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Firmware updates in future still for free?

close up shot of keys on a red surface

Small manufactures like Fuji, OM Digital Solutions and Panasonic offers since a while free firmware updates for their flagship models. Those firmware updates doesn’t fix bugs only but add also new functionalities. Whether this will be the case in future or not I would like to discuss in this small blog post. I mean firmware updates which add new functionality. Bug fix updates are not discussed here.

Sunset in Botswana kündigt das Ende kostenloser Firmware Updates bei digitalen Kameras an.

Reasons for free firmware updates

The small companies do have a difficult situation compared to the big three. Limited R&D capacities limit also the capabilities to bring new hardware in the same frequencies as the bigger ones. In case a company is not able to introduce new hardware, those companies are not mentioned in the medias. This ends in less brand awareness. Therefore those companies make less revenue which ends again in less R&D resources. Sounds like a vicious circle
One possibility to break this vicious circle are firmware updates, which add new functionalities. As this is “only” software, R&D need less resources. In addition customers are happier. The firmware adds value to their camera. In the mean time those firmware updates are already sales arguments. That is the reason that big companies are offering such kind of updates as well. Nikon just recently published a functional firmware update for their Z9.

Reasons against firmware updates for free

Not only hardware development needs resources in R&D. Also the development of firmware needs manpower. Despite this firmware will be tested and ties therefore R&D capabilities. Through firmware for free the companies cannot make revenue. Therefore the ongoing hardware sales has to finance the development. In addition the parallel firmware development disturbs the development of new hardware. In most of the cases the same developers are involved. As the market is decreasing also the numbers of sold cameras is decreasing. Therefore prices of hardware increases. Customer will buy less often a new hardware. In addition the innovation steps between each hardware generation are getting smaller. This decrease the interest in new hardware on customers side in addition. The differences between the owned and the new camera are to small.

How does the future look like?

As above described firmware updates for free do have tow sided of a coin. In fact companies do get more brand awareness, but also tie R&D resources. Those are urgently needed to develop new hardware. This potentially delays new hardware this is needed urgently. But new hardware brings higher margins than hardware which is already on the market for a longer time. In addition we all know that the camera market is shrinking. Therefore it will be more and more difficult to generate revenue for all manufacturers. Therefore we will see in near future a destructive competition. Brands will either disappear or bought by other brands. Even though that Nikon recently publishes a functional firmware update for its Z9, this was already mentioned at the launch of the Z9. Already know some of the brands offers only for their flagship model those functional updates.

Über den kostenlosen Firmware Updates digitaler Kameras ziehen sich düstere Wolken zusammen

I’m sure we will see very soon market adaptions. Therefore functional firmware updates will be only available for sales. Even more likely we will also see in the flagship models the strategy to bring new hardware to add new functionality as we do already see in the cheaper models. Sony already do have this strategy and other manufacture will follow soon or later. Otherwise the companies are not able to generate revenue with dropping numbers. Even thought firmware updates prolong the live span of camera hardware, but the companies are earning less revenue.
I’m sure this is a very controversial opinion and I’m curious what you think about this. Leave a comment with your thoughts. I’m looking forward to an active and respectful discussion.

Following might be interesting for you as well

In my blog post “Has the term focal length become obsolete” I share my thoughts about the terminology focal length.

USB-RAW processing in OM Workspace useful?

OM Workspace is a RAW file developer, which is for Olympus / OM System camera owners for free. Ist can be downloaded from the OM Digitalsolution website. As it is the OM Digitalsolutions own software it will be renewed on every product launch. Therefore the first one supporting RAW files of a new camera. Beside the possibility to use the computer processor it offers also to utilize the camera processor to process the RAW files. In forums and the social networks it is heavily discussed whether it makes sense to use the USB-RAW processing capabilities or not. With this short article I would like to help.

OM-1 product image

What is USB-RAW Processing in OM Workspace?

A in camera processor has different tasks than a processor in a computer. Therefore concept and design is fundamental different. A camera processor is optimized for the task needed in a camera. Means that the usage of a camera should be possible, without any delay, at all times. For this task the camera processors has special areas, which are optimized for image processing. This means that a camera processor can make image processing much faster than a ordinary computer processor. A ordinary computer processor is optimized for general usage. This is the reason why OM Workspace offers you the option to utilize the camera processor for RAW image development

How can I use USB-RAW Processing?

Preconditions to use USB-RAW processing is that you have installed OM Workspace and have one compatible camera (E-M1 Mark III; E-M1 Mark II, E-M1X und die OM-1) connected via USB to your computer. It is important that you are using the same camera for processing as you have used for taking the images. Also important is that you set the camera mode to “RAW/Control” . In addition it is important that the camera is connected directly to the computer and no hub is used.

After you have startet the software you can activate USB-RAW processing in the icon bar

screenshot how to activate USB-RAW processing in OM Workspace

Or in case you prefer to uses USB-RAW processing all the time you can make the setting also in the option menu.

where the USB-RAW procession option is located in the settings

Now OM Workspace is able to utilize the camera processor to develop your images..

When does it make sense to use USB-RAW processing?

In case you are using the newest version of apple computers, like the Mac Studio, which do have massive computer power, it only makes sense to use USB-RAW processing, if you would get the same image quality as you are getting from in camera JEPG images. For all other scenarios, the development with the camera processor, which is as said optimized for images processing, will be much faster than processing the images with your computer. I do have a MacBook Pro from 2018, the development with the camera processor is 10x faster as with the Intel processor. In case you would like to judge the advantage in your case, make a simple test. I would be happy when you would share your experience down in the comments.

Why it doesn’t makes sense to define 35mm format as standard.

Panoramasicht vom Fellhorn

In the first years of digital photography only sensors, which were smaller in size than 35mm format (24x36mm2), have been available. As the normal user has been used to use the focal length, and the resulting field of view, at this time industry began to specify the focal length of a camera as equivalent to 35mm. This had the advantage that consumers quickly understood which angle of view a lens depicts on the smaller sensor.

When sensors in 35mm format came onto the market, this nomenclature was adopted. This quickly established a test culture in which cameras with a smaller sensor were compared with the 35mm format. For this purpose, the 35mm format was taken as the standard. The recording of the camera with the smaller sensor was made in such a way that it came as close as possible to that of the 35mm camera.

The consequences

This approach led very fast to statements such as: The depth of field of an image depends on the sensor size. What is not correct. Who is interested in further details about this topic should read my blog post “Four influencing image quality factors of digital cameras”.

However, it usually does not stop with the above statements. The testers often go even further and crop all sensors that are used for comparison to the 3:2 format. Why? If you look at the history of photography, you realize that photography has always had many different formats. Nevertheless, you then hear statements like: Despite the same native resolution, the sensor has a lower resolution in the 3:2 format. In my understanding, this is a wrong approach, you could also crop the 3:2 format to the 4:3 format. This would end in a reverse the statement. Here’s an example where I took the Micro Four Thirds camera as a reference and cropped the Sony image.

Samle images taken with the E-M1 Mark III
E-M1 Mark III, 40mm, 1/500s, F2.8, ISO200
Sample image taken with the Sony A7 III
Sony A7 III, 43mm, 1/320s, F2.8, ISO100

Alternatives for the 35mm format as standard

After more than 3 decades of digital photography, it is time to stop comparing with the 35mm format. Instead of doing that we should start to discuss the strength of each format. This would give the end-user the opportunity to select the format on their needs. With a Micro Four Thirds camera, you will never make the same images as with a 35mm camera. Just as you will not take the same pictures with a medium format camera and a 35mm camera. For this reason, it makes little sense to use such comparisons in technology. As users, we have to ask ourselves what is important to us in order to implement our photographic ideas.

In case you have to be as mobile as possible Micro Four Thirds is the camera system of your choice. In case you need to shoot in complete darkness and you need to have the best of the best noise performance then a medium format camera might be the right selection. However at the end of the day, the photographer takes the image. Technology is just a support for doing things easier than without it, it cannot substitute your creativity.

Focus stacking and focus bracketing

Normally in photography one tries to separate an object from the background with the help of the smallest possible depth of field. This helps to reduce the viewer’s gaze to draw attention to the important part of the picture. However there are situations in which the depth of field is too small and needs to be expanded. This is mostly necessary when you make macros and you are very close to the object. For this purpose, many cameras from OM Digital Solutions provide focus bracketing and focus stacking. How these two functions work and what differentiates them I want to show you here.

The differences between focus stacking and focus bracketing

In case you are using a camera of the OM-D series focus bracketing and focus stacking differentiate in the following two points.

  1. With focus stacking you can shot not more than 15 images, whereas in case of focus bracketing you can shot up to 999 images.
  2. With focus stacking you are getting a JPEG file, which is stacked out of the different images and each single shot in addition in RAW/JEPG. In case of focus bracketing you just get the single images and not a final stacked one. Those images can be used for stacking in a dedicated software afterwards.

Both methods are suitable to expand the depth of field of your images. Focus stacking is easier to use, as the result can be viewed directly in-camera. In addition, the camera shows you a small frame, which indicates the area which will be lost after the images are stacked. Focus bracketing does make sense in case the number of images available in focus stacking is not enough.

Last but not least it is important to know, that Fokus bracketing can be used with all Micro Four Thirds, which have autofocus functionality. Whereas focus stacking is usable only with compatible lenses. Which of the lense are compatible depends on the camera you are using and is also changing from time to time. Therefore please have a look at the OM Digitalsolutions Q&A website if needed.

The settings

Screen shot OM-D Menu showing bracketing capabilities

In “camera menu 2” you find the entry “Bracketing”. Select it, navigate to “Focus BKT” and open it with the right key on the keypad.

Screen shot OM-D Menu showing stacking capabilities

Select “Focus stacking” to activate focus stacking or select “off” in case you would use focus bracketing instead.

Screen shot OM-D Menu showing stacking capabilities

The amount of images you would like to take is selectable in “Amount of images” In case you have selected focus stacking you can select up to 15 images. Otherwise, up to 99 images are possible.

Screen shot OM-D Menu showing focus distance settings in case you are using focus bracketing or stacking´

In addition, you can define the focus difference between every single shot.

Which value to be selected depends on the object, aperture and focal length. Therefore you could not tell which is the best fitting one. Best you start with the standard value 5 and change it in case you see issues in the final image. As a starting point, I determine the distance between the focus points when using the M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm F2.8 Macro on the closest focus distance

SchrittgrößeDistance of focus points on the object
10.2 cm
20.3 cm
30.5 cm
40.7 cm
50.8 cm
61 cm
71.1 cm
81.3 cm
91.4 cm
101.5 cm
Screen shot OM-D Menu

In case you would like to use an external Flash you can choose the time your flash needs to recharge in the flash charging time.

Attention:

As focus stacking is using the silent shutter, the flash is deactivated. In case you would like to use the flash you have to activate it in the camera2 menu under “Antishock / silent”.

Screen shot OM-D Menu

Finally, a small animation of images that were taken with different sharpness settings.

After merging the single images the final result looks like this. Compared to the normal image the depth of field is increased.

Focus Stacking result sample image
Out of 15 images merged result

In case you do have any comments please leave them below.

Has the term focal length become obsolete?

Bild der weißen Olympus PEN E-P7

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In analogue times, the world was still simple. If you disregard medium format cameras, which were only affordable for professional photographers these days, there were only 35mm format cameras available. All focal lengths were easy comparable. Nowadays, however, there are several formats available. Besides the 35mm format APS-C and Micro Four Thirds are available. Those cameras, are showing a different angle of view with the same focal length due to different sensor sizes. To make matters worse, the APS-C cameras also have slightly different sizes. With Canon, APS-C is 22.3 × 14.9 mm2 and Nikon has 23.5 × 15.6mm2. This sounds little but makes a difference in the recorded angle of view.

Olympus E-P7 in front of a phone

Since customers were used to the focal length specifications in 35mm format in analogue times, at the beginning of the digital age camera manufacturers converted the focal lengths of other sensor formats to 35mm using the so-called crop factor. This helped the user to understand which angle of view he could record with the lens. The approach certainly made sense. As at the beginning the entire target group of manufacturers were used to the focal length information from the analogue cameras. Therefore, easier to sell new products.

Nowadays this is no longer the case, as the younger generation did not grow up with the 35mm format. So I notice again and again that I look into questioning eyes when I talk about crop factor, when I try to explain that the lens with a focal length of 25mm in Micro Four Thirds format records the same angle of view as a 50mm lens in 35mm. After all, the lens says, mostly very prominently, 25mm and not 50mm.

Why don’t we use the angle of view instead of focal length?

In the specifications of the lenses, the manufacturers always specify the angle of view. Which is in case of a 25mm lens in Microfour Thirds it 47 ° the same as for a 50mm lens in 35mm format. In case the manufacturers would write the angle of view on the lenses instead of the focal length, a comparison would again be possible without any conversion. Even newcomers would understand that the two lenses can be used for the same purpose. For the experts among us, this might be hard in the beginning. Who has the angle of view for each lens in mind? But that is only a matter of time, especially if the corresponding angle of view is printed on each lens. It would soon be easy for us to have the angle of view ready.

image of a  micro four third lens with focal length of 8-25mm

Conclusion

I am aware that this is only a theoretical game of thought. Current practice is too deeply rooted for that. Manufacturers who use 35mm image sensors, in particular, have a strong interest in having this sensor size as a reference. This strengthens their position as the holy grail of image quality. Thought by the end-user, however, it makes perfect sense to use the angle of view. This would make all lenses directly comparable. A conversion of focal lengths would not be necessary. Yes, maybe not for those of you who are well versed, but for those of you who are new to photography and have no idea about all of this, it will be easier.

Your opinion is asked

I am looking forward to discussing the topic with you. So leave a comment with your perspective or opinion. I look forward to a factual discussion with you.