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tips on how to use the Sony a7 series cameras


  • as innovative as Sony are, their user interface and ergonomics are pretty awful in these Sony a7 series cameras
  • unlike Olympus cameras, whose menu systems are nothing to write home about either, there is minimal context sensitive help system to explain the functions
  • to rapidly move to the next Menu category, press the Fn button

setting a new camera up

  • charge the battery fully before updating firmware - unfortunately, this must be done with battery in the camera via the special USB cable which inserts into upper left side, although thankfully you can buy an optional spare battery and external charger for about $100.
  • update the firmware
  • set the region, daylight savings, date, time and desired date format
  • insert a SD memory card (this must not be in place during the firmware update) - the camera will prompt you if it is new to create a Sony database on it - say Yes!
  • set your camera to capture RAW files +/- jpegs:
    • menu: camera settings: Image Size = usually leave it as largest size
    • menu: camera settings: aspect Ratio = 3:2 (unfortunately you can't choose 4:3 or 1:1 just 16:9 but this only affects your jpegs anyway)
    • menu: camera settings: Quality = RAW or RAW + JPG (unfortunately, it seems you can't set a jpeg quality and size if you are shooting RAW as well - very weird and limiting indeed!)
  • you may wish to purchase a LCD screen protector as the Sony a7 cameras are apparently renown for getting wear and tear on their screens more than most other cameras

using dual card slots

  • some of the cameras have dual card slots
  • determining which files are saved to which slot
    • Sony gives you a range of options under Menu:Setup6:Record Media Settings item Recording Mode:
      • Standard: only records files to one slot
      • Simultaneous Images: Records whichever image file format has been selected to BOTH slots
      • Simultaneous Video: Records video to both slots
      • Simultaneous Images & Video: Records images in the selected formats and video to both slots identically
      • Sort RAW/JPEG: assuming you have selected RAW+JPEG in the file format option, the RAW files will go to the prioritized slot and jpegs to the other slot
      • Sort JPEG/RAW: assuming you have selected RAW+JPEG in the file format option, the JPEG files will go to the prioritized slot and RAW to the other slot
      • Sort Images/Video: the image files will go to the prioritized slot and video to the other slot
    • unfortunately you cannot send different sized jpegs to each slot or RAW+JPEG to one slot and RAW or JPEG to another as with Olympus cameras
  • displaying or deleting images/videos from a different card slot
    • unfortunately Sony do not have a rapid mechanism to switch playback slot (Olympus you hold the playback button and rotate the front dial)
    • You need to go to Menu:Playback3:Select Playback Media
    • a further issue is you cannot add this item to your My Menu quick list or to a Playback Fn button!

manage your battery life and camera power options

  • turn OFF the crappy Pre-AF function to avoid camera constantly trying to AF: Menu > Custom Settings Cogs 3 > Pre-AF > Off
  • turn off the WiFi: Menu: WiFi: Airplane Mode = ON
  • turn off the distracting AF Illuminator: via Menu: Camera 3: AF Illuminator = OFF
  • avoid using the LCD screen when not needed
  • make sure you always have a spare charged battery!
  • take along a charged USB power pack to prolong your battery life - but it does not charge the battery in the camera on the go

improve RAW image quality

  • consider changing the default RAW file from compressed to uncompressed for the best quality images
  • be alert to possible blown highlights - set Zebra = 100+ in Menu:Cogs 1
  • avoid shutter shock - set e-Front Curtain Shut. = ON in Menu:Cogs 4
  • dynamic range is largest at ISO 100
  • if using Sony PDAF lens adapters for Sony Alpha dSLR lenses, then ensure AF Microadjustment is set for each lens to avoid AF alignment errors

rapid access to the main camera settings

  • Press the Fn button on the rear and a dozen customizable settings will be displayed
  • unfortunately, there is no touch screen to access these, and you must use the rear control wheel to navigate using left/right arrows, and then rotate the controller to change the setting - unfortunately, you often accidentally rotate the control when trying to navigate
  • another option is to use the DISP button of the rear wheel controller to determine what is displayed on the LCD such as the “Quick Navi Screen” but in this case, you cannot navigate to each of the settings to change them unless you press the Fn button
  • no where near as nice as the Olympus Super Control Panel

creating custom memory modes

  • you have two “memory” modes on the PASM dial and 4 additional memory setting options in the Menu (M1,M2,M3 and M4)
  • to create these, just adjust all the settings to the way you like, then in the menu, go to Camera 9: Memory item, select 1,2,M1,M2,M3 or M4 as the memory to save to then press the centre button of the wheel controller to save it

optimise AF

  • choose whether to use PDAF or CDAF (assuming your camera has both)
    • Menu:Cogs 6: AF System
    • PDAF will generally be best, especially if you are using lenses not designed for CDAF, or you have a moving subject
    • if using CDAF, consider using a Creative Style of Vivid to give more contrast to work with
  • for low light:
    • use the centre spot or a zone in the centre
  • use AF-S instead of AF-C
    • the version I and II cameras struggle with continuous AF, so you may get best results with AF-S instead
    • Lock-On AF may be useful to track subjects - but I haven't tested this yet - it is disabled with Canon lenses

Use Eye AF

  • you may wish to assign Eye AF on to the AF-ON button which will allow you to use normal AF without Eye AF as default, but by pressing AF-ON Eye AF becomes active, otherwise if you have Eye AF on all the time you won't be able to AF on something else when the camera does detect a face.
  • in the newer cameras, Eye AF works best in AF-C mode so it can track the face.
  • there may also be an option to choose human or animal as the subject type in the menu

selecting a AF region

  • various ways to choose the AF area:
    • via Menu: Camera 3: Focus Area
    • via Fn button
    • via having a button assigned to Focus Area
  • note that the actual AF points are dependent upon which AF system you chose - CDAF vs PDAF
  • options are:
    • wide
    • zone
    • center spot
    • flexible spot setting
      • this is a favorite for many, you can change the size of the spot (rotate wheel), and move it around, and by hitting delete, can re-center it
      • moving it around on the version I and II cameras is a bit of a pain - you must get into the AF Area settings first:
        • via using the Fn button
          • select Focus Area then press the rear dial center button again assuming you already have Flexible Spot chosen, to get to focus point selection mode, then you can use the top dials to select where you want your AF point to be)
        • via the menu:
          • go to camera: 3 : Focus Settings then press the rear dial center button, then you can use the top dials to select where you want your AF point to be
      • or you can allocate a function button to Focus Settings to get quicker access

set camera up for back button focus AF lock

  • many photographers like to stop the shutter button from activating AF, and instead use a rear button to activate AF, thereby separating the two actions
  • Menu > Custom Settings > Pre-AF > Off (this is pretty useless anyway and just wastes battery life - similar to Olympus “Fulltime AF”)
  • Menu > Custom Settings (Cogs 6) > Custom Key Settings > AEL Button > AF On
  • Menu > Custom Settings (Cogs 6) > Custom Key Settings > AF/MF Button > AF/MF Ctrl Toggle
  • then to have the AEL button function as AFL button (BUT ONLY in AF mode, not in MF mode unfortunately), choose Menu > Custom Settings (Cogs 4) > AF w/shutter > Off and just set it back to ON when you want the shutter button to do AF - unfortunately there is no way to assign this to a button - so there is no quick way to switch this mode
  • you may wish to assign C3 to centre AEL Toggle to create an exposure lock mechanism on centre spot
  • you may wish to assign Centre Button, or C1 or C2 to Focus Settings which allows moving AF point around in AF mode and magnify in MF mode
  • unfortunately, this is no where near as nice a solution as the Olympus solution which allows you to be in MF mode and the rear button works as AFL, but when you go to AF mode, the rear button works as AEL and the shutter works as AF - very clever and handy!

optimise manual focus

  • consider setting Focus Peaking on
    • menu:Cogs: Focus Peaking (set to High if mainly using it during magnified view, otherwise Mid or Low)
    • consider using red instead of white
    • for MF on stars for wide angle astro work:
      • peaking level to medium
      • peaking color to red
    • unfortunately:
      • when there is large DOF, it may show high contrast areas being in focus when they are not
      • when the subject is low contrast or in low light, it won't work
      • does not work in magnified view mode
  • look for the shimmer
    • when not using focus peaking, the EVF will shimmer when a high contrast subject is in focus
  • use magnified view mode:
    • assign a button to Focus Settings and this will allow you to access magnified view when in MF
  • if shooting RAW and not worrying about jpegs, set sharpness to +3 which makes it a bit easier to judge sharpness with the EVF

switching between EVF and LCD screen

  • the default setting is that the LCD screen is on unless you bring your eye to the EVF in which case, the LCD deactivates and the EVF activates until you move your eye away.
  • you can have this same action but not show the Live View image on the LCD, just some basic settings information by going into the menu and Cogs:6:Custom Key Settings then allocate a button to Deactivate Monitor - then you can use that button to toggle LCD Live View on/off - there does not seem to be a menu item to do this otherwise!
  • you can set the camera to ONLY use the EVF or ONLY use the LCD screen - dive into menu, Cogs:3:FINDER/MONITOR
    • unlike Olympus and Panasonic cameras, there is no button near the EVF to allow direct access to this.
  • to deactivate rear screen totally while shooting with camera viewfinder held away from your eye
    • to assign a button, go to Menu:Cog:6:Custom Key Settings choose a button (eg Custom button 4) and assign Deactivate Monitor (vIII cameras have the Finder/Monitor select option which you may prefer)
    • this will still display the settings at the bottom, but this can be turned off too by toggling through the DISP button

determining what you see in the displays

  • NB. DOF preview is ALWAYS ON for native FE mount lenses, there does not seem to be a way of turning it off and this has AF locking speed ramifications when using small apertures in low light
  • Menu:Cogs 2: DISP allows you to choose what is visible
  • you can change what is displayed on the LCD screen by pressing the DISP button of the rear wheel control - this will bring up a Live Histogram, etc.
  • if shooting with studio flash, and the ambient will be under-exposed, make your viewing experience better by turning off the WYSIWYG mode - Menu:Cogs 3: Live View Display set to Setting Effect OFF
    • this is NOT needed with newer cameras which, if a system TTL flash is detected in the hotshoe and turned on, the Setting Effect is automatically turned OFF, HOWEVER if you Do wish to visualise the ambient exposure you can assign Shot. Result Preview to a button to transiently see this.
  • Choose which type of AF area to display according to your chosen AF System - Menu:Cogs 3 and set CDAF area and PDAF area items.

checking exposure before taking the shot

  • turn zebra function on to display blown highlights
    • but need to set Zebra setting to 100 or 100+ but, even then it is too conservative - perhaps aimed at 8 bit video use?
    • at 100+ stripes will appear in those areas where at least one color channel has clipped in jpgs
      • even at this setting, as the Zebra function is based on the jpg you have a little more headroom than the camera thinks
      • when set to 100+ and shooting RAW you can go 2/3 stops brighter from the last exposure that does not show zebras without risk of overexposing the RAW file
      • the Zebras will be affected by the Creative Style chosen:
        • Neutral Profile -3 contrast:
          • no zebras, 0% clipping
        • Standard Profile:
          • You get a great JPG image if using this profile, exposing until just the zebras start to show.
          • If shooting RAW, it is possible to increase exposure 1 to 1 1/3 stops after zebras start to show with this profile, and some advocate increasing exposure by up to +2EV to gain maximum ETTR principles when shooting RAW, ISO 100, Meter mode = Multi; Then in LR, reduce exposure by 2EV or recover the highlights.
            • for high dynamic range scenes can set exposure to the exposure where zebras disappear then add 4EV to create base exposure then bracket +/- 2EV from that 1)
            • set your camera Exposure Step to “0.5EV” instead of “0.3EV”. It's just easier to turn 2 vs 3 notches to the left on the shutter speed dial for every full EV.
    • thankfully on the a7RIV you can set a custom setting value above 100 - set it to 107
  • use Live Histogram
    • but this is a bit too small and dysfunctional compared to Olympus
    • doesn’t show individual color channels so one channel could still be clipped
  • face detection exposure
    • Sony A7* cameras with face detection and matrix metering expose a face (white, caucasian) with green channel in a certain area below clipping in raw, for example A7R2 = ~2.7 EV below clipping, so you can dial exposure correction based on that

setting sensor based IS for legacy lenses

  • Sony call's its image stabilisation mechanism “Steady Shot”
  • when you take off a compatible lens and put on one with no electronic communication with the camera, you need to set Steady Shot to Manual, and in the adjacent setting, set Steady Shot Focal Length
  • unfortunately, unlike Olympus cameras, it does not automatically detect a non-compliant lens and use the last focal length setting - each time you must change both settings

playback tips

  • zoom
    • press C3 to enter zoom mode then either:
      • press C3 again to zoom further in
      • press AF/MF button to zoom out
      • rotate rear control dial (not the top dial as this moves to next/prior image) to zoom in or out

Sony firmware update process

photo/sonya7_tips.txt · Last modified: 2021/10/06 09:00 by gary1

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