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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.

OM System OM-1 AI detection AF

With the OM-1, OM Digitalsolutions has taken the intelligent object detection, introduced with the OM-D E-M1X to a new level and called it “AI detection AF”. In addition to the additional detection of cats and dogs, both the speed of detection and the accuracy have been significantly improved. I want to briefly discuss which improvements have been achieved and how.

Speed

The OM-1 introduces two new essential improvement for subject detection AF. On one hand side the sensor and on the other hand the image processor 

The new sensor is a backside illuminated stacked CMOS sensor, who has pixels which are divided in four sub pixel. This design brings two essential improvements compared to the OM-D E-M1X. A stacked sensor can be read out much faster and is therefore able to deliver needed information for AF calculation faster. The four sub pixel information can be read out separately and could be utilized as cross sensors for phase detection autofocus. This is the reason why the OM-1 has a 100% sensor coverage of autofocus sensors. But providing the information faster is only one thing. To be able to utilize this data the image processor has to able to process those data. Therefore the new image processor of the OM-1 is much faster as the one in the E-M1X.

Starting kingfisher taken with AI Detection AF

Precision

Beside speed accuracy in subject detection is as important. A fast autofocus is not helpful, if the subject detection is working well. The accuracy of the OM-1 subject detection as been improved by two changes. On one hand side the size of the single AF points as been reduced. Therefore, are more AF points available, which leads to a better differentiation between objects, background and foreground. Result is that the camera is not irritated by branches or similar interruptions, which leads to a improved subject detection. On the other hand the algorithm to recognize the single subjects has been improve and programmed directly into the processor, which is thanks to the much higher processing speed able to deliver the focus results in a shorter time. The camera is able to react to changes in front of a lens much faster.

Kingfisher taken with the OM-1
Kingfisher

Functional AI detection AF Improvements

Luckily the improvements of the OM-1 are not only in speed and precision, but also in functionality. In case of the E-M1X the intelligent subject detection is only available when you activate C-AF + Tracking and the hole sensor area. That is the reason that the photographer is not able to recognize which subject will be focused on. Even though the camera focus on the subject which is closest to the selected AF point.

The OM-1 is offering intelligent subject detection also on S-AF and the “normal” C-AF mode. In opposite to the C-AF + Tracking, which is following the focused subject, S-AF and C-AF keeps the position in the frame and reacts accordingly. This enable the photographer to decide which of the functionality fits to his / her needs best.

Great tit in the trees taken with the OM-1

Conclusion about AI detection AF

The new generation of subject detection as essential improvements compared to the one introduce three years ago with the E-M1X. All aspects, which do have influence in subject detection, has been improved.

Die neue  Generation der Objekterkennung ist eine wesentliche Verbesserung gegenüber der vor 3 Jahren vorgestellten E-M1X. Alle Aspekte, die einen Einfluß auf die Objekterkennung haben, wurden wesentlich verbessert. The interaction of the new sensor, new processor and new algorithms gives you a package that makes it much easier to photograph objects such as birds in flight. This development also shows what we can expect from new camera generations in the future. Instead of just increasing the number of pixels, there will be more and more computational photography, in which the camera provides functions that make it easier for the photographer to achieve results. After all, 20 million pixels, the OM-1 is more than enough to print out the pictures in any desired size and hang them on the wall.

OM-1 details

Interested in details about the OM System OM-1, then read “OM System OM-1 introduced”

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.

OM System standard lens comparison

product image of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO

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OM Digital Solutions introduced the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO today and some of you may ask yourself whether this lens is necessary. After all OM Digital Solutions is already offering two standard lenses, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO and the M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.8. Whether the new lens is an option for you is up to you. Therefore I made some OM System standard lens comparison images to show the different field of view and bokeh of the three lenses.

Field of view differences

The first image shows the field of view of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO.

Sample image taken with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO
M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO

The following two images are showing the M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO and the M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.8. For the comparison, I kept the distance equal and only changed lenses. Therefore you can see the different field of view the lenses are offering.

Sample image taken with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO
M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO
Sample image taken with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO
M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.8

Besides the obvious difference to the 20mm F1.4, it is interesting that the field of view of the two 25mm lenses is different too. Although the datasheet shows the same focal length and field of view.

Comparison Bokeh

For the next comparison, I tried to keep the size of the fungi the same. This enables us to compare the Bokeh effect of those lenses. Same order as before.

Bokeh Sample image taken with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO
M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO

This image shows how nice the 20mm F1.4 separates the fungi from the background.

Bokeh Sample image taken with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO
M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO
Bokeh Sample image taken with the M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.8
M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.8

Compared to the 20mm F1.2 the background of the 20mm F1.4 is a bit sharper. Compared to the 25mm F1.8 a bit unsharper. For a better comparison find a crop of the images below.

Bokeh Sample image
M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO
Bokeh Sample image
M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm F1.2 PRO
Bokeh Sample image
M.Zuiko Digital 25mm F1.8

Not only field of view, size, weight and price of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO is in between the two 25mm lenses, but also the Bokeh effect. Which of the three lenses fit best to your needs is up to you.

Here you find details about the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 lens

M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO introduced

Produktaufnahme des M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO

On 27th October 2021 OM Digital Solutions introduced the new OM system brand. The M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO introduced is the first product, which carries the brand. Future products from OM Digital Solutions will be published under OM System and Olympus will gradually disappear. Some won’t like it, but for me, the brand is irrelevant as long as the quality is fine.

Image of the Völkerschlachtdenkmals in Leipzig
Völkerschlacht monument Leipzig

Haptics and Design of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO introduced

As the lens carries “PRO” in its name, it looks like the other “PRO” lenses from OM Digital Solutions. Like the 12-45mm lens development focused on the smallest possible size. Therefore it doesn’t have a focus clutch nor an L-Fn button. It feels premium and the focus ring makes a solid and reliable impression. Exactly as you would expect it from a “PRO” lens. In opposite to the F1.2, the lens hood doesn’t have a lock button. The lens hood snaps solidly in and it doesn’t look like that you will lose it. As always by OM Digital Solutions the lens is perfectly dustproof and splashproof. You can securely use it at a temperature below 0°C. Also here it follows the “PRO” standard. It is after the 150-400mmF4.5 and 8-25mm F4 the third lens with a fluorine coating, which avoids that liquids can stick on the surface.

Sunrise in Seevetal
Sunrise Seevetal

Focal length and field of view

With 20mm the lens has a field of view of 57°. This correlates with the so-called standard lens, which simulates the human field of view, which is between 50° and 60°, very good. Strictly speaking, it is closer to a standard lens as the 25mm, which has a field of view of 47°. Anyway is the focal length not common as most photographers prefer a 25mm or 17mm lens. As OM Digital Solutions have already an F1.2 and F1.8 lenses with those focal lengths it is logical to introduce such a focal length. It fits exactly between them.

Quality and Speed of the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO introduced

As you can expect from a PRO lens the sharpness is excellent in the centre as well as in the corners. Distortions in the corners are neither in JPEG nor in RAW files visible and well-controlled. I was not able to fine chromatic aberration. Lens fault correction is one but image characteristic the other side. With a maximum aperture of F1.4 is the 20mm only slightly slower than the F1.2 lenses. You can perfectly separate your object from the background. The 20mm lens supports the so-called “Feathered Boked”, which offers a smooth transition between sharp and unsharp areas. Due to this, you will get a nice harmonic unsharp background, even though you have overlapping objects with hard edges.

For focusing, OM Digital Solution is moving only one lens element, which offers especially when you are using contrast AF only a lot of advantages. Less weight has to be moved and therefore changes in direction are possible faster. This you recognise in the praxis as well, focus is fast and reliable.

Image of the Dom in Magdeburg
Magdeburger Dom

Conclusion

Even though that the 20mm lens is a not common focal length, you find in history a lot of lenses with a field of view of 57°. For example, the Olympus OM 40mm F2, which has been produced in the eighties only in a few numbers. Also, other manufacturers do have such a focal length in their portfolio.
This focal length is very versatile and is not only useful for street and portrait images but also usable for landscape, reportage and documentation. Due to its fast aperture and the short closest focus distance you are able to separate your object perfectly from the background. The Feathered Bokeh make the unsharp background very harmonic. Sharpness and aberration correction is fantastic. The lens rightly bears “PRO” in its name. Who doesn’t need an even faster lens with even more image quality and prefers therefore one of the F1.2 lenses, get a very affordable lens with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm F1.4 PRO. Though it is not as fast as the F1.2 lenses, it is lighter and more compact.

20mm F1.4 PRO lens in the forest

In case you would like to see a depth of field comparison with the other normal lenses of O Digitalsolution read “OM System standard lens comparison”.