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

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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Previous comments
Paulo Macedo's picture

Ok, I am a Canon shooter but here's my 5 cents at this.

The Sony account - Might not be needed and you can skip it
The Captcha - Avoid bots from downloading files with no need and prevent real users from losing server bandwith.
The Cable - Ensure the camera is charging and if QC is done no data packet losses
The Update time - Could be faster.

Yes, Canon updates are more streamlined and by the time it takes to update it seems that Canon writing speeds are faster and firmware much simpler.

Sony is known for being a pain in the butt when it comes to updates, Vaio experience here. But I feel much safer whith a proper cable and battery and messing up with possible faulty SD cards and batteries.

Tony Northrup's picture

Remember 2014 when Samsung NX cameras could download updates directly over WiFi? You know, like my phone, watch, car, thermostat, security cameras... even my Sony TV.

Keith Mullin's picture

I manage a fleet of A7's (2 A7S2's, 1 A73, 3 A7R3's), and 3 FS5's. And have never once had a problem updating firmware. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and I've never been asked to set up an account. You can use ANY USB cable that fits, and no you don't even need to use USB-C for the 3's, though the data transfer would probably go faster.

The other great thing about the way Sony does things is that its the exact same process for updating lens firmware so you don't need a doc or learn a second process.

I have used cameras that update firmware via SD card, and have had way more problems.

N A's picture

>It's like being stuck in a Bosch painting
Hahaha, love this. Know exactly what you're talking about.

Fuji X series firmware update process is similar to Canon & Nikon. Quick and relatively painless.

Jared Campbell's picture

Can you guys try and find an even whinier grandma to write the next article? " Whaaaa it was too hard and i couldnt see the boxes because i couldnt find my bifocals. " Meanwhile, everyone else had already finished the update process in the time it took to write this comment.

FSTOPPERS shouldnt be the place for subjective complaint filled articles like this.( i found the update process easy). Everyone is now dumber for having read it.