Talking about Hardware, Firmware, and Software, oh my!? – Photography Word of the Week 4

This week we will be talking about a different aspect of photography: the equipment we love and loathe. A lot of cameras, recording devices, and even lenses have version numbers, and sometimes it can get confusing getting all those hardware, firmware, and software updates in order. In this blog post, we’ll try to make sense of it all, and see why it matters to you, the person behind the camera!

Hardware, Firmware, and Software, oh my!?

First up, lets make the distinction between Hardware, Firmware, and Software.

Hardware normally refers to the physical device, including sensors, processors, batteries, etc. It could be a camera, computer, laptop, tablet, phone, flash, lens, or even a remote. They can be extremely complex, or the simplest of devices. In order to get the new version of a hardware, you typically have to purchase it. For example, the Canon 5D mark III camera is the version 3 of the Canon 5D series. You cannot just download something to turn your 5D mark II into a 5D mark III, since the cameras are physically different, including new chips, processors, sensors, etc.

Software and Applications (Apps) are the other pieces of the puzzle we are usually very familiar with. They are the programs which run on your hardware, such as the web browser you’re using to read this blog. When it comes to photography, software is usually what runs on your computer, not your camera, such as Adobe Photoshop, Canon Photo Professional, etc. However, there are some third party groups such as Magic Lantern and Nikonhacker who build specialized software which you can install on your camera in order to teach it new tricks.

Firmware is often misunderstood, but plays a very vital role. Firmware is a special category of software which normally comes already installed on a chip within your camera or other device. Firmware is what makes your device able to do something, anything. Without firmware, your camera wouldn’t know what to do when you press the shutter or any other button, turn knobs, etc. Depending on the make and model of your camera or other equipment, some manufacturers are very generous in offering frequent free firmware upgrades full of new features, while others only provide minor bug fixes. In either case, it’s usually best to upgrade the firmware to ensure you get access to all the features which are available for your camera. One example would be a camera which can only record video in 720p resolution might get a firmware upgrade to allow it to record in 1080p. All you need to do is download the firmware, install it in your camera, and you can take advantage of the new features or bug fixes.

Version Numbers
Version numbers are usually a combination of 1 to 4 numbers, such as version 1, version 1.2, version 1.2.3 or version 1.2.3.138.

  1. Major Revision – The first number represents a major revision, which usually includes multiple new features, or a fundamental change in the way the software or firmware works
  2. Minor Revision – The second number represents a minor revision, which would typically add one new feature and maybe fix a few bugs
  3. Bug Fix – The third number represents a bug fix, usually something which can’t wait until the next Minor Revision.
  4. Build Number – Finally, the fourth number is a build number, which is mostly an internal reference used to identify which version of the code was used to build the software or firmware. Some companies do builds every night (nightly builds) with extra builds during the day as needed to test out something, so the build numbers can climb up very quickly.

Conclusion
So now you understand that a Canon 5D Mark III with firmware 1.2.3 is the third version of the Canon 5D camera running firmware version 1.2.3 which added new features and fixed some bugs compared to when the Canon 5D Mark III first came out.

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Jean-Pierre La Forest

Photographer / Videographer at Studio JPIC
Jean-Pierre La Forest is a photographer and videographer based out of Florenceville-Bristol, NB, Canada. JP specializes in commercial and tourism photography and videography, where he helps businesses, artists, and towns to market themselves. He also teaches the art of photography on his YouTube channel and blog. You can reach him on

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