The Firmware Update Woes

(commentary)

We’re now deep into the firmware updates for most of the mirrorless systems. Because these systems all use electronics in the lenses, we have to update both camera and lens these days. This is becoming a hassle in more than one way:

  • Every new lens tends to require that the camera bodies get updated (tables of lens conversion information and focusing performance, for example). 
  • Every new body tends to require that the lenses get updated.

Those two things alone start to become a real issue once you’ve got more than one body and two lenses. Every couple of months or so I find that I now need to sit down and do a full check of every body and lens firmware number for each of my mirrorless systems lest I manage to let something slip through the cracks and not get updated. We need a more monolithic way of updating products. 

Why can’t we have one firmware update with everything on it? When you do the update procedure on your camera, it would then look in that file and see if there’s a camera update available and ask you to perform it. Once done, it would look at the lens mounted on the camera and ask you to update that, if necessary. Once that is done, it would prompt you to mount each of the other lenses you might have for firmware inspection and update, if necessary. Voila. One and done. No need to keep track of all the files and figure out what is what. Which brings me to:

  • Firmware update names suck

I’ll use Fujifilm for an example since I just did a bunch of Fujifilm updates, but pretty much every maker has the same or similar problems. What the heck does XFUP0004.DAT refer to? Okay, I get the XF and UP bits (it’s a lens update for an XF lens). But 0004? 

Because I teach photo workshops, I tend to carry a full set of updates with me into the field. Too often I’ve found that a student hasn’t had the latest update installed (in some cases, even I haven’t! ;~). Sometimes that turns out to be a factor in something we’re trying to do. Okay, so I have a folder with Fujifilm firmware updates in it. You guessed it, there’s XFUP0001.DAT, XFUP0002.DAT, XFUP0003.DAT, and so on. Which is which? Worse still, I had an XFUP0004.DAT file already and the new lens update was also named XFUP0004.DAT. If somehow I get both files onto my computer, how would I know which is the latest update? 

Here’s the problem: the Japanese camera makers are still living in a DOS world. Why, I have no idea. Even Microsoft eventually managed to figure out how to extend 8.3 filenames into longer, more meaningful ones. Still, even if we assume that the filename has to be 8.3, a better naming convention would have been LUPxxyyy.DAT, where xx is the wide focal length or prime focal length and yyy is the telephoto focal length or nonexistent for primes. As in LUP1855.DAT. Hey, that would be a lens update for the 18-55! (By the way, why the file extension isn’t FUP for Firmware UPdate, I don’t know; that would give you back a couple of characters to use intelligently, and LUP [Lens UPdate] as an extension would give us three back.)

We need to abandon (or significantly update) DCF conventions. As long as we’re locked into 8.3 filenames, cameras are going to have increasing problems with the rest of the world, where we don’t have that restriction. 

Here’s the thing: not a single one of the camera makers has realized that one of their users’ problems is recognizing what’s what with files. The old DSC_####.JPG convention tells us very little (it’s a still image in JPEG format). The firmware update conventions tell us very little (in some cases no more than it’s a firmware update!). 

The DCF standards were wrong in the first place; if something is in the DCIM, or Digital Camera IMage, folder and has an extension of JPG or one of the known raw formats, we know it’s an image, so we don’t need the DSC part (Digital Still Camera). But the camera makers seem hellbent on not making anything even remotely user understandable. Heaven help you if your camera records AVCHD compatible video. The folder proliferation and naming conventions for that (derived from BluRay) are convoluted and arcane. 

It’s time for DCF to basically say:

  • Cameras create first level folders with meaning: STILLS, VIDEO, AUDIO, FIRMWARE, MISC (note that I made all those fit in 8 characters ;~), and then put the appropriate thing in the appropriate folder
  • Extensions are used to determine file type, not names
  • EXIF needs a field for longer, more meaningful names, controlled by the user, and these should be (optionally) substituted on ingest

Unfortunately, I don’t think things are going to change until the Japanese get completely disrupted by someone who just Thinks Different. As in “thinks like a user.” 

text and images © 2014 Thom Hogan -- All Rights Reserved   //    Follow us on Google+: Thom Hogan or on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #sansmirror