updater and start (I don't have the names handy) the other bin file inside to even work (after setting the proper usb mode). It's not a confidential process at all.

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