On Wednesday, Sony posted new firmware for the alpha 7 and the alpha 7R. The Internet immediately echoed with tales of bricked cameras. I waited a day, and upgraded both an a7 and an a7R with no troubles.
I think all the upgrade sturm-und-drang was the result of an unforced error on Sony’s part. Most camera manufacturers do their firmware updates by having you download a file, copying it to a flash card, sticking the card in the camera, clicking a few buttons, and sitting back while the camera updates itself. It’s a reliable procedure because there are few variables not under the control of the camera manufacturer. The camera can check the file for integrity, and from there on everything happens in a known software environment. I suppose it’s possible for a defective flash card to gum up the works, but that’s about it.
In Sony’s case, you run the software, then connect the camera up to your computer with a USB cable after you’ve put it in mass-storage mode. Sony cautions you to use the micro-USB cable that came with the camera. What are the odds that a user can find that cable? What are the odds that she can tell if she’s found that cable when she’s holding it in her hands, since it looks for all the world like any other micro-USB cable? This is Sony trying to control the uncontrollable.
After you’ve hooked up the camera to the computer and clicked through some screens, the software tells you to eject the camera, say OK to a message on the back, and click a button. Then the firmware upgrade finally starts.
This is an updating method fraught with danger. First off, Sony has to produce versions of the updating software for many different computing platforms, and test all those versions. They can’t possibly try every combination of hardware and OS software. Second, Sony doesn’t know what else is running on your computer. They tell you to shut everything else down, but there are many programs that run in the background, and will be missed. Then there’s antivirus software, which looks askance at any mass storage device connected to a USB port.
It’s a miracle that most users are able to upgrade with no problems.