Dear Canon/Nikon/Panasonic Can I Use Custom Firmware With My Camera?

I was really interested to see how camera makers reps would respond to questions about installing custom firmware on their cameras. I approached Canon, Nikon & Panasonic customer service departments with a simple question:

Dear Canon/Nikon/Panasonic Can I Use Custom Firmware With My Camera?

Dear Canon/Nikon/Panasonic,

I would like to use Magic Lantern/Nikon Hacker / Ptool with my 5DmkII/D7000/GH2 and was wondering if it will void my warranty.

all my best,
udi

Both the short version, No, Yes, Yes and a longer more detailed one after the jump.

Here is the reply I got from each

Canon

canon

Basically, to my understanding Canon said that using Magic lantern would not kill the warranty. But if the camera was to be bricked by ML, they would charge for the fix. If the damage is not ML related it would be covered. you can read the correspondence and judge for yourself.

First Mail

Thank you for contacting Canon product support regarding your EOS 5D Mark II.

Canon cannot support the use of any third party firmware replacement, and if the camera is damaged by the use of such a firmware, then the repair may not be covered under the warranty.  The warranty protects you from any issues due to workmanship or materials in the camera as it shipped from the factory.  It does not cover damage caused by abuse, misuse or alteration.

Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance with your EOS 5D Mark II. Thank you for choosing Canon.

This was not clear enough for me so I replied 

Thanks XXXX,

I understand that Canon is not responsible for any damage created using the ML firmware. My question is if merely using the firmware voids the warranty.

and got this mail in return

We appreciate your continued correspondence regarding your EOS 5D Mark II.

There is no such thing as “voiding” the Canon warranty, there are simply repairs that are covered, and those that are not.

For instance, the repairs for a failure of the buttons on the back of the camera within the warranty period, on a camera that does not show any evidence of mishandling or misuse, would likely be covered. Repairs for a camera that is “bricked” or otherwise having issues directly related to using a third party firmware would not be covered.

Even if a camera had to have the main board replaced due to it being “bricked” by a third party firmware, and then at some point later (but still within the warranty period) the buttons malfunctioned, the same rules still apply. The prior repair would not disqualify the camera from future warranty repairs. If a problem happens within the first year of ownership, is due to the materials or workmanship in the camera, and our service center technicians determine that it is not due to abuse, misuse, modification, or other outside causes, it is covered by the warranty.

Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance with your questions about Canon cameras. Thank you for choosing Canon.

Nikon

Nikon

Things were way simpler with Nikon. They sent a short response back:

Thank you for contacting Nikon, I’ll be more than glad to assist you. Using a firmware version from an unknown source will void your warranty.

Panasonic

Panasonic

Things were a bit weird with Panasonic. I only got a valid response after three days (and three different mails), but when they finally replied it was very clear:

Yes, if you do proceed to use this option your warranty will be voided.

We hope this information is helpful to you. Thank you for contacting Panasonic

Analysis

To me it looks like Canon are giving the best answer here, they are clearly separating dealing with issues that are directly related to running custom firmware and issues that are not at all relevant to it. This kinda reinforces my earlier thoughts, that ML is actually good for Canon. TU Canon!

Both Panasonic and Nikon are very clear: running any “third party” firmware on their camera immediately voids the warranty. This is not at all trivial to me, as many camera failures can be completely unrelated to firmware, for example a cracked body or internal light leak or any one of 1,000,001 other things that may go wrong with a camera. I would be way more comfortable if Nikon and Panasonic were a bit more restrictive on voiding the warranty (or if they are, communicate about it better).

Looking into other similar industries, Apple has this on their website:

Apple strongly cautions against installing any software that hacks iOS. It is also important to note that unauthorized modification of iOS is a violation of the iOS end-user software license agreement and because of this, Apple may deny service for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch that has installed any unauthorized software.”

Which to me reads that installing custom firmware on an iDevice kills the warranty as well.

Does It Make Sense?

As always, that depends on who you ask. I can totally see why A hardware company will refuse to treat a device with custom firmware installed. Who knows what code is being executed in there and what tricks it may run on hardware. Imagine a simple hack that simply override the shutter button. I am not really sure why anyone will put that in a firmware file, but it serves as a good example on why a company may refuse a hacked device.

On the other hand, imagine that the shutter button still does not work after reverting the firmware back to the original manufacturer file. That could indicate something is really wrong with the camera and the company should take it.

All that said, both the Nikon hacker firmware and the PTF manipulation tool should be reversible if you did not brick your camera, so I am not even sure if anyone can tell that you ran a custom firmware at all to void your warranty.

WOW, you made it to the bottom of this long and technical post, congrats :) If you ever had an experience with customer care and 3rd part firmware or just want to express your thought I would love to hear.

  • acn

    Chdk or magic lantern are not firmware replacements. Those work like an app / software and there are no changes required to the factory firmware.

    That makes a big difference in understanding how those work and you should clarify it

    • Albin

      I think what you read is that Canon has had nearly a decade of actually dealing with a highly sophisticated enhancement adopted by many users, and those users consider it part and parcel of buying a Canon camera, i.e. competitor models must “beat” the equivalent Canon+CHDK or +Magic Lantern model, and usually can’t. The other makers are simply speculating about something that doesn’t really exist for their cameras and don’t want to accept anything on that basis.

      • http://www.diyphotography.net/ udi tirosh

        well said Albin

      • http://micahmedia.com/ Micah

        Well that is a reasonable assumption, but from my experience, I’d just say that N customer support doesn’t know it’s ass from it’s elbow and is horribly unprofessional. YMMV.

    • http://www.diyphotography.net/ udi tirosh

      I see your point as far as how it seems that ML loads, however, I do not agree.

      Firmware is the piece of software that drives the camera. the way that this piece of software is loaded memory is completely irrelevant. It may load from the camera’s internal flash or from an external drive (or even from the net), it still ends up being the system that drives the camera.

      That said, the DryOS boot process definitely overrides the original firmware with Magic lantern when it loads (even if does not “burn” the image into the camera’s internal flash, and it is not a “software” that simply loads into memory. CHDK does a similar trick

      • acn

        I get what you’re saying, but again, it’s just like a software application running on a common OS. You can use software that will risk damaging hardware some way.

        That given, again: the firmware is not flashed over or replaced and that is a key fact, in my opinion. The process of flashing custom firmware is probably what renders most electronic devices bricked, and for that matter the risk of damaging the camera while using CHDK or Magic Lantern is minimal.

        The thing I can compare best with it is jailbreaking an iOS system. But even in that case you actually need to change some part of the original firmware, which is not the case with CHDK or Magic lantern. In the latter you need to analyze the firmware (OS) in order to setup the application on a given device.

  • Daniel

    I think that at least in Germany Nikon/Panasonic won’t come through with this oppinion. As long as they do not have a reasonable argument how the firmware led to a for example broken hot shoe they would have to repair it within the warranty

  • Robert

    Aren’t 3rd party lenses technically “hacks” in that they use reverse engineered firmware which interacts with the camera? “Technically” they could do all sorts of evil things to the camera too!

    Anyhow, glad that Canon is at least reasonable about the issue, and I agree that ultimately Magic Lantern’s hacks are Canon’s trump card in the marketplace, even if they didn’t create it.

    • Mihai Florea

      The communication between lenses and camera is very limited, it only tells the body where it’s focused and what the diaphragm can be and is set to. So besides “lying” about those things there’s not much one can do AFAIK.

      • Wopper

        Well no, the hardware of the lens is reverse engineered as well. I had an old tonkina wide angle lens that worked on older canon cameras but on some it could actually rotate in the mount slightly more clockwise than it should and cause through the contact the camera to “short out”. It bricked a film camera and outright would not work on a 60D. Sigma lenses identify themselves as old out of production canon lenses on canon cameras. Who know what an old code might do in current firmware is not coded for it. So I agree with the previous author, it’s an interesting point.

    • RJ

      I work for a Canon and Nikon authorized service center, they
      was an issue back in the film days with a 3rd party lens manufacture had a few different lens that would brick a few different Canon bodies. Canon would do the repair once and warn the customer, after that if it happened again it was on the customer’s cost.

      Minolta also had an issue with 3rd party flash bricking their cameras; it was only covered under warranty because the owner manual stated that any flash could be used.
      They removed it from the manuals on the next model and stopped covering it under warranty.

  • Efs top

    In decades of camera ownership and use, both video and (d)SLR, I have had several contacts with real human beings at Canon USA and their (CA) factory repair facility. I have always got great service and communication, although on the last factory estimate, I went with a 3rd party repair on my XL series camcorder. Once, the corporate offices helped me return a 1D to its owner after it had been stolen.
    Not a firmware or hack related, but customer service has been impressive over the years, at least to this serious, award winning, published amateur.

    • http://micahmedia.com/ Micah

      I’ve had the exact opposite experience from N. If they didn’t have a product I preferred, I’d switch just for the customer service. It took them a year to repair a D700 and they never did present me a D7000 with adequately working AF.

      My very first experience with them was returning my D2x to me with thumbprint on an inner prism surface.

  • Robert Miler

    A lot of stores offer a protection agreement that covers “accidental damage” I wonder how many of them would fill in the gap, where the factory warranty leaves off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002140990527 James Madison

    wait a year, install whatever firmware you want. The warranty period has expired. pretty damn simple.

  • Russ

    Nikon: “Using a firmware version from an unknown source will void your warranty.” Well the source isn’t unknown, so the warranty isn’t voided. :)

    • http://www.diyphotography.net/ udi tirosh

      :)

    • http://micahmedia.com/ Micah

      The converse is that I have no clue where the Nikon firmware comes from…is my warranty voided?

  • HK

    Love it!

  • Victoria

    find a boyfriend.

    • Jorge

      LOL +1

  • Marco -

    As said in your other topic, samsung just released the source code for the new nx300 aps-c mirrorless. It would be interesting to know their point of view on the matter, as well!!

  • Chris W

    I think under Australian law, they would be unable to refuse to fix something like the button issue, regardless of the custom firmware. Only Canon seem to have thought this through…

  • canon asian guy

    i am using ios device
    apple will void your warranty if you claim your jailbroken device without unjailbreak it
    just restore it into original firmware and the apple staff will repair your device happily
    *installing magic lantern*

  • EnriqueMLG

    What I really want to see, it’s not the manufacturers fighting with warranties. What I really wan’t to see, it’s serious programming of camera’s firmware. My inspiration is on mobile phones: even the crappiest and cheapest cell phone has ton of features due to the programming (and os-based, allowing upgrades and adding features to the base). Why is the SLR firmware SO STRICT and closed? Not talking about 5.000€ cameras!! Yeah, of course, firmware needs to be so kind of restrictive to be sure that it will work, but… e.g. why did they not include an programmable intervalometer by default? A few lines of code will be enough!! Even the D40 doesn’t autobracket!!! D90 also (my other camera) lacks of “custom quick settings”. Thinking in this kind of… ¿marketing things? makes me get burned. Another one? A hyperfocal distance calculator?? EHhh?? Easier custom white balance? Easier menus? Umm…. at least, a long exposure timer?? No, you have to carry a stopwatch. :( Ahh I’ve forgot it, an external shutter release, because the bulb mode stops at 30 seconds. :( :( :( Even with this, Nikon D90 stops at 30 minutes of exposure, bye bye star good star trails!!

    Going further… hardware. GPS attachment of hundred € when it may cost… 5€ for the receiver???. Touch Screens. Bluetooth and Wifi. Sensors. The Nikon CLS is based on flash morse code… why in the f***king hell didn’t they make it radio-based integrated on the camera? Ahhh of course, hundred dollars on pocket wizards, more batteries, more gear to carry.

    I better stop here….

  • John

    I’ll take a Canon any day over Panasonic or Nikon!

  • Geckotek

    All of this was a waste of time. There are consumer protection laws that cover this. Basically, unless the damage was a direct result of the customer firmware, no they cannot void the warranty.

    • http://micahmedia.com/ Micah

      Exactly.

  • AJ

    In practice, you don’t get denied service if you’ve jailbroken your iPhone. If you’ve got the phone in a state where it can operate, you install a stock OS and bring it in, or if it doesn’t run, you say “I don’t know what’s up with this…” and they agree and issue a replacement. I’ve heard of people bringing in an iPhone that’s jailbroken and being told they need to install the regular OS and then come back.

    I’d suspect it’s the same with firmware on a camera, so long as you can restore it to default state before sending it in.

    • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

      In reality that’s how it works, but it technically voided.

  • Xavier

    I don’t understand the issue here. The warranty that you recieve with any of these products is limited by its very nature anyway, and by signing the warranty card you are agreeing to abide by the companies terms of service. In any instance that you feel you are not being treated fairly there are consumer protection laws in place. By using any type of third party product you are using something that isn’t 100% compatible with the equipment you are using and a host of “unknown” issues can arise, and “unknown” being the key issue here. This is really an issue for those who are not members of CPS or NPS, with NPS and CPS you recieve a host of a variety of services and discounts, etc. that outweigh the traditional “out of the box” warranty.

  • Dilomski

    Like i would use nikon hacker, please.Magic Lantern is very usable, heck, people are buying canon and because of that.But for nikon?Nikon hacker, Magic Lantern, you cant even compare these two.

  • http://micahmedia.com/ Micah

    Canon’s answer is technically correct for the entire US and all cameras. The people that responded from Nikon and Panasonic are just idiots who don’t know any better. US law is pretty strict on these things. It’s like engine oil or a car battery. As long as you’re using an equivalent part within spec, you’re fine. Even if you’re using the product wrong, things are still sometimes covered.

  • tengris

    There was a vulnerability in some laser printers last year or so. Under specific conditions an unauthorized network attacker could trigger a firmwire update and redirect the updater to a manipulated firmware image. A possible malicious payload could have been to overheat the drum to cause a fire. If there’s a printer, there’s paper and both usually reside in office rooms.

    That’s just an example how defects in firmware can harm the hardware. Installing the original firmware may sweep out the trails of manipulation, but what’s broken will stay broken. I have a wrecked flashlight here with a cracked tube. All I can do with it is to update the firmware and see the new version number on the display. Of course it dropped down and wasn’t damaged by unauthorized firmware. But if yes, it wouldn’t have been a problem to replace that firmware by the original one.

    Of course this may or may not apply to other technical devices, but it’s quite understandable that in case of doubt vendors like to make their life easier by denying any warranty if the product is modified in any way. The only questions would be “how can they be sure about the tampering?”. Well, I know that Seagate harddisks have an internal read-only history log about firmware updates. Why not cameras?