Nikon’s Firmware Update Strategy – Adding New Features with Hardware Limits

Nikon's Firmware Update Strategy – Adding New Features with Hardware Limits

During CP+ 2024, our colleagues from Phototrend had the occasion to talk with Mitsuteru Hino-san from Nikon to discuss their latest mirrorless cameras, innovations, and also the company’s strategy regarding firmware updates and adding new features. So, let’s take a closer look at it!

After spending a couple of hundred or even thousands of your hard-earned money on a new mirrorless camera, there is one thing that most of us usually never consider: firmware updates and support. Indeed, when it comes to firmware updates, I never expect any camera manufacturer to add features I need at the time of purchase in the future. I get the camera that fits my needs at the time of release, and if I get free additional features in the future via a firmware update, I see it as a bonus.

Nikon Z 9
Nikon Z 9 in the CineD studio during our test. Image credit: CineD

Mirrorless camera firmware updates

Developing and bringing firmware updates to the user obviously costs money to camera manufacturers. Last year, we debated the content creator’s frustration over Sony Alpha mirrorless camera firmware updates. Sony actually announced a $149 firmware update that should be available this month that adds framing guidelines. We even launched a CineD poll on paid firmware updates if you want to learn more about it and vote.

On the other hand, Nikon continues to release firmware updates for their mirrorless cameras at a consistent rate, free of charge for the users. Over the years, the company has released three major firmware updates for the Nikon Z 9. The Nikon Z 8 recently got its first major firmware update, version 2.0, which improves autofocus capabilities, adds an Auto Capture feature, and a new ISO200 N-log option. So, what is Nikon’s strategy regarding firmware updates for their mirrorless cameras?

Nikon NIKKOR Z 135mm F/1.8S Plena
Image credit: Nikon

Nikon mirrorless cameras’ firmware updates

During CP+ 2024, the French website Phototrend interviewed Mitsuteru Hino-san from the development sector of Nikon’s Imaging Business Unit. Here is what he had to say about mirrorless camera firmware updates in general:

In the DSLRs days, we relied heavily on the mirror and mechanical elements inside the camera. A lot of innovation is going on, especially in mirrorless cameras’ processors and sensors. We can further extend these functionalities thanks to this accumulated information and knowledge. Even after our users have purchased a product, thanks to these firmware updates, they can continue to enjoy and use their Nikon Z camera. We want to exceed our customers’ expectations. We indeed put more emphasis on firmware updates for mirrorless cameras. For example, we received much feedback from our users when introducing subject detection on the Z 7.

Nikon has also changed its organization: firmware developers are now more exposed to customer feedback than before, so we can quickly reflect customer requests in these updates.

Back in the days of film and then DSLRs, we were already accumulating customer feedback. But all we could tell them then was that we’d incorporate these changes into the next model. Nowadays, because firmware developers can identify what can be done, we don’t have to wait for the next model to make improvements.

At the end of 2021, we launched the Nikon Z 9. Since its launch, we’ve had three major firmware updates: v2.00, v3.00, and v4.00. The v2.00 firmware update was already planned. But for v3.00 and v4.00, most elements reflected customer requests or opinions. Of course, we also have to consider sensor capacity and processor speed. So, not all requests can be met, but we do our best to respond to customer requests as much as possible. Before taking up my current position, I was in charge of developing firmware updates, so I’m very passionate about this subject.

Mitsuteru Hino-san – Nikon
Nikon Z 8 and Z 9 size comparison
Nikon Z 9 next to the Z 8. Image credit: CineD

Firmware updates and hardware limitations

As you can tell, Nikon listens to user feedback, tries to bring new features, and fixes things they might have missed before launching a new camera. However, with firmware updates, the sky is not the limit, but hardware often is:

First of all, regarding resources, development for firmware is quite limited. Of course, a firmware update cannot exceed the capabilities defined by the hardware. We can’t increase the definition of a sensor or its dynamic range, you understand. For these requests, we have to wait for the next model.

For example, if it’s a request related to the user interface, we can quickly implement it and then incorporate these changes into the body via a firmware update. This is how we judge whether we should wait for the next model or whether we can incorporate the change in a firmware update. Moreover, by listening carefully to customers, we often discover new things we’d never noticed before. We learn a lot from these discoveries and start working on areas we haven’t caught before.

For example, the shutter sound of the Z 9 and Z 8. The Z 9 is not equipped with a mechanical shutter, so we thought it should not emit a shutter sound. That’s why we opted for a single sound that can be emitted from the camera’s loudspeaker. On the Z 9, we’ve also placed the speaker close enough to the electronic viewfinder so that the photographer can hear the sound.

However, we realized that the shutter sound is also used to communicate with the model, for example. So we had to change the speaker’s position, but that’s a hardware issue. We then realized that if you have several shutter sound options, you can use them for communication. We also discovered that we needed to adjust the sound level, not only for the photographer but also so that the model could hear it. Beyond this idea of cat meowing, we’ve added the possibility of modifying the shutter sound level and different types of trigger sound after launching the Z 9.

Mitsuteru Hino-san – Nikon

While new features can be added based on user feedback, not everything is possible. However, it’s always nice to see that companies listen, try to innovate, and put in the work to update their products when possible. Also, in this day and age, fighting against planned obsolescence is an intelligent move from Nikon and other camera manufacturers.

What do you think about mirrorless camera firmware updates? Are you a Nikon Z user who has benefited from these free firmware updates? Would you pay for a firmware update? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments down below!

Source: Phototrend


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